Archive for January, 2012

Thundercats and the Elephant on Third Earth


Heh, heh, sword-fighting. Seriously, though, this cartoon is lame.

In the hour-long pilot for the recent reboot to Thundercats, which aired on CN in 2011, we see the feline inhabitants of a prosperous Thundera openly hassle two lizards locked up in stocks in the middle of town. There’s no mistaken these people are supposed to be drunk; after all, they are in the midst of a celebration when this happens, and the arrival of a missing and celebrated soldier only heightens the light and festive mood. Well, not so much for the lizards, who are abused and mistreated up until the point that the inherently noble Lion-O rushes in and protects them (along with Tygra’s and Cheetara’s assistance).

In a desperate plea by Lion-O, his father and ruler of Thundera lets these lizards go, albeit reluctantly. He clearly cares little for these creatures. In addition, there’s no telling how many lizards are still stuck in prison, otherwise tortured or abused – or other species, for that matter, as Thundera’s walls keep our questionably moral citizens cut off from the rest of the planet. Thunderians are hated by the rest of the world.

To make matters worse, Thundera is eventually invaded, Trojan-horse style, and conquered. Here’s the kicker: not only is Lion-O’s father killed, but EVERYONE ELSE IN THE CITY. The whole entire population is straight-up massacred. (There’s a chance that two or three cats fled, but by the show’s own portrayal, everyone else is a rotting corpse.) In a day, a lavish and bustling city is reduced to death and destruction. The survivors are only Lion-O, Tygra, Cheetara, WileyKit, WileyKat, and Snarf. (We learn later that Panthro is alive, too.)

Every moment in this pilot is heartbreaking. But also filled with dramatic potential. The cats are left wandering Third Earth to stop the evil Mumm-ra by finding some magic stones and a book and other generically powered items. The real story, though, is the tragic remnants of a ideal city forced to deal with a planet of creatures that hate and/or distrust them, coming to terms with the personal and horrific death of millions, and essentially finding their place in a world they don’t understand, while coming to grips with the past atrocities of their people.

I’m sorry. That would be the show we actually expected from the pilot.

Instead, we got a Moby Dick-parody. We got a lot of flashbacks and a pretty uninteresting romance. We have two young cats who don’t seem to be too traumatized by being survivors of a mass genocide. There was an episode of about learning the art of defense, or something. The episode with the singing flowers had dramatic promise, but then the cats dealt with robot Ponyo-esque creatures, so I guess that fell by the wayside. When they started racing each other with the pieces of the ThunderTank, cat drag-racing, Thundercats completely lost me.

It’s absolutely inexplicable that at no point did this show address the amount of harrowing depth showcased in the pilot. Believe me, I understand that it’s a kids show, but it’s definitely aimed at older teens and an audience cognizant of the classic series, two groups of people who understand nuance, stakes, death, and consequences. And even if we are focused on kids, you cannot tell me that they, the readers of the Harry Potter series, would have dismissed the stakes established by the pilot. A 10-year old, upon watching the sixth episode, probably asked him or herself, “Fine, but when are they going to deal with ALL THOSE DEAD PEOPLE?”

Every waking moment watching the series, you can’t help but wonder when the results of Thundera’s torturous past will come to focus for our crew. The reality that they have NOTHING to look forward to, even if they do succeed, doesn’t seem to faze them. They only talk about their father, while understandable, but the massacre of all of Thundera is nary mentioned. Hell, even when Lion-O introduces himself as “Lord of the Thundercats,” no one goes, “Oh, you’re a refugee?” or “Oh, you mean the city that was wiped off the face of the fucking map?” or
“Oh, the people that tortured and ignored half the planet?” Viewers keep expecting these points to be brought up, and they never come.

[Were the elephants in the final three episodes the creators’ way of saying “Yeah, just forget everything that happened at the beginning”? With their forgetful ways, and my oh-so-clever pun in the title of this post, you’d think that’s exactly what they were doing.]

