20 January 2011

Shannon's Big Fun Cartoon Roundup 2011!

Have I ever mentioned how much I like cartoons?  Yeah, they're alright. I guess.  Oh okay, I'm irrationally passionate about cartoons.  I've said it before and I'll say it again this is... The Golden Age of the TV Cartoons.  There have never been so many great cartoons on TV.  There have never been so many TV channels showing great cartoons.  Why, just in the past few months or so, this new Hub channel launched apparently just to show cartoons I want to see.  Isn't that amazing?  I'm soooo important. 

And I know you are thinking "slow down there Shannon, what about the Saturday Morning cartoons of our mythic youth?"  Yeah, those were good times.  Good, good times.  But we had like three channels and most of those cartoons were actually made years before we were born.  Most of them were not made for television at all.  Never before has there been more quality original cartoon programing for TV.

But like all golden ages the good times never last that long.  The golden age of Rock n' Roll lasted what, six months?  This past year has already seen the cancellation of a lot of great cartoons. Chowder and Flapjack have already been cancelled because Satan hates happiness and he has secret agents working at Cartoon Network 

Spectacular Spider-Man was the best Spider-Man cartoon we've ever seen and it got burried on Disney XD then cancelled for having been the Kids WB's baby and not the spawn of the Mouse.  I really liked the Specacular Spider-Man cartoon.  Despite some problems I had with Peter Parker's nose design, I think it was the best looking Marvel cartoon up to that point, the most faithful to the comics and the most fun.  My daughter and I watched it every weekend on the Kids WB but then Disney ate up Marvel and buried the show on Disney XD where it was really hard to find.  I honestly don't think I saw another episode of it after it moved to Disney.  Damn shame.  Allegedly, it will be replaced with a cartoon based off the Ultimate Spider-Man comics.  I really liked the Brain Bendis/Mark Bagley run of Ultimate Spider-Man but Spectacular Spider-Man was already very close to that series.  I'll try not to be bitter and just hope the next Spidey cartoon is as good as the last.

Wolverine and the X-Men started off a bit boring for me but was really getting good as they introduced more characters.  My daughter and I watched it very faithfully on Nicktoons.  Which was not easy because we did not have Nicktoons when it first came out.  We had to watch it at my mom's house.  The show earned some of the highest ratings in Nicktoons history.  So, of course it has been cancelled.  Another victim of the Mouse buying up Marvel.  Dang it Mickey why you gotta be so cruel?

But on the bright side, Disney has not bought Warner Bros (yet) so 2010 saw some fantastic episodes of what I think is the best show on television, Batman:  The Brave and the Bold.  Everything about the show is brilliant.  The stories cover a tremendous distance at a lightning pace and never miss a beat.  And in that mad rush to tell all of the DCUs greatest stories in just 20 or so minutes per episode they still manage to nail all the characters, deliver great dialog and tons of jokes.  I know a lot of fanboys were put off by the show and it's seemingly childish appearance but, that's their loss.  I admit I was taken aback by the kid friendly Dick Sprang era style when season one started.  Batman: TBATB came out on the heels of the tremendous success of The Dark Knight.  I loved The Dark Knight, as did millions, and I assumed that when The Batman was cancelled it would be replaced by something more along the lines of the hit move.  Boy was I wrong.  WB was either really brave or really stupid but they went in a totally opposite direction.  Thank God they did.  The show is much more than a lighthearted campy Batman. It's not retro Batman.  It's every Batman.  I think it's the truest Batman we've seen on TV or film.  By throwing off all of the post Tim Burton Batman "spirit of vengeance" garbage, Batman TBATB is free to tell every kind of Batman story that can be told.  And they do.  By keeping it light and resisting the enslavement of an ongoing continuity laden storyline, Batman TBATB has been free to cover stories from the entire history of the DCU.  Emperor Joker, Kamandi, Keith Giffen era Justice League, The Outsiders, JSA, OMAC, Adam Strange, Bat-Mite... in three short seasons they have done it all!  (Not to mention the fantastic musical episode!  Exclamation point!)

