Archive for category Childhood Revisited
Now we’re taking.
The “World Tour” has finally started to live up to its promise, with two solid episodes that finally gives Avalon’s mission some purpose. Both episodes bring subtext to the forefront as well, something that Gargoyles always had a bit of a problem with. The episodes themselves are strong, narrative-wise, but the subtext is where the real meat is. And while “M.I.A.” takes the theme of drive and purpose, and turns it against itself into obsession, “Sanctuary” is noteworthy because so far, out of the entire show, this arguably may be the first episode to deal with its patriarchy/ feminist subtext so overtly – how drive and purpose is also used as manipulation and control, in particular of male control over women, and the various ways its subverted.
Gargoyles 2×28 – Sanctuary
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The crew arrives in Paris, and Elisa decides to do some sightseeing while the gargoyles are stone. She witnesses Macbeth and human Demona being lovey-dovey and tries to tail the latter after they separate, but she loses her. Elisa returns to Goliath with the information as well the news that some winged creatures were spotted over Notre Dame. Goliath and Bronx goes there to investigate, but before all of this, we need to talk about Goliath’s behavior towards the two women in his life, because for the first time, it’s a lot more harsher and controlling, cleverly paralleling Thailog’s actions later in the episode.
I had mentioned how disappointed I was with the father-reveal from “Monsters,” and while I still have some issues with that, “Sanctuary” does deal with the fallout, in unexpected ways. Angela addresses Goliath as “father,” a name he shoots down immediately, demanding that she think of the entire clan as her patronage. There is a truth to this, of course, but it’s a passing-the-buck kind of truth – as of this moment, there IS no clan. There is a thin layer of resentment Goliath shows Angela here, and I can imagine that after “Monsters,” Angela has tried to talk to Goliath about their relationship, which only made him think of the pain in losing Demona. It’s obvious that he wants to put a wall between that kind of bond, and he’s hiding behind gargoyle tradition to make it so.
It gets worse when he learns of Demona. Goliath attempts to solidify the wall, and he does two surprisingly terrible things: first, in order to keep Elisa with Angela, he tells Elisa that he wants to keep his daughter away from her mother (due to Angela’s concern about her parentage); then in the same beat, pushes the truth AGAIN by claiming Demona’s desire for vengeance is so strong that he needs Angela to stay with Elisa, to protect her. It’s a shock to see the noble Goliath pull such manipulations to keep them passive, shooting down any protestations, and it’s even more devastating that the two women acquiesce, portrayed in a two-shot of Elisa and Angela facing each other but not quite on the same plane, looking down and not at each other.
Goliath confronts Demona, and after a really poorly shot action scene (I get the sense that the editors here were cutting around particularly ugly visuals), Thailog arrives, and he and Demona are now a couple. It’s a bit tough to watch Demona, who was driven by hate (but a hate that she owned up to), kind of submit to Thailog over love, but there’s so many layers of control and manipulation here that it’s almost a miracle that the episode get away with it. Goliath thinks Demona is manipulating Thailog, both to get the false-Goliath to turn against humans as well as some other sinister plan involving Macbeth. After failing to convince him, and being accused of being jealous (and there’s definitely a layer of jealousy here), Goliath flies off, back towards the women he CAN control. Despite the ugly animation, the shot of Goliath standing tall in between the seated, submissive Elisa and Angela in the boat speaks uncomfortable volumes.
Here’s the full extent of the story: Goliath thinks Demona and Macbeth are plotting against Thailog. But Demona is actually marrying Macbeth only to imprison him for all eternity, declare him legally dead, and inherit his fortune, so as to combine it with Thailog’s cashflow stolen in “Double Jeopardy.” (The episode glosses over exactly what happened to them after “Avalon.” The Weird Sisters’ spell seems to “couple” the two as a unit – as a team in “High Noon” and here as lovers, but in both cases it’s temporary, and I guess Demona turning into a human during the day snapped her out of the spell quicker than Macbeth, which allowed her to manipulate him. It’s kinda messy and unclear, in particular how Macbeth is rich in Paris, but the plot cooks so it’s more fun to follow along.) The biggest reveal is Thailog is manipulating them both! He’s finagles a way to position Macbeth and Demona to try and kill each other so he can win BOTH their fortunes. Nice to see the guy utilizing his Xanatos’ training, and nice for the episode to toss aside the whole weird “male/family/shipping” vibe from “Double Jeopardy.”
I think it was all tossed aside to emphasize the more legitimate and creepy daughter/father vibe (and, by proxy, that sense of patriarchal/sexual control). In particular, when Goliath and Angela go up against Thailog, the latter speaks of Angela with a very libido-driven tone: his line-reading of “Mmmm, and a young one at that” isn’t lost to the viewer. Of course the show can’t get too explicit – or even too implicit – but the connotation can’t be denied, especially with the episode’s whole approach to control. Take a look at the opening screenshot – Thailog’s grabbing of Angela in that shot is charged as all hell. The whole episode is about powerful male figures taking control of female ones, and their attempts to fight back against this. It’s all there, especially in the fight between Demona and Macbeth; Macbeth is trying to kill Demona, while Demona is trying to control him. It’s powerful, intriguing stuff.
