Archive for category Childhood Revisited

CHILDHOOD REVISITED – Road Rovers

Road Rovers’s lofty premise failed to commit to anything of substance to sustain into a cohesive whole. The question is, why?

I have seen a lot of cartoons by this point. I have seen the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the strange, the weird, the bizarre, the outlandish. I’ve seen action cartoons, wacky cartoons, subversive cartoons, serious cartoons, and surreal cartoons. I’ve geared myself to engage in every type of animation out there, whether for kids or adults, cracking my knuckles and prepping my fingers to explore what happens within the animated frame and how those events could affect viewers, and how over time those effects may be viewed in a modern context, or within any context at all.

Then there’s Road Rovers, a show that seems so stifled that it’s almost impossible to engage in. Almost.

Road_Rovers

Road Rovers is a curio. I kind of feel like Homer Simpson when he described what a Muppet is – that is, if you were to ask me what Road Rovers is about, I would respond: “Well, it’s not quite an action show and it’s not quite a funny show, but man… so, to answer your question, I don’t know.” Honestly. I’m not exactly clear on what the Road Rovers was aiming for. For a show spearheaded by Tom Ruegger and Paul Rudd, the geniuses behind Tiny Toons, Animaniacs and Freakazoid – three shows with enough narrative oddness to compete with the Bible – Road Rovers may be the oddest of them all, because it seems reluctant to commit to its oddness. Or anything at all, really.

Road Rovers takes its cues from the Power Rangers, and other super sentai shows that were popular (and still are, to a certain extent), in which five or six plucky characters are chosen to be a super-powered fighting force battling evil where ever it may be. Instead of humans, though, the show opts for dogs, which allows it to dip its toe into the early 90s badass, macho talking animal action-cartoon template as well. Road Rovers is clearly building off these two concepts and attempts to, more or less, undercut those ideas and ridiculousness of them.

Yet Road Rovers doesn’t exactly build into anything on its own. It doesn’t really even undercut the super sentai show or the talking animal action cartoon either. The show kinda plays into those elements with this weird, lackadaisical malaise, lightly elbowing and jabbing at all these elements – the action, the comedy, the story, the commentary, the metacommentary – without strongly committing to any of it, or even to the very premise of the show itself.

A lot of that probably sounded like gobbledygook. Let’s look at the pilot, “Let’s Hit the Road.”


Road Rovers Episode 1 “Let’s hit the Road” by dm_51e63c6f9122b

The first five minutes are played completely straight. It’s a bit slow (which isn’t necessarily a problem, but there’s a sense that it’s padding for time), and considering it involves a scientist being blown up, there’s a sense that viewers should be taking things seriously. Then the dogs are summoned. It’s a silly scene, but it’s portrayed with a quiet wonderment, and for a while it’s unclear whether it’s supposed to be funny or awe-inspiring. The first “joke” involves Shaggy, who’s whimpering in fear of his summons. We’re treated to Hunter, who saves his doomed doggy pal before he’s called upon, which gives us a direct indication that he’ll be the leader. Then they’re all transformed into their anthropomorphic, metal-suited selves, and present themselves before their “master”.

A few quips aside, everything is portrayed as direct and sincerely as possible. But that can’t be right, right? The machine that transformed them is called “the transdogmafier,” and it’s a phrase that is spoken by an actual person, and it’s not supposed to elicit chuckles? Then when the master tells the dogs to greet each other, it’s done via an off-camera gag with the Rovers’ tails in the air, indicating that their sniffing each others’ butts. The master sighs and laments he should’ve used cats. It’s a cute, easy gag, but I’m not sure how to take it considering we’re nine minutes into the show. It’s a gag that pushes it into the ridiculous realm, but the show doesn’t feel ridiculous enough to pull it off.

That’s just it. It’s hard to gauge how to respond to the show. In the middle of various action and dramatic scenes, characters will sort of shoot out these really casual comedy bits that seem tonally off. I get the sense that the creators were aiming for a “casual action cartoon,” something where the characters amicably shoot the shit with each other while things blow up around them, a thing that happens quite often with the Rovers themselves. It’s an admirable attempt, but the result rarely creates a solid comedy, and it drastically lowers the action/dramatic stakes. It creates a show that feels perfunctory at best, and ill-thought out at worse.

