A selection of the best animation articles including news, opinions, and features from around the world for the week beginning the 19th of April, 2020.…
While many current and upcoming shows have devoted fans, just because a show has ended does not mean the end for the fan community. Far from it. Fans have been instrumental in keeping shows such as Star Trek alive for decades after the show wrapped up and it far from alone in that respect.
Fans currently have a remarkable set of tools at their disposal to help keep memories and interests alive. In years gone past, there were fanzines, clubs and conventions. Today many of these tools continue to connect fans and have been joined by new tools, such as message boards, blogs and social networks like Facebook.
Maintaining the interest is imperative if fan communities are to continue to exist, and that relies upon continued upkeep of any sites and also moving beyond just the show itself; hence the reason many message boards have off-topic threads or ones in areas of similar interest to members.
Today we’re focusing on one fan blog for My Life as a Teenage Robot. Long ago, there was a traditional, official blog that was created and run during the series’ production. (If memory serves, it was one of, if not the first ever production blogs for an animated show). While it continued to run after the show ended, it has been dormant for a number of years.
The rise of Tumblr as a fan-friendly platform has not gone unnoticed thanks to its emphasis on particular post types and easy sharing amongst the site’s many members. The proliferation of fan creations on Tumblr have been nailed down to the ease with which people can create, post and share content in addition to the ease with which Tumblelogs can be maintained. Combined with a submission feature, it becomes easy to see why so many fans and fandoms use Tumblr as a tool to serve their interests. (In a coincidental twist, Tumblr emerged from the same office as Frederator; the creative studio responsible for My Life as a Teenage Robot.)
Hence blogs like Teenagerobotlove that serve to perpetuate fans love for the show as well as providing a focal point for things like fanart. I’m glad that such blogs exist and that people are willing to create and maintain them. They provide enjoyment for those of us who simply do not have the time to undertake one themselves and serve as a reminder that fans still exist for the show.
Here’s my week links of stuff I read and so should you!
Animation Insider Interviews Rob Renzetti
Yes, it’s an interview with the creator of my favourite animated TV show! Some great tidbits in there too.
It’s Finally Over: 8 Years Of Mattel vs. Bratz And No One’s Getting Paid But The Lawyers
Techdirt has the details on this final chapter in a showdown over who created what. This is a case that is well worth reading up about because it deals with ideas and concepts and who is legally entitled to own them. All very important concepts in the animation industry.
An Animated Tribute to Moonrise Kingdom
Inside DreamWorks: how animated movies are rendered
Techradar has this look at the technological side of DreamWorks Animation. It comes off as a bit of a pitch piece for Hewlett-Packard, but it’s still very informative.
Clever Merchandising Tie-Ins In Sailor Moon
The Sailor Failures tumblelog takes a look at how the series (specifically Sailor Moon R) featured crafty references to the merchandise in every episode. Hint: there was a reason the outer senshi were given specific shots of their lisptick being applied:
Tweets of the Week
News that Young Justice and Green Lantern: The Animated Series garner the following tweet from Brianne Drouhard:
A problem in animated content too:
It’s no secret that My Life as a Teenage Robot is one of my favourite animated TV shows. It’s an underrated gem that is enjoyable even if it isn’t quite as clever as other shows. Besides it’s awesome sense of Art Deco style, the great voice cast, the deeply embedded in-jokes and a central female protagonist, the show also makes superb use of colour. (And no post about colour should go without a link to Oswald Iten’s excellent blog, Colorful Animated Expressions)
I’m not talking about the use of colour in the sense of The Simpsons either; strong colours existed exist in that show, but rather to make them stand out against other TV shows. My Life as a Teenage Robot instead uses colour as a tool to accentuate atmosphere, moods and important plot points.
Don’t believe me? Then check out the series of screenshots below, from the season three episode, Stage Fright.
We start off with Jenny (XJ-9) in her normal colours, that is, white and turquose.
Now we’re entering the theatre, where the darker setting changes Jenny’s colour to an off-white and straight blue.
Still in the theater, but it’s darker now and Jenny’s colours follow along.
Now that she’s on stage and in the light, Jenny’s colours change back to the lighter shades but include even more shades to account for the costume.
