Why Aren’t There More Cable Cartoons on DVD?

Think about it. Of all the cartoons broadcast on the major cable networks (the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and Cartoon network), how many have had a bone fide DVD release. As those who have waited so long to watch their favourite show whenever they want, surprisingly few.

Starting with Disney, they are actually not as bad as I thought. A quick search of Amazon reveals that DuckTales (have their own store!), the Gummi Bears and Rescue Rangers are all for sale. Recent stuff is a wee bit harder to come across and while you can buy Phineas & Ferb, you can’t get illustrator extraordinaire, Dan Santat’s fantastic show The Replacements.

Nickelodeon fares a bit better, you can find all the classic Nicktoons as well as newer stuff available. The only caveat, they’re the “burn-on-demand” type. In other words, you can’t find the DVDs in shops because they don’t make them until you place an order. I appreciate this approach as you can get an industry-standard DVD with jewel case. The only downside? The cost is a bit on the expensive side, $36 for a 4-disc collection of Danny Phantom!

The Cartoon Network is perhaps the best of the bunch. Their list of shows is exhaustive if mainly confined to shows the network owns. Nonetheless it is nice to see shows such as HiHi Puffy AmiYumi (2nd hand only now) to Codename Kids Next Door receive proper releases. In addition, actual Warner Bros animation titles are available too, with shows such as Batman: The Animated Series for sale in full, most likely as a result of the nature of comic book fans no doubt.

Cartoon Network does have one nasty habit though. They have, on numerous occasions, begun to release DVDs of a show only to stop halfway through leaving collectors and fans holding the bag until they release the full series a few years down the road. It happened with the PowerPuff Girls and is currently the situation with Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. Personally I will be quite annoyed if I bought two volumes of episodes and then had to go out and buy the whole series only to fill in the episodes I missed.

With the advent of video-on-demand (VOD) the whole concept of a DVD release may become moot anyway. With the likes of iTunes already offering a whole season’s subscription to shows like the currently-being-broadcast Adventure Time and my one of my all-time favourites, My Life as a Teenage Robot, the time may come where we won’t even care if a show is released on DVD.

The Declining Quality of Animation on FOX

It was akin to a religion for me, and the only night of the week when I would absolutely have to watch “my shows”, yet recently, I have begun to skip Sunday nights altogether. Yes, FOX still has a full schedule of animated shows that is completely unrivalled by other networks, save for perhaps [Adult Swim].

What happened? Where has the love gone? Well, I’m not entirely sure. Let’s start at 8 o’clock and go from there.

The Simpsons. What can I say that hasn’t already been said ever since Principal Skinner was outed by Martin Sheen as an impostor. The quality of the show has clearly fallen since the heady days of the 90s and some people have been actively campaigning for the show’s cancellation in recent times (shoutout to the Dead Homers Society).

While it is clear that the show will be around for a wee while yet, it is unclear just how much farther it can fall. For example, last Sunday night’s episode was about a beached whale and not much else. If it wasn’t for the combination of a thunderstorm and some ice-cream, I may well have nodded off.

The Simpsons continues to hobble along being a mere ghost of it’s former self. Even the shows that supposedly outdid it are themselves falling into laziness (see below). The future beyond The Simpsons does not seem particularly bright as they are such a hard act to follow, here’s hoping FOX makes a decent choice.

Moving on to 8:30, we now have the Cleveland Show. For the previous decade, we were treated to a mild-mannered Texan and is cronies. Looking back, I should have been more appreciative of Mike Judge’s unique brand of humour. In between the launch of The Cleveland Show, were were treated to the severely underrated Sit Down, Shut Up. I’ve made my thoughts known before, but suffice to say, I believe SDSU was sorely needed in a full-time slot. Sadly, FOX didn’t agree.

The Cleveland Show as we all know is a spin-off from Family Guy, which pretty much says it all. Even though the humour is not near as pointed as it’s parent, it is still recognizable for the crass jokes and wacky neighbours. As a show it is funny enough, but the show that follows does not do it any favours.