“Let’s Hit the Road” is actually part one of a three part series (along with “Dawn of the Groomer” and “Reigning Cats and Dogs” [I think - the episodes weren't aired in any order that made sense]) that gets into the nitty-gritty of the master, Professor Shepherd, the villain General Parvo, and The Groomer (Parvo’s assistant and potential lover), and the origins of this transdogmafier. That is, there is a mythology. The show is dedicated to that mythology, but it’s inherently silly, and the show knows it is, but it’s an attitude that doesn’t adequately show up on screen. Plus, it’s a mythology that doesn’t hold up to even mild scrutiny, particularly when they start bringing in Egyptian spells and time-travel. It’s needlessly complicated, which again, would be fine if the show had fun with it. But it treats everything with this weird heavy weight, making it more off-putting then it needs to be.

Yet as mentioned before, the show feels like the joke is in placing its characters in tense situations, creating like a “hangout” show in the midst of an action show. Unfortunately the characters don’t have strong enough personalities to stand out individually, let along make a compelling exchange. Hunter is just a really positive guy. There’s nothing much going on with him other than his optimistic response to everything, but it’s always level-headed, not heavily exaggerated like a Spongebob or a Wander. Colleen is fine but kinda fits the “bad ass female” role, regulated mostly to quipping with Hunter and Blitz. Blitz is the comic relief, although he doesn’t really work. He freaks out at the sign of danger – but so does Shaggy, which defeats the purpose (Blitz and Colleen have a running gag where Colleen pretends not to know Blitz when he hits on her. This doesn’t work because 1) the sexism is too strong here, 2) Blitz is too stupid to vary the responses to this gag, and 3) Blitz works better as a goofy but functional member of the team.) Exile seems to be the writers’ favorite, with his relatively witty putdowns and depth of character that’s lacking with the others. His running gag – reading simplistic children stories in the middle of missions – work the best, because it’s fits his character AND it’s patently absurd.

Lacking a strong premise and a strong cast, Road Rovers kinda limps by with a non-committal attitude that makes it hard to really get behind. Still, the show has promise. The best episodes work with its undeveloped premise, inserts a simple story, and lets it loose. “Where Rovers Dare” is epitome of this. A scepter has been stolen and the Rovers have to get it back. It’s a simple, straight-forward action episode, not bogged down by too much information. It’s enjoyable to see the Rovers in their element, and their banter doesn’t pull too much away from the plot. (“Where Rovers Dare” also has a smartass allegory in its premise, written by this person on Deviantart and confirmed by Tom Ruegger himself. Problem is, the show isn’t overall an indictment of studio cattiness, so don’t expect to be looking for hidden messages everywhere.)

Once the show tries to be complex, though, it fails. The show is too silly to insert that kind of complexity because it raises too many questions the show is not adept at answering (like its mythology), and the obvious lack of a budget and quality writers makes it hard to look good. “Still a Few Bugs in the System” is just a disaster, introducing a bug-crazed scientist who seems like a caricature out of a wackier cartoon. But the episode is sloppy, with nonsensical storyboards and an even stupider plot. “Gold and Retrievers” has a blind kid who’s a native, but also seems to be a leader of a tribe, but it’s never made clear, and it’s frustrating (the show has an obsession with pyramids but nothing is ever done with it, narratively or thematically). “A Hair of the Dog that Bit You” brings in other talking anthropomorphic dogs, characters we never see again, and it’s a baffling reveal. We’re these dogs made by the transdogmafier too? Why is one sitting on a mountain, Dali Lama-style? The show isn’t wacky enough to get away with these kinds of absurd reveals; it’s unclear whether to insert them into the show’s mythology or place them as a comedic outlier. The other episodes are okay, with “The Dog Who Knew Too Much” containing a clever twist, but again, the show doesn’t engage with either its serious or comic sides, making it hard to support it.

A friend of mine is a fan of the show and spoken with a few of the writers/animators in light of the show’s fallout. They basically were working with less of the resources they had with Animaniacs, and it shows. Hunter’s eyes are different colors for several episodes, and Blitz sometimes will have Hunter’s fur colors. They recycle animation and scenes constantly; a post-Muzzle attack re-uses the same exactly shot and background, despite Muzzle being in two different locations in two different episodes. (An aside: the Muzzle-kills-everyone stuff fails to work because the audience doesn’t even get a sliver of an indication that Muzzle’s attacks are grotesque. Also, if he’s so effective, why not unleash him all the time?) I sympathize with the lack of resources, but the team behind this show is way too talented to let monetary concerns limit them.


