Monday, March 2, 2015

Beyond the Oscars: The Many Faces of Animated Films

The Oscars were more than a week ago, and rather than actually WATCHING all of the nominees and making an informed voting decision the awards for both Best Animated Feature and Short both went to Disney for Big Hero 6 and Feast respectively. This type of uninformed decision is par for the course unfortunately.

But I'm not here to dwell on the ignorant apathy of the Hollywood elite. While there isn't much I can do to change the lazy voting habits of the Academy, I can at least inform the movie-viewing audience what animation has to offer besides the run-of-the-mill family friendly film that has pigeonholed animation as safe kiddie fare. All of these movies are available on Netflix, so take some time to check them out if you haven't already.

The Secret of Kells (Tom Moore/Erin Twomey; 2009)

The first word that comes to my mind when I think of this film is gorgeous. The sweeping, elegant artwork perfectly matches the story about a young Irish monk tasked with completing and preserving the historic Book of Kells, a Christian tome known the world over for its beautifully detailed illustrations and ornamentation. The film itself is a French, Belgian, and Irish production and it sheds some light onto the more mature approach that many European studios have toward animation. The Old World fairy-tale atmosphere is the perfect complement to the movie's themes of preservation of self and culture in the face of destruction. If you really enjoy Book of Kells, Cartoon Saloon's second movie, Song of the Sea, was also nominated for an Oscar this year.

The Triplets of Belleville (Sylvain Chomet; 2003)

Where Book of Kells is fantastic and elegant, French animator Sylvain Comet's work is quirky and intimate. His (arguably) best film is The Triplets of Belleville. An elderly woman, Madame Souza, embarks on a journey to rescue her grandson Champion who has been kidnapped in a plot to exploit his professional cycling skills. In the city of Belleville, her and her dog Bruno meet the eponymous triplets who were a formerly famous music hall act from the 1930s. There is virtually no dialogue, and while this may at first seem tedious, the physical acting is so strong and funny that eventually you don't even miss it. Each character brings their personality, warts and all, to life brilliantly. You may spend parts of the movie wondering whether or not you should laugh. Go ahead by all means, this is one of the subtlest animated comedies out there.

Fantasia (Disney; 1940)

This one is included on the list because it shows that the big studios were not always factories for cranking out predictable family films. Earlier in his studio's history, Walt Disney was a trailblazer for showing the potential of what animated films could be. Fantasia is the third movie produced by the studio, but it remains the most ambitious feature the studio has ever attempted. The film itself is a series of vignettes based on various pieces of classical music that range from solid and literal to wildly abstract; from saccharine to haunting. It is a tour-de-force of what top-tier Hollywood animation is capable of when not restrained by decades of tropes and cliches. The fact that this movie was unsuccessful (largely because of WWII raging in Europe at the time) remains one of the greatest disappointments in the history of the studio. Plus, the version on Netflix has restored interstitial segments by master of ceremonies Deems Taylor (well I think it's exciting)!

Fritz the Cat (Ralph Bakshi; 1972)

Ralph Bakshi is one of the most influential animation directors following the end of the Golden Age of Animation. His work combines the long tradition of wacky surrealism with the poignant counterculture of the '70s underground. Perhaps his most well known feature is Fritz the Cat, based off of the Robert Crumb comic of the same name. It has offbeat characters in Bakshi's trademark design that are acutely tapped into to the social issues of urban America during the '70s. Drugs, sex, and racial tension all take center stage as the tuned-out Fritz goes about his life wandering from one existential antic to the next. Bakshi's work can be a little intense and off putting to those not used to it, but as the first animated film to receive an X rating, it is definitely worth a watch.

The Adventures of Mark Twain (Will Vinton; 1985)

Before there was Laika (Coraline, ParaNorman, Boxtrolls), there was Will Vinton and his stop-motion Claymation. One of his few features, The Adventures of Mark Twain is about three youngsters (Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Becky Thatcher) who travel with the famous author on his fantastic flying machine as he strives to keep an, "appointment," with Halley's Comet. As the kids explore the ship and talk with Mr. Twain they experience adaptations of some of his best known works. The segment based on "The Mysterious Stranger" stands out in particular as one of the most chilling animated sequences I've ever seen. It is equal parts unnerving and introspective, utilizing simple clay figures to explore the nature of good and evil and the sobering effect of man's mortality. Heady stuff from the same guy who brought us The California Raisins.