Family Guy is the comeback king (well, almost, Futurama has to be the comeback king, seeing as it was even deader that Family Guy when it was resurrected a few years ago) and since its return has proven to be a strong ratings success. OK, sure the jokes have gotten even more borderline and the plots have evolved to the point where the characters have practically no, um, character.

When viewed immediately after Cleveland, the similarities are too easy to miss. Both shows together end up leaving me feeling like I wasted half an hour in there somewhere, even though I didn’t.

The best show doesn’t begin until 9:30. Even then, it falls far short of the Simpsons in their prime but that didn’t stop me praising the show a while back. I still stand by that post. Why? Well compared with Family Guy and The Cleveland Show, American Dad! is breath of fresh air. OK, the first season was pretty lame with its overbearing political slant, but since then the show has matured enough to the point that it’s half decent.

For me though, it’s on a bit late, the curse of having to get up at 6 every morning in order to hit the gym before work. This late timeslot also seems to render it the forgotten child in the promos during the earlier shows. In the grand scheme of things, it continues to survive, which I am grateful for.

Having said all the above, I do appreciate that FOX continues to have faith in animation and does continue to look for new shows with the aim of replacing ones as they inevitably peter out. It’s just that right now, the evening is filled with shows that are so desperately boring overall, that I would much rather watch any one of Hayao Miyazaki’s films for the 20th time.

FOX needs to realize that staying in a comfort zone for too long isn’t healthy. I understand that they can’t add more hours to the day, but with the overall shift to on-demand viewing, they could easily vary the schedule from week to week without any severe damage. I have hope for the future, but right now, I’m just one fan who would rather watch something else on a Sunday night.

Reviving Old Cartoons


Word comes through via ToonZone and others about the new Looney Tunes show announced today at the Cartoon Network upfront, the antiquated annual hooplah by a network where advertisers are coerced into buying space during shows that barely even exist yet. Fun times.

So once again, we see the Looney Tunes gang getting pulled out of the closet for new adventures. The last time they did this, we ended up Loonatics Unleashed. A show that many Warner fans would rather forget, but in the end, all it needed was some extra love and attention that would never be forthcoming.

The press summary describes it as follows:

The Looney Tunes Show: A new half-hour animated comedy series starring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. No longer confined to 7-minute shorts, Bugs and Daffy are out of the woods and living in the suburbs among such colorful neighbors as Yosemite Sam, Granny, Tweety and Sylvester. In addition to each episode’s main story, The Looney Tunes Show also features “cartoons within a cartoon.” The Tasmanian Devil, Speedy Gonzales, Marvin the Martian and other classic characters sing original songs in two-minute music videos called Merrie Melodies and the Road Runner and Coyote are featured in 2-1/2 minute CG shorts. This all new series is produced by Warner Bros. Animation. Sam Register (Teen Titans, Ben 10, Batman: The Brave and the Bold) is the executive producer. Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone (both Duck Dodgers, Back at the Barnyard, Space Jam) are the supervising producers.

Oh…goody.

If the fact that the characters live in the suburbs isn’t enough, the new show apparently helps the characters break out of the classic 7-minute acts that made them who they are today.

Since I have not seen the show, I will reserve judgement on it for now. Suffice to say I’m not immediately impressed and don’t have high hopes either. This despite the fact that Sam Register is running the whole thing.

Reveiving old cartoons characters is fairly old. Sure Disney has been at it for years, Mickey Mouse continues to pop up in new adventures from time to time. Tom & Jerry have had more lives than I care to remember, from Chuck Jones shorts to Saturday morning cartoons to Tom & Jerry Kids!

What have all these things taught us? For one, nothing is rarely, if ever as good as the original. Even Family Guy isn’t the same since it came back, which in turn has me worried about the new series of Futurama.