Road Rovers 13 – A Day In The Life (Unedited… by extremlymsync

“A Day in the Life” seems to be the kind of episode Road Rovers was always going for, which suggests the show needed a gimmick or absurd frame story to situate its characters inside, so that its seriousness and its silliness can breathe in its own way. The title cards indicating the changing timeframes allow certain moments for the characters to hangout and chat, and other moments for them to kick ass. Hunter’s search for his mother is effective, as well as Colleen’s feelings for him are explored, which allows her to actually talk with Blitz in a mature manner. Exile works as a team communicator, and the little comic bits they come up with are, if not funny, enjoyable that deepens the characters instead of forcing dialogue gags to disrupt the momentum (the edited “Russian name bit” is too much – not because it’s offensive, but because it’s really just an Animaniacs gag forced into Road Rovers for no reason).

That bit is Road Rovers in a nutshell. Unable to commit to its drama, action, or comedy, the show tries to do all three but ends up doing neither. The passion is there. You can feel it pushing against the edges of the show. But as the cliche go, Road Rovers’ bark is worse than its bite.

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Gargoyles “Vendettas/Turf”

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After the all-out brawl that “The Gathering” brought to us, Gargoyles slows things down and comically livens things up with “Vendettas,” a mythology-relevant but mostly insignificant episode, and “Turf,” a follow-up to “Protection” and “Golem” with a little bit of good ‘ole fashion lust-based teenage competition. Gargoyles doesn’t really do humor all that well, mainly because the overall narrative is so intensely serious, and the strict, solid animation prevents the show from being too wacky, but that doesn’t prevent Gargoyles from having a little fun at its own expense, particularly as a thematic frame story around two relatively simple plots.

Gargoyles 2×46 – Vendettas

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I’m not a super fan over self-aware episodes of cartoons. I don’t mind when the show has a bit of fun at its own expense and the various stories and characters it developed, but putting out an episode that’s just the writers and animators having a circle-jerk of in-jokes tends to put me right off, which makes me the only person who was not a fan of The Last Airbender “The Ember Island Players.” Interesting enough, both that show and Gargoyles created semi-goofy episodes towards the “end” of their runs (“Players” was the fifth to last episode of The Last Airbender, “Vendettas” the seventh to last, if canon dictates the third season obsolete). That all being said, “Vendettas” works better as a episode because it of its focus on an intense, brutal fight between Goliath/Hudson and Wolf/Hakon, with the goofy motorcycle guy whom Lexington scared off way back in “Awakening” being mostly on the margins. Oh, and his name is Vinnie.

Gargoyles does crazy so, so well, with Matt Bluestone and Xanatos’ dad being at the top of the list. Now we have Vinnie, a guy who has so little luck in his life since the gargoyles arrived that his vendetta against the beasts would seem understandable if he didn’t come off so unhinged. I mean the guy purchases what appears to be a massive bazooka, names it Mr. Carter, and rants to it like a it’s a bored bartender as he lugs it around New York. Jeff Bennett brings such a goofy, hilarious take on Vinnie’s psychosis; such a silly approach to the script definitely required an actor who’s familiar with more sillier roles. This allows Vinnie’s plight to come off as comical, but at the same time, feel so real to him that when the episode reaches its climax, audiences are at the edge of their seats wondering what he’d do – then sighs a cathartic relief that he both achieves his “vengeance” and lets the gargoyles off the hook.

Like most Gargoyles episodes, “Vendettas” is dual-themed, both with Vinnie’s ineptitude and Wolf’s/Hakon’s rage. The most aggressive member of the Pack, Wolf, returns to New York after being in Wyvern, Scotland, for some time, and he comes with a talking, magical axe. There’s an undercurrent of goofiness to the whole thing, with Wolf and the axe laughing evilly together, before it gets deadly serious when Wolf finally comes into contact with Goliath and Hudson. What follows is basically a fifteen minute beatdown, and Koko handles the animation slightly better than in “The Gathering,” mainly because there are fewer forced perspectives here. It’s a little wonky here and there, but definitely workable for the most part.