Elisa ends that fight by shooting Demona, knowing that no one else can kill the two except by each other’s hand (I forget if she learned that in “City of Stone” or “Avalon.”). Macbeth awakens miserable but somewhat comforted knowing that he is capable of love, despite this date ending somewhat awkwardly. Demona awakens and sees Angela for the first time, and there’s a connection there, although Demona runs off with Thailog before she can recognize it. It’s still odd to see Demona flail back into Thailog’s arms, but it’s less weakening the character and more for her to plot with a new Xanatos-equal. Less intriguing is the obvious “more than just friends” relationship burgeoning between Elisa and Goliath, especially with all the early shutting down of Elisa’s thoughts he did. I do like that Elisa smartly ended the Demona/Macbeth fight, and straight-up told Angela that Demona was indeed her mother. I hope this will allow the both of them to push back against Goliath a bit more, especially as it’s clear the show is gearing them to be a more familial unit, but it’s important to make sure Elisa and Angela still can stand on their own and are willing to call the main gargoyle out for his bullshit. It’s awkward in spots (the attempts at making “sanctuary” a running theme in the episode doesn’t work at all), but the gender/control subtext of the episode, coupled with the show’s theme of drive and reasons to keep going, makes it a standout.
“M.I.A.” [apologies, the episode isn’t set to allow embedding] is another highlight, but less in subtext, and more in setting up a tight narrative and creating memorable characters in a short amount of time. This episode also takes the theme of what drives people, and turns it against itself, and how that can be perverted in a way that has nothing to do with obsession, greed, or power. For this episode, it’s vengeance, but not the almost-justified, all-encompassing kind like Demona, but the petty, misguided, heat-of-the-moment kind that masks grief, guilt, and shame.
The top-tier studios are brought in for a beautiful take on three of the hatchlings of Goliath’s old brood (I think – I had to wiki this, but I didn’t want to look too much as to avoid spoilers) that has taken up in London. I should say two, though, as Una and Leo, who are more animal-anthropomorphic than typical gargoyles (which is a bit confusing), refuse to help local Londoners being harassed by nearby thugs. It should be noted that this runs counter to the whole gargoyle mantra – their whole purpose is to protect. Without that, they become rude, cruel, and vindictive, especially when Goliath and his friends have the “audacity” to ride into town.
To what extent should your purpose in life take you? If your purpose is to protect, is that just the home? The town? The state? The world? That’s the question “M.I.A.” poses, with Una, Leo, and the late-Griff as our debaters. Before getting to that, there needs to be some setup. The crew sees a commemorative statue to Griff and Goliath and are rightly confused, but a local friendly British guy tells the story of some creatures helping the Brits turn the German blitzkrieg. He takes them (well, Elisa, as Goliath, Angela, and Bronx follow) to Una and Leo, who are pissed at Goliath for what seems to be inexplicable reasons. Una knocks them all out with a spell, and when Goliath awakens, he finds his friends missing. Una and Leo sadistically hid them away, claiming to return the pain Goliath himself caused when he failed in his promise to protect Griff.
That is a hell of a thing. Una and Leo’s actions are vicious, Una clearly the mastermind here due to the obvious crush she had on Griff. Beyond that, though: this is what happens when the need to be given a purpose is suddenly drawn out after being packed in for so many years, creating this ill-advised, sad attempt at revenge. Even though their actions are abhorrent, you can’t help but feel sympathy for them, so desperate they are at wanting to something, anything, for they’re fallen comrade and the guilt they feel for what their part it in may be. As of right now, though, it’s just vindictive anger, and this forces Goliath to use the Phoenix Gate to figure out what the hell is going on.
He warps back into 1940s Britain, and after a narrow brush with a plane, runs into Griff. He introduces them to past-Una and Leo, and thus begins the discussion of their goal. Griff is gung-ho about stopping the Nazis, but Una and Leo are more reluctant. They claim this isn’t their fight, and it’s true, to an extent. But Griff truly believes in this fight and Goliath, while attempting to stay out of the debate, knows the consequences of staying out of battles with stakes bigger than the personal. As Goliath says: “In my experience, human problems become gargoyles problems.” He helps Griff, with the promise to protect him. Hence, the beginning of the episode.
Breath-taking action scenes follow as the two gargoyles battle the Germans and their non-Nazi-symboled aircraft. I particularly love the unspoken team-up that develops between the gargoyles and the British pilots. It’s a great moment, emphasizing how the higher stakes force everyone to look past differences and stand up to an ultimate evil. Goliath saves Griff’s life as promised, but it looks as if fate will not be denied. It attempts to create other methods to kill Griff, Final-Destination-style. Goliath breaks it by warping the two of them back to the present. I’m not sure how logical it sounds – wouldn’t fate try to kill him in the present? – but, you know, magic. Also good episodes allow you to ignore logic and enjoy everything that happens.
