Sunday, October 4, 2015

Reblog: Nostalgia Critic Pinky and the Brain

A Pinky and the Brain Halloween Review

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and one of my favorite traditions that I do every year is baking pumpkin seeds and watching the Pinky and the Brain Halloween special. This is a 90's kid nostalgia episode.

For those of you who some how managed to miss Pinky and the Brain, it is a cartoon about a megalomaniac mouse name the Brain who wants to take over the world with his best friend/sidekick Pinky. The theme song summarizes it better then I did:

The Halloween special manages to capture the best parts of the TV show along with a spooky supernatural story-line that ends up involving the Brain in a rhythmic gymnastics competition against the Devil,in literal hell (of course since this is a cartoon, for children, it is referred to as Heck or Hades). Did I mention I love this cartoon?

Pinky and the Brain looking at a contract that the devil is holding. In hellllllll! Or as it is referred to in the cartoon: Heck.
When looking back over the course of the series the Halloween special and the Christmas special are both very interesting looks at Pinky and the Brain's relationship. In both the Brain sacrifices his dreams of world domination for Pinky, but the Halloween special is one of the few episodes where we see the Brain ruling the earth.

In this Halloween special, Pinky sells his soul to the devil so that the Brain can rule the world. Soon, though, the Brain realizes that his life isn't fulfilling without Pinky by his side.

This episode is full of Male Duo tropes. One of the recurring ones is that the Brain has difficulty admitting the importance of his friendship with Pinky. Instead the Brain makes the flimsy excuse that he "doesn't know where the food pellets are" so Pinky will have to come home to show him.

A really wonderful nostalgic episode, I definitely recommend re-watching it this Halloween. If you enjoyed Pinky and the Brain growing up, I think you will surprised how well it stands up to the test of time.

Monday, September 21, 2015

13 Halloween Cartoons with Protagonists of Color

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, so I'm starting my blogging for the season a little early this year. This is a list of all the Halloween specials I could find that feature a character of color as the primary protagonist. Not included in this list are ensemble shows that might feature a mixed cast of character.

The Fat Albert Halloween Special (1977)

moving image of the Fat Albert gang walking in Halloween customes

Mostly this special just follows the gang's Halloween. Going shopping, going to the movies, going trick-or-treating, maybe getting kidnapped by a scary old lady who live near the the cemetery .(spoiler: she's actually a nice). The animation isn't consistent, but it's decent enough considering it's Filmation, and I have a soft spot for the city background art.

The Proud Family A Hero for Halloween (2002)

Penny Proud is transformed into a Super Hero on Halloween, which is good luck for her family, because it turns out their house is haunted by a ghost. 

Lilo and Stitch: The Series Spooky (2003)

Lilo in a princess dress with an ax in her head. Well, a fake ax. It's part of her Halloween costume. Stitch stand next to her holding his space gun.

Lilo and Stitch are ready to celebrate Halloween. Unfortunately, one of Stitch's cousins appears with the ability to become whatever someone is most afraid of. This episode shows us all the character's fears and calls back to the movie: showing Nani's fear of Lilo being taken away by the state and Stitch's fear of water.

American Dragon: Jake Long Halloween Bash (2005)

Jake Long, just standing there. Kind of boring.

Jake throws a Halloween party, and despite being told not to, he invites both supernatural creatures and humans. Luckily he is able to save the day even with his dragon chi taken away as punishment for his partying.

The Life and Times of Juniper Lee It's the Great Pumpkin, Juniper Lee (2005)

animation of Juniper pulling the wrapping off a mummy

On Halloween all the monster children become human for the night. One child hates being a monster, and so makes a deal that turns all the children human forever (much to the horror of their monster families). Juniper must help reverse the spell.

Emperor's New School The Ysma That Stole Kuzcoween/Monster Masquerade (2006)

kuzco, Kronk and Malina in their school uniforms.

The first story is about Kuzcoween, the Kuzco centered Halloween they celebrate. The second story is about a masquerade ball. Both Kuzco and Kronk want to ask Malina to go with them, but it turns out she has another secret admirer.