It also helps that the staging of the battle is a bit clearer then the one in “The Gathering” as well. Even as Wolf gets the drop on Goliath, he and Hudson quickly turn the tables. Then Hakon, the spirit in the talking axe, possesses Wolf and levels up considerably, given the power of flight, super-strength, and transparency. He also gains the ability of mind-manipulation, and this is the only part of the episode that Koko (or the storyboarders) screw up on. At first, it looks like Wolf/Hakon is controlling Hudson, gesturing like a puppeteer to move Hudson around and attack Goliath; only with few re-watches did I realize that Hudson “sees” Goliath as Wolf/Hakon, and is mistakenly attacking him. Really, though, it’s a little bit of both, kind of like a RAGE status effect in a RPG. Koko tries to symbolize this by matching Goliath’s gestures with the fake-vision version Wolf’s/Hakon’s gestures, but they don’t match up, particularly with the off-kilter editing. Add to it that it’s unclear where the actual Wolf/Hakon disappeared to, and it makes for a confusing sequence.

It’s not an episode killer, for sure. The intense battle is also intercut with Vinnie’s efforts to blast the main gargoyle, which is also intercut with Vinnie’s flashbacks to all the times he “got” into it with the winged beasts – first in the motorcycle incident in “Awakening,” part three, then in the destruction of the airship in “Awakening,” part four, then finally in “The Cage” as the security guard who “let” Goliath kidnap Sevarius (let’s be fair – Vinnie never stood a chance). The guy keeps trying to get in one good shot but is always hilariously thwarted by the random elements that the Goliath/Hudson vs. Wolf/Hakon brawl produces. The best is when he’s washed away by a crashing water tower. Oh, poor Vinnie.

Goliath and Hudson get no sympathy from the self-assured rage of Wolf and Hakon, though. It’s revealed that Wolf is a descendent of Hakon (which is a bit too coincidental, even for a show built on coincidences), which allows them to work in spiritual tandem, but also keeps them at odds with each other; they each desire to kill Goliath on their own terms. This arrogant thinking leads to their downfall: together as one unit, Wolf/Hakon was wildly powerful, but separate, Goliath and Hudson are able to take on the two respectively, crushing Wolf under a pile of cars and crushing the axe in a trash compactor. Gargoyles is a show about finding your purpose, but also how misguided one’s purpose can be, particularly concerning revenge; it’s that blind rage that Goliath learned about many episodes ago, and it’s that blind rage that does in both Wolf and Hakon.

Not Vinnie, though, as he gets the last laugh. Finally having the gargoyles in his sights, Vinnie fires Mr. Carter – and out blasts a pie, which smashes into Goliath’s face. Satisfied, Vinnie whistles the show’s theme as he walks off. It’s an amusing moment, and the show acknowledges it as much, complete with the IRIS OUT on Hudson’s face. It’s great and a wee bit sad, considering that Goliath and Hudson have no idea who Vinnie is.

Gargoyles 2×47 – Turf

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I mistakenly thought we’d seen the last of Dracon back in “Protection,” but he pops up again here in “Turf,” which pits his crew against the rising Tomas Brod, who’s trying to make a name for his gang in New York. Brod, the gangster who assisted Halcyon back in “Golem,” is muscling in on Dracon chop shop territory, which is starting to escalate. Elisa Maza is back in undercover mode, this time as a blond henchman in Brod’s gang. She tries to organize a police sting to catch Brod in the act of attacking Dracon’s operation, but she gets knocked unconscious and everyone manages to escape, which leaves the police spinning their own wheels.

“Turf’s” dual-theme is in the form of Brooklyn, Lexington, and Broadway’s squabble over who gets to hang out with Angela during all this. Now, in 2014, we as a society have become a lot more vocal (and rightfully so) about shutting such behavior down, hard. Back in the 90′s, though, there was still a more looser, “boys will be boys” attitude, so while the episode portrays the young clan’s actions as juvenile, the crassness is explained away as a “they’re just horny since they haven’t had any tail for a thousand years.” I’m glad that the episode for demanded the “teens” to treat Angela with respect and not as “turf” to be control and won over by one of the three, I just wish the episode came down a lot harder on them and the behavior.

There isn’t much to the episode in terms of mythology or backstory; like “Protection,” it’s more or less a one-off that just happens to involve two characters from the show’s past. Still, it’s a good, tense one; as mentioned before, I tend to be more of a fan of Gargoyles’ one-offs than it’s myth-heavy episodes. I like that we see Matt and the chief of police Maria Chavez in the throes of the case. Even with Matt caught up in the crazy Illuminati stuff, and the chief only appearing here and there (although every appearance has been awesome), watching them get their hands dirty with on-the-beat action is great, great stuff. It’s these kinds of details that keeps Gargoyles grounded, even when things get too sci-fi or fantastical.