It also makes for a wonderful reunion in the end, too, as Leo and Una finally comes to terms with the part they played in Griff’s death. Sure, they didn’t do anything, but “evil prevails when good men do nothing,” and all that. To a gargoyle, doing nothing is the same thing as being evil, and the consequence of that was losing Griff, Goliath or no Goliath. Leo realizes this first, and Una follows suit, pushing past her emotional connection to Griff and embracing her guilt and grief simultaneously. In a way, the episode “rewards” this powerful moment with Griff’s return; the real reward is watching the three finally fight off the thugs from early in the episode.
The time-travel plot is handled simply and strongly here, a bit less cluttered than “Vows” or “Avalon.” There’s even a bit of a joke about the complexity of time travel with the final Goliath/Elisa exchange in the end, probably a bit of an in-joke about their past time-travel episodes. Regardless, “Sanctuary” and “M.I.A.” finally gives the World Tour episodes their own drive, their own real purpose. Here’s hoping they can keep this up.
“Sanctuary” A-/”M.I.A.” A-
Sporadic and uneven, it’s clear that production issues and the lack of executive/creative cohesion ruined Bonkers’ potential. Why Bonkers never could quite get off the ground. Part 2 of 2. Part 1 is here.
[Before I begin, I received a bit of more information about Bonkers from Bob Schooley, a producer/writer who was very much present during this time, that has proven invaluable: The first couple of Miranda episodes were sent to different studios because the main Disney Animation studios were working on Goof Troop at the time (this doesn’t explain why Kennedy was involved in anything though). This would bolster my argument that Disney Afternoon at this point was spreading its resources out way too much – with Goof Troop, Bonkers, Marsupalami, Raw Toonage, Aladdin, Gargoyles, and The Mighty Ducks more or less being put together at the same time. I also learned that the weird pacing and other oddities that seem out-of-place in the Miranda episodes were due to the new crew going back to those episodes and trying to “fix” them, which just doesn’t work at all. This would explain why Kanifky pops up once in a while (see below about my thoughts on Kanifky) and would also explain the crossover episode “New Partners on the Block.” I don’t talk about that episode, mainly because – besides the terrorism plot that caused this episode to be banned (more episodes of Bonkers are banned than any other Disney Afternoon show, which is surprising) – there’s nothing really to the crossover. Also, it’s not that really great of a episode.]
Here’s what you need to know about nu-Bonkers: he was a former toon star who was unceremoniously kicked out of his acting gig and stumbled into the world of law enforcement. That’s legit. Transitioning from “role” of police officer to actual police officer is enough material, comedic or otherwise, to make Bonkers into a decent show – by focusing on how a cartoon star with a particular set of wacky skills could possibly function as a member of the LAPD. The first set of toons by Weisman, Hathcock, Capizzi and company didn’t work quite as well as expected, but Robert Taylor’s retooling made for a secondary mess.
It sucks, too, because the core of Bonkers re-categorization works. It comes from a deeper and more thematic point of view. Everything you need to know about Bonkers is portrayed by his home – which is a trailer park on the edge of a cliff hidden behind a facade of a mansion. It’s a perfect visual microcosm of what Bonkers was versus what he has become. The show overall is more ambitious, reaching for a richer, exploratory approach to the differences between humans and toons. There are more rules, more excuses to engage the various ideas that separate toons from humans, and the show pulls much more from the Who Framed Roger Rabbit template – it’s a bit darker and the crimes are more serious, which involve framing people for murder, a near-toon genocide, and even terrorism. Taylor’s retooling makes one huge, crucial mistake though: while it went through hell to note the differences between humans and toons, it never bothered to find them on similar ground. In other words, unlike The Odd Couple, which worked every episode to connect the two different characters, Bonkers implied that these two “species” should stay apart. This creates an uncomfortable, borderline racist, dissonance that Bonkers will never, ever be able to overcome.
Here’s the thing: millions of children around the world would kill to be able to hang out with their own cartoon buddy, goofy and physically immune to real violence. The last thing they want to see is that the experience would SUCK. You could kind of get away with that in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, where Eddie was working through his pain and grief to return to a point of toon appreciation again (it helps that the film is definitely geared towards an adult audience). To see that kind of frustration week in and week out, however, is the opposite of fun. Lucky and Bonkers rarely click outside their Laurel/Hardy-esque dialogue (Jim Cummings should be given some kind of knighthood for how well he vocally plays off himself), and with episodes reaching for deeper, darker stories, character cohesion becomes even more important. In a more threatening, more dangerous world, a rich partnership is paramount. The Lucky episodes of Bonkers have none of that.
