Tag Archives: Cartoons

Episode 11: Hawkgirl and Batman Knockoffs

 

In this episode of “Mary and Andy Geek Out,” we continue our “Teen Titans” series review and begin watching Season 3.  The episodes reviewed are “Deception,” “X,” and “Betrothed.”  We talk about Cyborg’s struggle with his humanity, voice actor’s James Hong’s impressive career and talent, and how the show glossed over the fact that Blackfire killed her parents.  Fun stuff!

A Review of the 2020 Oscar’s Best Animated Shorts

I was pleasantly surprised by 2020 Oscar nominees for Best Animated Short.  In previous years, you see a deluge of American (and sometimes Canadian or British) shorts.  This year, not only do we see a surprising mixture of shorts from different countries but we’re seeing vastly different art styles telling intense story lines along a sliding scale of comedy and drama.  In previous years, it was rather easy for me to decide which was my favorite but this is the first time that I had to seriously consider among not two but three of the nominees!  They were that good.  Let’s go through each of the nominees and end with “Hair Love,” which is my pick for best animated short of 2020.

Image result for daughter short oscars

Daughter

From Czech Republic, “Daughter” focuses on the story between a woman and her dying father and their strained relationship.  Right off the bat, we are tuned into the short’s art style which is probably the most distinct out of the five.  The stop motion combined with the jolting camera is one of the most surreal experiences I have ever seen and really makes you feel close and personal with the characters despite their obviously non-human like appearance (as a side note, this short’s art style reminded me of the 2007 Animated Short Winner, “Peter and the Wolf” which was produced in Russia).

I admit that I was slow to grasp the story’s message, handling death and our mortality, due to unusual shots and jittery editing.  It wasn’t until afterwards, when Mary and I were discussing it, that we landed on that mortality theme.  Part of the story involved the girl finding a dead bird, showing the bird to her dad (who didn’t know how to console her), running to her room, and then changing into said bird.  The daughter reminisced this as she was in a hospital room with her dying dad when a bird flew into the hospital’s window and died upon impact.

All of this coincided with the daughter’s internal struggle about whether or not her dad loved her.  The lack of fatherly affection eventually drove her away from him and the last she saw of him (before his death) was through a train window.  Thankfully, she receives an uplifting clue of his love as she found her bird mask underneath his pillow.  A sign that he remembers her fondly even after she left him.

Image result for sister short

Sister

Family themes were very strong in this year’s shorts as demonstrated in this odd but thought provoking piece, “Sister,” produced by both American and Chinese collaborators.  This stop motion piece (involving very fuzzy set pieces), tells the story of a man talking about his younger sister during childhood.  Only it turns out, he doesn’t have a sister, due to China’s One Child Policy.  This reveal dramatically shifts the piece from nostalgic remembering to wishful thinking.  Where his parents instead of getting an abortion had raised a second child.

What stood out to me about this story was the very weird child imaginations of games and memories.  The enlarging of the sister-baby was humorous but I was uncomfortable of the belly button…noodle?…and the baby suddenly changing to a balloon.  I DID like the tooth tree though!  That was pretty great.  Although the reveal that his sister’s existence was fabricated, I do feel like we could’ve stayed on them longer and allow us time to care and grow with the two siblings and make the impact stronger.  Still, I love that critical message against the One Child Policy, it’s a subject that unfortunately doesn’t get talked about a lot.

Image result for kitbull

Kitbull

This year’s token Pixar short, “Kitbull,” is so delightfully different from Pixar’s usual style that I was really struggling whether or not to pick it for my overall winner.  It’s true, I think that Pixar gets a lot of credit for being a great animation but sometimes I’m like, let’s give someone else a shot!

Anyway!  “Kitbull” is so delightfully cute that it pains me.  The kitten is probably the best animated kitten I have ever seen and it really just carries this film.  I love the way that it freaks out, that it flips on the dime between playful and scared, and all its adorable kitten noises.  The pit bull, the second of our deuteragonists, is kind and playful but is scarred by emotional and physical abuse but acts as a soft foil to our feisty kitty.  I think this is one of the best representations of pit bulls in media and that’s awesome.  This short is further propelled by its soft art, it’s clean animation, and its easy-to-follow story despite the lack of a narrator.

Image result for memorable short oscars

Memorable

“Memorable” hails from France and is actually not the first time we’ve seen an Animated Short from France about memory loss (2016’s “The Head Vanishes,” was submitted but not nominated) but this short was so wonderful that I broke down crying by the end of the credits.  The art style and story are very in-tuned with each other, its impressionistic style reflects upon the main character’s artistic talent.  And as the artist’s mind is slowly fading away leaving him a shadow of his former self, the art style degrades making the world more and more abstract and empty (I love that he himself is becoming rougher and rougher around the edges to demonstrate his memory loss).

