Posts Tagged ‘Animaniacs

29
Apr
11

Making a kids’ show that grownups won’t hate

Certain of my friends, and here I am thinking of you, Mike, have a tendency to ridicule me for seeking out movies, books, TV shows and comics that provide quality entertainment for children. In some cases, this is because the person delivering the ridicule has an empty black pit of despair where his soul should be. In most cases, though, I think the problem is that a lot of adults don’t really know what goes in to making really good entertainment for kids — and that goes for a lot of the adults responsible for making them as well.

When we’re kids, we aren’t nearly as discriminating when it comes to our entertainment. We light bright colors and cool sound effects and things blowing up. Come to think of it, we like those things as adults as well. But as we get older, we realize that really good entertainment requires more than that. The things that make up good storytelling are universal — strong characters, clever jokes, inventive plotlines and the like are not dependent on the age of the audience. There’s a lot of kids’ shows that are utter crap. I’ve gone back and watched shows that I loved as a kid and I felt the urge to apologize to my parents for making them sit through them (and here I am specifically thinking of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, which I always knew was basically a half-hour toy commercial, but I didn’t understand at the time was such a terrible half-hour toy commercial).

The way to tell a great story for kids is actually pretty simple. Just start out by telling a great story, and then leave out the things that you wouldn’t necessarily want to expose a child to. That’s all there is to it. You don’t speak down to the kids and you don’t leave out the adults.

Not long ago my brother told me I should try watching a Disney Channel show called Phineas and Ferb. I’m sure many of you out there are familiar with it, but until a couple of days ago, I had never seen an episode. Then, remembering his recommendation, I sought out the first season on NetFlix. Since then, I’ve been watching a few episodes every night before I go to bed, and laughing myself to sleep. It’s not just a great show for kids. It’s just a great show.

If you haven’t watched it, here’s the premise: Phineas and Ferb are stepbrothers on summer vacation. And since the days of summer are so precious, they vow to fill every single one with different kind of adventures: building the world’s tallest roller coaster, making a ski resort in their backyard, going on a quest to find a mummy, starting a rock band and becoming one-hit wonders, and so forth. Their older sister, Candace, is constantly trying to show their mother evidence of their misadventures, only to have it wiped out at the last minute, leaving her frustrated and forlorn. Oh — also, their pet platypus, Perry, is a secret agent who has to constantly thwart the schemes of the (kind of) evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz. It’s absolutely absurd. And also, incredibly funny.

The show, created by two writers who used too work on such diverse shows as Rocko’s Modern Life and, on the other side of the spectrum, Family Guy, is remarkably self-aware. Much of the humor comes from the characters pointing out the absurdity of their situation every step of the way. (A running gag involves some adult asking Phineas if he isn’t too young to be involved in whatever the project of the day is — roller coaster construction, for example — to which he simply replies, “Yes, yes I am,” and then goes on and does it anyway. Dr. Doof seems fully aware of how outlandish his schemes are (giant laser pointers, flooding the ocean to turn his own land into oceanfront property, etc.), but he’s compelled to go through with them anyway. In fact, not only is he compelled to execute the scheme, but he’s unable to do so unless Perry the Platypus shows up (wearing his fedora) to attempt to thwart it. The show trends very closely to breaking the fourth wall and acknowledging its existence as a TV show, with the characters pretty much going along with their insane existence just because they know there couldn’t be a show if they didn’t. That awareness takes what would have been an okay kids’ show and makes it into something that teenagers and grownups can enjoy on an entirely different level than the young’ns.

And they do it not by writing down, but simply by avoiding things like foul language, overt sexuality, and realistic violence. It works on the same level that such brilliant works as Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and, of course, the grandfather of them all, Looney Toons worked: it has something for every age group. I’m not saying that this show is quite on level with them, mind you. But I’ve also only seen about ten episodes so far, and the show is on its third season. People who’ve been playing along this whole time may well have found it to be that good. (If so, let me know.)

This is what makes for really great kids’ entertainment — don’t exclude anybody. That’s really all there is to it. Too many adults think that you have to dumb down the writing (at one point, reportedly, the network was even afraid the show was “too smart” to air) or kids won’t get it. Phineas and Ferb proves you don’t.

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26
Feb
11

My Saturday Morning Shuffle

A little while ago, chatting with Erin and Mark on Facebook, we call came to the conclusion that there just aren’t any good shows on Saturday mornings anymore. Certainly no decent cartoons. And I decided that the only way to remedy this, at least until I take over television programming, is to get an enormous DVD player capable of holding dozens of discs and placing the episodes on random shuffle. So I looked at my DVD collection to decide what I would put on that shuffle if I could do so right now…