The thrust of the episode is about escalation. First Brod hits Dracon’s chop shop, then Dracon’s men burn down Brod’s restaurant/front, then Brod tries to hi-jack a Dracon shipment, but it’s revealed to be a Dracon trap, then, screw-it, Brod goes off to break into prison and kill Dracon himself. Sunwoo has a slightly better handle on  visuals than Koko, which makes the action scenes clear and concise; still, there are some awkward moments, particularly the pushes-and-shoves of Broadway, Lexington, and Brooklyn. There’s some repeating frames and it kinda blobs together, but all the exasperated expressions from Angela are fantastic. The show made it point to note how perspective Angela is, and I like that she’s not portrayed as clueless as to the boys’ behavior. She’s a lot more focused on the mission then they are, which is probably why she didn’t blow up at them earlier.

Elisa and Angela even have a small discussion about this, and I kind of wish this was longer and a tad bit more productive. In fact, Elisa is the one who suggests that the competition between the boys is simply them blowing off steam, and that it’s up to Angela to put her foot (claws?) down. Elisa, being a female cop, should be a tad more assertive, I think, and a lot more supportive of Angela’s concerns, especially after everything they’ve been through, but this is a modern way of thinking. In keeping with the times, the episode address the matter well enough, and Angela’s final diatribe towards the boys is a great moment, and the line “Stop calling me, Angie!” is just fantastic. Once that gets through their thick, horny skulls, Broadway, Lexington, and Brooklyn finally are able to come together and take down Brod’s airship, as well as save Elisa right before she gets decked by Brod himself.

Even though it’s wildly unlikely, the episode ends with the police putting Brod and Dracon together in a cell, basically so they can kill each other. It’s a bit of “comeuppance” amusement, a final “boys will be boys” beatdown that makes a great foil to the renewed bro-ship between Lexington, Broadway, and Brooklyn. They apologize for their actions, and Angela not only forgives them but mentions that she likes all of them, which, well, is a story for tumblr to finish. She also mentions that Avalon has a number of female gargoyles waiting and willing, to which Brooklyn asks, “So, when do we get our World Tour?” Now I know where the fan-name of the World Tour arc comes from.

“Vendettas” B+/”Turf” B+

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Gargoyles “The Gathering,” part 1 and 2

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A storm is coming.

“The Gathering” doesn’t pull in every single event that has occurred up until point, but it does cull from a number of them. This two-part episode is about reunions and revelations and reveals, where humans and gargoyles and Oberon’s “progeny” come together and reunite, as tensions mount over one, small child. Gargoyles was built around massive layers of storytelling and mythologies, but by focusing on one simple but very important thing, and letting that thing explode to terrifying levels, the show pulls together, or should I say “gather,” its themes and narratives into one cohesive whole.

Gargoyles 2×44 – The Gathering – Part 1

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First we must re-unite. The first part of “The Gathering” is about re-establishing relationships, where disparaging groups come together, somewhat, in harmony. All of Oberon’s children arrive as predicted, including Coyote, Anubis, the Banshee, and Odin. I like that the Banshee was dragged in forcefully by the Three Sisters and everyone laughs at her; it has a humanizing effect, placing the majesty of the affair into a certain social context. That also includes the sibling-esque fight that occurs between Odin and the Banshee, which includes extraordinary powers. This amuse Oberon for a bit, but when he tires of the conflict, and they fail to heed his words, he unleashes his wrath. He removes Banshee’s voice as well, for punishment for failing to heed his call to the gathering.

I really love Terrence Mann’s approach to Oberon. While most everyone has a booming, slightly over-the-top approach to their voices (akin to the show’s Shakespearean roots), Mann brings a casual, conversational, and even somewhat board approach to his character’s voice, which allows some of his more questionable choices to slide. He’s Oberon, he’s super-powerful, so he kinda just does what he does without thinking too much on it. Note how he just ups and leaves the Gathering to fetch Puck (although part of that is the show kinda forgetting about the Gathering, since we never come back to it, unless this is brought up later). Mann’s request to Princess Katherine for Boudicca’s services is particular of note, in how the casual demanding tone both freaks out Katherine and suggests Oberon’s superhuman abilities.

