Remember those lazy Saturdays when we’d get up and run down to the family room, turn on the tv to catch the adventure of Thundarr the Barbarian, Spider-man and his Amazing Friends, Blue Falcon and Dyno-mutt, Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, or Space Ghost? At its height we enjoyed the Justice League in super-powered combat with the Legion of Doom. At its depths we still begrudgingly enjoyed the adventures of Rubik, the alien being with incredible powers who was shaped like the cube-shaped puzzle which had become a national pastime. Adventure ruled the airwaves (while merchandising tie-ins washed our brains). Saturday morning cartoons represented the halcyon days for 1980s kids, and it was sad when channel fragmentation and cable networks became the killers of that hallowed tradition (aka time slot).
Well, thanks to that very same programming phenomenon, cable channels are now bringing back some of that adventure-filled animation that is good enough to kick childhood memories’ butts. Friday nights on the Cartoon Network contain a solid block of quality, fun adventure shows, including: Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Thundercats, Young Justice, and the brand new Green Lantern animated series.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
For those of us who enjoyed the 80s cartoon spinoffs from the Lucasfilm trilogy (yes, it was still only a trilogy back then), The Droids, and The Ewoks, you might be very surprised at the incredible quality of this show. It is truly good enough to be considered part of the Star Wars canon. Set in the time between the second and third prequel films, the tempestuous period only referred to on the big screen known as The Clone Wars is depicted in vivid, marionette-like, animated detail. (If you caught the big screen animated movie, the show is much better than that too.) At first we were following the adventures and lessons of Ahsoka, the young padawan to Jedi master Anakin Skywalker. As the show progressed into its 2nd and 3rd seasons, the stories branched out to numerous parts of the Star Wars universe, introducing many wonderful new characters, planets, and societies.
The most exciting part of this show is how it explores so many new corners of this universe and imaginatively depicts so much about these fictional places. There is wonderful thought given to the design of everything from the landscapes and vegetation to the alien physiognomy, garments, cities, traditions, etc. It seems to have been carefully thought through (again, making the quality worthy of feature films). The stories are also very well told, and unexpectedly grown-up (but not to the point where kids won’t enjoy). Often characters will struggle with moral issues and their circumstances. The show does not pull many punches, and will depict characters dying, or seriously hurting or killing other characters (which is treated quite somberly and seriously). Most episodes are part of a two or three episode story arc, allowing the stories to really develop. I know a lot of fans might be turned off by the young-skewing animation, but any fan of the Star Wars universe should definitely check out this series.
Based on the DC comic book, this is a super team comprised of many of the Justice League’s young protégés and sidekicks. Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, Superboy, Artemis (Green Arrow’s niece) and Miss Martian, try to prove themselves worthy of eventually succeeding their heroes and mentors in the big leagues (no pun intended). The animation on this show is pretty good (in my opinion, much better than the art on the Batman and Superman series from the 90s). I also think that the stories are pretty well written as well, with equal parts super adventures, thought-provoking themes, and (unfortunately) fictional teen drama. The series is still pretty new, only in its second half-season, but I think it’s a pretty good superhero adventure show.
Yes, everything is back! From the Sword of Omens, with its incantation: “Give me sight beyond sight”, to all the characters: Cheetara, Tigra (now Lion-O’s brother – not sure how that makes sense, since they are different species of cats), Panthro, Wiley Kit and Kat, along with a mercifully mute Snarf. Evil Mumm-Ra the Ever-Pretentious is also back from the crypt, but they haven’t spent much time fighting him or his mutants since the first couple of episodes. Mostly the gang are on a road trip in the Thunder-tank, encountering new friends and new enemies along the way.
The animation has understandably improved since the 80s, and it’s even more anime-inspired than before. Their adventures can range from dull and preachy to colorful and exciting (which pretty much aligns with the mix we got in the original series). Nevertheless, I think this is a very fun show that should allow a whole new generation to enjoy these humanoid cats.
Green Lantern: The Animated Adventures
Clearly put into production to capitalize on the imagined wave of interest in Green Lantern after his big screen debut courtesy of Ryan Reynolds, there has only been a two-part pilot episode shown so far. Like Star Wars: The Clone Wars, this series is computer animated, which is not a good thing when it ends up limiting the number of characters that can be depicted while staying under budget. This universe, which is the “beat” of the universal police force known as the Green Lantern Corps definitely feels underpopulated. Plus (much like its big-screen inspiration) the story seems simplistic and weak. It revolves around Earth’s Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, and his big bruisin’ sidekick Killawog, trekking (no pun intended) off to the sparsely-populated (sigh) fringes of known space, where Green Lanterns are being taken out by a new sinister enemy, the Red Lanterns. I love the whole idea of Green Lanterns and their corps as well as this new-fangled concept of the various colors of Lanterns, but I’m hoping that this show really takes a turn for the better if I’m going to keep watching.
Kung Fu Panda: the Legends of Awesomeness
I was super excited (having loved both feature films) that Kung Fu Panda was coming to the small screen with more adventures and tongue-in-cheek humour, but so far the series has not blown me away. Again, since it’s CGI, the world looks anemically underpopulated. Po is still pretty good at cracking jokes, but for some reason they are not as funny. My love for this series goes a long way, but if this were a Saturday morning cartoon, I’d wish for it to be early in the schedule so that I wouldn’t worry too much about oversleeping.
Finally, I am highly anticipating Avatar: The Legend of Korra, a sequel to my favourite animated show of all time, Avatar: The Last Airbender (put sour thoughts of Shyamalan’s godawful big screen adaptation out of your mind). It was supposed to come out next year, but now even that “date” is in question. Nevertheless, when it comes out, I’m sure it will make our “Saturday mornings” even better.