Bonkers (Lucky episodes) thrives in a world of misery and discomfort, of a struggle for accomplishments sans recognition. Both Bonkers and Lucky never get admired for their constant and consistent merits, always ending up losers. Even their most studious wins feel like losses, which most likely leaves audiences frustrated and children depressed, or vice-versa. And while there’s nothing wrong with a cartoon set in what amounts to two characters’ “personal hell,” the show failed to maintain a real, albeit exaggerated, connection between these two down-and-out figures. Lucky, the pushed-around family man desperate for a promotion and stability; Bonkers, the toon star viciously thrust out of the limelight into a world beyond his limited understanding – these two work best when their manners, action, and dialogue compliment and support each other, despite their comic craziness and frequent misunderstandings. When their conflicts enter into bitterness and desperation, Bonkers drops into a quagmire of sadness, and even the most ardent attempts at jokes only add to the melancholy. No one wants to laugh at a sad clown when he’s actually crying.
If the Miranda episodes were focused on the relationship between Miranda and Bonkers (to mixed results), then the Lucky episodes were more concerned with Lucky’s and Bonkers’ individual stories, of sorts. This actually works quite well in the “Going Bonkers/Gone Bonkers” pilot episodes, which does a lot to establish the lowest point of the main characters: Bonkers fired from his hit show as its replaced by some generic action cartoon, Lucky stuck in a dead-end position with illusions of advancement to improve his and his family’s lot in life. Bonkers, in particular, is in a shitty state – he has no home and no job, and his exaggerated tears are quite effective to create sympathy for him. Bonkers, overall, hasn’t been turned up to eleven just yet; the episode is subtle enough to keep his wackiness tied to specific moments of desperation. I love, for example, the scene where he happens to run into Donald Duck and forces an impromptu audition – while the duck is being held hostage. Disney’s animation and timing here is just perfect, building a nice, wacky, growing misunderstanding that leads to the Lucky’s incidental involvement and the criminal’s capture. Bonkers’ specific cartoon skillset is showcased here as well.
There’s a shot in particular where, while Lucky delineates various barriers in the office, Bonkers gives him this look. It’s a perfect scene: for a brief moment, Bonkers may just be in over his head. The toon that has been in so many insane situations (as an actor) has no idea what to do. This utter lost feeling of displacement is there throughout the pilot, which works as Bonkers’ friends disappears and he loses Lucky’s trust. So when “The Collector” captures Bonkers, the bobcat doesn’t bother to run. Where would he go? He accepts his fate as the glass container comes down on him. The pilot parallels Who Framed Roger Rabbit sensibilities so much here – remember when Roger says he couldn’t escape the handcuffs “at any time – only when it was funny”? That’s not a joke – that’s a truism of being a toon. His life, his existence is limited to “toon rules,” and so is the case with Bonkers, who finally wins back his confidence when Lucky arrives (after a change of heart) and Bonkers gets back into the swing of his cartooniness, besting The Collector at a toon-off. It’s also no coincidence that while the villain in Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a toon pretending to be a human, The Collector is a human pretending to be a toon. Ninety percent of the pilot is genuinely good.
But the ending hints at what will be Bonkers downfall. The Collector is thrust into a “toon box,” with looks to be some kind of psychopathic cartoon hell. Bonkers says he’ll be fine, but come on. The guy will be psychologically tortured until he’s dead. Really, though, this is an excuse for the writers to end the plot without having to engage in any proper denouement or resolution, a gimmick that writers will constantly utilize to downplay any and all of the success Lucky and Bonkers have. Secondly, the ending tries to force-rush a relationship between Lucky and Bonkers, but this fails because the pilot ends with Lucky NOT happy being Bonkers’ partner. Between the tossed-off endings and the disconnect between Lucky and Bonkers as partners, Bonkers begins a slow, unfortunate descent into pure bitterness and awfulness.
Subsequent episodes are basically a timeline of writers and animators getting lazier. Some ideas are sound, like “Is Toon Fur Really Warm,” where Lucky asks Bonkers to use his former acting connections to find a toon skunk wanted for murder (to appear at his daughter’s birthday party). Already you see the problem – a cop asking a toon to find a (alleged) murderer? To its credit, the episode does get into Bonkers’ past a bit, and shows that he’s actually a decent investigator. The animation and expressions are great, and the use of shadows and shading to evoke a noir-esque mood is genuinely effective. I’m still a bit unclear about Marilyn’s age – she looks 13 but acts 7 – but the disconnect between Lucky and Bonkers is still present since Lucky isn’t even involved with the whole “blackmail for murder thing,” despite being, you know, a cop.
I’m certainly not asking a show like Bonkers to be true to the nature of police work, but it would be nice if the show at least paid lip service to the job. Lucky rarely acts like a real cop, spouting bullshit, hypocritical advice mainly to get Bonkers off his back. By this point, Bonkers is less a toon actor with a police badge and more of a moronic ball of almost-homosexual energy. I don’t mean to be offensive, but Bonkers aggressiveness should have been left to his acting history and craving for attention unleashed, instead of wildly desperate attempts to win Lucky’s (actual?) love. So something like “Luna-Toons” works, because Lucky acts like a cop and Bonkers is enthused with teaching his skillset to an alien he confuses for a toon. But then episodes like “Out of Sight, Out of Toon,” “Calling All Cars,” “In Toons We Trust,” and “Never Cry Pigs,” begin to sour any type of partnership between the two (despite being relatively decent overall). Lucky hates Bonkers for no real reason, despite the bobcat being absolutely right in all those episodes. That being said, Bonkers’ “Trust me…” claims often make things worse, so Lucky’s hatred is justified! Nothing is working.