Despite the very heavy theme this story carries, it manages to find room for levity whether it’s the funky, Tim Burton-esque characters or, more importantly, the husband’s sense of humor which gives this character depth.  You can honestly imagine what this man was like before he lost his memory and why his wife fell in love with him in the first place.  This comes to a dramatic ending of sadness and humor as he dances with his wife and her colors slowly float away leaving a blank canvas that is now his mind.

Hair Love

“Hair Love,” produced in America, is my pick for Best Animated Short and I’m pleasantly surprised it won it despite the heavy competition.  Honestly, everything about it was just so tight and focused.  The animation style was appealing, I fell in love with the characters (and I want to hang out with the dad), and the pacing was really wonderful.  But overall that story was just really good.

I just love how everything flowed together and we didn’t need any narration to help us along the way.  The young girl wakes up to and excitedly checks her calendar to realize it’s a big day, today.  What that day is we don’t know until the end of the short when we realize her mom is being released from the hospital.  That’s a great pay off.  But what’s even better is that twist that her mom was the same woman who guided her on the internet hair style videos.  Yes!  So good!

And this I think makes the short that much better on a second watch!  The dad’s struggles aren’t just to appeal his daughter but to connect with her and, by second-hand, his wife.  I love that animation bit where he’s struggling to control her hair and it turns into a full on boxing match!  So great.  It’s nice that out of the heavy themes and rather depressing stories we were given this year, the one that won was uplifting, optimistic, full of heart and “Hair Love.”  Well done!

A side note about nominee reactions

Hey ShortsTV, I have a favor to ask.  It’s fine to show the creators reacting to their nominations but can we NOT show it during the end credits?  It can really detract from the watching experience, especially after watching something heavy like “Sister” or “Memorable.”  Thanks!

End of the Cartoon Network Renaissance

Five years ago, in 2014, I wrote an article proclaiming we were in the midst of the Cartoon Network Renaissance. Regular Show and Adventure Time were in their prime, leading the pack of highly entertaining shows along with Steven Universe which had premiered just a year earlier. Toonami had also returned after a five year hiatus bringing back adult-oriented anime. That year, we also saw one of, if not the, best shows on Cartoon Network ever, Over the Garden Wall. It was a far cry from just five years before where Cartoon Network was going through its Dark Age, a time of low quality programs, saturated with live-action shows.

I haven’t given the topic much thought until about a few weeks ago when I saw a huge spike in traffic to my article. What gives? After a quick Google search I found my answer.

The Amazing World of Gumball was ending on June 24th, 2019 after eight years of producing chaotic, super-stylized and entertaining episodes.

And along with this I saw a host of articles proclaiming that the Cartoon Network Renaissance was ending.

And I read all of this and I had to wonder. Well…is it?

234633_the_amazing_world_of_gumball_gumball_and_darwin.0

It’s very tempting to say yes to this. After all, when I wrote my first article in 2014, Cartoon Network was at a high. All these diverse shows were providing us with quality entertainment, yes, even Clarence and Uncle Grandpa to an extent (I didn’t care for them but I know they have its fans). And right with them was The Amazing World of Gumball.

But most of those shows are done. And the programs that exploded Cartoon Network back into the limelight and made it fantastic again, Regular Show and Adventure Time, ended in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Once Gumball ends, only Steven Universe and Teen Titans Go! remain from 2014.

I admit, I’m not excited about Cartoon Network as I once was. I look at their current line up and I shrug. When I’m at a hotel, We Bare Bears entertains me fine and OK K.O.! occasionally comes out with some cool stuff (I loved that Ghoul School episode!!) but that’s about it. I don’t find myself religiously watching a show like I do for Regular Show, Adventure Time, and Steven Universe. This is just my opinion.

But I was curious. Is the Cartoon Network Renaissance ending? And if so, how do we know?

To answer this question I looked at all of Cartoon Network’s original programs, both live action and animated, from 1999 to 2019. I used the show’s IMDB ratings (taken in June 2019) as hundreds of people have reviewed these shows making them a good approximate to real world opinions. I also strictly looked at the show’s premiere and finale date for their years as reruns make things too crazy keep track of (plus you’re losing an audience that may be a fan of the show). I also added DC shows that premiered on Cartoon Network as they served a huge part of Cartoon Network’s history (Teen Titans and Justice League, anyone?). I didn’t analyze every show (like Johnny Test) as we would get into complicated territory such as shows produced in other countries. In the end, 81 shows were used to analyze Cartoon Network’s quality from 1999-2019. The results can be seen in the graph below.