Granted the FOX shows had a much shorter hiatus than the Looney Tunes. Still though, they won’t be the same. I think the closest we have gotten to the classic WB shorts in recent (!) years has been either Ren & Stimpy or Cow & Chicken. Today’s cartoons really do lack the hard edge and sly humour that have made old cartoons stand the test of time.

I will of course see the new show when it launches, but people rarely get ahead by digging in the past.

Toys As A Creative Source For Cartoons

I was rather gutted when I found out they were toys first...

To be frank, I don’t remember an awful lot of these. being a child of the mid-80s, I missed more than half the decade, also having been raised in Ireland, I was dependent on whatever RTE could afford or care enough about to import.

What made cartoons of that decade stand out more than anything else? Toys of course! Yes indeedy, this was the decade where cartoons reigned supreme as the marketing vehicle to children, even moreso than today or the 1990s for that matter.

You couldn’t turn on a TV without seeing a show based on a toy. be it The Care Bears, Transformers, G.I. Joe and so on. The strategy was successful, but of course, the shows themselves dated quickly. Although some managed to achieve a certain level of cult status.

Thankfully, somebody wised up in the 90s and realized that cartoons worked much better if they were the source of the toys, not a cog in the marketing machine. Today we have smart, funny and intensely entertaining cartoons to watch 24/7 and the toys that go with them are top notch too. How much nicer is it to see Spongebob getting into trouble in Bikini Bottom than, say, the Transformers off to stop the evil Deseptacons, again!

The reason for this post is the word filtering through the internet that the two guys behind Ruby-Spears have announced that they intend to start marketing old Jack Kirby ideas as a combined TV show and toy line.

Great! If that’s what they want to do, then more power to them. There can never be enough cartoons in this world. There will always be good and bad shows, sometimes (like the 80s) there will be more bad ones than good ones. Nonetheless, I think we can all agree that some form of animation on TV or otherwise is better than nothing. Now if I was in charge, you can bet you’d only see the best, creator-driven cartoons ever made. But unfortunately I’m not in charge, so we’ll have to deal with what comes out between now and then.

Nope, what I’m wondering is where they’ll find a willing buyer. Disney is only interested in its own properties (or those developed in-house). Nickelodeon, while sometimes going outside Viacom, has so far chosen to develop their own shows and market them accordingly. With the stunning success of Spongebob Squarepants, I can’t see them changing their tune either. As for the Cartoon Network, they’ve decided to change their direction away from cartoons. Although they have bought in shows, such as Cookie Jar’s Johnny Test, the network has an abysmal record of translating their shows into marketable products. Ben 10 is the exception rather than the rule, and even then the show has a very, very narrow focus on boys aged 6-11.

That leaves the broadcast networks. Which as we all know, are a bit of a graveyard for kids shows these days. ABC airs constant (and I mean constant, i.e. the same 20 episodes) re-runs of Disney shows. NBC has handed their Saturday mornings to Quobo, the quasi-cable channel. That leaves the CW and CBS. The former entrusts 4Kids, the latter used to use DIC before they got swallowed up by Cookie Jar.

Of all of these, the most likely prospective buyers are 4Kids and Cookie Jar, although 4Kids has focused more on anime imports, such as Sonic X and TNMT in recent times. DIC of course, has brought us many toy-related shows over the years. So perhaps they may be the buyers for and toy-related show that comes out of this. Such a shame the ratings are in the sub-1.0 level.

There is plenty to be hopeful about, but the last 20 years have proven that cartoons that are creator-driven stand to make much more money for toy makers than themselves. They would be wise to realize this.

How The Simpsons Interacts With Other Cartoons

The very first issue of MAD I ever bought (via Fanpop.com)

News comes to us from The Animation Blog about The Simpsons congratulating South Park on their 200th episode. Which brings up an interesting thought, The Simpsons is the longest running animated show on TV (or ever for that matter) right? Well, we all know how other animated shows have honoured, recognized, satirized and downright lampooned The Simpsons, but how have they responded in kind?