Things only get worse, as Lucky gets lazier, Bonkers grows more out of control, and the writers stop giving a shit. “Once in a Blue Toon” is just frustrating, watching the characters try and reform a villainous toon, failing, and then watching the toon just “magically” reform himself for no reason. Then there’s “Time Wounds All Heels,” where we watch Lucky, who, I must emphasize, is a COP, act uncomfortably cowardly as he’s stalked by a released prisoner he put in jail. “Stay Tooned” is just depressing, where an unhinged Bonkers concocts a nonsensical conspiracy theory which gets everyone fired. Potentially interesting episodes that approach the thematic level of the pilot fall flat, like “The Day the Toon Stood Still.” There is so much potential in an episode about a deistic toon-clock distoring up toons’ timing (since timing is so important to a toon) and returning time to a point before toons existed. Too bad the solution was weak since the clock just needed to be told “Thank you.” (PROTIP: if the solution to your story is a character needing to say “Thank you,” then you failed).
Bonkers continues to be a waste of potential and ambition. Take something like “Get Wacky.” “Get Wacky” suggests something fascinating. Humans view their purpose in life through the lens of a philosophical/religious mentality. “Get Wacky” claims that toons view their lives as being characters in their own cartoons. This is an AMAZING idea, especially applied to someone like Bonkers, who was actually in his own cartoon. Not only does this give weight to Bonkers’ reaction in the pilot, but potentially gives a real drive to Bonkers as he goes up against a Wacky Weasel (Rip Taylor!), a toon criminal that never got caught in his own cartoons. What should have happened: after failing to catch Wacky, Bonkers gets really, really depressed about his lot in life, but Lucky pulls him out of his funk by the virtue of being his partner, inspiring Bonkers to go one-on-one with Wacky to the end. What actually happened: well, after a lot of failing, Bonkers is told by a useless toon radio he’s a character of his own cartoon, which then just leads to the Wacky/Bonkers showdown, which the latter wins. The episode never reaches for the potential stakes of its premise, and Lucky continues his semi-prejudice, anti-toon diatribes, in between Chief Kanifky’s mindless claims for results.
Speaking of which… Chief Kanifky is quite possibly the WORST character ever – not just in animated shows, but in entertainment in general. Look: you can have clueless, brainless characters. You can have tyrannical, aggressive characters. You can’t have both. If you do, he better be in jail or dead by the end of the episode. Bonkers has the audacity to make Kanifky into a significant character, being both an idiot and overbearing, freaking out Lucky/Bonkers with his audacious demands and his moronic ramblings. When the mayor demotes, then fires him in “The Good, the Bad, and the Kanifky,” THIS IS A GOOD THING, but the show justifies Bonkers and Lucky getting his job back because… well, I’m not sure why. Because he’s sad? Kanifky is just shit. He’s not a good boss, and he’s not fun to watch. Bonkers at this stage isn’t fun to watch in general, but Kanifky is just dire, adding to the utter frustration of the entire show in general.
Everything after that is just nonsensical and uninteresting, watching writers and animators pad their time for the paychecks. All the interesting dynamics that “Going/Gone Bonkers,” “Get Wacky,” “Is Toon Fur Really Warm,” and “Luna-Toons” are gone, replaced with boilerplate plotting that grows stupider in time. You may get something fun(ish) like “Never Cry Pig,” a goofy twist on the Three Pigs fairytale, but mostly you get asinine episodes like “Hamster Houseguest,” “Weather or Not,” “A Wooly Bully,” or “Cereal Surreal,” simple plots where Lucky and Bonkers are pretty much useless. Sooner or later you see EVERYONE give up, like in “Seems Like Old Toons,” where some old-school toons need to be animated before the studio is destroyed (no one thought to move the equipment?), or “Toon with No Name,” where a current crime spree mirrors an old Bonkers cartoon (but it absolutely DOESN’T, so impossible to tell what’s going on?), or “Comeback Kid,” where for some reason, the villains, who are in possession of tank that they are literally about to fire, suddenly do not fire it, which makes me think they utterly screwed up the storyboarding process. “Imagine That” follows a toon pencil and Marilyn to the toon world but the episode makes no sense, plot-wise, and what the world is going on in “Fall Apart Land”? Lucky, the guy who hated toons for 57 episodes, is secretly looking at theme park ideas with Fall-Apart Rabbit in his spare time? NO.
