Character Sundays: Pepper Ann

Via: Brad Goodchild’s Postfolio Site

Today’s character is Pepper Ann, star of her eponymous TV show that aired on Disney/ABC from 1997 to 2001.

Pepper Ann is a 12 year-old who has a bit of a runaway imagination. Akin to a bit of a dreamer, she imagines scenarios developing in seemingly bizarre and fantastical ways. Despite this, the series is very much grounded in reality, with Pepper’s friends Milo and Nicky acting as her rock throughout the series.

Strong characters were the hallmark of a series that was the first to bring in some of the more complex aspects of life into Disney entertainment. Case in point is Pepper’s absent father, whom she hopes will someday come home, but with the realities of divorce, that is unlikely to happen. This article from the New York Times in 1997 provides a good overview of the series.

Such an unfortunate situation could have easily been pawned off by the creators but instead it is made a main tenant of the show and gives kids watching a sense that characters can also have complex lives.

Pepper Ann is generally very easy going, but displays a steely determination to solve problems and dilemmas. In that regard she consults her conscience, who often appears out of nowhere and whose advice is mostly (?) correct.

As a show, Pepper Ann remains somewhat unique in the realm of animated TV. The show features a lead female protagonist but at the same time is surprisingly gender-neutral. Even though Pepper Ann is a girl, we rarely see her engage in all the stereotypes of one, or act as a tween for that matter. While this is certainly welcome, it is also unfortunately surprising, especially in this day and age, when 12 year olds are practically treated as adults.

Although a bit dated by the use of late-90s slang, and most definitely an American show from that period, Pepper Ann remains a great show with a fantastic lead.

Fun fact: A certain Mr. Warburton worked on the show, and random stuff has been known to pop up over on his blog.

Character Sundays: Chuckie Finster

Chuckie Finster is the most instantly recognizable character from the original Rugrats. Wild, untamed red hair, glasses and a distinct, congested nasal voice single him out amongst the others. However it is much more than looks that sets Chuckie apart.

On a character level, he is also the most nervous, the most risk-averse and the most timid; traits that Angelica is only too eager to exploit throughout the series.

Chuckie is a complex character in the greatest sense. In other words, we don’t really know why he is the way he is, he just is. That’s what makes hims rather likeable, he comes across as quite a “real” character.

While the nature of the Rugrats’ adventures isn’t overly complex (it is a kid’s show afterall), Chuckie is almost always present to provide the necessary depth and voice of reason. Although this could easily be written off as the unnecessary inclusion of a timid character, the show does utilise the fact quite often; with many storylines involving Chuckie overcoming one of his many fears or succeeding despite his doubts.

 

Character Sundays: Daria and Quinn Morgendorfer

Sorry, I couldn't resist!

Via: Sick Sad World

We didn’t really get Daria back in Ireland. It was either too odd for the stiffs at RTE so those of us without satellite or cable (i.e. almost everyone) were left in the dark.

Skip forward to today, and I’ve managed to move to the country where Daria was made. Even better than that, I met someone who likes Daria, a lot. So it goes without saying that I have now watched every single episode and the two movies and it has become one of my favourite shows.

Why? Quite simply it is the characters. They’re a fantastic smorgasbord of types that you would probably never come across in real life, but who make for enjoyable entertainment nonetheless.

While I could write a post for each and every one of them, it makes sense to focus on two in particular. No, not Daria and JaneĀ  but Daria and Quinn. Why you ask? Because they’re sisters but are still polar opposites when it comes to personality, which the series uses every chance it gets for comedic and dramatic effect.

Daria

At first glimpse, Daria is deathly boring. She’s mostly expressionless, very rarely conveys any emotion of any kind and to top it off, her voice is as monotonous as the corn fields of Iowa (no offence to Iowans). On the surface, she’s an extremely flat and unlikeable character, and yet, the more we see of her, the deeper and more complex she becomes.

