Archive for January, 2013


Loonatics: Unleashed was probably the most misguided show on television – but not for the reasons you might think.

Loonatics Unleased

Loonatics: Unleashed was dead in the water even before it aired.

The public reaction to the show’s announcement and early character designs ranged somewhere between anger and offensiveness. The idea of taking the classic, beloved characters of the Looney Toons and “updating” them with angular body parts, an “extreme ‘tude” 90s aesthetic, and a random assortment of super powers had little chance of gaining any support, from neither adults nor kids. Loonatics: Unleashed seemed to be the product of unhinged hubris, a marketer’s desperate attempt to make Looney Toons somehow work in an era where the Looney Toons seem to be losing their relevance and cache. Space Jam does not age well. Looney Toons: Back in Action is sloppy and unrefined (save for an inspired climactic sequence). And the new Looney Tunes Show, while not at all looney, is simply met with a begrudging tolerance.

In these respects, revamping the Looney Toon characters could be at least partially understood. After all, they’re iconic and infamous, which means Warner Brothers could (and still can) exploit them for profit. But Loonatics seemed less like a show made by a creative committee and more like a show made by a machine, combining all the elements necessary to maximize an exploitable franchise, including toys, games, cereals, comics and trading cards. It’s anime-inspired and colorful and action-y, everything that usually works for the perfect male, 6-11 year-old demographic, who are egregious fans of your Ben-10s and Power Rangers. With this in mind, there’s a feasible logic to the whole thing, even if wiser men should have stepped before this got to the pre-production stage.

Here’s the funny thing: the universally despised “extreme” concept of Loonatics: Unleashed is completely different from the actual show. I expected a copious amount out-of-date, early-nineties cheese; what I got was the leftovers of unhinged creative insanity. It was like watching a human being’s decent into sci-fi madness; a six-year old’s unrestrained desire to see funny animal characters also kick ass. Loonatics ratchets up the crazy in every episode to comical degrees, like some kind of Post-Modern pastiche on science fiction. It would actually be a hilarious satire if it wasn’t so damn serious. The fact that the show tries to legitimize itself is what destroys it, which goes way beyond its ultra-cool premise. If the show WAS extreme/radicalized, then at least that would have been something. But Loonatics doesn’t even grant itself that benefit.

Loonatics: Unleased – (2005)

Director: Dan Fausett, Kenny Thompkins, Curt Walstead, Andrew Austin, Clint Taylor
Starring: Charlie Schlautter, Jason Marsden, Jessica Di Cicco
Screenplay(s) by: Rick Copp, Len Uhley, Steve Cuden

Witness the first eight minutes of the first episode of this amazement:

Loonatics showcases a futuristic world with no rhyme or reason, then hurls a glacier onto it. We then see our titular characters crack wise in the safety of their home. The scene is odd since it would have been smarter to introduce them flying to the glacier instead being oblivious about it. But we see Ace meditating for some reason (an act he never does again) and Lexi skipping into the room listening to a music player, because WOMEN AMIRITE. Danger Duck kinda acts like his Daffy doppelganger, so we’re kinda in decent company, until some woman appears on the big screen named ZADAVIA. You will always cringe when you hear that name, since at this point your brain is trying fill in cracks that don’t even exist. Then the intro kicks in, involving some meteor striking not-Earth/the city-planet (what?) of Acmetropolis (WHAT?) – and it only gets more batshit from there, when they confront the glacier, which was conjured up by humorless alien robot ice Vikings. I can’t make any of this up. And can you believe that this meteor thing is part of a stupidly convoluted intergalactic conspiracy? In other words, why did they put in the work to give Loonatics a mythology?

The Loonatics themselves (who are actually descendants of the original cast – as if this would absolve the creators of their updated bullshit) host a surprising array of special powers, which are rarely used in any practical way. With their abilities you’d imagine these guys could kick everyone’s asses, but they utilize them in haphazard, frustrating fashion. Ace is a hilariously inept leader, who often splits the team into groups that completely make no sense. Badguys, in particular the first season, are exposition-ranting dead-weights, with little to no comic sensibility, and if Loonatics needed ANYTHING, it was comical villains. In fact, that first season limps along with a questionably serious veneer, of awkward attempts to place its action in mature context; a sincerity that would be hilarious if it wasn’t so bizarre. Duck is mainly the comic relief, and kudos to making him a decent fighter as well, but Loonatics desperately seems like it needs more humor than that.