It's Such A Beautiful Day (Don Hertzfeldt; 2012)

Don Hertzfeldt is advanced animation appreciation. He is a virtual rock star of the independent film/animation community, and his work is utterly unique and deserving of its reputation. This movie is actually a collection of three short films (Everything Will Be Ok, I Am So Proud of You, and It's A Wonderful Day) that follow the daily life of a young man named Bill who struggles with daily life and finding inspiration. It will make you laugh one minute with its acute observation of everyday foibles, and will shock you into silence with its stark realism the next. All of this is accomplished using Hertzfeldt's trademark use of simple pen and paper drawings and split-screen windows that, while they appear crude, possess a level of beauty and appropriateness for the subject matter. If all of that sounds like high-brow indie film talk, that's because it is. Much like how the work of Alan Moore can only be presented as a comic book, so too can Hertzfeldt's vision only being accomplished using old fashioned paper and ink. If you're only used to animated films that are super polished and like to brag about their ability to render water and hair, then this is definitely worth a watch.

This is of course but a sampling of what the animation medium has to offer. Have any other must-see films? Let me know in the comments, or better yet let your friends know so we can all spread the good word!

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Duck for the Ages: A Tribute to Daffy Duck

Note: This post is a response to the guys over at Trope & Dagger who are debating over the best Looney Tunes character  You should head over and check out some of their stuff if you like some differing points of view on all things pop culture.

No other cartoon series has brought us as diverse a cast of characters as Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, but who amongst this group can be crowned the best? It is certainly a subjective matter, but some characters do stand out more than others. My vote for Best Looney Tunes Character: Daffy Duck.

Of the dozens of characters that were created by the animators at Termite Terrace, Daffy has had the longest, most diverse career, and best represents the spirit of that ragtag collective.

Let's go back to his origins. Daffy was not the first major star at WB (that distinction belongs to Porky Pig), but unlike his stuttering costar, this duck was something new and gave birth to what would be known as the screwball character in cartoons. Bob Clampett, who along with Tex Avery created Daffy in 1937's Porky's Duck Hunt, described the phenomenon thusly:

"At that time, audiences weren't accustomed to seeing a cartoon character do these things. And so, when it hit the theaters it was an explosion. People would leave the theaters talking about this daffy duck."

Over the next thirty years Daffy would be utilized by every directorial unit at the studio, with each one lending its own flavour to the character.

Tex Avery played the duck as a ball of unrestrained manic energy, bewildering Porky, his long suffering straight man for decades.

Under Bob Clampett's unit he achieved his acme (see what I did there) as a complete lunatic who defied every law imaginable, especially the laws of physics. Animator Rod Scribner's artwork still stands as some of the wildest and funniest ever put to paper. Baby Bottleneck and The Great Piggy Bank Robbery are two outstanding examples of the looniest Looney Tune in action.

By the mid '40s, the studio had lost Avery and Clampett and cartoons were drawn by three different units. Each had their own set of characters. Friz Freling had Sylvester and Tweety and Yosemite Sam, Bob McKimson had Foghorn Leghorn and the Tazmanian Devil, and Chuck Jones had Roadrunner, Wile E. Coyote and Pepe LePew. Big stars like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck were shared by all three.

Of these three units, Chuck Jones emerged as the dominant creative voice and the other two directors largely followed suit in terms of types of gags and general story structure. It must be said however that McKimson held out for a few years and as a result his cartoons have a much more slapstick feel than Jones's more cerebral approach to animating.

In Jones's cartoons, Daffy's character is given a complete overhaul. Instead of a screwball, he is greedy, self-centered and conniving. He was often paired with Bugs Bunny where he served as a foil for Bugs's cool and collected demeanor. The bunny's popularity had by this time eclipsed Daffy's, and cartoons often played up this jealousy with Bugs always getting the better of his feathered costar. The Hunters Trilogy of "Rabbit Fire", "Rabbit Seasoning", and "Duck! Rabbit! Duck!" are the best examples of this.

Daffy was also successful as a headliner during the '50s and early '60s. He played Robin Hood, Duck Dodgers of the 24th 1/2 Century, and the swashbuckling Scarlet Pumpernickel. It was also during this time that he starred in "Duck Amok", regarded as one one of the greatest animated shorts ever made for it's existential breaking of the fourth wall. By the time the studio shut down in the '60s, Daffy was even playing the villain opposite Speedy Gonzalez, although these cartoons are a far cry from the duck's heyday.

