I don’t have cable right now so I’m rewatching old shows and movies. A lot of them are animated. Such is my way. I’d like to have a nobler reason for rewatching them–something like when James revisited his favorite childhood books. And it’s true—he did inspire me. But it’s also true that I don’t have cable.
Avatar: The Last Airbender (Nickelodeon, 2005-8)
James also inspired me to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender. The short version is that Aang is the last Airbender, a monk who controls air, and he is destined to try to save the world by restoring elemental balance. The short version is a little misleading, though. Avatar could’ve easily been a regurgitated mess of pan-Asian cliches and stereotypes, but it’s smart, fun and incredibly well-made, so well-made that the impressive research behind it is unobtrusive. World-building informs the story instead of replacing it, as happens way too often in fantasy. I enjoyed references to the Dollars Trilogy, professional wrestling, community theater, the White Lotus Society and anime itself, but you don’t have to catch all the references or recognize kung fu styles to enjoy the story. Plus, Mako sings, frequently.
Superman (Paramount/Fleischer Studios/Famous Studios, 1941-3)
The Fleischer Brothers are probably most famous for their Popeye and Betty Boop cartoons, but they also made Superman shorts with the then amazing budget of $50,000 / episode. The shorts are gorgeous, exciting and represent the power and beauty of hand-drawn animation far better than Walt Disney’s classic tributes to naturalism. Their influence on Warner Bros.’ Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League is
pretty apparent. Two of the films are best viewed as historical documents: “Japoteurs” and “Jungle Drums,” which has Lois menaced by both Nazis, in not quite KKK robes, and “natives” of God knows where, whose septum-pierced heads fly right at you.*
Justice League / Justice League Unlimited (Warner Bros., 2001-6)
As I’ve said before, it was the DC animated universe cartoons that got me interested in mainstream superheros again. If I could only choose one DC cartoon, it would be Justice League / Justice League Unlimited. Clean, simple lines, good characterization and nice writing. Without Justice League Unlimited, I would not have appreciated many of the so-called B-list
heroes populating the series—The Question, Vixen, Vigilante and
Shining Knight. I always love the peripheries of superhero comics.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold
(Warner Bros., 2009—now)
Fortunately, I don’t have to choose only one DC cartoon or even one Batman. We live in a world of endless wonders and endless Batmans. Batman: The Brave and the Bold brings the campy, carefree fun back to the Batman, while rubbing the noses of the most gloomy, long in the ear bat-fan in a history that embarrasses many—the bat-reign of Bill Finger and Dick Sprang. The very Batman that the makers of the 1960s Batman television show brought to life. But while the cartoon takes inspiration from an older era of bat-comics, it’s not drowning nostalgia. Batman teams up with newer characters like Jaime Reyes (Blue Beetle) and Ryan Choi (the Atom) for brave and bold adventure. It also has an excellent theme, reminiscent of both The Venture Bros. and Cowboy Bebop. (Get that cat back on that piano!)
Lilo and Stitch (Disney, 2002)
You might’ve guessed that I don’t normally go for Disney, but Lilo and Stitch is fantastic. Lilo and Stitch is one of those rare productions that seem to happen when Disney isn’t paying attention. Stitch is an alien experiment considered too dangerous to go free. He escapes the Galactic Federation and hides out in Hawai’i, where he is generally taken for a dog. Lilo and Stitch is a family movie, but it’s about families that are made, families that are, in Stitch’s words, “broken, but still good.” It also has an awesome little girl who prefers horror to princess stories. Avoidthe straight to DVD movies and the series that try to re-Disnefy the whole show by having Stitch search the galaxy for his “real”
family. It’s also excellent Elvis Week viewing.
The Venture Bros. (Noodlesoup / World Leaders Productions, 2003—now)
It’s hard to be a Venture Bros. fan. The cliffhangers, the character deaths–changes made more intense by the short seasons and the long gaps between them. But I see the opening credits and I just can’t help forgiving them for the angst and the wait. In fact, they have a pre-stamped card just for one nice Holst moment. (If you click, you will be spoiled). The show’s a parody of Johnny Quest. Rusty Venture, boy-adventurer, is all grown up and has a father complex, an addiction to prescription medication, two sons of his own and an
arch-nemesis, The Monarch. There are plenty of references to G.I. Joe and Marvel comics as well. But I really appreciate the attention to detail, the names, the characterization, even the way they change the opening to suit the story.
And, once gain, great music.
Sita Sings the Blues (Nina Paley, 2009)
Annette Hanshaw sings for Sita because Rama don’t treat her right. The cartoon’s mythic world art hearkens back to paper and shadow puppets as well as Betty Boop (sung by Helen Kane), and even Milt Gross’ He Done Her Wrong.
Rama’s stalwart v-shaped body and mighty chin are a cartoonier version of heroes like Superman. Sita’s story is my favorite part of this short, but I understand that the Hindu awesomeness might need to be leavened by Nina Paley’s looser and messier story of being spurned. Paley’s sad story makes the Universal, universal.
*These 2 cartoons were made by Famous Studios, not Fleischer Studios.
Carol Borden also likes stopmotion animation and anime. The definitely deserve their own articles…