It is exactly more humor that Loonatics receive in the second season, along with a less sharp-edged look. The show tries to be a bit more comedic here, as well as plopping more Looney Toon character cameos into the mix (the fact they did this so rarely in the first season adds to its inexplicable set-up). The problem is that the very premise of Loonatics dulls the humor in its tracks. It makes the crew look stupid instead of goofy. Comedic moments are forced and dumb and only occasionally well-timed. It also doesn’t help that a number of the cameos are just fucked up. Pepe and Foghorn are humans. Porky and Sylvester and Elmer are “complex villains”. Only Yosemite works in any context. More problematic is that the second season is incredibly lazy, with some terribly animated scenes, inexplicable cuts, poorly-done storyboards, and half-assed writing; not that any of this was great to begin with, but it’s depressingly worse here.

There is one legitimately great thing about Loonatics: Tech E. Coyote. Danger Duck has his moments, but Tech is overall genuinely fantastic. He’s a genius and knows it, and often shits on everyone else because he’s smarter than them. He’s also a decent fighter and is the only one with a real backstory. He’s also has the best character design in the show’s style, and has the best “voice” with Kevin Michael Richardson. It’s hilarious because the writers of the show KNOW he’s the best, inserting him liberally into every scenario, whether it should involve him or not. In fact, Duck and Tech are forced into everything since they tend to be the only characters that can be played with in any fun way. Everyone else is weak, boring, or useless, including a sadly under-utilized Rev and a waste of a talented Rob Paulsen.

Beyond Tech and Duck, Loonatics limps along in an entertainment swamp reeking of desperation. Outside of scarce moments of inspiration, Loonatics pretends to be edgy or cool but doesn’t actually TRY to be edgy or cool, leaving a messy, inexplicably complicated overarching plot that belongs in another story. In fact, I would wager that Loonatics caught the Caprica virus – a show that meant to be something original, but was bit by the executive virus, morphing into the bastardized Looney Toon characters that graced our presence. If there was any creative enthusiasm for the show in the beginning, it completely evaporated by the final ten episodes.

Loonatics ends with the Loonatics fighting off an evil bass player who built a cosmic guitar that can create intergalactic wormholes – a bass player who created a criminal holographic funk-band voiced by an actual Parliament Funkadelic band member – motivated because the leaders of the planet (of which he’s from) didn’t let his song become the national anthem. The battle ends a life-long feud between Zadavia and her brother, fighting off their traitorous General Deuce, which allows the Loonatics to be protectors of the universe. This is Loonatics in a nutshell – an overly insane series of ideas without the wink-and-a-nod humor necessary to make it palpable (like, say, The PowerPuff Girls). In the end, Loonatics Unleased seems to be made… well, for lunatics.


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Email Interview with Christian Tremblay!

Enjoy my brief interview with the co-creator of Swat Kats, Christian Tremblay!

TMB: Where did the idea of Swat Kats from? You mentioned on Reddit that it was based on a T-shirt design, but how did you develop the characters and the world from there? Did you approach Turner or did they approach you?

CT: The world evolved from that drawing into Jet fighter pilots, then we created the world of and all [MegaKat] City, a city large enough so that their jet plane can fly through. Then the villains came into the drawing board. We did not approach Turner. The SK was set up at HB for a while, and nothing happened, then Turner bought the studio, and they decide to produced two new shows, SK and Two Stupid Dogs.

TMB: Swat Kats had a lot of adventurous plots and a number of ideas at play. It dealt with time travel, dimensional travel, aliens, monsters, underground creatures, robots, magic, and so on. Was there ever a fear of having too many of them? Or was it just the idea of maximizing excitement week-to-week?

CT: Megakat city is a world in itself,  and I think we stayed faithful to the original ideal of having a few recurring villains. In the same time it is always fun to explore a “villains of the week”. But sincerely, we think the best episodes are the ones that involves villain that have stronger personalities, ex: The Metallikats are better episodes then, lets say Mad Kat. It does not mean that Mad Kat is not interesting, [he] was not as developed at the the Metallikats, or Dr. Viper as example.

TMB: How would you describe the relationship between T-Bone and Razor?

CT: They are trusted friend with their rivalry, they both are strong character[s], and sometimes it clashes, but there is an absolute trust in one another, and that is their strongest ties to each other…..THEY ARE REAL FRIENDS.

TMB: Even as a fan, I have to admit that there was quite a bit of exposition, which was unfortunately distracting in an otherwise fantastic show. Was that because the staff felt it was necessary for younger audiences to follow?

CT: I am not sure I understand, did you mean ” explosion?” If so, well it is an action series with villains and flying choppers, jets etc., it is quite normal to have explosions here and there, maybe there are too much in some, but it was not meant to keep the young audience. We always did the series to have fun ourselves.

TMB: I actually did mean “exposition,” in that characters would often explain the action, plot point, and/or situation out loud, when it was quite obvious what the action, plot point, and/or situation was. I was wondering if the staff felt that was necessary for younger audiences.