Daffy Duck's career at WB spanned three decades, and Mel Blanc voiced him for 52 years, longer than any other character in the history of the medium. He's played heroes, villains, and sidekicks in settings from all times and places. He's hit Adolph Hitler on the head with a mallet! He may lack the coolness of Bugs Bunny or the tenacity of Wile E. Coyote, but he makes up for it with sheer chutzpah. Early on in his career, Tex Avery was quoted as saying, "In a cartoon, you can do anything." No character before or since has embodied that spirit as much as Daffy Duck.

Again, Daffy smacking Hitler with a mallet.

As a final note, enjoy this 13 1/2 minute supercut of all of a Daffy's loony laughter. I can't think of a better way to celebrate not just the greatest Looney Tunes character, but one of the best cartoon characters ever.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

No Thaw in Sight for the "Frozen" Ice Age

Photo by twoworldsonekingdom on deviantART

Because the Frozen train is still going full speed it seems, Disney World has announced that it will be building a Frozen attraction at Epcot in the Norway Pavilion. I've been mostly silent about the whole Frozen phenomenon, but I say to myself, "Hey, if everyone else is still milking this thing, why not me too!" 

I will qualify my following commentary with this: I do not think Frozen is a bad movie. It looks great, has some good music, and some of the characters that I thought would be incredibly annoying animated tropes and stereotypes were much more palatable. HOWEVER, it is also not as good as its rabid fan base may lead you to believe. At its core, Frozen is another paint-by-numbers Disney fairy-tale musical. It does plenty well enough, but besides some if its visuals it doesn't do anything remarkable. 

I could pontificate on this topic at some length, but instead I thought I would try something a little different. This will be short philosophical dialogue in the tradition of Plato that utilizes an adapted scene from Jurassic Park. For tonight's performance, John Hammond will be playing the role of Disney Animation CEO John Lasseter, and for the role of myself, his co-star Dr. Ian Malcolm. Enjoy...

Dr. Ian Malcolm: If I may... Um, I'll tell you the problem with the [animated] power that you're using here [in Frozen]: it didn't require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn't earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don't take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now
[bangs on the table] 
Dr. Ian Malcolm: you're selling it, you wanna sell it. Well... 
John Hammond: I don't think you're giving us our due credit. Our [artists] have done things which nobody's ever done before... 
Dr. Ian Malcolm: Yeah, yeah, but your [artists] were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should.
John Hammond: [Wreck-It Ralph]. [Wreck-It Ralph] is on the verge of extinction... 
Dr. Ian Malcolm: [shaking his head] No...
John Hammond: If I was to create a [Wreck-It Ralph sequel] on this island, you wouldn't have anything to say.
Dr. Ian Malcolm: No, hold on. This isn't some [film] that was obliterated by [bad marketing], or the building of a [franchise]. [Musical fairy tales] had their shot, and nature selected them for extinction.

There you have it.  Let's hope that animation, uh, finds a way.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Why a Looney Tunes Movie Can't Work

In further news of classic cartoon properties being developed into flashy motion pictures, film sites are reporting that there is another Looney Tunes movie in the works to be written by X-Men: First Class writers Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz with Steve Carell supposedly attached to star. Details about the film, ostensibly titled Acme, are sparse, but it is hinted that it will be a "spin-off" film and will not focus on the main roster of Warner Bros. cartoon characters. It is presumed however that they will make an appearance.

Acme is just the latest movie to feature Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and the rest of the Looney Tunes roster. Who can forget the stinking pile of nostalgia that is Space Jam and who can actually remember Looney Tunes: Back in Action? Neither of these movies succeeded in capturing the true essence and magic of these characters for various reasons.

Aside from perhaps the complete lobotomy that Disney gave to Mickey Mouse fifty years ago, no animated character has been as cruelly subjected to the world of pop marketing like Bugs and the gang. You couldn't walk ten feet in the '90s without seeing someone wearing a shirt with the Tasmanian Devil or a smug looking Bugs Bunny or Wile E. Coyote.

Never forget.

What many people see as the Looney Tunes brand is just a derivation of the cartoon shorts directed by Chuck Jones and Isadore "Friz" Freling in the later (and frankly lackluster) period of the Warner Bros. studio in the late fifties and sixties. They hung on longer than the other unit directors, and as the last men standing, they got to literally write the book on Looney Tunes. Since then, that one vision has been watered down and distorted into one-dimensional versions of what were originally some of the most vibrant personalities ever animated.

