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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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The Dreamworks Dilemma

Dreamworks’ current business struggles exist because it’s too busy spreading brands instead of building them.

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This NYTimes’ writeup reads like a parody of a press release of a press release. Dreamworks Animation is rolling out a “comeback campaign” of the iconic character of Lassie, pushing the canine not as a rebooted movie star, but as a merchandise icon – a face that, most likely, will be plastered on several toys and backpacks and studio backlots and canine-related goods. Lassie, who hasn’t been significantly in the public conversation since the 70s, will be forced upon us in a prepackaged mold along the line of Grumpy Cat and Doge, and of course, we all know how well corporate-backed memes work out, no matter how much money you put behind them. Time will tell if this is an effective strategy, but this pretty much a striking example of everything that Dreamworks is doing wrong.

As the article notes, Dreamworks Animation has lost money in the last two quarters, due to its underperforming films, which has also led to a wave of firings. Arguably, it forced the studio to switch the premieres of Home and The Penguins of Madagascar: the belief being that the more well-known property will do better financially than the original one, thus helping its bottom line for at least the end of the year. Beyond that though, if one were to actually look at the more specific dealings that Dreamworks have been engaging in, collectively, it reeks of desperation. No one would fault the company for its desire to put itself into as many avenues of content production as possible, producing series for broadcast networks, Netflix, and Youtube – the future of entertainment is there, somewhere, and it’s good to have a foot in the ground floor of all of them – but it makes Dreamworks seem distracted and chaotic, spreading its resources thin to produce mediocre, sub-par content.

To get into the company’s current mistakes, we should begin years ago, when the successes of Madagascar, How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, and even Monsters Vs. Aliens, put Dreamworks Animation up there along side Pixar as a studio that pushed the boundaries of animated cinema. Prior to that point, Dreamworks was a laughing stock, that silly company that made Shark Tale and Shrek, a franchise that is increasingly looked upon as a joke (in fairness, its declining-in-quality sequels contributed to that). The successes of those later films didn’t give Dreamworks the kind of critical consensus that Pixar had at that time, but it proved that the studio could produce enjoyable content not stewing in pop culture references, content with large worlds, rich ideas, and, most importantly, visual variety. (Madagascar brought decent Looney Tunes-esque quality to CGI, a feat almost thought impossible; How to Train Your Dragon created soaring, breath-taking flight visuals; Kung Fu Panda made incredible, thrilling fight-sequences. Monsters Vs. Aliens was just coasting: it’s a pretty terrible, forgettable film.)

Deals were put in place to create TV series out of them, which is nothing new, of course. Disney was doing that with great success in the late 90s. Penguins of Madagascar was the first one out, followed by Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, and while the quality of these two shows varies (Penguins of Madagascar had more good than bad episodes; Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, more bad than good), there was a tight focus of pushing these properties through the Nickelodeon partnership, and they were helmed with talented animation producers, who worked on classic shows like Kim Possible and Darkwing Duck. With Monsters Vs. Aliens and Dragons: Riders of Berk coming up the pipeline, a Nick/Dreamworks block of animated shows seemed both ideal and inevitable, like Marvel’s deal with Disney and DC’s deal with Cartoon Network. The truest form of synergy in action.

Then a lot of things broke down. Disney bought Marvel, which meant the original Marvel shows had to be cancelled and “redone,” which threw fans for a loop. CN gave up on DC’s properties so haphazardly, with only Teen Titans Go! being the only thing left. Nick was going through its own quiet mini-transition, doubling down on its live-action properties, which left Penguins languishing and Kung Fu Panda only intermittently aired. They were already committed to Monsters vs. Alien, which received a mild marking push, and only netted a single, mediocre season. It didn’t help that Monsters. Vs. Aliens is a weak film, with characters that weren’t strong or appealing enough to carry a series. But Dreamworks was committed; we could arguably say the company’s current “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” mentality when it comes to branding began here.

Curiously, Dragons: Riders of Berk was sold to CN, which should’ve been given to Nick to push for that “Dreamworks Animation Block”. The thing is, CN was going through a very rocky period, with Stu Snyder causing havoc. (His dismissal didn’t help Dragon’s cause, as the current slate of CN’s lineup and TV show pickups clearly indicate the network is going for a signature look.) That being said, Dragons: Riders of Berk is a visually nifty show, even for TV, but is lackluster and dry, lacking any sense of character development. Its emphasis on creating “new” dragons was less a way to explore the world of Berk and more an excuse to line toy stores with new dragon action figures. Add to it the network’s mild marketing push as well, and it’s a wonder anyone watched the show at all.