CT: Ah! OK, well you are right, that is something we were not crazy about, but it does have younger audience interest, when the writing has these elements into place. [They are] not the kind of things we would redo though.

TMB: Character designs in the second season were sharper and more angular than the first. Why the switch? I also noticed that in the first season, you worked with a number of animation companies, yet in the second, you stuck with one: Mook LTD. They provided the best work?

CT: The show evolve, there are things we wanted as the show started but we did not have time to do on the first season that we tried to do on the second one, and yes Mook provided the best work

TMB: One thing I was extremely impressed by was the number of body types of the different characters. Skinny, muscular, broad-shouldered, pot-bellied, short, stocky, fat – it really helped to make the world seem more real. Was that a conscious design decision from the beginning?

CT: Yes, you said it well, we were trying to build a make believe world.

TMB: So according to Wikipedia (, Swat Kats was one of the highest rated shows for a children’s cartoon, yet it was cancelled abruptly with three unfinished episodes. First, what happened that caused such a sudden cancellation against large ratings? And second, any chance we may get a sneak peek at what we missed?

CT: It was a bad timing of merchandising coming out late into the course of the series, and the investment from Turner to finance the entire things, and at some point, they pulled the plug. Remember, the toys came out late into the second season…..too late, as well as other merchandising. At the end, the white collar executives look at numbers.

TMB: That Reddit thread mentions some ideas about rebooting the series again. Without getting too detailed, what are some future plans you have in stored for the Swat Kats and MegaKat City? How do you plan on turning this idea into reality?

CT: We will bring back SK with new series and transmedia experience.



Swat Kats really, really strove to be different.

In the wake of the huge popularity of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, studios and networks scrambled to create the next “badass talking animal superhero” group. Street Sharks, Dinosaucers, Biker Mice from Mars (which they tried TWICE), Wild West Cowboys of Moo Mesa, and Bucky O’ Hare. Large, broad-shouldered, fine specimens of male machismo with animal attributes spout cheesy one-liners as they beat the crap out of embarrassingly incompetent villains within stories of questionable coherency and consistency. None of these really succeeded, and on the occasion I do look back on them, it’s easy to see why.

Swat Kats, however, really tried to be different. Utilizing an anime-inspired character design, darker and muted colors, variable body-types, and slightly-meatier plots, Swat Kats sought, at some point in its development, to change the game around, to bring a more tense and legitimately exciting experience to young kids. And, in all fairness, it worked. It was the highest rated kids show in 1994 and plans were laid for more episodes and other commercial products.

But suddenly, it was cancelled.

Why? They were in the midst of three new episodes when it was unceremoniously shelved. It was shoved into part of some Hanna-Barabara animated block of TV, then dropped of the schedule, before a half-assed DVD set came out in 2010, some four or five years later. Why did one of the highest rated kids show ever get canned so quickly?

After watching the two aired seasons, I can hazard a guess: Swat Kats must have been a FUCKING ordeal behind the scenes.

Swat Kats

Swat Kats: The Radical Squadron – (1993)

Director: Robert Alvarez
Starring: Charlie Adler, Barry Gordon, Gary Owens
Screenplay(s) by: Glenn Leopold, Lance Falk, Christian Tremblay

I can only describe Swat Kats as a well-oiled, wonderfully organized mess. And I mean this as a positive. The titular show, in which Chance “T-Bone” Furlong and Jake “Razor” Clawson, disgraced Enforcers (kinda like a police/military government unit), team up in a totally not-gay way as masked do-gooders with masterful technology developed from a junkyard, seems egregiously stuck among the fantasy-tale-trappings of 70s animation, the ultra-male-heroism of the 80s, and the “EXTREME/RADICAL” facade of the 90s. It liberally bounces between time-travel, magic amulets, giant monsters, out-of-control robots, mutated vicious flora, invading aliens, violent underground creatures, doppelgangers, mad scientists, zombie mummies, ghosts and possessions, curses, parallel worlds, and threats of nuclear fallout. The sheer variety of adventures isn’t necessarily the problem; it’s that Swat Kats swiftly rips through them in such a short time period (23 episodes) that it’s impossible to get a sense of what kind of world the actually Swat Kats live in (especially since most of the characters hardly seem particularly phased by these events).