First big change. After the aliens invade, we get an orange Jenny nicely contrasted against a green background.
Same colours but with a regular background. (Also, awesome pose.)
Action mode is now off so we revert back to the darker theater colour in the sitting pose above.
The aura lightens Jenny to the point that she is brighter than in the second screencap but doesn’t revert to her normal colours.
Aaaaaaand, ACTION! Big changes here as Jenny becomes pink and purple, contrasting nicely with the orange and brown background. For the most part, Jenny is always some combination of white and blue/green except when engaged in some kind of action. In these instances, she can be just about any colour.
Not a great shot, but it shows what Jenny looks like in the shadows; practically violet.
Bad guys defeated, Jenny reverts to the white and blue that’s been the theme for this theater setting.
Last but not least, here’s Jenny on stage in full wardrobe retaining the blue and including some lighter shades to fit the costume.
And that’s it! If you know your stuff, you’ll realise that in just about 11 minutes, Jenny’s colour changed a total of 5 times (not including costume and shades). In the grand scheme of things, she changed appearance a total of 12 times, that’s about once a minute!
This wouldn’t normally be too much but Stage Fright is a fairly average episode. Some of the more action oriented ones get even more colour changes and things get really interesting once Jenny goes into space!
So there you go, a quick look at how the crew of My Life as a Teenage Robot managed to use colour as a a great tool throughout the series.
It’s no secret that My Life as a Teenage Robot is one of my very favourite animated TV shows, but it would seem that it’s in the company of many other shows that are also my favourite in that never seemed to catch on with the mainstream crowd (like Futurama, Dilbert, etc.). So why is this so? Here’s a couple of reasons why My Life as a Teenage Robot is currently undervalued.
1. The Plots Are More Complex Than They First Appear
One of the things levelled at the show is that the stories aren’t overly complex; that they’re too simple and pale in comparison to some other shows out there. Well, that is certainly the case, but it is on purpose. The show just happens to be one that doesn’t rely on overly complex stories and is none the worse for it. It’s a fun show, not an epic one like say, Avatar. There is some continuity with the likes of Vexus and the Space Biker Gang that plays out over the seasons, but the stories themselves are complex in how they are resolved. Jenny doesn’t rely on her abilities near as much as you might think.
2. A Kick-Ass Heroine Is Still Quite Rare In TV Shows
We’re starting to see more of these (Korra being the latest) but a lead female protagonist is still a rarity in TV shows, especially animated ones. My Life As A Teenage Robot helped break the mold, and with a robot at that! Jenny is a very strong character that shows how it is possible to avoid the most egregious of stereotypes and still maintain her identity (and a few laughs along the way).
3. The Strong Emphasis On A Cohesive Show Design
One of the things that initially attracted me to the show was it’s sheer focus on design. The creator-driven shows of the 90s are well known for their focus on a strong sense of design; harkening back to the cartoon modern shows of the 50s and 60s, where style was the be all and end all of a show. MLaaTR continues the trend but does so with a heavy emphasis on Art Deco. While it isn’t as strong or forward-looking as Carlos Ramos’ The X’s, it does complement the show nicely and it is great to see one of the revolutionary 20th century styles used to effectively; giving the show a modern, contemporary look but retaining the appearance of class. It’s no coincidence (or hinderence) that the use of Art Deco also echos back to the vintage cartoons of the 1930s like Felix the Cat and even more so the Fleischer Bros.
4. The Use of Colour
This is a topic that will necessitate a full post in the foreseeable future, but needless to say, the show made excellent and effective use of colour that puts it on an entirely different level compared to other shows. It’s something we haven’t really seen since.
5. The Subtle Jokes
Yes, they are in there, and they’re even more subtle than you can imagine. While this may not do much for some, it’s the fact that they are just as knowing as the more blatant examples that makes them funny.
6. The Not-So-Subtle References
Like just about every show that came along after The Simpsons, MLaaTR has its fair share of pop-culture references. These are much more blatant that the jokes but are nonetheless entertaining. Chief among them is Wizzly World and Uncle Wizzly, and all-too noticeable nod to Disney World and Walt Disney. Besides that, there are also plenty of nods to super heroes (how could there not), other TV shows (Samurai Vac anyone?) and Japan and Japanese culture.