Daria is the school oddball, in other words, quite content in herself but seen by just about everyone else as a weirdo. She’s also the voice or reason, or rather, that of rationality. She sees things in a very black and white manner and has the ability to see past attempts to pull the wool over her eyes.

What is particularly interesting about Daria is that even though she’s a teenager, she displays hardly any of the typical teenage traits. She rarely talks back to her parents and rarely gets into mischief. She’s smart to be sure, but throughout the series her attitude and generally vacant expressions make it difficult to determine when she is enjoying herself.

The series did a great job of including some character growth throughout the series hwoever, and it’s nice to see that, by the end, Daria is well on her way to being a real, sort-of rounded adult as opposed to a selfish child.

Quinn

Speaking of selfish children, let’s talk about her sister. Quinn is presented as the stereotypical teenage girl. Obsessed with fashion, popularity and friends, Quinn is also a member of the “Fashion Club” whose members talk a lot about fashion but not much else.

Quinn is presented as being an even shallower character than Daria but the difference is that her’s is portrayed much more up front. Her blatant self-interest is made only more pronounced by the fact that she uses her dates as a means to her own ends.

For the majority of the series, Quinn is shown this way, but like Daria, she begins to develop towards the end. In the first movie, “Is It Fall Yet?” we see her come to terms with the fact that she yearns to succeed but is faced with the prospect of having to actually study in order to achieve it. Perhaps fittingly, we see her in the end credits of the second movie, “Is It College Yet?” as someone who appears to have succeeded in life.

Together, Daria and Quinn represent the yin and yang and despite their differences, they do have some similarities. For one they are both relatively indifferent to their parents, they both respect the value of a dollar when it comes to negotiations and they are both quite good at hiding their true feelings from their friends.

Together, both characters add a lot to what could have been a devastatingly dull series. Without them, the surrounding characters would be floating around Lawndale with little to provoke them or bounce off of.

Character Sundays: Spike The Bulldog

Today’s character of discussion is one that should be immediately familiar to almost anyone who watches cartoons.

Spike the Bulldog first appeared in the 1941 short, Dog Trouble, where he gave both Tom and Jerry a hard time. While that was his first appearance, it wasn’t until 1944’s The Bodyguard did we hear him speak.

Spike represents the stereotypical bulldog, immensely strong, undeniably tough and with an extremely sour humour to boot. Throughout his appearances, Tom is constantly getting on his nerves while Jerry often wins his protection.

With the introduction of his son, Tyke, things take another turn as the plot often revolves around Tom and Jerry interrupting Spike and Tyke, for which Tom is almost always on the receiving end of Spike’s foot.

Spike is essentially the voice of reason within the series. He attempts, sometimes pleading for, a degree of sanity from the other two. While he is not Tom’s foil to the degree that Jerry is, he is not averse to resorting to Tom’s methods when necessary.

Spike is very obviously the next logical step in the progression of cartoon animals, as witnessed and explained by Poochie the Dog in the Simpsons episode, Itchy, Scratchy and Poochie. Together, the trio of Tom, Jerry and Spike form a trio that effectively cancel each other out but at the same time, are always playing catchup to each other.

As far as bulldogs go, does Spike represent the epitome of the species?

Of course not! Bulldogs are well known for their mild temperament.

Character Sundays: The Goth Girls of Cartoons

No, this post isn’t about one particular character, but it is about a specific type of character (which I can justify because November in Irish is “Samhain” which began as a pagan festival to honour the dead). While I was nosing around the internet looking for pictures of Mandy for the post from a few weeks ago, I stumbled across the Goth Girls of Cartoons blog and found it quite amusing.

It’s not a regularly updated blog but a static one instead. On it, there are various list posts on different kinds of goth characters. Such as the ones who only appeared in one episode, ones who where main characters in their respective shows, characters who weren’t normally goth but became ones for a short time and heroines who just happened to be a bit on the dark side.