Case in point:  when he was created by Tex Avery, Daffy Duck was the epitome of the screwball character. Under the direction of Bob Clampett in the '40s, the character reached his peak as an unrestrained id, causing chaos for its own sake and hooting maniacally the entire time. Under Chuck Jones however, the character was changed to be the greedy, jealous asshole that most people know today. It's a cheapening of the character and central to why Looney Tunes movies don't work.

The sad matter of fact is that the Looney Tunes have lost their looney-ness. Today we have The Looney Tunes Show on Cartoon Network that is essentially Seinfeld but with talking animals. And even though that particular program has been recently discontinued, CN is quick to come back with Wabbit, a series that sounds like it will focus primarily on Bugs Bunny and will feature some new original characters. While these shows pale in comparison to the original shorts, I do appreciate that they did not try to replicate them exactly.

The original theatrical shorts were lightning in a bottle. They were created by some of the finest animators to ever pick up a pencil, and given the freedom to express themselves in unprecedented ways. The screen was barely able to contain the sheer amount of energy that was in a scant seven minutes. This highlights the other problem with movies:  they're too long for that kind of sustained action. A feature-length Looney Tunes short would be exhausting to watch. It would be like trying to eat a bowl full of candy. Sure it sounds fun, but once you dive in you (and your pancreas) start to see the error of your ways.

This does not mean all hope is lost.  In the past few years, there have been some incredible shorts that combine old sound recordings of Mel Blanc's voice and Carl Stalling's music with modern CGI tools, and the results are astounding.  Here's one from 2013 that does Sylvester and Tweety more justice than Friz Freling ever did:

The resources are out there, it's just a matter of harnessing them properly.  We shouldn't take Bugs, Daffy and the rest and put them on the shelf to gather dust and enjoy as museum pieces. These characters by their very nature are meant to be enjoyed.  Reinvention is all part of the game, but not at the expense of what made them appealing in the first place.  In short, keep the shorts short.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Why A "Dumbo" Remake Reveals Everything Wrong With Animation Today

I've been gone for more than a year now, but I'm finally back to bring you more from around the world of cartoons and animation.  First up, the thing that finally got me off of my lazy ass and into writing again.

Earlier this week, the Hollywood Reporter announced that Disney is planning a live-action/CGI version of its 1941 classic, Dumbo. The film is to be written by Transformers franchise writer Ehren Kruger, but no projected release date has been announced.  

I can only hope that this turns out to be a hoax, but given the current direction that Disney is taking regarding its movies, I feel like I am only going to be disappointed. The studio has already cranked out Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent, both of which have been well-received at the box-office. In addition, there are live-action adaptations of Cinderella, Beauty and the BeastThe Jungle Book, and (a rumored) The Little Mermaid in the pipeline.

This crap needs to stop. Remaking these already classic films robs the originals of their legitimacy as honest works of cinematic art. Dumbo is one of the tightest and most emotional entries of the Disney canon, Sleeping Beauty is perhaps the most sophisticated, and The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast were instrumental in kicking off the Animation Renaissance of the '90s. Hell, the latter of those two was the first animated film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.  

So what is the problem here? Lots of things to be sure. Perhaps the first major issue was the ghettoizing of animation to children's television. With the film industry's deconstruction in the '50s, TV started to become the only marketable home for animation. In order to easily create weekly programming, many TV studios would create half-hour shows out of old theatrical cartoons shorts and play them for kids on Saturday mornings. This is the hurdle that we as a culture have been unable to overcome and it has resulted in the stigmatization that all animations are simply, "kid stuff."

This leads to my next point on why these live-action adaptations exist. I place much of the blame on the shoulders of Generation Y. Ours is a generation that is obsessed with nostalgia. Facebook news feeds and other social media sites are flooded daily with reminders of our childhood, from the foods we used to eat, the clothes we used to wear, and especially the movies we used to watch. As a side effect of the cornucopia of information on the internet, many of these movies, shows, and other material are readily available to watch and relive. In addition to leading many young people to strive and capture their lost youth, it also causes older generations to perceive us as the generation that can't let go of our childhoods, furthering the kiddy stigma of cartoons.

