Tag Archives: cartoon

December Bonus Review #4: Frosty the Snowman

Frosty is a short Rankin/Bass production from the tail end of the 60s. It was written by Romeo Muller, a man who was best known for churning out holiday specials like origami cranes. So, does it hold up decently enough? Let’s have a look.

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Story:

A bunch of kids get out of school after being treated to the world’s worst magician. That might be unfair. He may be a better magician than those blokes who try to convince you that vaccines are dangerous. Their routine doesn’t even make sense. They just spew bollocks and act like they’re trying to be serious. In any case, the magician, Professor Hinkle, discards his hat because he can’t do tricks with it properly. The children decide to put it on their snowman, which they’ve named Frosty, and it brings him to life. We then follow Frosty’s quest to get to the North Pole before he melts & Hinkle’s quest to get his hat back because now he knows it has some real magic.

The first issue with this little special is that the characters might be too dumb. So, these kids decide they need to get Frosty a train ticket to the North Pole and then when they’re told how expensive it’ll be they just say “we don’t have any money.” I’m sorry, but kids know what money is. They might not know the value of it but they know what it is and they know you have to pay for things. It would be one thing if they didn’t have enough because they under-estimated the price. That would be fine. But they went to a counter to buy a ticket without having any money. One of the children even decides to join Frosty on his trip to the North Pole because it’ll be fine as long as she’s home for supper. Okay, these kids obviously have some understanding that this is a long trip or they’d just walk. Why would she think it was a good idea to ride with him in a freezer car if she needs to be back in a couple hours or so?

Speaking of odd things, she’s the only one he asks to go with him. With an entire group of children following him around town and such, he picks out one to include on his adventure. It’s a good thing the children are such non-characters or that might hurt their feelings.

I will give the little piece some credit. For the short time it has, it manages to  show the stuff it really needs to. We see Frosty and the kids play. We get a sense of danger, but not too much because that might scare the wee ones. And then we get our obvious happy ending.

Characters:

So, the children are one-note non-characters. Our villain is a generic “evil for the evils” type. That leaves us with our titular Snowman. The issue with Frosty is that his writing is kind of uneven. There are some things that he hears and just understands while there are others he needs an explanation for. Because “traffic light” is just so complex while the idea of “trains” is just self-explanatory. Either have the magic snowman be imbued with knowledge by virtue of being magical or have him as a naive innocent who doesn’t understand the world. Don’t try and do both.

Art:

I’m probably going to make some people upset with this one but Rankin/Bass productions don’t have good art. They’re very lazily drawn and have very slow movements. I don’t want to be too critical since this is rather old but there were a lot of better animated works out at the time. Various Looney Tunes programs, any of Disney’s longer films from the time like The Jungle Book or The Sword in the Stone. For that matter, Wacky Races was from the same period and looks much better.

Sound:

The acting in this is kind of stilted. I’m sure Jackie Vernon was a fine comedian, but his delivery is very artificial. June Foray doesn’t have that problem as much, probably because she’d been voice acting for over two decades at that point. But she still doesn’t sound good. Jimmy Durante’s narration is definitely the best part in terms of audio. Then we have the music. A lot of the special has various characters singing the song that this short was based off of. Singing it once would be fine in a half hour, but it gets done so bloody many times that you will want to bludgeon a toddler to death.

Final Thoughts:

I don’t want to be too critical of this little special since it was obviously made for small children and it’s also really old and, therefore, suffers from a lot of the clichés of the time. Besides, it’s pretty harmless and I can’t fairly call it bad. That being said, I certainly can’t call it good. It’s a really vapid, uninspired, and rather cynical attempt to cash in on the holiday season. Ultimately, Frosty is a snowman with some yellow snow at his core. It’s a special that hasn’t aged well. I have to give it a 4/10. So, have some happy holidays, Everyone. Be good to each other and to your dogs. Especially to your dogs.

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December Bonus Review #3 Tiny Toons: Night Ghoulery

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I know what you’re all thinking. “Ktulu, you madman, isn’t this the complete wrong time of the year to review a Halloween special? Shouldn’t you be doing something winter holiday related instead?” Well, I felt like having a look at this one and maybe I’ll do one of those later. I wouldn’t want to be too predictable in what I review. 

Night Ghoulery was a slightly over forty five minute special back in ’95. The idea was basically to spoof a bunch of spoopy ideas and have a bit of a macabre even with the Tiny Toons cast. 