Broad strokes, combined with characters inconsistencies and egregious bouts of pessimism dooms Bonkers. It might be crazy think that the one thing Bonkers needed is subtlety, but that’s the very thing that prevented Who Framed Roger Rabbit from spiraling out of control – and even now there are people who find Roger Rabbit too much to handle. Still, it’s the wasted potential and disconnect between the show’s leads makes Bonkers painfully disappointing. There’s something to the idea of Lucky working to teach Bonkers how to work his way through police procedure with respect and control. There’s something to the idea of Bonkers guiding Lucky through the crazy, unique rules of the tooniverse (one detail I love is how Bonkers can literally paint colors on himself when a random act causes him to lose his hues). This contrast is interesting. Too bad Lucky is an awful teacher, sending Bonkers away out of laziness, anger and frustration. Too bad Bonkers is less a guide and more of an unrestrained tornado of overly-affectionate chaos. Rare are moments of inspiration, like the beginning of “Stand-In Dad,” where Lucky calms a lost kid, and Bonkers transforms into a card so the kid can write his home address on. The rest of the episode is a mess, but for a moment, Lucky is endearing, Bonkers is helpful, and the two CONNECT. Most episodes are the chaotic, incomprehensible kind like “Basic Spraining,” where all that early potential is jumbled and sporadic. How could Lucky completely forget Bonkers was the only toon cop on the force? How could they both fall for a fake police academy training session that, upon failing, they’d lose their badge? At a metaphoric level, why wait so late to pull in Bonkers’ toon rules and their abilities to be useful? There is a better, tighter show here, but god forbid the writers give it to us beyond the pilot.
Bonkers (and characters like Bonkers) are inherently hard to write for because writers tend to fall into the trap of emphasizing silliness and stupidity for easy laughs. They never bother to contextualize reasons for that obnoxious behavior other than the belief that Bonkers is a toon = he’s a moron. WAY too many writers mistake goofy innocence for excuses to be idiotic (see also: Spongebob, post-movie). The thing is, Bonkers ISN’T an idiot. He made a killing in his cartoons. He was unceremoniously kicked out of his lifestyle and thrust into a career in law enforcement by sheer coincidence. Bonkers’ wackiness should be a result of him falling back on his “acting” since that’s all he knows, which, to be fair, the “Going/Gone Bonkers” pilot showcases really well. But Taylor’s episodes quickly loses track of this (actually, they lose track of all sense of characterization, but Bonkers takes the hardest hit), having the bobcat resort to mindless behavior because, goddamn it, we need funny things to happen.
In the end, neither Lucky, Miranda, or Bonkers could save the show. If the bold, thematically rich subtext and world-building of the Lucky episodes were combined with the relationships and characterizations of the Miranda episodes, Bonkers would be a great show, along with TaleSpin and Ducktales. Unfortunately, Disney’s animation B-team of animators and writers seemed unable or unwilling to take its premise to task, basking in awfulness and unearned silliness, making the prospect of hanging out with toons seem like torture. Overall, while I appreciated the Lucky episodes for their ambition, the Miranda episodes worked better for me, even though both needed extensive work. A human/toon would should have been a fun excursion, but through the Disney machine, the whole concept most likely would have driven anyone….well, crazy.
As of writing this, at some point between last Friday and today, Disney’s Official Youtube Channel has removed all their Gargoyles episodes. I had to watch this week’s (and most likely will have to do this for the rest of the series) through more… proactive means. I wrote about how something rotten is going on at Disney over at my tumblr; it’s hard to say if this is part of that assessment. Yet considering that one has to actively go into a Youtube channel to remove what one have uploaded, I can’t help but assume this is part of that rottenness. What’s stranger is that Disney’s Youtube Channel still kept their other shows – only Gargoyles was removed. I’m at a loss as to how to frame this.
Still, I managed to watch “Monsters” and “Golem,” and it seems that the “World Tour” concept is starting to show its flaws. “Monsters” and “Golem” aren’t terrible episodes by any stretch, but there are some shockingly disappointing narrative occurrences from a show that has otherwise been on point with its storylines. The “World Tour” should be a opportunity to get a little weird and self-reflective (read: self-aware), and/or try and put the current cast into a fun, unique situation and have them claw their way out of it, metaphorically and literally. Instead, “Monsters” and “Golem” jump right back into the show’s mythology, but of deepening it, it cheapens it, turning complex, and potentially-complex, characters into stock-in-trade villains. There’s something very off about these episodes, and I can’t quite place my finger on it.
Gargoyles 2×26 – Monsters
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“Monsters” brings our characters to Loch Ness, Scotland, amidst a semi-boon in tourists eager for sightings of the infamous underwater beast. As the characters row to shore, there’s plenty of undersea attacks from some weird monsters – one mechanical, one organic. Everything starts off like a typical Gargoyles episode – strange thing happens, the gargoyles get punchie, Elisa gets investigative (there’s a scene where Elisa calls Matt Bluestone, but her message doesn’t get through because his mailbox is full. This has to mean something, right? I mean, WE NEED MORE BLUESTONE ALWAYS). This time, Angela falls off the boat and is grabbed by the mechanical monster. Elisa, Bronx and Goliath go searching for her. Nothing wrong here – a nice, if basic, set up.