Enter the corporate suits. They know what is trending on Twitter and Facebook. Marketing firms collect data to show that these older animated films are still popular today, so the CEOs ask themselves, "How can I make money off of this without taking a huge financial risk?" The answer: remake an already established brand, but alter it slightly to make it fit with contemporary tastes and to give it the illusion of being a more mature story (just for fun, let's say it's a dark fantasy setting). Next, you find bankable names to write, direct, and star in them. After all, who doesn't love Johnny Depp or Angelina Jolie?  The end result is the cinematic equivalent of a hot dog; manufactured and only slightly reminiscent of the steak of burger that once was. Certainly in Hollywood money needs to be made, but if you're in animation to get rich, you're in it for the wrong reasons. Walt Disney took every dollar he made off of his movies and cranked them back into the company to do even better next time. Recent investigations into the tech and computer animation industries have proven just how far we have fallen.

The bottom line is this: animation does not get the respect that it deserves as an art form. When it was first being pioneered in the early decades of the twentieth century, it was regarded as the top tier of movie magic. When Walt Disney stepped onto the scene, he blew everyone away with his passion, work ethic, and willingness to go beyond what was considered possible and brought the medium to an entirely new level. Mickey Mouse was a bigger star than many of the real-world figures of the silver screen. Critics were astounded that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was able to engage the emotions of an entire theater audience for a feature-length animated film.  People are still moved today by the honesty and emotion of a movie that was made in 1937. How many other films can truly claim to have that kind of lasting power?

Animation is not simply the dominion of princesses and talking animals with attitude. It is a medium in which the only limitations are the imaginations if the people who create it. It can be so much better than it is if people would stop worrying about only finding something for your kids or making money on an investment. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Let go of any preconceived notions about Pollyanna endings and stupid sing-alongs. Animation is a medium as old as film itself.  Many of our most cherished films are animated. Don't let the cynics and bean counters take those memories away from you and twist them to suit their own desires.  If we allow these films to be lost, we lose a part of who we are.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Lonely Boy: A Psychological Case Study of Christopher Robin

This week I've got something a little different in store.  I went digging around some old writings of mine and stumbled across a post from an older blog that I used to write a few years ago.  I've reworked some of the wording to make it sound less like a pretentious college kid wrote it, but it is some interesting food for thought.

I have a theory that the whole Winnie the Pooh universe is actually a psychological case study. Christopher Robin (CR) is the central figure of the whole affair, and each of the Hundred Acre Wood inhabitants is actually a metaphor for some part of Christopher’s damaged psyche.  There have been a few instances on the internet recently of labeling each character as a specific disorder, but this is an attempt to unify each character as a piece of a single, disturbing image.  I present the evidence:

Winnie the Pooh - The main character and perhaps the most dominant of Robin’s neuroses. He is fat, lazy, naive, and focused only on obtaining honey. Pooh is the reptile brain, the most basic part of our brain and is concerned only with instinctual drives and self-preservation.  Since the rest of the personalities tend towards the dynamic, and even the dangerous, Pooh is a safe port in the storm. This explains his position as the main character of many stories.

Tigger – Tigger is in part of an extension of the Pooh personality. Tigger is just as basic as Pooh, but where the bear is slow and passive, the bouncing tig[g]er is active and behaves in a manner that defies any sort of outside constraint. Today, he might be diagnosed as the personification of ADHD, but another interpretation is that Tigger serves as the child’s id; raw and impatient passion that does what he wants when he wants. He is also an extension of the child’s still forming libido. If CR were a few years older, Tigger's behavior could become more violent and rapacious and would require immediate action to prevent harm to others.

Piglet – CR’s low self-worth is embodied by a diminutive pig in a sweater. Piglet is unsure of himself and lives in his grandfather’s house, clearly an indication that CR feels pressure from his family who impose unrealistic standards on the child.  This shows up as severe anxiety, possibly mitigated by the soothing softness of Piglet's sweater.  The character's stuttering may be an actual speech impediment, or it is simply another symptom of his anxiety.  The Piglet personality is unable to make decisions and values himself too little to ever try and make something of himself, leading to a cyclical self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

Eeyore – Just as Tigger is the companion personality of Pooh, so too is Eeyore to Piglet. Whereas Piglet is in a constant state of anxiety over his inability, Eeyore instead has descended into a deep depression that has reached the point of apathy. A diet of thistles and a tail that needs to be nailed back on indicates a tendency toward masochistic behavior, perhaps as a form of self-inflicted punishment as a result of poor self-esteem.

