Animation Wednesday

Animation Wednesday: Steven Universe

This post is part of the Animation Wednesday series, a regular column which looks at animated TV series and movies of the past, present and future.

One of the highest bits of praise I can give an animated series is that it provokes a genuine emotional response from me. Now, I’m a soft touch when it comes to these things. Adventure Time, Regular Show, and Gravity Falls have all had episodes here and there that have pulled on my heartstrings. But in terms of making me feel, really feel, I have to tip my hat to Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe, one of the best new shows of last year.

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Animation Wednesday: Gravity Falls

People have kind of a weird perception of Disney. Specifically, everyone hates them, but no one knows why. News that Disney has bought entertainment properties like Marvel or Lucasfilm is always met with groans and hand-wringing, but Disney’s done alright by Pixar, The Muppets, and their other acquisitions. People derisively refer to “Disney kids stuff” but wax poetic about the animated films of the 90s. Even their TV offerings like DuckTales or Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers, which don’t quite hold up under a modern eye, are the subject of countless Facebook pages and tumblr blogs about how “the golden age of cartoons” is over. (False. Just check the Animation Wednesday category. Cartoons are only getting better.) I think a lot of it has to do with conflating the Disney Channel teen sitcom brand (Hannah Montana and the like) with the rest of the global media corporation that is Disney. If we’re going to claim that anything owned by the corporation is “Disney,” then that makes No Country for Old Men a “Disney movie.” I guess what I’m saying is that a movie or TV show being associated with Disney doesn’t make it something saccharine or lowbrow. Case in point: Gravity Falls!!

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Animation Wednesday: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012)

This post is part of the Animation Wednesday series, a regular column which looks at animated TV series and movies of the past, present and future.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are older than I am. Conceived in 1984 as a parody of current comic trends (particularly those of Frank Miller), the resulting movies and TV series launched its heroes to international stardom. The adventures of Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo were the biggest thing in the world for children in the early 1990s, rivaling Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny in name recognition. Since then, there have been numerous reboots and remakes, from an early 2000s cartoon to a CGI feature film. With the threat of a Michael Bay movie looming on the horizon, you might think that all of the juice has been squeezed out of this admittedly flimsy premise. But as Nickelodeon’s new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles take proves, there’s still some new tricks in this old dog.

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Animation Wednesday: Adventure Time

This post is part of the Animation Wednesday series, a regular column which looks at animated TV series and movies of the past, present and future.

While I was posting about Regular Show, Adventure Time was unquestionably the elephant in the room. Adventure Time is one of the most popular cartoons on Cartoon Network, nay, on television, and has achieved probably the largest crossover appeal among adults of any children’s cartoon currently running. (The only competition I can think of would be My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, but Adventure Time has greater mainstream popularity outside of its fandom.) It’s emblematic of if not a revolution, at least a movement within children’s animation towards clever, distinctive design work, created by indie animators and zine comic artists to satisfy themselves, not their corporate bosses. Why had I jumped to Regular Show while ignoring Adventure Time?

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Animation Wednesday: Regular Show

This post is part of the Animation Wednesday series, a regular column which looks at animated TV series and movies of the past, present and future.

Absurdism is in. I suppose, in a way, that’s always been the case. Looney Tunes and early Disney stuff featured talking animals beating each other up. But for a long time, cartoons have stuck to a high concept and tied most weirdness back to the premise. Shows like Animaniacs or The Powerpuff Girls featured their share of strange characters and situations, but things flowed naturally from the premises (zany cartoon characters causing a ruckus and preschool superheroes fighting parody bad guys, respectively). Show which got weird for weirdness’ sake, like Ren & Stimpy or Cow and Chicken, struggled to find audiences. I’d place Spongebob Squarepants as the first show which involved jokes that were as much non-sequitor oddities to puns and punchlines that really caught on. Since then, randomness has been the word, and while the biggest of these shows (and probably the subject of a future post) is Adventure Time, the one closest to my heart is Regular Show.

Regular Show follows the ersatz adventures of Mordecai and Rigby, two twentysomething slackers who happen to be a blue jay and a raccoon, respectively. They work as groundskeepers with Benson (a gumball machine), Muscle Man (a fact green guy), High Five Ghost (a ghost), Skips (a yeti), and Pops (a lollipop…shaped…guy?). Most episodes revolve around their attempts to take care of a basic chore, or go perform some kind of activity. These inevitably result in trips to space, summoning monsters, time travel, and the like. Why?

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Animation Wednesday: The Spectacular Spider-Man

This post is part of the Animation Wednesday series, a regular column which looks at animated TV series and movies of the past, present and future.

Sometimes I think about doing a kind of a backwards version of Animation Wednesday, where I list terrible cartoons of the past, present and future and explain why they suck. I do a rundown of a couple of notably bad ones in the future, but generally I try to focus on stuff I like, so people who are interested in animation have some good recommendations. But for this post, I have to focus on something pretty bad to lead into something really good.

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Animation Wednesday: The Legend of Korra

This post is part of the Animation Wednesday series, a regular column which looks at animated TV series and movies of the past, present and future.

As you may recall, I’m a pretty big fan of the original Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series. So when I heard that Nickelodeon would be airing a sequel series, set 70 years after the original, I was equal parts excited and nervous. There weren’t any glaring problems. The creators who worked on the original series were all coming back, and the integrity of the project hadn’t been affected by the abysmal movie adaptation. But one of the strongest things about the series was the fact that it had a beginning, middle and end, and that the story followed a logical progression dictated by story needs, as opposed to being used to sell things. This new series would need a strong sense of place, interesting, relatable characters, and a compelling conflict to live up to the standard set by A:TLA.

Well, four episodes into The Legend of Korra, and I can pretty confidently state that it doesn’t only live up to the standard, it may actually exceed it. The Legend of Korra is a beautiful, intriguing series which firmly stands on its own while referencing the greater framework of the Avatar universe. There’s plenty in it to reward old fans, but it’s accessible enough for new viewers to jump on.

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