Story:

The special is organised into a bunch of different shorts. We’ve got a Tell Tale Heart parody with Plucky and Hampton. A Frankenstein parody with Elmyra & Dizzy. The between sequences poke fun at the Twilight Zone, as does one of the actual shorts. Buster & Plucky take on an old Abbot and Costello film. My favourite is probably the Night of the Living Dead parody with the Wacky land gang. It’s really bloody funny. 

The biggest downside to this whole thing may very well be that they try to do too much. There are little sketches here that really would have benefited from having some more time while there are some weaker ones like The Devil and Daniel Webfoot or Fuel that could have been cut out without losing much. Now, I’m not saying those particular bits are bad. They’re decent enough. I’m just saying there are much stronger premises for shorts in the special that could’ve benefited from a bit more time that the shorts that are merely all right could’ve been sacrificed for and it would’ve benefited the whole thing. I  would suggest that it might be because they wanted to include as many characters as possible, but Plucky is featured in a good four of the shorts while other characters only appear in the intro and outro. So, I don’t think they really factored in trying to include everyone. 

That being said, the parodies they have work pretty well. The worst you get are ones that are decent. The best you get are really funny. The writers of this were really good at making things a bit macabre without making them frightening or veering into territory that might be considered questionably child friendly. They do also make their parodies, even ones of older material that most children won’t have seen, enjoyable & zany even to those who aren’t familiar with the source material. So, good on them. 

Characters:

If you’ve seen Tiny Toons, you know what to expect from the cast. If you haven’t, the cast is a bunch of zany animal characters in the same vein as Looney Tunes. The character used the most for the special is Plucky Duck. Probably because he tends to get used for a lot of comedic pratfalls and suffering. Which makes him valuable for slightly macabre horror parodies.

One thing I will give both this special and Tiny Toons in general, they’re very good at taking these kind of simple, zany characters and putting them in situations where they can really work off of each other well. 

Art:

The artwork for the special isn’t quite as colourful as the series proper usually is. It uses a lot of darker shades in a lot of the shorts in keeping with the horror aesthetic. There are some good sight gags throughout. The animation team manages to pretty successfully meld the visual aesthetic of the old horror works with the brighter, more fun aesthetic of Tiny Toons. It looks pretty nice. 

Sound:

All the familiar voices are present. The ones you’ll hear the most of are Joe Alaskey & Tress MacNeille as Plucky & Babs respectively. Joe pretty much puts a different spin on the Plucky voice for every short he’s in. Including a very nice Shatner impression. Which leads to a bit where Hampton asks Plucky if he’s ever going to talk normally in the special. Just like in the show proper, Tress is pretty spot on with her Babs’ vocal parodies. The music is nicely done. They retooled the theme tune from the main series in a way that makes it different while also similar to the ordinary one. 

Final Thoughts:

Night Ghoulery is a pretty enjoyable little special. The parodies work well whether you’re familiar with the original works or not. There are plenty of funny moments. The voice acting is quite good. If you’re someone who enjoyed the Tiny Toons cartoon, you’ll definitely like this. For myself, I’ll give it a solid 7/10. 

November Bonus Review: Gravity Falls

Gravity Falls is a Disney cartoon that ran from ’12 to ’16 with two series and forty episodes. At its time, it got a lot of attention and a lot of adults were praising it as being an example of what a kid’s cartoon should be. Which I kind of ignored because I’ve heard the same thing about a lot of other cartoons, some of which have been utter bollocks. So, I’ll be watching through it for the first time for this review. Shh, don’t spoil it.

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Story:

We follow twins, Dipper & Mabel Pines, as they stay with their Great Uncle Stan at his Mystery Shack tourist spot in the small town of Gravity Falls Oregon. While exploring in the woods, Dipper finds a mysterious journal that talks about the strange supernatural phenomena happening in the town. Following up on the things mentioned therein will lead to the two having one unforgettable summer filled with adventures & mystery.

I honestly can’t think of any major narrative problems with this series. It’s stories are pretty straight forward & very optimistic, both of which are fine. It can be predictable, for an adult, but it’s intended for children. So, I don’t see any problem there either. If anything, a show for children should be a bit predictable for adults. Since we have a lot more experience with media and, with it, trope knowledge.