First off though, a trivia question: The Simpsons has parodied many shows, but has only ever made a direct homage to one. Which show is it? The answer is at the bottom.

The creators, being who they are, were bound to reference other forms of entertainment linked with animation. Comic books got a look very early on in the life of the series, but so did other cartoons. On numerous occasions, references have been made to various Hanna-Barbera shows. Notably The Flintstones in the opening sequence of “Marge Vs. The monorail” where Homer is shown leaving work in a fashion similar to Fred Flintstone. In one of their trademark couch gags, the family is shown coming home to find Fred, Wilma, Pebbles and Dino in their place (Kamp Krusty).

Satire has often been prevalent. Many will remember when South Park engaged the ire of Marge Simpson (“The Bart of War” which was, in fact, a get-back for an episode of South Park wherein it was inferred that the Simpsons had already done every possible plot in a TV show).

The Simpsons has, over the years, reacted with it’s cousins on the FOX network. King of Hill was done when Bart was watching Hank complain about “propane in my urethra“. Perhaps the most controversial has been the back and forth between The Simpsons and Family Guy.

Both shows are extremely similar and both have an oafish father as the protagonist. Although the relationship between both shows is cordial, and it is fun to see the jokes fly. So far, I count when Homer was run down by Stewie in the driveway, or when Peter Griffin was wanted by the Italian police as a “plagarisimo”.

Over the years the Simpsons has also referenced anime (during the family’s trip to Japan), Czech animation (the Russion Itchy & Scratchy replacement) and even independent films (Spike & Mike’s Sick, Twisted & F**ked Up Film Festival). The comedy in these references and parodies is genius, which has no doubt flown under the radar of the average viewer for years as inside jokes to people in the know (that would be you and I).

So, did you guess it? Here’s the answer:

[livevideo id=http://www.livevideo.com/video/C5FD97BB261A48F1B3C9AB3D075491BA/ren-stimpy-in-the-simpsons.aspx]

If that’s not working, click here!

Yup, that isn’t actual footage, but it is the absolute closest the Simpsons has ever got to featuring another show. Yeah, I know, there was “The Critic” but that’s not the same and requires a post for another day.

What importance  does this clip hold? For one it shows the admiration of the Simpsons creators for the one and only John K. The colours are accurate, the voices are ably espoused by Dan Castellenatta and the animation is spot on. The respect is clear, no other show has been given such accurate reproduction by the Simpsons.

So the conclusion to all this is that The Simspons love John K. and think he’s great!

Steven Spielberg And Animation

Freakazoid! Via Jim Hill Media

Word comes through AWN that Stevcn Spielberg is returning to animation by way of the Discovery Channel and Dreamworks. While things will be different this time, it is surely worth taking a look back at his previous adventures in animationland.

Although Steven was the same well known and respected filmmaker in the early 90s as he is now (well, maybe he shone a bit brighter; War of the Worlds tarnished his reputation a wee bit, at least in my book), his decision to begin producing animation was seen as a bit of a departure for him.

And what a departure! Despite being only the producer and partnering with Warner Bros. he was directly involved with three breakout shows: Tiny Toons, Animaniacs and my personal favourite, Freakazoid!

What made these shows so great to begin with? Well, for one, Tiny Toons drew on Warner Bros. directly for inspiration. Hence the occasional appearance of the numerous Looney Tunes members such as Bugs and Daffy. While this may have been deliberate for the sake of attracting the audience, by mixing classic characters with new ones, a whole new generation of kids came to know about the Looney Tunes and all the great shorts from their parent’s time.In addition, they Tiny Toons themselves became successes in their own right. Indeed, right before I moved to the States (Sept. 2007), Tiny Toons was still being broadcast regularly on RTÉ.

Animaniacs was a different beast. Here were three original characters, supposedly the “Warner Brothers” themselves (and their sister, Dot). Besides being even more off the wall than Tiny Toons, the creators did well to bring to life a vast and varied range of characters that the Warners could, and did, constantly provoke, enrage, degrade and drive insane, all to the delight of the audience.