Dreamworks first two forays into network TV animation had quality control standards, but it’s clear that their minds were elsewhere. The company was, and still is, fascinated with spreading its brand(s) around, without meticulously improving them. In particular, the company has been investing heavily into online acquisitions, like this purchase of AwesomenessTV and its own Dreamworks TV initiative. The number of views these videos have are middling, but what strikes me is how greatly unnecessary they are. Random classic clips from old cartoons that the company acquired the rights to are sprinkled in with really strange “character chats,” where Dreamworks characters like Po and Puss in Boots and Shrek blandly talk “to the audience” about goofy topics, topics that would appeal to seven-year-olds. Indeed, it seems like Dreamworks is treating these characters like extras from Sesame Street, but at least that show was willing to talk about jail, death, and war.

The company’s flailing TV and Youtube properties are one thing, but the string of poor-performing movies after that truly hurt the company’s stocks. Dreamworks’ lack of focus has led to disappointments like Rise of the Guardians, Turbo, and Mr. Peabody and Sherman. Only The Croods did decent, which only garnered it a sequel (I assume it’s not getting a TV show because none of the major kids networks are biting into the “movie-to-TV-show” trend anymore). How to Train Your Dragon 2 only just made significant revenue (by the studio’s standard) due to global box office performances, but its weak domestic opening threw a lot of financial predictions into disarray (and Dragons: Riders of Berk’s mediocrity couldn’t have helped – but that’s the issue. Dreamworks clearly doesn’t see the property as something to build upon, collectively, like Marvel does, but more as a name brand that should just be “out there” and generate money.) It’s hard to say if the studio really cares through, since the only result was several layoffs and an even more aggressive push to spread the Dreamworks brand around. By this point, they had set their eyes on Netflix.

Agreeing to produce 300 hours of content for Netflix, Dreamworks is aiming to fill that content with series based on King Julian from Madagascar, Puss in Boots, and Veggie Tales. Add to the list Turbo FAST, based on the lackluster Turbo, which currently has fifteen episodes on Netflix right now. It’s a grand experiment. Netflix is only releasing this show five episodes at a time, partly due to kids eagerness to rewatch shows, partly due to the massive time-sink in producing the episodes. Titmouse does a fantastic job with a thoroughly mediocre property; I should also give props to the writers for dropping any pretext from the film and creating a goofier, looser show from the ground-up – a “Rescue Rangers meets Amazing World of Gumball” type of program. The most recent five, though, were more scatterbrained and felt a bit lazier, like weaker Regular Show episodes. Is this part of Dreamworks continued inability to focus on one thing at a time? Maybe.

After all, Dreamworks is now developing a film for Hot Stuff, which may be the most inexplicable idea from Dreamworks to date. The company is also reworking Felix the Cat into a marketing brand, which sounds slightly smarter but twice as cynical, similar to the Lassie “branding”. There are rumors circling though that there may be a Felix the Cat TV show in the works, which at least gives this idea some weight. Dreamworks is doubling down on its TV animation division, which makes sense for its upcoming Netflix properties, but also adds to the growing sense that studio is culling talent less to cultivate its properties and more to just create content to simply produce and release out into the aether. The company also bought the Trolls property for unknown reasons, and is completely retooling Me and My Shadow, a film that was originally supposed to be released in March of 2014 and seems to be besieged by a host of problem, most likely more so due to the company’s recent string of poor box office returns.

Which brings us back to Lassie. Reading that Times article, along with the various articles linked in this post, it’s uncomfortable to read the sheer amount of corporate advertising/marketing verbiage spouted about such properties instead of any creative insights into them. That’s Dreamworks’ current business strategy though, and it’s the studio’s current dilemma – using its growing acquisitions to create brands without little consideration of their quality or how that lackluster quality would affect the bottom line of their future output. (Pixar knows that feeling; once a name associated with quality, it now has a mark against it, with critical disappointments like Cars, Brave, and Monsters University – and for the record, I liked the first two). By focusing way too much on spreading its brands around instead of working to make a few brands actually worth following, the company is hurting itself way more than it needs to be. If Dreamworks keeps it up, creating actual good work will be nothing but a dream.

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