In stark contrast, I have to give the series a lot of credit. The strange world of Gravity Falls is highly inventive and it does some subversive stuff. Like having highly cheerful gravediggers or bringing unicorns into the equation only to have them take the piss. Going along that vein, this series is really bloody funny. There aren’t many things that get me bursting out in uproarious laughter. I usually end up having more a quiet chuckle when I find something funny. This got me laughing my arse off quite a few times. Sometimes with jokes that are kind of old, but they just executed very well. To give an example, there’s a line from Grunkle Stan about how “he can’t find the remote and he refuses to stand up” that really got to me. It’s a joke I’ve seen many times and that normally wouldn’t get anything out of me, but the combination of the jape with the channel he’s got on, the distance he actually is from the telly & the delivery makes it really funny. I also appreciate that some of the lessons they bring up are important ones that I haven’t seen in a lot of cartoons. Like the fact that an absent parent doesn’t really care about you and you may as well forget about them and appreciate the people who do care about you.

Then, we have the finale. This one is full of twists and turns. It has a lot of strong triumphant moments and some more melancholy bitter-sweet ones. It has some really sweet scenes, and I’m not using “sweet” in a slang sense. It also has some epic bits that I don’t want to spoil. One thing worth noting is that the theme tune actually changes for the finale episodes. Yes, this series makes the theme tune an important reflection of the state of things happening in the series. Which is a nice tough that you don’t see in many things. The ending is absolutely amazing is what I’m saying.

Characters:

About the worst I can say about this aspect is that some of the mystical creatures they encounter lack individuality. The Manotaurs are pretty much interchangeable, as are the gnomes, as are the unicorns. Which I can’t fault them for too much, especially since the creatures tend to show up as a major part of one episode and then kind of go to the background. Overall, though, I really like the characters. The major characters have just the right level of complexity and development. The side characters may be largely defined by their quirks, but they’re an endearing lot. I freaking love the happy funeral directing couple, for example. They have the best morbid jokes.

Art:

The art uses a relatively simplistic style, but it uses it to great effect. The surreal and bizarre scenes are really well done. The character designs are memorable. I don’t even care that some characters have those weird, huge muppet noses. The scenes flow nicely too. There’s real effort put into making the series look nice and it pays off.

Sound:

Here’s an area where I have some issues. Dipper sounds too old. He’s supposed to be twelve, but his voice sounds like someone who’s gone completely through puberty and possibly started University. Then we have Grenda. One of the big “jokes” surrounding Grenda is that she has a super husky voice. Which is used in an actual humorous way all of once. Other than that, it just comes across as bad acting. I don’t have any real issues with the rest of the cast. They can be exaggerated at times, but there’s always a reason for it. The music is good. I especially like the theme tune, which is evocative of the whole surreal aesthetic except when it changes for the ending stretch. In which case it’s evocative of the situation they’ve found themselves in.

Final Thoughts:

I honestly didn’t expect to like Gravity Falls as much as I did. Especially given my history with cartoons that are lauded as “amazing” & “perfect for adults too.” But it more than won me over with its ceaseless charm, endearing characters, creative scenarios, strong sense of humour & virtually everything else. Ultimately, compared to everything I liked about the series, my few complaints are pretty mild. This is one I’ll probably re-watch at some point. My final rating is going to stand at a well deserved 9/10.

July Bonus Review: Spider-man Unlimited

The late 90s were a bad time for Marvel cartoons. There were animated versions of the Avengers, Spider-man & Silver Surfer and none of them lasted for longer than a single series. So, where exactly did Marvel and Saban go wrong with these properties? I might look at the other two later and give a really detailed answer, but I’ll start with a look at Spider-man Unlimited and let’s see where it went wrong.

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Story:

We open with John Jameson preparing to launch to the newly discovered, mysterious, Counter-Earth. Peter Parker is taking pictures when he notices Venom and Carnage sneaking aboard the shuttle. He goes to stop them but fails. The shuttle launches with them aboard and crashes on Counter-Earth, seemingly killing John. Naturally, the public blames Spider-man because no one noticed the symbiotes going aboard or happened to take video of the historic launch. Because why would you? Eventually, a video comes from John Jameson explaining that he’s on Counter-Earth and warning of some kind of danger that could threaten Earth if it’s not stopped. Spidey responds by hijacking a shuttle and going to Counter-Earth. Not to deal with the situation he just wants to bring John back. Does he seem like the type of heroic person who would face that kind of threat? He finds out that this new Earth is a lot like ours, but it’s got beast people and normal people and the beast people are in charge under the High Evolutionary.