Film and TV are best when they implement the “show-don’t-tell” mantra, but Thundercats would benefit from a serious increase in conversation. I understand the need to budget, cutting down on the need for lip-syncing, but DAMN. The show is a black-haired character way from being an emo-action fest without necessarily dealing with the elements that would justify that emo-ness. When the biggest issue brought by the season finale was a “betrayed by a kiss” moment, (oddly downplaying Pathro’s appendage sacrifice), all potential stakes have sizzled into nothing. Lion-O failure to get his jollies off was portrayed as such a huge disastrous dramatic moment, despite him sucking at everything and the utter need to focus on progressing forward in his destiny and dealing with all the terrible shit in his life. (Also, the whole moment was extremely unearned.) It’s such a pervading question and concern that we’re asking the emotional/dramatic equivalent of when they’re going to get to the fireworks factory.

The show is so straight-forward it’s a mess, when being a “mess” is essentially what the show needs. It sounds like a contradiction, but the circumstances in which the show puts itself into demand a complex, Battlestar Galactica-esque commitment, but instead portrays something akin to a laughably-serious take on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (which was already done with the CGI movie a few years back, and look how well THAT turned out). It’s a show where more would actually be more, and it’s unclear if the writers actually grasp that. The stakes are high, but no one actually seems to care.

If a season two is indeed in the works, I’m hoping that they’ll have the Thundercats actually face the adversities that are established in the pilot. If not… well, we’ll be right back to the 1980s, only in HD.


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Accolades with an Asterick


The Black Luigi

Andre 3000’s hit single “Hey Ya!” is a gleefully hyperactive song, fusing a classic rock sensibility with a modern, funky chic. It exploded on the scene in 2003, in a strange moment, when Outkast, a duo with a string of underrated, entertaining albums fromĀ  Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik to Stankonia, decided to release separate ones. They weren’t splitting; they were exploring different things. Speakerboxx/The Love Below was the outcome. At the time, critics marveled over Andre 3000’s The Love Below’s eccentricity and random energy, and casually accepted Big Boi’s Speakerboxx. What makes this particularly weird is that Speakerboxx was inherently the better product, a fact that’s much more obvious today by most mainstream musicphiles. The Love Below is a nifty experiment, but there’s a really blatant truth here, which is most obvious on “Hey Ya,” but has yet to be quite understood: Andre 3000, while a great rapper, isn’t a good musician.

“Hey Ya” bounces and rolls with the immensity and grandeur that a great pop song can be. It works well in clubs and parties, and brightens the spirits as it bounds through its synths, basses, and fake guitar/xylophonist melodies. It’s great as a wonderful 50s-esque rock homage; not so much as a modern rock song. Andre 3000 cut his teeth as a rapper, so his voice is barely registering in this song (mainly due to the fact he can’t hit the notes, choosing to drown his voice out instead). I don’t hate “Hey Ya” (although I never loved it). It’s good, but it’s good with an asterisk.

The middle of aughts was a really, really strange period. It was around that time that Youtube REALLY hit its stride and entertainment across the board started to pick up. Artists were finding success in niches, and it seemed that executives were trying to find the formula for recapturing the splitting markets. Options? Catering to new demographics was an idea – Desperate Housewives, The Sex in the City movie. Another option was experimentation. It worked in the early 90s, when animation ripped into the TV landscape with new, bold stuff. And in desperate times, why not try it again?

Lost was such an experiment, the ABC, 6-season mindfuck that, well, didn’t turn out to be a mindfuck. A moment in time, the perfect moment for a drama to break the landscape for what could be shown on TV. It was, essentially, an art film as a TV show. Expertly acted, crafted, designed, and displayed. A buffet of skilled workmen behind the scenes, who, despite what the most hardened critics say, left viewers and audiences unsatisfied. Period.

