overthinking the idiot box

January 30, 2006

Animation on television, child-safe and otherwise.

Short Bits for January

by Adam Lipkin

To kick off the first column of the New Year, let's look at some recent toon news, mostly on the Cartoon Network front:

Cartoon Network is the source of lots of recent news, the most notable of which is their push to bring back a traditional Saturday Morning lineup. Although they're anchoring that lineup with the second season of The Life and Times of Juniper Lee, the Cartoon Network Saturday Morning lineup will otherwise consist of new shows. Unlike, say, the current WB Saturday lineup, most of these shows have potential. The weak link is probably Ben 10, a show about a boy who discovers a magical wristwatch that will turn him into one of ten different heroes, allowing him to fight supervillains and aliens. It's a pretty blatant rip-off of the DC comic Dial H for Hero, but not nearly as engaging.

The artwork is beautiful, the action surprisingly compelling, and the theme song is by The Cure (possibly the last band on Earth that I expected to record a theme song for a cartoon).
Zixx is a Canadian series that mixes live-action and CGI graphics; unlike the obvious analogue (Power Rangers), this isn't that bad, with videogamers fighting aliens to save the Earth. Robotboy is an anime-style show (although from the folks at Alphamin, in France) following the adventures of three kids, one of whom also has to teach the titular robot to fight against his evil creator. It's got elements of everything from The Iron Giant to Pinocchio (Robot Boy wants nothing more than to be human), but unlike the other show aimed at the young boy demographic, Ben 10, it works. The final show, Dragon Hunters, is another French production, and it's probably the best of the lot so far. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, it tells the story of a pair of dragon hunters (go figure) as they deal with the constant menace to what's left of the planet's population. The artwork is beautiful, the action surprisingly compelling, and the theme song is by The Cure (possibly the last band on Earth that I expected to record a theme song for a cartoon).

In a surprising announcement, Cartoon Network has also announced that the legendary Joe Barbera (partner to the late William Hanna) is returning to animate a brand new Tom and Jerry short. "The Karate Guard" will make its debut on January 27. I've never been a huge T&J fan, but I certainly wasted my share of time watching the two when I was little, and the opportunity to see something new from a legend like Barbera doesn't come along very often.

In less heartening news from Cartoon Network, Teen Titans, one of their biggest bright spots, has been cancelled. All signs here point to a typical business office decision to cancel a show after it's got enough episodes to go into syndication. It's understandable on one level (since cartoons aren't cheap), but this mentality, combined with Nick's decision last year to axe Kim Possible for the same reason, means that two of the most original shows in years won't have any new episodes. By the time this column sees print, Teen Titans will have one episode left (the finale of their battle against The Brotherhood of Evil), which is truly a shame, but at least the show is going out on a high note. There are any number of online petitions to save the show, but they're likely to be as effective as any other online petition.

For those who missed them in the '90s, Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series (as well as their various offshoots, like The Adventures of Batman and Robin) are airing on Boomerang at Midnight. Better yet, the episodes are being shown commercial-free (just a five second network promo inserted into the middle), and paired with classic (and cheesy) Superfriends solo shorts. It's good fun and, as a bonus, it's followed by reruns of Duck Dodgers (making Boomerang's stated purpose as the network for cartoon nostalgia slightly questionable, but making for good viewing nevertheless).

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