There are two massive issues with this cartoon and I’ll list them both before explaining how they come into play since they’re frequently connected. The first is that it never really commits to its Counter-Earth gimmick. The second is that the writers can’t be bothered to think anything through. Let’s look at Spidey’s journey to Counter-Earth. He announces to everyone that he’s going to rescue John and clear his name. Then, in the exact same voice, he tries to explain why he’s going as Peter Parker in a truly pitiful attempt to salvage his secret identity. To make this even more inexplicable, he tries to hide the fact that Peter Parker is there from John because if John knew he’d figure out the truth. Now, think about that for a moment. Literally everyone on regular Earth knows. If them knowing is a give away, your secret identity is over. Period. There’s no need to try and hide it any more. John’ll just find out when he returns and learns that Parker left with Spidey. But the writers want to keep the secret identity because it’s in the comics and everyone knows that element of Spider-man stories.

The symbiotes are another great example. In this cartoon, the symbiotes are part of a great hive mind called “the Synoptic” but they still talk to one another like two separate beings because they wanted them to retain something of their unique identities. They also display new powers, becoming liquefied or opening holes in their chests to let projectile weapons pass through them. However, in spite of that, we’re still expected to believe that they have human hosts. Because Cletus Kasadt really has no torso and Eddie Brock can become mush. It makes perfect sense until you spend a millisecond thinking about it.

Spidey’s motivations  are also impacted by this combination of not wanting to commit and generally not thinking. He keeps whining that it’s not his planet or his fight because the writers don’t want to have a story about Spidey as a resistance fighter. They want him to swing around New Yory city, yes Counter-Earth has its own, and fight bad guys, including Counter-Earth versions of Kraven & Electro, because it’s more similar to what he actually does. Seriously, if you just wanted to have Spidey swinging around and fighting crime you should’ve just skipped the whole Counter-Earth bollocks.

There are some smaller issues too. The final episode ends on a cliffhanger, because they wanted to punish the five invested viewers they had. Spidey’s signature wit is basically absent. I mean, they try, but they’re really bad at it. For example, when he meets the knights of Wundagor Lady Vermin says they shouldn’t fight because he looks fair to her eyes and he responds with “And you look most rat-like to my own.” Somehow, she considers this flattery even though it’s just a description. Does she also think it’s flattery when someone says that she’s pale? There’s a point where Venom says he’s history and his response, in Unlimited fashion, is to say that History was never his best subject. He prefers Phys Ed, before knocking some support pillars over. That’s the best he could come up with in that situation? What about “History’s written by the winners. You’ll never decide what goes in the books.” or maybe “I just hope they remember my ability to bring the house down.” Either of those would have been much better and fit the character better. And there are moments that don’t make sense, like the guy who can become moving bandages being unable to use his powers to escape a cage with openings that he should be able to fit through.

Characters:

Here’s another major failing of the cartoon. These characters are boring. There’s no reason to care about anyone in the resistance because they’re such non-characters. the High Evolutionary was more interesting in the one episode of the 90s X-men cartoon he appeared in than he manages to be in the entirety of this where he’s the big bad. Then again, that show had competent writing. This version of Spider-man comes across as whiny and completely lacking in endearing qualities.

Art:

I can give the artwork some praise. There are some nice visuals and the action sequences look fine. There are some issues. Spidey’s new costume is trying way too hard to be “extreme.” Most of the symbiotes look identical and leave identical growths on their hosts which is boring and causes you to question what makes the ones we’re familiar with different besides the writing being terrible. This series also has the most unimaginative tattoos. John has one that just looks like the pencil outline of a crescent moon. And there’s another dude in the Resistance who has one that’s just the word “Mum.”

Sound:

The acting is mostly passable enough. It’s not good, but it’s functional. Then there’s Rhys Huber. He is truly awful. Michael Donovan is a bit rubbish too, but nowhere near that bad. The music is, likewise, pretty passable but not good.

Final Thoughts:

Ultimately, I think this series failed because of unlimited poor decisions. It can’t decide whether it wants to do the same old types of stories or have its Counter-Earth gimmick and the result is a mess. There are constant dumb writing choices that are, frankly, insulting to the audience. Because kids aren’t stupid. They can tell that there’s something off when it’s that blatant about it. In general, it’s just bad. My final rating on this one is going to stand at a 3/10. If you guys are interested, maybe I’ll look at the other two at another time and explore why they failed to grab audiences.

December Bonus Reviews: Transformers

For those of you who have just arrived on Earth from the distant planet, Vulcan, Transformers is a toy line that became a franchise about two factions of giant transforming robots battling against each  other. And this is a franchise with a tonne of stuff in it. There are the toy lines, multiple comic book lines from different companies, around a dozen different television series, video games, novels, animated films terrible live action films. They’ve had it all. So, let’s take a look at the first television series. It ran from ’84 to ’87 and was brought top us by the combined efforts  of Marvel, Toei, AKOM & Sunbow.