7. The Cast
Not to go unnoticed are the voice cast. There are your usual suspects but two stand out in Candi Milo doing a great turn as Mrs. Wakeman and the late Earth Kitt who brings a surprising performance as Queen Vexus with a perfect menacing undertone.
All three seasons of one of the most underrated cartoons of the last decade are now on DVD through Amazon. At $19.99, they aren’t the cheapest, but seeing as this show is well overdue for a release and that DVD is in the twilight years of its existence, you should consider it a worthwhile investment.
While there are a few cartoons could be said to have re-ingnited my passion for animation, one had a bit more of a profound effect than others. And while My Life as a Teenage Robot may have lacked the smarmy humour of SpongeBob Squarepants, it is nonetheless a great show. I mean, who doesn’t like seeing a robot girl kick ass within a universe where Art Deco is the prominent architectural style?
The series lasted just about three seasons on Nickelodeon before the network decided that it would not be ordering additional episodes. Officially the reason given was the low ratings however I would argue quite strenuously that having the show’s timeslot bounced all over the schedule couldn’t have helped matters either.
As is (almost) inevitable when a show gets canned, the fans (not I) reacted in the manner that is most common for TV shows; they created a petition:
Petition to Save “My Life as a Teeanage Robot” from Cancellation. Note: My American-English is not good because I’m Italian…
“My Life as a Teenage Robot” is one of the most underrated Tvshows on Nickeloden. This TvShow is about a robot, Xj9 (a.k.a. Jenny), who wants to be a normal Teenage girl, hang out with friends etc. Brad Carbunkle is Jenny’s best friend. He’s your average high-school student; Brad’s younger brother, Tuck Carbunkle is often scared by robots, but he likes Jenny as a friend. Jenny’s “mother”, Nora Wakeman, is one of the best characters in the show: plus, she’s voiced by Candi Milo, she’s great.
Since Jenny was built to protect the Planet Earth, there’s an evil-alien empire, the Cluster, who wants to take over our world. The Cluster Queen, Vexus, is Jenny’s arch enemy.
“My Life as a Teenage Robot” won a few Annie-Awards too.
OK. I’m just saying this, WE MUST SAVE “MY LIFE AS A TEENAGE ROBOT”. It may be not the best show on the planet, but it has a lot of fans who are really upset for the cancellation. We want a 4th Season. Alternatively, since the 3rd Season will be (maybe) the “Final Season”, I think we all need a “Series Finale” (Jenny & Brad ending up together, for example…).
If you are a fan of the show, sign this petition. If you don’t like Jenny and you don’t care about her, please sign this petition equally, because we need your help too. Alternatively, you can try to help the show with other petitions or sending E-mails to Nickelodeon.
Note: There are other awesome Nick-Toons who are going to be cancelled: “Danny Phantom” and “The Fairly OddParents”. Nick will just never learn.
Now in fairness to the guy (or girl) English isn’t their first language so let’s cut them some slack for that. However, this petition still makes all the rudimentary errors that most fans make when crafting petitions so we’ll judge it on those.
Firstly, it completely and totally neglects to speak directly to the network. It reads as more of a plea than an attempt to persuade the network to change its mind. Anyone can call a show “underrated” but in the network’s mind, if it has hopes and dreams for viewership numbers and the show doesn’t make them, the show is considered “underperforming” and might be costing the company money as a result.
Secondly, giving a description of the show’s characters is superfluous at best. The network knows which show you are talking about and the only time such descriptions would ever be called for is when the letter discusses a show on another network.
Only in the third paragraph do we see the first hints that the show is worth saving in that it won a few Annie awards. A prestigious accolade in their own right, but the letter fails to tie those awards to anything meaningful. such as say, having an Annie-award winning show in your portfolio will draw more astute/affluent animation fans to your network thus increasing revenues on it and other shows alike.
Then there’s this line:
OK. I’m just saying this….
Well of course you are, that’s the whole purpose of the letter! It also alludes to the belief that the network doesn’t know what the letter is about, when in fact, if it were an actual letter, would probably be in the bin by now.
It may be not the best show on the planet, but it has a lot of fans who are really upset for the cancellation.