Lastly, we come to Freakazoid! Again, what a show, besides a genuinely insane protagonist (I can hear Paul Ruggs voice in my head as I write this), the plots were just downright bonkers, as were the supporting characters (Arms Akimbo anyone?). Such a shame it wasn’t to last as long as the others, I’m going to blame the network for that one, no offense to anyone. What was so great about Freakazoid! was that when you watch it, you can’t help but feel that the people working on the show were having fun the entire time. They probably weren’t, we all know how animation works, but at least it appears that way!

Two things stand out about all these shows, first, they were all high-quality shows in every way. The animation, writers (the animaniacs show bible supposedly cost $100,000 alone), and the characters themselves. How do we know all this worked in the show’s favour? You’re reading about them now! Well over a decade later, that’s how. You don’t see me talking about the Real Adventures of Johnny Quest do you? That’s because I’ll talk about it later (with my most grievous apologies to Fred for even mentioning it)

Secondly, another aspect of these shows was that the respective teams were generally left alone to do their own thing by Warner Bros. management. It seems a bit incredulous in this day and age, heck it was incredulous even then as John K. often cites that one of the reasons he was removed from Ren & Stimpy was interference from Niekelodeon executives.

It is generally acknowledged that the teams were left alone for the simple reason that with a reliable guy like Spielberg involved, things would be unlikely to get out of hand. Personally, I think this is probably an accurate enough. The resulting shows are proof that a hands-off approach can bring out the best in everyone involved.

We haven’t seen cartoons like these since, well, the 90s. What a shame. Sure the animation landscape has changed, animation on broadcast TV is as dead a horse as you can find that is still being flogged (albeit because of government mandates). The cable networks, while putting out plenty of fantastic shows, are unlikely to ever repeat shows of the same caliber as those I’ve discussed.

Could we see Steven doing something similar again today? On the Discovery Channel it’s unlikely, but with strong DVD sales of his older shows, there’s always hope. Hey, it worked for Futurama!

Renewing TV Shows

From about.com

It is the dream of every show creator to be renewed for another season. It is in many ways the ultimate compliment; “your show is so great and you are so talented, that we would like to give you a huge pile of money to make some more!”

Sounds great doesn’t it? And with the animation industry as transient as it is, getting an order of more episodes is a fantastic form of job security. You know when you are likely to run out of work, unlike say, myself, who could get the can any time, whether the job I’m working on is finished or not.

While renewing shows is generally a good thing (and there are plenty of examples where shows have been inexplicably renewed), sometimes it amazes me how quickly TV people jump the gun when it comes to shows.

The Cleveland Show is a prime example, where it was renewed before the pilot was even broadcast. That took a lot of guts in FOX’s part and yet it was certainly viewed as arrogance by some people, who thought that they should have waited to see concrete numbers before committing to a second season.

Too many shows have been screwed around by the networks and have ended up being cancelled because of supposed low viewing numbers. Two of said shows have been FOX productions so perhaps that’s something they should really work on.

Kids networks like Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon are slightly different in that they don’t broadcast new content at the same amount as other networks (perhaps another reason I don’t cough up for cable) so they seem to be able to re-run shows ad-nausuem without wearing out their audience.

With the advent of online streaming and video on demand, we should see a switch to more precise viewing numbers. I hope that shows can get out there sooner, in other words before the entire season has finished production. As Adventure Time has proven, a show can have plenty of fans before it even gets off the ground. Every show should be like that, not just the really good ones.

Adventure Time: Woohoo!

Adventure Time Promo art

First things first: an apology. Saying I was going to begin blogging daily should clearly not have been said they day before I was going to leave for a weekation (weekend vacation), but we all live and learn so I don’t plan on doing the same thing again.

Anyway, onto today’s post. I happen to love animation so it is no surprise that I am verrrry excited to see that Adventure Time will be premièring on Cartoon Network tonight at 8pm EST (?).