Then things start to fall apart at the seams, little by little. It’s revealed that the mechanical Loch Ness is controlled by Dr. Sevarius, striking on his own after “The Cage.” He managed to capture a baby Loch Ness Monster, but it’s dying while in isolation. Capturing Angela has proven to be advantageous, as she is able to improve the young monster’s disposition, encouraging it to eat and move around. Sevarius then chains up Angela and ties her to the end of his beastly ship. He releases the young monster back into the waters, tracks it to its mother, then drags Angela out on the tailend of his ship to lure the beasts after him, in order to taze and capture the older monster. He does this because it will allow him a whole host of genetic material to work with.
This leads to a lot of questions. Why does Sevarius have a Loch Ness Monster-shaped submarine? I’m going to assume it was to lure and capture the younger creature, as well as fool and confuse the locals if they saw something in the water, but I do wish this was clarified a bit. The whole mystique of the monster is that it’s a rare (if even verified) sighting, so Sevarius swimming around wily-nily inside it seems counter-productive, begging for attention. Secondly, Sevarius has a Loch Ness Monster already, and even though its dying, doesn’t it have all the genetic material he’d need? In particular, after Angela gets it healthy again, Sevarius technically achieved his goal. I can chalk that up to simple greed (what’s better than one Loch Ness Monster? TWO Loch Ness Monsters!), which actually leads to the third issue: what is Sevarius actual motivation here? What, specifically, does he want with Loch Ness Monster DNA? Before, Sevarius was employed by Xanatos, so he was getting paid for his experiments, but of course there was his natural, sick curiosity of recreating a gargoyle either by splicing creatures together, manipulating gargoyle DNA, or cloning one outright. He was scientific curiosity run amok, but there was a distinct endgame to it all, a power in building such a useful creature; being paid for it was just a benefit.
Here, though, Sevarius gathering Loch Ness DNA is vague at best. He says he wants to start a “creature farm,” because he can create an array of creatures from the monster’s genetic code, but why? Creating a Loch Ness Monster, or Loch-Ness-type creatures doesn’t seem particularly useful; what does the Loch Ness Monster have that is driving Sevarius to such lengths? I think the writers want to give Sevarius a “Doctor Moreau” vibe, but that seems to be a step down from what we know of the good doctor so far. Sevarius, who always had a bit of nuance in his overall motivations, is reduced here to a mustache-twirling cliche (capture innocent creature to perform invasive experiments because SCIENCE!), and it’s disappointing – he’s even given grand speeches and typical over-the-top villain behavior, like using Angela as bait and the whole “making monsters out of monsters” thing. Dr. Sevarius does reveal officially that Angela is Goliath’s daughter, the details of which I’ll get to in a bit, but I thought this was already revealed in “Avalon.” Goliath obviously knows (he smirks when he response to Elisa’s question about how Angela resembles Demona), but I guess it needed to be expressed definitively? Angela didn’t know at the time, so it comes to a shock to Angela when Sevarius tells her, but again, I’m going to get into this in a second.
I could let this all go though, but there was one visual moment that just took me right out of the episode. Some set up: Elisa notices some Xanatos thugs in town, so she tracks them down to a small ruin. She, Bronx, and Goliath return to the ruin only to be taken down into the base underneath it. After a typical moronic encounter with a henchman, the base explodes, and our heroes narrowly escaping inside a mini-sub (also shaped like a Loch Ness Monster). They track down Sevarius’ Loch Ness machine, and ram it, and somehow cause a significant amount of damage to it, while their sub sustains none. I mean, you could get into a whole thing about correct angles and aiming points and how, perhaps, the mini-sub was built differently from the larger Loch Ness machine because each vehicle required completely different parameters, but you could totally get into a counter-argument that a Loch Ness machine of that size needed more shielding, and we’d be running around in circles. Also, the mini-sub had the mechanics for torpedoes, so the writers could have set up the mini-sub to be armed, then they fire the torpedoes to cause that kind of damage, then have Goliath exit through the weaponry to save Angela (instead of being fired through it). I hate this kind of critical-rewriting, especially how nit-picky it sounds, but I feel like the obvious approaches are just right there, and watching Gargoyles take these bizarre turns makes the show frustrating. All these little issues like the ones mentioned above speaks to the show’s underlying issues that prevent me from really standing behind the show. Gargoyles, as I mentioned before, is so concerned about the mythological forest that it tends to miss the details of the trees.
The episode ends with the living Loch Ness Monsters attacking the mechanical one and causing it to sink into the depths of the ocean, with Sevarius “missing”. The henchman at the end claims that Sevarius will be back – but of course we know this. The only reason he didn’t say this while literally shaking his fist was because he was tied up. The strongest disappointment though, was how ambivalent the ending treated Angela relationship to her father, after such a big reveal. It seems like there’d be some kind of emotion displayed there – is Angela resentful? Relieved? Curious? But it only ends with the two hugging and some off-the-cuff saccharine remarks. “Monsters” had a lot of promise with its characters, but the execution was half-assed, and the animation was merely passable.