Overall its quite an interesting collection of characters who share certain traits. I don’t particularly get goth culture, but I have found that such characters in cartoons tend to be a bit more interesting than others because they are generally bestowed with a strong sense of who they are and what they stand for and believe in. For better or for worse, it at least makes them stand out from the crowd.

Each character featured on the blog comes with a fairly good description with just a tiny bit of personal subjectivity, but that doesn’t distract from the overall usefulness of the information.

So go ahead and have a peek, you might be as surprised as I was!

Character Sundays: Witch Hazel

I simply couldn’t let Halloween pass without mentioning a character with at least some connection to the holiday and I think a witch will suit just fine.

There’s not a lot to say about Witch Hazel except that she is constantly scheming but is ultimately thwarted by her own mistakes. She’s a quirky mix of you loveable old grandmother and a wicked witch. By far the funniest aspect to her character is her giggle. It’s as if she’s a schoolgirl and not an ancient old crone!

By far the best way to appreciate her is to watch her. Here she is in the absolute classic short, Broomstick Bunny. The whole short is a setup to the never-in-doubt ending but is hilarious nonetheless.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTJNTQdjouM

Character Sundays: Raven from Teen Titans

What’s the matter? Afraid of the dark?

Perhaps the ultimate mysterious character in a kids TV show is Raven from Teen Titans. She’s the resident quote/unquote “goth” of the group, but there is much more to her character than simply liking the dark side of life.

Why? Well, for one, she’s partly inhabited by her demon father (and you thought living at home was bad enough), which effectively curses her with terrible purpose. This makes her a very private character that sometimes leaves others questioning her demeanour. Of course, the truth comes out eventually, but for the most part, it remains hidden throughout the series.

Raven exhibits a high level of intelligence as she is continually reading and researching spells, potions and other things. In other words, she understands her powers and attempts to use them to their full potential. That’s not to say she’s smarter than other members of the group, but she does display the most discipline in relation to her powers.

She is ultimately a good character and has a deep connection to the rest of her team members. Her strong individuality does not preclude her team spirit in the slightest and she readily and willingly fights alongside the others.

That is not to say she is above the usual, human frailties. She can be jealous, scared, annoyed (especially by Beast Boy) and she can be especially angered by the actions of others that she judges to be insincere or stupid.

Raven has a brutal sense of anger, that is partially unleashed by her demon father. In such instances, no enemy is spared as she delights in terrorising them into insanity.

All the same, Raven in a way represents common sense within the Titans. She is always looking at problems objectively. She doens’t fly off the handle like the boys, or is she overly sensitive like Starfire. Nope, she sees things exactly the way then need to be seen and is not above raising her objections to what she sees is a flawed plan.

Raven is an incredibly deep and complex character that adds much to an erstwhile team of misfits. Despite being in a group with the word “teen” in the title, Raven is immensely more mature in both words and actions. That being said, she is not above the odd bit of mischief or fun, especially if it is at Beast Boy’s expense.

Overall, Raven is by far my favourite member of the Titans. She’s incredibly smart, unfathomably complex, suspiciously dark but unnendingly well-meaning. Such a mix of things are incredibly rare in a character, especially a superhero like Raven.

Character Sundays: Mandy

Mandy from Grim and Adventures of Billy & Mandy

Okay Grim, when the rainbow appears, you take me to the end of it, and I’ll shake down the leprechaun for its gold.

I first discovered the Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy way back in 2005 and it very quickly rose to become one of my very favourite cartoons. Yes, the humour is slapstick and sometimes violent, the stories are completely wacky, and even the very premise is rather absurd. I mean, just how could two kids end up “owning” the grim reaper after winning a game of limbo?

The above reasons are not the full story however, as the characters themselves are one of the strongest and most likeable aspects of the show. You have: an idiot (Billy), a beleaguered anti-hero (Grim) and an acerbic, domineering little girl (Mandy), our focus for today.

Mandy’s character is comparative to a black hole in nothing good can ever come out of it. She is selfish, controlling, conniving, intelligent and above all, pessimistic about life in general. These she impresses upon everyone she meets; no-one is safe from her ire.