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Puppetmaster (2007)

While not Halloween-themed, this spooky episode was released as a Halloween special. The team stumble upon a village where people are disappearing. They meet a strange old woman, who appears kindly, but is connected to the dark mystery of the village.

Sanjay and Craig: Tufflips' Tales of Terror (2014)

Tufflips and Huggle Bunny host this Halloween episode, which features 5 short "spooky" tales with Sanjay and Craig. None of the stories are too scary, and range from a sort of Hansel and Gretel meets the Island of Doctor Moreau, to a short about drinking haunted milk. Also, we may or may not learn the secret identity of Huggle Bunny in this episode.

Preschool-targeting Halloween Specials:

Little Bill The Halloween Costume/The Haunted Halloween Party (2000)

Little Bill makes a Halloween Costume, and is scared on Halloween.

Dora The Explorer Boo! (2003)/ Halloween Parade (2011)

In Boo! Dora goes trick-or-treating with Boots. In Halloween Parade Dora helps a monster find a Halloween costume.

Ni Hao, Kai-Lan Ni Hao, Halloween (2008)

Kai-Lan goes trick-or-treating with her friends.

Go, Diego Go Freddie the Fruit Bat Save Halloween (2008)

Freddy the fruit bat helps Diego set up trick-or-treat booths for the animals.

Doc McStuffins Boo-Hoo to You! (2012)

Doc help a little toy ghost learn not to be afraid of the holiday decorations.

Are all of these specials particularly good? No, not all of them. And The Fat Albert Halloween Special and Little Bill are problematic, considering the allegations against creator, Bill Cosby. But there just aren't that many animated Halloween specials with primary protagonists of color, and all the ones I could find were tie-ins to existing TV shows.

If any of you readers have suggestions for cartoons I missed, please comment : )

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Issue with Jem and the Holograms Live Action (yes it has to do with gender)

80s style realistic artwork

JEM began as a series of 7 minute segments, sandwiched between ROBOTIX and MONSTER TRUCKS in the weekly first-run syndicated animated anthology series SUPER SATURDAY. The idea was to create a series aimed at girls that had enough action that the boys wouldn't switch channels, while waiting for the next "boy" cartoon to come on. 

For anyone who would like a more in depth read on how deregulation of children's media affected the types of cartoons being produced for television in the eighties CLICK HERE.

Cartoons in the eighties were product based, and created to sell. The animated Transformer's movie killed off the majority of the main characters as a marketing ploy to sell a new line of Transformer toys to children. Like most cartoons during this time period, plot and character decisions were based around what new products were going to be sold. Each episode an advertisement.

Many girls enjoyed G.I. Joe as much as boys did. But, in terms of marketing, cartoons in the eighties were designed and advertised in a very gendered way. G.I Joe toys were created with boys in mind, the majority of characters are male, cartoons revolved around what marketers thought boys wanted.

Nostalgia has been hitting hard. Transformers and G.I Joe have already been reinvented as live action flicks. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has had multiple reincarnations and Thundercats and He-Man are said to be in some vague stages of pre-productions.

It was not surprising to me that the cartoons being turned into big-budget live action flicks are "boys toons" because we still see media staring and targeting men as universal, while stories staring and targeting women are seen as "for women only."

So, I was genuinely shocked when I heard they were making a JEM live action film. Of course I should have known...

For anyone who didn't watch JEM as a child, the series revolved around Jerrica Benton, a young woman in her twenties, who lives in the halfway house she helps run for twelve foster children. Jerrica, her sister, and their two best friends are the four members of the band Jem and the Holograms.

Jerrica's father owned Starlight Music, and when he died he gave the company to her, along with a secret high tech computer he had built. This tech, Synergy, could create complex holograms which they used to hide Jerrica's identity when performing, and to help them escape whatever action adventure plot episodes would have them fall into. Jem's creator Christie Marx talks about  how the series was unique for having an action adventure story targeting girls (She-Ra being one of the only others at the time).