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Story:

A long time ago, a fire fight above Earth resulted in two crashed ships. One containing the heroic Autobots. The other containing the evil Decepticons. In the modern day, for when this was written, circumstances caused the robots within to come out of their long sleep. They resume their war on Earth.

I’m not going to criticise the series for being about a war but never showing anyone seriously injured or destroyed, remember I’m not reviewing the animated film  where there was a lot of that. There’s only so much they were allowed to show in a children’s cartoon. But I will say that the set up is odd. Why not have  the robots just crash in the 80s? There’s really no narrative reason for them to be asleep for a million years. If anything it detracts since the impetus behind them leaving their home-world  of Cybertron is  that they’re running out of energy and yet they contact Cybertron later on and the robots left behind are somehow still going. I mean, they’ve only been waiting for energy for a million years.

But the biggest issue is with the episodes that spend a lot of time with the human characters. What’s entertaining about the series is watching the robots scheme and battle one another. The humans are borderline useless sidekicks. No one wants to see more of them. We also  get several episodes  that introduce love interests of all things. Some of them are female robots. Which is odd since we see that these characters replenish their ranks by building more. You wouldn’t think they’d have multiple genders or even gender as a concept. We also get a human who falls for one of the Autobots and a humanoid alien who falls for another. Even assuming these robots have vestigial genitals of some kind, you wouldn’t think they’d look at our soft fleshy bodies and be interested. But maybe I’m just over-thinking the biology of giant robots.

That being said, those are the vast minority of episodes. Most of the series involves the Decepticons trying some scheme to gain a tactical advantage. Possibly gaining something from it, possibly not and battle ensuing between them and the Autobots. It’s simple and a bit repetitive, but it’s a children’s show. It’s allowed to be, legally. And I can’t deny that it is fun to watch.

Characters:

The characters in this are pretty much tropes. A part of that is just that they’re constantly introducing new characters and having them play big roles in an episode or two before they get relegated to the background. Another part of it is just that it’s a children’s cartoon and children don’t exactly need deep complex characters to get attached to them. Instead, the series goes for making the characters endearing in their execution. Which does work in some cases. I honestly found Soundwave to be a really charming character.

Why Soundwave in particular? Well, way back when I talked about Steel Angel Kurumi 2 I  briefly touched on the idea of something being stupid, but simultaneously awesome. Soundwave as a character really highlights that idea. He’s a giant robot who turns into a tiny cassette player and he keeps a whole slew of cassette robots, Laserbeak, Buzzsaw, Rumble, Frenzy, Ravage & Ratbat, in his chest compartment to be deployed when he needs them. That’s such a ridiculous concept that it would take a lot of failure in execution for it to not be charming.

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Art:

The artwork and animation are pretty undeniably dated. That being said, they still hold up pretty well. You can tell that a lot of time and effort went into hand drawing everything and into making the action sequences look good. The character designs are actually really impressive. There are a few characters who look similar, but most of them are distinct.

Sound:

The acting in this series is really mixed. You have some characters like Optimus Prime, Soundwave, Stormer… I  mean Arcee, who have strong performances behind them. In contrast you have characters like Blurr, Seaspray, Wheelie and Tracks who sound really annoying. But most of the voice acting is fine. The music, on the other hand, is great and the series uses sound effects really effectively.

Final Thoughts:

So, how well does the first Transformers hold up? Honestly, it’s quite  good and I’m not just saying that because I don’t want to be harsh on a series made for children. Even speaking as a cranky codger, it’s a fun series that manages to have plenty of endearing characters. It’s easy to see why it became such a big franchise. My final rating is going to be a 7.7/10.

On the month ahead:

On another note, I will definitely have December bonus reviews again next year. I may even start doing one bonus review every month throughout the year. I can’t do them every single Sunday in perpetuity since I’m doing this as a hobby, but I think once a month, except in December when it is every week, is completely possible.

As for January and girls with guns month, I’m going to review Gunsmith Cats on Wednesday. I also plan on reviewing Noir, El Cazador de la Bruja and I haven’t decided on the final thing. Maybe one  of the Dirty Pair OVAs or the second series of Black Lagoon or Upotte. Whatever the case, I’ll review it between Noir and El Cazador because I don’t want to do two Bee Train works in a row.