But, unfortunately, Satan not only has agents in Cartoon Network, he also has agents at Warner Brothers and it has already been decided that Batman TBATB will not last beyond this season.  I saw it coming this past fall when Cartoon Network removed it from its Saturday Morning programing.  Before the fall of 2010 you had two shots to see Batman TBATB.  Friday night and Saturday morning.  As of this past fall, Friday night was your only shot.  It's as if they wanted to justify the end of the show by cutting it's viewership in half.  Apparently, Batman TBATB will be replaced with a more serious Batman cartoon.  Yawn.  Serious Batman needs to keep his grumpy pants in the movies as far as I'm concerned.  Batman: The Brave and the Bold, you will be missed.  I will play your video game with my daughter for hours and hours in your honor. 
(Bonus toy review:  I recently saw the new wave of Batman: TBATB toys.  Just lousy.  Instead of rolling out more of the great characters from the series, it's that traditional Batman toy line move where they just stick a bunch of plastic armor on Batman.  Blah! So lame.)
Have you seen the new Marvel Avengers cartoon on Disney XD?  Have you?  It's brilliant I tells ya.  The best Marvel cartoon ever by light years.  Very well done on nearly every level.  In fact the only thing I don't like about it is the terrible theme song.  This time they seem to get it.  They seem to get what makes the characters great and they seem to know how to pick the best stories from the Avengers history.  And frankly I'm totally surprised.  I was worried about this show.  See, a fellow by the name of Christopher Yost is the main story editor.  This had me pretty scared.  Yost was one of the main guys behind the Iron Man: Armored Adventures TV show which is simply one of the worst TV shows I've ever tried to suffer through.  Iron Man: Armored Adventures is the text book example of what not to do when you have a hit property on your hands.  Instead of making a cartoon like the hit Iron Man movies or a cartoon like the long running comic book series, Yost and company decided to make up their own entirely different characters and story and just call it Iron Man to piss me off.  Don't do that!

But back to the Avengers.  The Avengers does almost everything right.  And it's not about being faithful to the comics or the movies, it's about drawing on that rich library of material and picking out the best stuff that will make exciting cartoons.  It's not about the cynical exploitation of a lucrative property, its about making a really fun cartoon with a really fun cast and some amazing stories.  The cartoon is ridiculously ambitious but somehow they keep it together.  The cast is huge but they do a great job of focusing it on a small central team.  And great choices with the team.  Members rotate in and out with each episode but the balance is always just right.  They also do a good job of mixing in the female characters.  Wasp is the most interesting hero.  Enchantress is the most interesting villain.  Throw in some Mockingbird and Black Widow and you've got the eight year old girl demographic hooked.  (Or at least the one that lives in my house.) 
Dear Warner Bros., as you get to work on your "serious" Batman, you'd better pay close attention to Marvel Animation's Avengers cartoon or you are going to look pretty silly.

My only beef with the Avengers is with Disney XD.  For those of you that don't have kids, Disney XD is supposed to be the Disney Channel for boys.  The Avengers is the only show they have boys would ever watch. Or at least the only original show they would watch. (Re-runs of Phineas and Pherb don't count.)  Avengers is their best show.  So of course, they bury it.  New episodes are buried on Sunday morning.  Yeah, Sunday morning.  WTF!!!  Let me break this down for you Disney XD.  You need to show Avengers constantly.  Not only is it your best show but it's a potential cash cow for Disney in the long run.  Let me spell it out for you.  No boy on Earth is buying a Suite Life on Deck action figure.  No boy on Earth is buying an I'm in the Band lunch box.  No boy on Earth is buying Pair of Kings pajamas.  But they will buy the Avengers.  Really, you should just go ahead and change the name of the channel to Marvel XD.  You know I'm right.  You can pay my consultation fee through PayPal.  
I still think The Clone Wars is one of the best shows on TV but his past season has been really hit and miss.  There have been some really fun episodes like the Quinnlan Vos story and the Cad Bane stuff but there have been a lot of weak spots.  Several of this season's episodes are bogged down with all the same political mumbo jumbo that plagued The Phantom Menace.  Not that I don't like political mumbo jumbo, it's just that in my cartoons (and Star Wars movies) I prefer when people do things rather than talk about them.  Way too much talking this season of The Clone Wars.  Still, it's the best looking show on TV and unquestionably has the best sound design in the history of TV.  For real.  Just try to prove me wrong on that last one.  From the previews I've seen and this week's episode it looks like the last part of this season will be back to the action and adventure that made the first two so spectacular.
Oh hey kids look, Genndy Tartakovsky has a new cartoon and it's the most exciting new thing on TV since the last time he had a new cartoon.  Sym-Bionic Titan is basically a cartoon where Tartakovsky goes to the future and comes back with some sort of mind distiller machine and sucks all the favorite stuff from my childhood and then shoots it back out as a cartoon about a giant robot.  It's futro retro and it's a lot of fun.  You need to be watching it right now.
Young Justice.  Oh Young Justice.  Where to begin?  Young Justice is a new cartoon from Warner Bros. Animation based on... well I'm not sure what it's based on.  It's certainly not based on either the great Todd Dezago or Peter David Young Justice comics from DC.  It's certainly not based on the Teen Titans comics or the Teen Titans cartoon. I've only seen the pilot episode so far and I have soooooooo many problems with it.  To get into them all would be it's own epic essay.  Let me just try to keep it short and explain it this way. 