The best part about “The Gathering?” Xanatos’ dad is back! The guy who went back in time, and is now about to see some powerful, magic shit, is still quipping in generic dad fashion, and it’s fantastic. Unlike all the other characters here – Renard, Fox, Fox’s mother, Owen, Vogel, and Xanatos – Xanatos’ dad hasn’t really been part of the magical/scientific dealings that the show’s been involved in. So to see him react so casually and ambivalently to the show’s more insane events is just amazing, and it feels like an in-joke for the writers. His arrival here is just for the birth of Xanatos’ and Fox’s son for now, although when Fox’s mom mentions she remarried, Owen freaks out and leaves. Thus begins the Owen/Vogel explanation.

Oberon and Boudicca tracks Puck to Xanatos’ tower, but Oberon senses Titania around, which completely shifts the episode in a new direction. Storm clouds gather and lightening flashes as a vague tension mounts. It’s a visual cliche but the episode builds so well that it works. Bursting into the room where the Xanatos family gathered, Oberon pretty much forces Anastasia to reveal herself as Titania, which of course freaks out everyone (except Xanatos’ dad, because of course). You see, Titania, after she was banished by Oberon from Avalon, assumed a human form and married Halcyon, up until he got sick and she got bored of him. Fox’s birth on earth prevented her from developing her magic, but Titania wants to bring Xanatos’ and Fox’s son back to Avalon to raise there properly. A set of parents want to steal a son from another set of parents. Shit has gotten real.

Powerful episodes of TV and several movies have been based on forces trying to steal children from desperate parents, and this is was drives this episode at the end. Oberon doesn’t seem to care too much, but he wants to satisfy his wife, and he can’t even fathom the idea of mortals refusing him. This fits his character from last week’s “Ill Met by Moonlight;” he considers giving the humans one hour (Editor note: It may be one day – will correct this when I double-check) to say goodbye an act of mercy. It’s good stuff, although getting hurt by the laser gun Xanatos fires at him seems off; the parameters of Oberon’s powers are muddled, which becomes more confounding in the second episode.

At this point though, there’s a lot of setting up, based around gatherings. In addition to the Avalon Gathering and the Xanatos Family gathering, the Manhattan clan is reunited, which is just a wonderful moment to watch. The clan hugging and greeting Goliath and Elisa and Bronx, and meeting with Angela, is such a nice scene that I wish it lasted longer. I’m less enamored by the romantic angle budding between Goliath and Elisa when he drops her off at home. The most dated “concept” of the 90s is the fact that a male and female lead pairing in a show falling in love; why writers couldn’t (and still can’t) handle long term platonic relationships is beyond me.

The episode ends setting up for the battle royal. Titania requests the gargoyles’ assistance to take Xanatos’ child, but they refuse and in fact run off to help Xanatos. Owen tells Xanatos that he knew about Titania/Anastasia and helps sets up a security system to hold Oberon back (although with advice about Oberon’s energy source and his vulnerability to iron). When Oberon tries to get into Xanatos’ building and is blocked by (I assume an iron/energy-sapping force field), he puts all humans to sleep, which is really a writers cheat to keep away gawking humans (and it doesn’t work 100%). Oberon grows into a giant and gets himself ready to unleash his power. The show’s biggest fight is about to go down, and it promises to be a doozy…

Gargoyles 2×45 – The Gathering – Part 2

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… or so I thought. I’m not insanely disappointed in the second part of “The Gathering,” but man, with all the intense hype of the first part, this is somewhat of a  letdown. Part of the problem is that Koko Enterprise Animation, which handled the low-key, talk-heavy animations and expressions of the first part, just cannot bring themselves to handle the action-heavy demands of the second part. Particularly when it comes to the changing perspectives of the giant Oberon, which is shot at several angles. His size constantly changes, which makes it really hard to tell that he’s shrinking when his energy is sapped. The action sequences in the air are also boring and choppy, which characters failing to stay on model when things get really intense.

It’s not all the animation’s fault though. The writers really attempt to make an all-out action episode, but it’s clear that they’re struggling to find specific things to do to keep up the bedlam and keep it interesting. Nothing is more obvious than the arrival of Renard’s and Vogel’s airship. For one, they somehow managed not to succumb to Oberon’s sleeping spell. The other thing is that they unleash an UNCANNY amounts of “cybots” to attack Oberon, and it looks kind of silly. Is that all that he had? Seriously? I like that Renard had a real purpose here – protecting his grandson – but once Oberon takes his ship down he’s gone from the episode.