  • Animaniacs Volume 1 (I so gotta find the rest of these)
  • Challenge of the Super-Friends Vol. 1, 2
  • Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers Vol. 1
  • Count Duckula Season 1
  • DC Super-Heroes: The Filmation Adventures
  • Danger Mouse Seasons 1 and 2
  • Darkwing Duck Vol. 1
  • Ducktales Vol. 1-3
  • Dungeons and Dragons: The Beginning
  • Exosquad Season 1
  • Flintstones: The Complete Series
  • Galaxy High Vol. 1
  • Garfield and Friends Vol. 1-5
  • Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 1-3
  • Looney Tunes: The Golden Collection Vol. 1-2 (I desperately need the rest of these)
  • Max Fleischer’s Superman
  • The Muppet Show Seasons 1-3 (Not a cartoon, but I dare you to tell me these don’t deserve to be here)
  • Peanuts 1960s Collection, 1970s Collection Vol. 1-2
  • Pinky and the Brain Vol. 2 (Still need more!)
  • The Pixar Short Films Collection (Because they’re cool)
  • The Real Ghostbusters Vol. 1
  • Rocky and Bullwinkle Season 1
  • Star Trek: The Animated Series
  • Star Wars Animated: Droids & Ewoks
  • Superman: The Animated Series Vol. 2
  • Tiny Toon Adventures Season 1 Vol. 2
  • TransFormers: The Complete First Season Vol. 1
  • Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Black and White; Silly Symphonies Vol. 1; Oswald the Lucky Rabbit; The Chronological Donald Vol. 2; The Complete Goofy

Looking at this list, my collection seems woefully inadequate. Why have I never finished the Looney Tunes collections? Or Animaniacs, Tiny Toons, or Pinky and the Brain? Why don’t I have the Batman cartoons, Batman Beyond, or the Justice League? (Why has Warner Brothers not yet released a complete set of Static Shock?)

:sigh:

Someday, my friends. Some. Day.

26
Aug
10

Everything But Imaginary #364: What If… DC Comics Merged With Archie?

Comixtreme is back! Kind of! You can find it at Comixtreme.net for the time being, while we try to sort out the .com issue. But this week’s Everything But Imaginary column is waiting for your scrutiny. This week’s column is based on what happens when my mind starts wandering. What If?-style questions get asked. And we’re looking at a big What If this time… what if DC Comics merged with Archie Comics?

Everything But Imaginary #364: What If… DC Comics Merged With Archie?

Oh, and don’t worry, Other People’s Heroes fans. This post isn’t replacing that one for today. I’ll be up a little later. I’m editing even now.

08
Mar
09

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 109: Warner Brothers and the Looney Tunes Legacy

It’s a whole new era for 2 in 1 Showcase, as back-up geek Mike Bellamy tries to make the transition to full-time! How long will he last? Check the Vegas odds tomorrow. This week, the boys are getting Looney, as the talk about the history of Warner Brothers animation. The guys toss around their favorite — and least-favorite — Looney Tunes characters and cartoons, discuss the DVDs and movies, talk about the shows that tried to carry the torch, and bat around the potential future of the franchise. With a new era comes a new rule for picks of the week! Each of the guys has their pick, but one geek each week will chime in with their Graphic Novel Pick of the Week! In the regular picks, Blake rages into Green Lantern #38, Mike walks like an Egyptian in Batman Confidential #26, and Chase digs Outsiders #15. This week’s Graphic Novel Pick: House of Mystery Volume 1: Room and Boredom! Write us with comments, suggestions, picks of the week, “Ask Chase Anything” questions, or anything else at Showcase@comixtreme.com.

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 109: Warner Brothers and the Looney Tunes Legacy
Inside This Episode:

26
Dec
08

What I’m Watching: Animaniacs Volume 1

Merry Day After Christmas, everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful time yesterday and you got everything you wanted. Since most of us are spending the day relaxing (and/or recovering) I’ve spent most of the day enjoying one of my Christmas presents. Sure, you could be watching a House marathon on USA or doing post-Christmas shopping on any of a dozen networks, but I have instead spent today hosting my own marathon thanks to what I got from my sister and brother-in-law: Animaniacs Vol. 1.

If you never saw Animaniacs when it was on the air… well, you’re insane. The show starred the Warner Brothersand their sister, Dot, three cartoon characters from the 40s who were deemed too zany for public consumption and locked away in the studio water tower until present day. Alongside the Warners, the show gave the world the would-be world conquerors Pinky and the Brain, the pre-Sopranos mob parody Goodfeathers, the magnificent Bernadette Peters in Rita and Runt and a half-dozen other cartoon superstars. This was Steven Spielberg’s second cartoon with Warner Brothers (the studio, not the characters), having cut his teeth on Tiny Toon Adventures. As good as Tiny Toons was this blew it away.

Yakko, Wakko and Dot Warner were the spiritual successors to Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and all the other great Looney Tunes. Sure, the Tiny Toons had a more direct link to the classic characters, but the cartoons you saw on Animaniacs had the same tone, the same feel, the same sense of barely restrained insanity. The cartoon had levels upon levels of comedy, sneaking in political humor right next to a potty joke, or doing an entire episode (King Yakko, one of my favorites) to parody the classic Marx Brothers comedy Duck Soup, a joke that went right over the heads of 90 percent of the audience, adults included. This wasn’t just funny, this wasn’t just wonderfully animated, this was a smart show, probably the smartest cartoon ever made for kids’ television.

Remember a few days ago when I complained that none of the cartoons of my childhood hold up today? Well, this is a cartoon of my teen years, not of my childhood… and this bad boy holds up. Even with a few dated references to then-popular actors or TV characters (an Urkel cameo, or a joke about Ted Danson and Whoopi Goldberg), the majority of the humor is timeless and as entertaining today as it was when it first came out 15 years ago. I love this cartoon as much today as I did back then.




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