Cartoon Network Graph Original

Two sets of analysis was used; one with the average of an entire year’s run and one that only used a year’s top three shows. There are some interesting things to talk about so let’s go through this point by point.

  1. There’s not a clear parallel between the two analyses. In both lines, we see a drop in program quality starting in 2004 but the Top Three eventually came back up and was inline with early-2000’s level of programs. However, the Whole Set never recovered to its early levels and stayed far below it with a few ups and downs. This is telling me that audiences found the overall quality of modern Cartoon Network shows to be inferior to the overall quality of shows from its heyday. However, the Top Three had modern programs that were on par, if not better, than shows from the early 2000s. That means people find these shows fun, enjoyable, and entertaining to watch despite Cartoon Network’s overall low quality.
  2. 2009 was one of Cartoon Network’s worst years. That huge drop for The Whole Set in 2009 is no fluke. This was the height of the super abysmal live action shows that CN was pumping out. Destroy Build Destroy has a 2 rating, The Othersiders a 3.5, Brainrush a 3.5, Bobb’e Says 9, and the worst one out of the whole set, Dude, What Would Happen, had 1.7! Three of these shows (Bobb’e, Brainrush, and Othersiders) only lived during 2009. Meanwhile, you have a lack of high quality shows that populate the network as Grim Adventures and Codename had just ended while Regular Show and Adventure Time wouldn’t premiere until the following 2010. This was not a good year for CN…
  3. 2019 is so far looking okay. Overall, June 2019 is below average compared to the other years (6.36 and 8.17 vs. 6.79 and 8.29, respectively). It’s rating for both overall quality and Top Three is only above four other years. It’s not awful but it’s certainly not great. The loss of Regular Show and Adventure Time have already hurt Cartoon Network’s quality.

As of this writing, the Amazing World of Gumball is at 8.2 making it second place of the 2019 as of June 2019, just behind Steven Universe at 8.3. If nothing else changes, 2020 will continue the downward trend that started in 2017. Thankfully, we may not have to worry about this as Cartoon Network might be getting a much deserved adrenaline shot.

Premiering this year is Mao Mao: Heroes of Pure Heart and Infinity Train. Both of these were well received for their pilots and both are already drawing eager fans ready to watch new and exciting shows. Of the two, I have my money on Infinity Train as its “anything goes” attitude harkens back to Adventure Time’s fun randomness. If they deliver the goods, we might see a renewed interest in Cartoon Network.

Which brings me back to the big question; is the Cartoon Network Renaissance answering? Let’s look at the graph one more time before I answer it.

Cartoon Network Graph Edited

If you were to divide Cartoon Network’s history into four periods it would be the Classic Age, the Golden Age, The Dark Age, and the Renaissance. Now, in my opinion, there’s not really a strict beginning or end to these eras as they flow into one and another. It’s very similar to real life as the Renaissance didn’t start with one year but gradually and over time. So strict years of when these ages start and end are debatable but it may go something like this.

The Classic Age started in 1992 featuring reruns of classic cartoons from Warner Brothers, Hannah-Barbera, and Pop Eye. However, original programming became more and more prevalent starting with CN’s first big hit, Dexter’s Laboratory, in 1996. Following Dexter’s premiere was Johnny Bravo, Cow and Chicken, I am Weasel, and The Powerpuff Girls in 1997 and 1998.

But the Golden Age, in my opinion, didn’t truly start until 1999 with the premiere of Ed, Edd n Eddy, Courage the Cowardly Dog, and Mike, Lu & Og along with the highly popular, weekly event, Cartoon Cartoon Fridays. Toonami was also going 100 mph with its acclaimed, action-oriented shows, introducing anime to million of North American kids including myself. Without Toonami, anime wouldn’t be anywhere near as popular in the U.S.

The Golden Age continued strongly until the early 2000s even when some of its original shows were canceled. Amazing DC shows began premiering on Cartoon Network like Justice League and Teen Titans. You also see other shows make their mark during this era such as Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, Kids Next Door, and Megas XLR. Genndy Tartarkovsky also created two of his most acclaimed series ever, Samurai Jack, and Star Wars: Clone Wars (not to be confused with the 3d incarnation of the series) during this time.

clonewars1_0

Still one of my favorite shows on Cartoon Network.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and so too did the Golden Age. Most of the original shows from the 90’s ended or were ending and the shows that replaced them were not as groundbreaking or as lovable. Additionally, Cartoon Cartoon Fridays finished with a whimper with live-action hosts replacing their cartoon counterparts before finally ending in 2007. Toonami had also seen its first cancelation in 2008 due to low ratings and some questionable choices.