While this statement may be true, it does nothing to further the cause. Upset fans of a cancelled show mean nothing to a network unless they can prove conclusively that their upsetness will affect the networks other properties. For example, if, when the show was cancelled, the fans also stopped watching other Nickelodeon shows and buying related merchandise, then the network would have a concrete reason to bring the show back. Saying your merely ‘upset’ will have no bearing on the network’s quarterly results and thus will be deemed irrelevant to the discussion.
However then we get to this line:
We want a 4th Season.
A flat-out demand! Well heck, I want a million dollars but it sadly isn’t going to happen any time soon. This line also comes off as being brash and unsympathetic to the networks position; something that you should be trying to achieve as much as possible.
The second to last paragraph pleads for anyone and everyone to sign the petition whether they like the show or not. Now this is problematic for a number of reasons, but chief among them is that it seriously blurs the lines between who really wants the show back and who’s just singing it for shits and giggles. Secondly, such practices make it extremely difficult to trust the numbers. For a show with as devoted a fanbase as MLaaTR, it’s likely that they aren’t too far off the truth. However, the fact remains that if there is any uncertainty in the data, more often than not they are presumed to be faulty and will be excluded from any formal analysis.
The last paragraph is more of a side note that states that other shows on Nickolodeon are being cancelled as well but it is the last line that’s the killer:
Nick will just never learn.
That one line single-handedly destroys the entire argument for the letter because it states that the network is doomed to repeating its ‘mistakes’. Why is this a problem? Well the whole purpose of a petition letter for a soon-to-be-cancelled show is to enlighten and persuade the network to change it’s ways in the hope that it will be more careful about cancelling shows in the future.
Bluntly stating that it “will just never learn” implies that the network is too stupid, dumb or ignorant to listen to advice. Which begs the question of why then, should it listen to this petition? If you already think I’m dumb, do you really think I’m going to value your opinion and judgement on matters? Of course not, you called me dumb!
Overall this is a pretty typical fan response to a hard business decision that plays on emotions rather than corporate common sense. A truly efficient letter would see the signatories sympathise with the networks need for viewers in order to keep ad revenue up and would emphasise the many ancillary benefits that the show brings to the network in terms of viewers for additional programs, merchandise sales, etc. Such a letter would do much to encourage the network to retain the show based on its actual merits, not the perceived ones.
This letter, for what it’s worth, isn’t all that bad, I mean, it did garner a few thousand signatures, many with individual responses to the show and how much it was loved. However, when it comes to influencing some executive in some far corner of Viacom’s vast headquarters in New York, it has zero potential and that’s why it’s not going to bring My Life as a Teenage Robot back from the dead.
I’m not quite sure why, but I have an affinity for characters that are somewhat mysterious or secretive. That’s not to say I like characters who are double agents or who conceal themselves for nefarious purposes. Oh no, it’s the shy characters or those who are hiding something out of necessity that I find the most intriguing.
Take for example the poster below:
Yes, it is Jenny Wakeman (or XJ-9) from the Frederator series My Life as a Teenage Robot. Notice how she is in silhouette, which adds even more mystique to her figure, as if the shadow is concealing something about her character, which of course it is (hint: she’s a robot).
There are plenty of other example throughout the animated universe, too many in fact, to list here. However they inhabit various places in TV shows and films, from protagonists to sidekicks to members of the supporting cast.
They add a lot to any show or film for a simple reason: they make the audience think.
Mysterious characters represent a discord with their surroundings of which other characters may or may not be aware of. In any case, the audience is almost compelled to put the pieces together or to speculate on the reasons behind such circumstances. Much the same as Lisa Simpson mulling over the enigma that is Nelson Muntz and why that make him even remotely attractive.
This is the key to why I find them so interesting, they give me something much more than the performance on-screen and in so doing, increase my enjoyment immensely.
Another great example is Megara from Disney’s Hercules.
A wonderfully complex character who hides a secret from the hero that is hidden for much of the film. we are forced to guess the reason for her connection to Hades for quite a while as we are kept guessing her motives. Only once they are revealed do we see and can appreciate the complete character for who she is.
Initiating thought within the audience is a key way to maximize their enjoyment. Mysterious characters are a superb way of doing that because they allow for the audience to both connect with the and to ponder the character in a way that is outside what is presented on-screen.