What happened in the post-Lost TV world was, well, nothing. The real TV-game changers were The Office, Adult Swim and 24. The Office defined Thursday night comedy for NBC, and while not a ratings-smash, defined new niche comedies that a network could expunge. Adult Swim opened the niche of singular voices in animated and non-animated comedy. 24, while ridiculous, pretty much defined serial television, showcasing the ability to not possess self-contained shows to be a hit. In the advent of DVRs, Netflix, streaming, and torrents, it seems strange that television is still marred in the classic mode of storytelling. Although, it is starting to break.

The truth is, Lost did not end well. It failed to tie in its plot lines, it failed to define a followup (some people suggest Fringe, although that’s more akin to X-Files), and, well, even as a casual fan of the show, there’s no desire to go back to it. The strange thing is, Lost, like “Hey Ya,” had so much raw impact at an individual level, but came to mean nothing in the end. “Hey Ya” falls in being sung by a not-good singer on a weird but not-that-great of an album. Lost, with no strong narrative and no real endgame, failed as a TV show. Good, but with asterisk.

I also humbly submit Pan’s Labyrinth as the film equivalent of good, asterisked media. Guillermo Del Toro is an craftsman director, a visionary into the heart of creations and monsters – a modern day Henson, more or less. And while Pan’s Labyrinth had the rich fairytale rhythms and acting that hit all the right notes, it was a not-so-consistent story. The “fairytale” theme became more of a gimmick, an excuse for characters to randomly act out of character. Looking back on the question of its dream/non-dream settings, I keep wondering why and how the film managed to get to certain points without acting wildly out of sync. I can’t imagine re-watching this without a rub of the chin and a cock-eyed expression. Who has it in their top fifty films? What did we really like about this again?

The asterisk is there because I want to be clear: this is different that the typical cultural embarrassment that we’re usually engaging in. This isn’t the Macarana, 80s power rock ballads, bland raunchy comedy, 60s animation, or other forms of entertainment that was terrible content-wise AND media-wise. “Hey Ya,” musically, is solid, just as Lost was masterful television and Pan’s Labyrinth visually arresting. But as “music,” as “game-changing TV,” as “the cinematic experience,” these three mid-2000 reeked of some missing element, a lack of commitment to the real core issue – entertainment that was aggressively “forest for the trees.” In other words – Andre 3000 can’t sing, Lost failed to have an endgame, and Pan’s Labyrinth’s characters made too many uncharacteristic decisions.

Today’s entertainment seems to have taken the lessons ultimately learned from this and created… well, not better-quality material, but better contained material. Although if Terra Nova, the DC comic reboot, and Thundercats (more on this later) are the norm, then we may just be coming back full circle.


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Oh Hai Blog

Hey, I have a blog. That’s neat.

While I can’t really make excuses for neglecting this blog for pretty much all of 2011, I do have reasons for the lack of updates. The latter half of the previous year was an inspirational time for me, creative-wise. In addition to the webtoon, I shot out three spec scripts, one for My Little Pony, Phineas and Ferb, and The Looney Tunes Show, all of which I’m genuinely proud of. (I have an unfinished TUFF Puppy spec in the works, too.) 2012 is submitting these specs to various contests and fellowships, hoping for the best come this summer. Also I may be returning to work on KaboingTV, depending on how the beginning of this year goes. AND I’ve been self-teaching myself some basic motion graphics, starting with LiveType, but I hope to get into Motion quite soon.

So 2012 is a year of promises and ambitious ideas. I’ll be sure to keep this place updated more and more with what happens with me and my work. Also I’ll continue with my random musings on the entertainment/media biz (I have old, unposted blogposts that I need to update before releasing to the public.) Childhood Revisited will start up again, and after talking with a few friends, it’ll now include some TV shows and video games as well. Nothing wrong with expanding the scope of the feature, especially since some of those shows and games hold up surprisingly well. Definitely looking forward to that.

So here’s to a more productive and successful 2012 for everyone. It’s tough out there, so we need to be more dedicated and committed than ever.


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