That’s a microcosm of the episode in general. It struggles with contextualizing all the action beats. Instead of bringing all the chaos together in a controlled manner, such as the iron-based gargoyle robots, Goliath’s clan, and Renard’s attack, the battle is very structured. First, it’s Oberon vs. the force field. Then it’s Oberon vs. the iron gargoyles, part 1. Then it’s Oberon vs. the gargoyles. Then it’s Oberon vs. the iron gargoyles, part 2. Then it’s Oberon vs. Renard. It also doesn’t help that Oberon’s abilities are just… random. At one point, the gargoyles fly around Oberon’s head, and he kinda halfheartedly swats at them like their flies, without actually hitting them. I know the guy is weakening, but he still has enough power in him to bring other stone creatures to life and control the weather. It’s somewhat awkward to see him flit about when he could kill everyone with a snap.

I chalk that up to arrogance and anger, though. As the cybots sap his energy, Oberon mentions that his rage has clouded his judgement. I buy it. Oberon is like a magical Xanatos, but without the smarts. Once he gets the chance to think, he takes out everyone with freezing cold rain and goes underneath the force field. (Even as a kid, when I saw this episode, my first thought was to try going underneath it. One of the problems with many action cartoons is that a lot of writers are concerned with booming action sequences instead of characters using the physical action to meet their objective. So even though the episode skirts by with Oberon’s anger admission, I’m not a hundred percent sold that everyone involved were doing their all. I mean, the second Owen told Xanatos of Oberon’s iron weakness, the guy should have had iron EVERYTHING. Yeah, don’t tell me he didn’t have time, since he seem to have time to build iron gargoyles and place them in random parts of the city – and by the way, what is up with that?)

I digress. So Oberon bursts into Xanatos’ building through the ground and destroys the generators creating the force field (?). So everyone comes together to try and stop Oberon, and they fail. (There’s a bit where Xanatos’ dad tells his son that he’s proud of him, and it’s great, not because it’s a powerful, subtle moment, but because the guy took a moment out of facing death against a GOD to do some mediocre fathering. He is seriously the Nick Offerman of the show; he even gets to shoot Oberon with a iron harpoon, because of course he can shoot the magic-super-speed-deity with ease.)

Just when it looks like things are at their worse, Owen arrives, and here’s the kicker: Owen reveals himself to be Puck! Honestly, it’s a big, surprising reveal, although how the reveal is handled is a little weird. He monologues his whole spiel – while attacking Oberon with his living visual aids – and I’m surprised Oberon let him do it, specifically since he mentions how he doesn’t care. It’s just so the writers can explain the reveal, and also to justify Puck’s decision, and to explain why Owen so similar to Vogel – because the trickster was amused by playing someone so straight. It’s a weird, weird beat, and it doesn’t work all that well due to its heavily expositional nature, but it’s a surprise nonetheless, made more so that Xanatos actually knew about it, and opted to choose Puck’s/Owen’s service over his one wish (probably because Xanatos knows all too well that wishes from tricksters never work out).

Oberon had enough, though. After blowing up everything again (including Puck), he teleports into the room to take the baby, but because of power of a mother scorned, Fox unleashes pent-up magic to blast Oberon away. It’s a nice, if predictable, climactic moment, that leads to Goliath convincing Oberon that the child can stay, with Puck as a teacher (a bit too easily, I suppose); Puck, however, is banished from Avalon and stripped of his powers, save when he’s teaching/protecting the boy. At least someone is punished for standing up to Oberon. Puck accepts his fate (as Owen), Titania plays it all like she had this whole thing plan (not sure how many of the “planned from the beginning” plotlines I can take anymore), and Goliath and Xanatos comes to an uneasy but understandable alliance. That third point may be the strongest part of the episode, but with shaky animation and random-for-the-sake-of-random rhythms to the actual fight, “The Gathering’s” second part never comes together as smoothly as the first.

Titania whispers something to Fox before she and Oberon disappear. With seven more episodes to go in the second season, those may be the most important words ever. Time will tell where they will lead.

“The Gathering, part 1″ A-/”The Gathering, part 2″ B-

 

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