Gargoyles 2×27 – Golem
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“Golem” is hardly stronger. While I’ve had my concerns about Gargoyles in the past, there were only two episodes that I would call distinctively bad: “Enter Macbeth” and “Outfoxed.” In short, “Outfoxed” felt petulant and forced, what with Cyberbiotics CEO Halcyon Renard forcing Goliath to admit his sins, a development that was much better utilized in “Shadows of the Past.” Renard has potential as a character, but his two showcases are fairly embarrassing. Renard acts like a child in an adult body, which is odd for a head of a massive, powerful corporation. This is probably by design, but there has to be something more to this guy than being preachy and, subsequently, hypocritical.
“Golem” brings the cast to Prague, which is an interesting locale to place an episode of anything, never mind an episode of Gargoyles. It begins with a car chase, the police after what seems to be a spy. The spy makes a James Bond-esque escape onto a passing boat with Renard and “Owen-clone” Preston Vogel at the helm – and they pass by Goliath and the gang, only managing to pass a glance at each other. I liked that there’s a bit of tension here. We know Renard was a good guy before, so it’s unclear what’s happening – the spy is working for Renard, but is this all for a greater good? Is there something sinister at play? Again, we have a fun little set up, but things start to fall apart as things come along.
Like, what is going on with the Elisa scene when she’s exploring the town? She bumps into a gentleman on the street who informs her she’s in Prague. She then, uh, hides behind a building to watch him enter a secluded home, then chases after him yelling “Wait!” to try and get more information out of him, only to be shut down by the doorman. This whole scene comes off very confusing, like this was meant to play out differently, but the script wasn’t fixed upon approval, and the storyboarders got mixed up, and they had no choice but to animate it. I get the whole Elisa-has-a-gut-feeling-something’s-up thing, but it isn’t played that way. Either she felt something was odd about the encounter, or she wanted to press for more info, but the scene tries to play it as both, and it just doesn’t work at all.
The episode takes its cues from this story of the Golem of Prague, and I admire how this show pulls from moments of history and folklore various tales to interweave through its mythology. Here, the man that Elisa ran into is a descendent of Rabbi Loew who possesses the power to bring the Golem to life and stop a gangster named Tomas Brod, who is the “spy” from earlier. This is all well and good for sure, but we learn very little about Max Loew, and we see nothing about how Brod is terrorizing the community. The time that could’ve been spent fleshing out those two elements were spent with a flashback of 1580, Prague, visualizing the Golem protecting Prague (a sadly well-intentioned but unnecessary scene, as we’re given nothing but a big ol’ Golem beating up a bunch of assailants with no context), as well as some minor action sequences.
Goliath tries to speak with Renard, but the later is strangely aloof. Why? Well, because he learned he could transfer his soul into the body of the Golem and walk again (and, by proxy, live forever outside his fragile body). He does this after Brod steals the Golem for him, and now, Renard indeed acts like a kid as he stomps around in his big ol’ stone body, breaking things and being a bully. It would be hilarious if the show didn’t play it so serious, and now, thinking about it, I kind of wish the show overplayed Renard’s ridiculousness (like Bluestone) instead of attempting to use him to speak about issues of responsibility, corruption, and control.
There’s just so much science and magic in the Gargoyles world that it seems odd for Renard to head all the way to Prague to transfer his spirit into this Golem. The stranger question, though, is why Renard would’ve have such a change in demeanor after “Outfoxed”. The problem, I think, is that we haven’t seen him since that episode, that both portrayals are fairly silly, and that there’s no indication on why he would be adamant about owning up to one’s mistakes in one episodes, and actively making them in the next. The episode tries to skirt over this by emphasizing Renard’s frail, quadriplegic body, but there seems to be a disconnect; Renard doesn’t seem to fear his inevitable death, just kinda annoyed by it. The truth is Renard isn’t working as a character, and his friendship with Goliath is meaningless, which is why the speech Goliath gives to Renard to turn him around comes off useless. There’s no real development between the two. The episode ends with Renard returning to his body and Max guiding the Golem to not kill Bord, but it might have well ended with everyone at dance party, what with the lack of anything real or substantial. The only thing the end revealed is Goliath and company’s commitment to letting Avalon dictate their travels, which is an obvious “because writers!” ploy but I buy it because the characters do. That’s a saving grace, at least.
“Monster” and “Golem” attempts returns to the themes of what drives people, of how desperate people may be to find something that keeps people going. But “Monster” does little to explore Sevarius’ motivation outside of his dream of a Loch Ness Monster petting zoo, and “Golem” is too narrow and simplistic in Renard’s attempt at immortality – in a world of magic, robotics, cybernetics, and all sorts of narrative flim-flamery, his focus on regaining “life” through a random piece of Jewish lore seems way too random, never mind how a bland speech by Goliath made him see the errors of his ways. The “World Tour” holds promise, and I still think it can right the ship, but so far Avalon has been leading them nowhere.
“Monster” B-/”Golem” B-