Possibly the worst decision that Cartoon Network ever did was producing live actions shows on its network which confounds me. Why…would you ever…show live action shows…on a network dedicated to cartoons???? It makes no sense! And oooooh boy. They really dropped the ball here. Quite a few of their live action shows were just abysmal. Additionally, cartoons did not escape this curse as some were incredibly low quality like Problem Solverz with 1.9 and Secret Mountain Fort Awesome with 3.5.

As such, I put the Dark Age starting at 2006 when the average quality of the shows decreased to a point that Cartoon Network never fully recovered from. Megas XLR and Star Wars: Clone Wars were the last high quality shows in the Golden Age that kept CN afloat until they ended in 2005. The original Powerpuff Girls also ended in 2005 leaving just Ed, Edd n Eddy as the original Cartoon Cartoon Fridays cartoons standing.

Cartoon Network started recovering in 2010 when a series of new, high quality, shows were released that year. I’m talking about Regular Show, and Adventure Time, of course, but we also had Young Justice and Sym-Bionic Titan picking up the slack. Unfortunately, despite the uptick in average ratings in 2010, the early 2010’s were still on the low side. It wasn’t until 2014 that the overall ratings crept back up again and we saw a nice spread of diverse (and at least decent) shows.  As such, from 2010 to 2018, I divided the Renaissance Era into an early and late period with 2014 serving as the halfway point as 2013 ended the last live action shows.  Cartoon Network shook off the last of its awkward phase and went back to basics of what made the channel amazing.

Now, at this time, I place Renaissance ending in 2018 as that’s when Adventure Time ended. It’s only befitting that Adventure Time, which started in 2010 and kicked off the channel’s revival, also ends this time period. 2019’s quality, so far, has suggest that we are heading into a gradual decline in quality. Perhaps not as steep as we saw in the mid-2000’s, but a decline nonetheless. The Renaissance looks done.

maxresdefault-1

But keep in mind, I’m looking at this from a very limited perspective. I did not look at the complete catalogue of Cartoon Network’s shows nor did I take into account Adult Swim and Toonami’s effect on the channel. And streaming is taking off in a big way so maybe we should start looking at streaming numbers that determine a show’s popularity. Not only that, we also have the online-only cartoons like Villainous that are becoming more and more popular. We’re scratching the surface of Cartoon Network’s quality and history.

And who’s to say the Renaissance is truly done? In five years time, I might be singing a different tune and place the ending at a different time. Maybe I would continue to extend it further and further into the future. After all Mao Mao premiered tonight and its receiving some glowing reviews! It also has a score of 8.5 right now on IMDB! That makes it the highest rated show of 2019 and puts it 6th out of 82 shows on my list! And Steven Universe is still kicking with its movie and additional season! Perhaps they will usher in…not another Golden Age…but a Silver Age?

Yeah, I like that. Silver Age. We look fondly on the past but things change, sometimes for the better. And as long as Cartoon Network does NOT bring back anymore live action shows, I’m looking forward to what else they may have in store for us.

What do you think? Do you agree with my thoughts? Looking forward to your comments!

Episode 8: Alien Puberty

In this episode, we continue our Teen Titans retrospective and look at episodes “Transformation,” “Titan Rising,” and “Winner Take All” from Season 2.  We talk about Starfire’s race and their bad sex education, how fun it would be to play volleyball with the Titans, and Speedy’s important role in comic book history.  Andy also goes off on a tangent talking about one of his favorite cartoon shows, Jackie Chan Adventures.

Episode 4: Another Titan in the Wall

In this episode we discuss Teen Titans, Season 1, “Mad Mod,” “Car Trouble,” and “Apprentice” parts 1 and 2.  We talk about Mad Mod’s crazy house, the wonderful, rare pairing between Cyborg and Raven, and how Slade is just so freaking creepy.  Also, we ask ourselves, is Slade Robin in disguise?

Episode 3: Peter Lorre Puppet

In this episode we discuss Teen Titans, Season 1, “Switched,” “Deep Six,” and “Mask.” We talk about how boring Aqualad is, why Raven and Starfire switching bodies makes a great episode, and how Slade is so, weirdly, creepily obsessed with Robin.

Episode 2: Forces of Fun

In this episode we focus on Teen Titans, Season 1, episodes “Forces of Nature,” “The Sum of His Parts,” and “Nevermore.” We talk about Robin’s fascination with Slade, the source of Mumbo’s power, and why Cyborg is just a great, all outstanding, guy. Oh and Raven’s dad issues or whatever.