Much of the tension of the show came from the villainous manger Eric Raymond who had been embezzling money from Starlight Music and his rival band The Misfits. Jerrica used her band, secret identity, and Synergy to help try and win back her family company. Jerrica was also in a love triangle with her long term boyfriend Rio, who had feelings for Jem. Every episode was cut in with two or three trippy music videos that would tie in to the plot.

I'm not trying to say this was a fabulous classic of a cartoon. It was designed to sell dolls and fashion accessories to girls. Yes, it was eighties cheese, but JEM was no more convoluted in plot or silly in writing then G.I. Joe or Transformers.

2015 comic artwork.
2015 comic on the other hand, worth reading
As John Swansburg of Slate writes: "Bay's Transformers bears no resemblance to the original in terms of plot, but both movies are grounded in the same fundamental mythology."

JEM the live action film is not. This isn't a situation of hardcore fans being upset about changes to canon. JEM appears to be so far removed from the source material that it makes I, Robot look like a glowing homage.

I want to give the makers of this movie the benefit of the doubt, but everything we know about the creation process was problematic. There were no women involved, they cut out the original creator, and wouldn't consult with her. They released a strange brotastic video about wanting to crowd-source ideas for their film. I can't find any proof of if they actually incorporated any crowd-sourced ideas, so feel free to comment with a link if you have more information on this.


If G.I. Joe  had been made into an action-less "now you know" inspired young adult flick about teenage boys in a military academy it would have been a loss for fans, but not for men or the movie industry over all. There are many action movie targeting boys, with male protagonists. There are not many movies targeting girls with a female protagonist who is a CEO who uses sci-fi technology to hide her secret identity while working alongside a makeshift family of other capable young women. 

There was the potential for this to be an incredibly unique movie: a fashion forward musical action adventure. Just as when Jem was created, and the action was originally added to try and draw a male audience. It is as if little has changed in what marketers think men and women want. Why have action in a movie whose only audience is going to be girls?

So, instead of a creative reinvention of the original material, nearly all aspects of the plot and characters have been erased. We now have a Hannah Montana rip-off with little base in the animated world besides names.

And I will leave you with this SNL joke:

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Clarence and Changing Gay Coding

Clarence was influenced by 90s animation, and reflects the zany comedy style of early original Cartoon Network shows. It also received a lot of media attention when creator, Skyler Page, was dismissed from the show due to sexually assaulting a fellow artist. That's not what I'm going to be talking about in this post, but I feel it would be remiss of me not to mention it.

Clarence is a show about a cheerful boy and his two best friends. Jeff is one of these friends, and one of the show's protagonists. In the episode Jeff Wins, we are shown his two mothers.

It is not unusual in shows that are pushing boundaries through coding, to hint at something that's never made explicit. But in case anyone watching Jeff Wins thought perhaps the two women were related in some other way (sisters, friends), in a recent episode Jeff calls them his moms.

Yes, they are lesbians. Yes, they are a couple. Yes, they are raising Jeff together. It might seem that Jeff referring to them as his moms is simply confirming the obvious, but it is revolutionary for a kids cartoon to cross the line from coded gay character to explicitly canon gay character.

While this in an incredibly huge leap forward when it comes to representation, child-targeted animation still deals with heavy censorship when it comes to LGBTQ characters, and so still must rely on double coding most of the time.

In an earlier episode, a scene where a gay couple were going to kiss never made it to the screen. Instead, Cartoon Network had the men kiss on the cheek.  In what appears to be an attempt to counteract the censorship and show that the relationship was romantic, the music changes while the men have their European style greeting. The lyrics are: "love is love, lovely love." Making it as obvious as possible that the men are a couple, so that the gentle punchline of the scene still works.

To anyone one out there who hasn't checked out Clarence, it is well worth your time. I'm very curious to see what this show brings us next.

Seriously, it's not just pushing boundaries for representation, it's funny too.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Girls and Guys from Summits and Skies

Celles et Ceux des Cimes et Cieux from Gwenn GERMAIN on Vimeo.

Gwenn Germain is a 22 year-old french artist, who created this stunning animation, inspired by Hayao Miyazaki, Jean Giraud and Syd Mead.