For me, there are two divisions of Warner Bros. Annimation.  There is the division that was re-born with 1992's Batman: The Animated Series.  Let's call this the "joy division".  This is the division that makes fun, entertaining, joyful cartoons that celebrate the vast history of the DC Universe and/or Warner Bros. many cartoon properties.  This is the division that brought us years of great Batman, Superman and Justice League cartoons.  This is the division of that brought us Teen Titans and, my favorite, Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

Then, there is Warner Premier.  This is the "cynical division".  Warner Premier is a direct to video line of movies created to pander to Warner executive's misconception of a potential DVD buying audience's lowest common denomenator.  It is a joyless bottom feeder line.  It takes proven hits and puts their name on the cover to sell DVDs.  It make the material "dark", "edgy" and most importantly, it makes the material PG-13.  I have a lot of problems with Warner Premier. 

Although it is a TV cartoon, Young Justice is firmly in the Warner Premier style.  Totally void of joy.  Full of cynicism.  If they wanted to capture any of the good qualities of the comics or the previous Teen Titans cartoon they have failed miserably.  Robin is not a leader or boy wonder.  He's just the team's token tech guy.  There is a merman boy as the leader.  Apparently he is Aqualad.  Kid Flash is more like Impulse than Kid Flash but they still call him Kid Flash for no reason at all.  Speedy was pretty cool but it appears he won't be a part of the show.  Very disappointing.  I was a fan of the Young Justice comics.  I hear Peter David will be involved in some episodes of the upcoming series.  So, maybe there is hope.  I like these characters.  I like the idea.  I want to like the show.  I'm rooting for them but they had better shape up. 
Generator Rex is the latest Man of Action cartoon on Cartoon Network.  It's good but I expect that from the guys that brought us Ben 10.  It's a little too similar to Ben 10 though.  I mean, I like Ben 10 plenty, I just don't need two of them.  It's not the most exciting cartoon.  Once they start talking about "nanites" and "E.V.O." I start scanning through the guide thing on my remote control.  Still, like Ben 10, it's a great looking cartoon.  Warner Premier really needs to steal more heavily from the Man of Action style.  One thing I do like about Rex is that it seems to have a lot of Jack Kirby in it.  Distopian future, talking monkeys, boy hero, monsters and lots of smashing.  When they let the characters out from under the huge back story it's a lot of fun.  (Bonus toy review:  I recently saw the new Generator Rex toys.  The look pretty awesome.  How does Man of Action do it?  Cartoon deal.  Toy deal.  Those guys sure know which side gets the butter.)
(In this spot right here I really wanted to embed a video from Adventure Time but Cartoon Network is stupid. Cartoon Network hates free publicity. Cartoon Network hates money. Cartoon Network hates you. Sorry. I tried.)
Are you guys watching Adventure Time.  This show is a lot of fun.  It's like a James Kochalka with Achewood jam comic turned into a cartoon.  Very funny stuff.
Also very funny.  I've only managed to catch a few episodes but the dialog is very sharp.  I have a hard time finding Regular Show and Adventure Time but when I do I like them a lot.  They help take away a little of the pain from losing Flapjack and Chowder.
Remember when I was talking about how Iron Man: Armored Adventures was the text book example of how not to make a cartoon of a hit property.  Well, I think the folks behind the new Transformers cartoon are living by that example.  And the sad thing is, this is their 2nd try since the first hit movie.  So you've got a hit movie, popular comics from the 80's and a popular cartoon from the 80's to draw from and not once but twice you just go ahead and make up your own idea for a Transformers cartoon that does not have anything to do with all that previous material.  Genius.  This cartoon is awful.  This cartoon shows Optimus Prime's mouth.  I don't ever want to see Optimus Prime's mouth.  Blasphemy.
This cartoon is about a crack commando unit that was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... The A-Team.  That's right.  This cartoon is about the A-Team.  Oh, a guy that bears a passing resemblance to Snake-Eyes from G.I.Joe meets up with the A-Team at some point but, other than that, this is a cartoon about the A-Team.  Ugh.  I really have no idea what the people behind this cartoon are thinking.  Again, you've got a popular property, comics, cartoons a movie etc.  But, yeah, go ahead and ignore all that junk and just make your little A-Team cartoon.  What is wrong with you people.  In short, this cartoon is awful.

But enough about awful cartoons.  There are so many other good cartoons on right now.  Robotomy, the new Scooby Doo, MAD, etc. etc.  It's the Golden Age folks.  So grab that remote and make a vow to never watch reality TV again.
And remember, smile darn ya smile!
Your best pal ever,
Shannon Smith
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