Swat Kats is best thought of as a comic-book-as-animated-series, each episode being a different issue within a different set of circumstances. Some episodes are just paced better, while others seem so forced and calculating and radical that I suspect there was a quite a bit of tension between the creative staff and the executive heads. Christian Tremblay, Glenn Leopold and Robert Alvarez wanted to make a straight-forward, decently action show with a bit of depth and nuance. The studio wanted to shoehorn in previously established popular tropes, like medieval fantasy stories (which aren’t too far outside the realm of the show, but should not have been the THIRD episode), a ridiculously bombastic KISS-esque soundtrack (which was thankfully toned down in the second season), and miles upon miles of exposition.

Oh. God. The exposition.

I’ve seen many, many cartoons, both old and new, but Swat Kats takes the cake in exposition. They explain what they have to do, explain what they’re doing, explain what they’ve done, whether it worked or not, and if not, what will happen if the threat is not neutralized. They do this over and over again. Repeatedly. Other characters will lend their voices to YET AGAIN explain events that are obvious. Not even the worst Hanna-Barbara or Saturday morning cartoons went to the lengths this show did. No writer or director worth their salt would think this is a good thing; I can only suspect that some overzealous executive felt kids wouldn’t be able follow what was going on.

And yet, despite Swat Kats’s frantic, bi-polar, over-explanatory nature… it’s easy to like. Not necessarily enjoy, but there’s stuff along the surface to really engage in. The aerial battles and fight sequences are really well done, and the hand-to-hand, ground-level action sequences are quite exciting. People are flat-out killed on the show; there is no mandated “red shirts jumping out of helicopters with parachutes” creed when they’re destroyed. It has a fairly dark tinge – perhaps not as dark as nostalgia might believe, but I have had moments where I exclaimed, “Oh shit!” in seeing a feline citizen killed under toppled barrels, and a mutated scientist blown-up into goo.

When the cast does anything other than explain the plot, we get some pretty fun characters, although they’re a bit one-note. T-Bone and Razor have a decent “more than just bromance” interplay between each other, although their casual, just-hanging-out conversations work much better than their attempts at one-upmanship. Mayor Manx is the comic relief, a literal scaredy-cat that laughably raises taxes due to the sheer amount of destruction that occurs in their city. Deputy Mayor Calico Briggs is the female “love interest” who keeps the Mayor in check and can contact the Swat Kats at any time. She’s feisty but kinda pointless, although she has her moments. Second season newcomer Felina Feral is more useful as an Enforcer without getting too stereotypically butch, but there’s nothing beyond that. And her uncle, Commander Ulyssus Feral… well, he’s just frustrating. He and his Enforcers are so ineffectual, constantly being destroyed by the threat of the week, yet he always tries to solve every problem by throwing more Enforcers at it. But when the Swat Kats save the day, he gets mad at them for destroying city property, even though the Enforcers cause half of it themselves. Yeah, sure, you can say it masks a seething jealousy, but it doesn’t exactly come through on the screen.

As mentioned above, Swat Kats’s core issue is that it shoots for the stars, piling on conflicts that grow more and more fantastical. It fails to ease viewers into its world; instead, it assumes kids for the most part will just accept every event thrown its way. If you can manage that, then under that surface are some pretty interesting ideas, such as “Razor’s Edge,” where Razor loses his nerve after he believes he maimed an innocent couple. In “The Dark Side of the Swat Kats,” Swat Kats calls attention to the non-lethal weaponry used by the team by warping them to a parallel world, in which the Swat Kat doppelgangers utilizes lethal and deadly force (probably the best piece of brilliant subtlety in a show that isn’t really known for it). And kudos to the show for its willingness to show origin stories, for heroes and villains alike. Although lacking in clarity, we even learn why T-Bone and Razor left the Enforcers:

I spoke with Christian Tremblay via email, who also graciously participated in this reddit Q&A, who said the show was cancelled due to the toy line coming out too late (full interview will be forthcoming). While I can’t argue with one of the show’s creators, a part of me can’t shake the feeling that there’s something else here. A late toy line is one thing, but the show’s popularity should have been able to withstand that. More likely it was a combination of that, with parental complaints and executive concerns, that led to the sudden cancellation. Whatever the case may be, there does seem to be a bit of hope of the show returning, according to Mr. Temblay himself.

Swat Kats: The Radical Squadron threw excitement at you like it was going out of style, but had a love for its premise and characters that can’t be denied, even if that love didn’t know when to be quiet once in a while. Still, it’s a fun show, and after swallowing up some of the groaner gags, it’s almost impossible to hate; any other reaction would be less than radical.

(Side note: The show changed visual styles within the second season, making the character designs more angular and sharper, and producing a much cooler, stylistic opening credit. While working solely with the animation studio Mook, Inc. in the second season was a great decision, I personally believe Mook worked better with the first season’s slightly toonier designs. This is much more apparent with the female characters; Callie and Felina’s flat faces are disappointing to say the least.)


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