Surprisingly enough, Mandy does have some positive aspects. She remains friends with Billy despite his idiocy, and while she never displays a lot of emotion towards him, she does see to it that he is kept safe from himself and others. She also displays an odd mixture of tolerance and acceptance of Grim, who in spite of his powers is rendered subservient to her and her will and makes his dissatisfaction known.

Mandy remains somewhat of a loner throughout the series having only superficial relationships with other characters besides Billy and Grim. It is implied that she is equally feared and loathed by others, a situation that causes her some consternation. Although she often tries to bury it as the problematic “nice” side of her character, she still somewhat resents the situation.

What makes Mandy so endearing is that she, in a way represents, the sane voice of the universe of the show. In such a crazy world where a kid can have an Egyptian mummy for a mother (Irwin), there is a need for someone to fly the flag for sanity. Mandy happens to be the one in this case, even if she is notably missing a nose.

It is this apparent contradiction between sanity and uncontrollable rage that makes Mandy such a great character for a cartoon. She engages so much with the other characters and adds a lot of depth to what otherwise could have been just another slapstick cartoon.

Character Sundays: Master Cyclonis

Not to be repeating myself or anything, but seeing as it is October now and Halloween is just around the corner, it makes sense to take a peek at some of the darker characters in animation. Today’s post is from this past June when I had a look at Master Cyclonis from Storm Hawks.

Debuting a few years ago on Cartoon Network is a Canadian show produced by the best-named studio I have come across to date: Nerd Corps. Based on the planet Atmos, Storm Hawks centres around a group of rag-tag young adults who wish to gain the same respect that a previous iteration of the group had.

The premise of the show is that the planet is composed mainly of atmosphere, with various rocky “islands” as the only areas where people live. Each island or group of islands are considered different countries or kingdoms. As with most shows, there are good and bad ones with the show focusing on the confrontations between the two.

Kids shows generally seem to keep within a fairly narrow range when it comes to villainy. Evil businessmen, dark wizards and overbearing authority figures are all the standard fare. However, the vast majority of them are male. Exceptions generally include shows aimed at girls or with girl leads. Which makes Storm Hawks the exception, it’s a fairly gender-neutral show with a mixed group of lead characters and plenty of variety in the supporting cast.

Of interest today is the leader of the ‘bad’ side, collectively known as Cyclonia, headed up by Master Cyclonis. The reason for focusing on her is that she is a rare character, a female baddy, and a fairly heartless one at that. The official description is as follows:

Diabolically intelligent and a master of crystal transformations, the Queen of Cyclonia is hell-bent on extending her new kingdom by force. Extremely paranoid, she only trusts her shadowy henchman, the Dark Ace. Her Talon thugs are in constant fear of falling into her disapproval, which happens a lot.

Master Cyclonis is unique in that she is the same or of similar age to our protagonists. She is not some wrinkly old hag who is clinging on to her throne, she is very much the opposite, looking to widen her influence and consolidate her control over Cyclonia, the lands she rules and beyond.

Often seen wearing a cape and hood, Cyclonis appears dark, in effect concealing her powers from those around. Such a disguise of sorts could be seen as an attempt to subvert or trick the unwitting. When in battle or angered, the hood retracts into a headdress-like set of petals that emphasize her heightened mood. Her comparatively tall stature reinforces her position over others.

While some people have speculated that Cyclonis embodies the ‘goth’ style (see above), I would have to disagree. Yes, she dresses dark clothes, wears what appears to be heavy amounts of eye shadow and has pale skin, such features only serve to contrast her appearance with others and to indicate the dark nature of here character.

Master Cyclonis (like all the characters in Storm Hawks) displays a lot of emotion through her eyes. They’re large size are put to good use as they narrow to convey anger, displeasure or both and widen to illustrate her surprise. Her heavy eyebrows emphasize these emotions.

