17 June 2009

Bryan Loves Television Part III: 2 Flat 2 Furriest

Again, this latest debacle is made up completely of Wikipedia, personal experience, and things I picked up and got the just of on muted TV's at the gym. Let the rambling about modern cartoons commence:

By far the modern cartoon had made some strides against being viewed as a children's medium, which was due to a few factors and shows in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Namely, three big ones:

A) "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" in 1989 reinvigorated modern feature film animation, leading to now Disney classics such as Aladdin, Lion King, and the only animated feature to be nominated for best picture, Beauty and the Beast in 1991. Roger Rabbit showed that you could have a compelling story with cutting-edge animation techniques from a mainstream director with critical and financial success. But let's go back to our teacher, mother, secret lover-television.

B) Batman: The Animated Series premiering on FOX in 1992 took a lot of inspiration from both Frank Miller's serious run at the comic in the 1980s as well as Tim Burton's live-action feature films in 1989 and 1992. The cartoon continued this serious, dark take on the superhero (who you may or not remember was still recovering from the Adam West treatment), while maintaining a high quality of both writing and animation, while still directed at children. This led to many other superhero animated series with varying degrees of success, which is still continuing today.

C) The Simpsons, premiering first on the Tracy Ullman Show on April 19, 1987 and as a regular half-hour show on December 17, 1989, was a monumental change for the modern cartoon on television. There had of course been more "serious" cartoons prior to the show such as "Watership Down" (1978) and Fritz the Cat (1972), but none of these were an instant Primetime hit such as the Simpsons.

The show paved the way for an incredible amount of imitators and essentially funded the genre of adult primetime cartoons that a network block like AdultSwim now bases its entire revenue. So there's this dual nature to present-day cartoons, the continuation of "childrens" saturday morning-esque programming and more "adult" late night programming. So here we go:

And you know I could have
posted so much worse.

In the late 90s American Television was also invaded by Japanese Anime, which I curse to this day. I hate Anime. I really hate it. I think I hate it more from the kind of people who love anime...fucking twinkie bastards. Not to say that it's all shit, landmark series like Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star will always hold a certain place in my heart, and certainly there is some amount of depth into many series.

The largest impression I get, however, is the mass hysteria behind shows like Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z, shows that have hundreds upon hundreds of episodes, cheaply written and animated and massively produced and advertised. The cash cow inevitably seeps into standard American animation, and the heart and soul that was once something of pride over here has slowly been extinguished. This is starting to sound incredibly jingoistic, but I mostly see it as capitalistic Americans misunderstanding some of the Anime momentum and using it the wrong way. I will remain steadfast that a Bugs Bunny cartoon from the 1950s looks unfathomly better than a single episode of Tenchi Muyo! This all hearkens back to the problems with limited animation, it begins to appear cheap and there is an inherent crumminess to that kind of shit that I don't stand for. I'm also aware of criticism from Anime nerds who will call me out for citing only Animes that have been shown on Cartoon Network. Yep. That's why this whole thing is about what's on American TV, baby.

So this shit has really invaded children's television as well, leading to an overall decline in quality. See the thing about children's TV is that you don't have to try hard to entertain kids. You really can put up any kind of shit and little idiots will watch it. To craft something like Batman: TAS takes a lot of skill and time and may not have more payoff economically than a piece of crap like Mucha Lucha. However, I do still enjoy some modern cartoons designed for children, which I will designate here, being officially the first few reasons I love turning on the television every day. Most of these are on Cartoon Network:

Don't drink seawater! It makes
you craaaaazy!

1) The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack is an incredible show. It's a truly original series with a lot of heart that really premiered in the wrong decade. It has the complete look and feel of something like a Rocko's Modern Life or Ren & Stimpy and simultaneously assures me that if I was in my mid-twenties back in 1993 I would have watched those old series as well. It's a bizarre and intense show, often dealing with grotesque sea hags or giant evil octopi, all through the lens of the charmingly naive boy Flapjack. It has a lot of heart and depth that makes it contrast heavily with something like the Fairly Oddparents or something.

Just for kicks, do a google image search
for just "Frankie Foster." Tight.

2) Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends is another incredible show full of an all-ages sense of humour. It is very well written and animated and has won five total Emmy Awards for art direction, storyboards, and character design. I feel especially with animation that a show really needs to have a good look to be entertaining. FHfIF is slick, distinctive, and has a manic yet fluid energy that some other modern shows, animated or not, severely lack. The characters are also consistent and strong, not bending for the sake of story, often finishing with no lessons learned or material gained if it is not warranted. The show does not cow to what it is supposed to be. For that, I enjoy it a lot.

3) Ben 10. I do watch this sometimes. It's total shit, but I liked the concept a lot. It's exactly the kind of show I would have watched religiously every day when I was 12, and I kind of remind myself of that when I catch it. Alien Force is better thematically, but I like how much Ben is a kid in the original. That's all I really have to say about this one. It's a total paycheck show, but delivers exactly what it promises.

Holy Laser-Gun-Toting Apes, Batman!

4) Batman: The Brave and the Bold. There's this 9-year old kid on my swim team who loves this show. I can see why. It's assuredly family-friendly, and not nearly as dark as Batman: TAS. There's no Robin, though, and its treatment of Batman is more like a 1940s serial than 1970s camp or 1980s dark anti-hero, so its kind of refreshing to see on TV, it's really the only show of its kind. It's also a chance for many many B and C-level DC heroes to shine, so that aspect makes it cool. The animation looks good, distinctive, but the plots are nothing really brain-busting or outstanding. It ends up being pretty average.

5) Last modern children's cartoon I'll critique here, the only one I still watch on Nickelodeon. Hell, this is the only reason I turn on Nickelodeon anymore. This is the only reason my Dad turns on Nickelodeon anymore. It's a spectacular show, even if it spent all of its best ideas in the first two seasons. In a pineapple under the sea, Spongebob Squarepants is truly legendary. I saw the movie in theaters with one other guy. He knows who he is. Anyway, I always see this as kind of a bridge from the great cartoon era of the 90s into the modern day, premiering in May 1999 and still having new episodes produced and broadcast. It has that esoteric flair combined with a layer of crude stupidity, flaunted in a morbidly self-aware idiocy that pretty much is awesome. It's gotten pretty homosexual as of late, theres a lot of hugging and squealing going on, which seems to put me off its earlier forays of absurdity and surrealism that it should have hung its bedpost on. I'm not exactly sure if that's a phrase but I'm using it.

I think I ran out of room again. Next we'll have The Flat and the Furriest 3: TV-MA Drift to satisfy your cravings.

ta daaaaa

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