This is a rare event, seeing as Cartoon Network has decided to shift their market focus to live-action in a vain attempt to “compete” with Nickelodeon and Disney. Pen Ward deserves a heck of a lot of credit for his very unique concept of a show and judging by the artwork that’s been filtering out of the studio over the last year or so, this should be a fantastic show with some truly great stories.

If anything it is vindication that the Oh Yeah! and Random! Cartoons shorts programmes are hit-producers. It is regrettable that Cartoon Network had to go to a competitor’s product to try and find a hit show, but we should be thankful that they even did so at all.

Some have said it is a show of Spongebob proportions, but history has told us that Cartoon Network is atrocious when it comes to marketing their shows, so I don’t expect anything to change.

All I can hope for is that it gets a longer run than the last show that showed as much promise: Chowder.

Lead Female Protagonists in Mainstream US Animation


Animated TV programmes with female lead characters. Are they a rare occurrence? Certainly when compared to the numbers with male lead characters. Now, I’m not saying that females are underrepresented in animation, there are plenty of female characters, however, more often than not, they are not the main protagonist or are part of a group. How come this is so?

There is a general notion that girls like cartoons at a young age but lose that interest once they get older. That’s not to say that there are no programmes out there that specifically cater to girls (Horseland springs to mind). but it would seem that girls (more so than boys) try to imitate their older peers at an earlier age. One fact that is known about animated shows is that they are seen as ‘childish’ or beyond the intellectual capabilities of a certain age bracket. Thus girls are seemingly pressured to drop animation from their TV viewing at a younger age than boys.

Take Japan for example (an obvious choice, but a good one to study), animation is accepted in society as a suitable medium for programming to both males and females. There are a vast array of shows that are designed to appeal to girls and women in general because they don’t see animation as something that should be confined to younger age groups. They are also interested in many of the same genres as males, albeit with more female-centric plots. This implies that age is not the only type of peer pressure at work in discouraging girls and females from watching animation.

The types of shows that interest boys tend to be of adventure, fantasy and science-fiction, as well as comedy. Girls tend to show less interest in these genres, preferring instead to concentrate on character-driven shows (Chowder is perhaps a good, current example). The interests of boys (and males in general) are better served by animation as it is a cost effective method for delivering the product. Girls interests can often be catered for with live-action (Hanna Montana, etc.) which is cost effective, whereas the same show would be prohibitively expensive if animated with no real additional benefits to be gained (side note: Lizzy Maguire used live-action with animated sequences acting as a plot device). There have been some animated shows that could have been live action, such as Pepper Ann and As Told By Ginger, but I guess these are the exception to the rule.

The interesting thing is that it is possible to have cartoons with strong animated leads that can appeals to girls and be so successful that it attracts boys too. Examples include Kim Possible and the PowerPuff Girls; both shows with strong female leads yet are equally enjoyed by both sexes. They have a great mix of action (for the boys) and also have a decent dose of character development to satisfy the girls. However, they are not always successful. Take My Life as a Teenage Robot. This show about a teenage robot girl who routinely saves the earth is rather underrated but failed to attract much of either a girl or boy audience, despite having a female lead and the requisite types of plots for both audiences. It would appear that the line between a successful show and an unsuccessful show is a fine one.

Overall, I believe that the reason we see relatively few shows with female leads is a wider cultural belief that extends back to when television became widespread. In Japan, shows were designed to appeal to everyone, and the populous became comfortable with animation as a medium. In the US, animation was pushed more and more into the children’s corner, and although animation was still produced for slightly older audiences (it took thirty years for The Simpsons to arrive as save the rest of us), we have to remember that the world was a different place and that the opinion of females was a very different as well. Today we have many talented women within the animation industry, but I want to say they are trapped by a culture that neither allows nor encourages girls to seek role models or even entertainment in animation because of certain outdated expectations. Changing these expectations is very much an uphill task if we are to see more female-orientated programming on TV.