As a character, Cyclonis displays all the hallmarks of a classic villain including a lust for control and power, a careless attitude towards those who serve her, a demanding attitude and a lack of tolerance when it comes to failure.

Repton: I couldn’t care less about your plan, Cyclonis! What’s in it for the Raptors?
Master Cyclonis: Untold riches to start.
[Cyclonis zaps Repton]
Master Cyclonis: And I’ll promise not to crush your measly little Terra Bogaton.

Much more than your usual bone-headed bad guy, Cyclonis is conniving and clever. She is not just a skilled fighter but is also intelligent enough when it comes to her style of attack. While physically she is comparable to the Storm Hawks, she is also crafty enough to engage in psychological warfare. In one particular episode, she plays on the fact that Piper is the lone girl in the group and is only thwarted because of Piper’s superior intellect.

While her character inspires a lot of fear, it does draw upon pity. Ultimately she is a lonely character not unlike Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter. Yes, he has untold power and people at his disposal, but as Harry points out in The Order of the Phoenix, he is a lonely figure who has been and will continue to be isolated because of his demeaning nature and his unquestionable evil nature.

Master Cyclonis adds a lot of complexity to an otherwise decent series. The fact that she is a female adds to the unnerving nature of her character, the fact that she is also quite ruthless is belied by her age and her level of skill and mastery in the art of fighting is proof of her stature.

If you have not already, she is well worth checking out as a villain.

 

 

Character Sundays: Mr Potato Head in Toy Story

This week’s character is one of the most beloved of all in the Toy Story franchise (yup, at this stage of the game, it’s a franchise). Voiced to perfection in all three films and beyond by Don Rickles, Mr. Potato Head is the on-screen epitome of the ever-suffering husband.

As a character, Potato Head is introduced well before his spouse, and from the very beginning, it is clear that he has a rather sardonic sense of humour. He jokes and laughs at other’s expense and becomes somewhat upset when he gets some of his own medicine given back to him.

Via: The Gif in Your Folder

Although not the smartest potato in the pot, he does manage to give the audience some laughs while simultaneously adding to the bewilderment of his fellow cast members.

Via: Amanadahugandkiss.tumblr.com

Arguably it is this feckless attitude to the world that makes Potato Head such a funny character. He’s not quite duped by the world in the way that early Homer Simpson was, but he does live his life in a way that suggests that the rest of the world finds him a spectacle.

All of that changes when he gets himself a missus at the end of the first film. This has the rather happy result of setting him up for all sorts of marriage jokes in the second and third outings. He is now not only the guy who casts a dim view on the world but also the suffering husband who must bend to the whim of his wife’s every wish!

This setup naturally results in a whole host of rib-tickling and wink-wink jokes about tying the knot and being shackled for life. We see Potato Head as the stereotype of the suffering husband. He puts up with the nagging and criticism with only the slightest hint of honesty in his voice.

Ultimately both Potato Heads exaggerate and play-up the many facets of marriage for the enjoyment of the audience and that’s what not only makes them so great but also adds to the juxtaposition of their composition, their kid’s toys! Their lives aren’t supposed to be this complicated and yet here they are, with all the ups and downs of your average couple bearing down on their silver anniversary.

Heck, even Potato Head’s composition of many parts leads to jokes about him falling apart or missing pieces. I’m sure there are plenty of middle aged fathers that could relate to losing parts of themselves (hypothetically) along the long road of life and matrimony. Ultimately though, the scene below where both Potato Head’s lose all their parts best sums up their marriage as they mutually help each other back into one piece. It’s not lost on older members of the audience that for all their differences, they are both one and the same.

Via: the ANIMadams blog

All of this makes Potato Head on of the most important characters of the Toy Story films: he gives parents in the audience someone to relate to and sympathise with. He represents them in a world otherwise filled with quote/unquote “kids”.

Mr. Potato Head is a perfect character for the Toy Story universe that embodies all the pitfalls and benefits of a healthy and loving marriage, and that’s why we love him.