Kanga – This is the CR’s largely dormant anima, or female side. Here it is presented as a maternal figure as CR's mother is perhaps the only female influence in his life. The fact that she is a kangaroo is interesting in that her pouch allows for the juvenile Roo personality to retreat there whenever the harshness of life becomes too unbearable. It would be interesting to see how this personality develops as the child matures.  Kanga could either remain maternal or, like Tigger, become more sexualized with the onset of puberty.

Roo – Roo is perhaps CR’s emotional avatar that most resembles himself. A childish Everyman personality, he is largely the manifestation of CR’s still immature personality and desires. His friendship with Tigger is tied to a child’s innate tendency toward chaos and lack of control, yet he is helpless without the Kanga figure. As CR matures, the Roo personality should gradually become less and less prominent, indicated by Roo’s second-string status among the characters in the story.

Rabbit – This character is a more sophisticated expression of the neuroses expressed by the Piglet personality. Rabbit is an agitated perfectionist and is easily distraught by change or dominant personalities such as Tigger. The strong desire towards the status quo and disdain of extreme passion with overtones of OCD seems to show that CR is the victim of some form of abuse.

Owl – This is an interesting contradiction of a character.  The wisdom and malapropisms of Owl are the representations of CR’s shaky intellectual abilities. Although much respected by the other personalities, this is only because of their own ignorance and failure to recognize that much of the information presented is false. The constant references to relatives again hint at stress stemming from some sort of family-related pressure. Owl is CR’s main source of empowerment, but its overall lack of solid grounding will result in confidence without any skills to reinforce it.

Heffalumps and Woozles – I group these two together because they are different expressions of the same psychological themes. Unseen and mostly regarded as dangerous beasts, these two abstract creatures are perhaps the most frightening aspect of CR’s personality. This is a warped perspective on the abuse hinted at by many of the other personalities. The difference however is that the horrors of the abuse itself have been almost completely suppressed in the mind’s effort at self-preservation. Importantly, the phallic nature of the Heffalump's "trunk" and the Woozle's elongated body may hint at sexual abuse.  If the Heffalumps and Woozles were to gain control, CR would undoubtedly descend into extreme psychosis and potentially dangerous behavior, both to the child and to others.

So there you have it.  If true, Christopher Robin is a profoundly disturbed individual who requires immediate psychological treatment.  And even if it is just a fun children's book/movie, it still makes for some fun theories.  Maybe a creepypasta is next?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

"SheZow" May Save The Day, But Can She Save The Hub?

I've covered a few different animated superheroes here, but none quite like SheZow. The eponymous star of a new show on The Hub, she is a superhero decked out in a pink costume, complete with a miniskirt and white go-go boots.  She has many of the usual superpowers (strength, speed, supersonic voice) as well as a collection of super-accessories like laser lipstick and hair spray that immediately fixes frizzy hair (her one weakness).  And, oh yes, her alter ego is a twelve year-old boy.

Guy Hamdon and his sister Kelly discover a magic ring that belonged to their aunt, who also masqueraded as the female crime fighter.  After accidentally putting on the ring, Guy transforms into his super form with the words, "You go, girl!"  After a bit of an adjustment period, he comes to embrace his super-self and vows to protect the city of Megadale from supervillains and other dangers,

Observant comic fans will recognize this as little more than a twisted version of Captain Marvel from DC, a Superman-like hero who dwells in the body of young Billy Batson until he says the magic word, "Shazam!"  The comparison is right there in the title.  Others however, have chosen to once again look for problems where none really exist. Conservative groups have been attacking the show as an attempt to push the transgender agenda onto young children.  These groups would have a legitimate bone to pick if not for two major things:  the show is not about transgender/cross-dressing, and it's so colossally bad that who cares if it is?

I actually like the concept.  Guy is your typical hyper-masculine kid who loathes girly stuff with the power and fury of a thousand dudebros.  To take someone like that and make him a super-feminine superhero is a great opportunity.  It's not about gender confusion, gender dysphoria, or any other element associated with the transgender movement.  It's simply a unique take on the fish-out-of-water type of storytelling.  Remember Toby Maguire when he was trying to figure out all of his new spider powers in Spider-Man? Just add in a scene where he also learns how to walk in high heels and you'll get the general gist of the concept.

You know when Happy Meals have a toy made either for boys (cars, robots, deer hunting equipment, etc.) or girls (ponies, princesses, or other pink paraphernalia)? That's pretty much The Hub in a a nutshell.  The Hasbro-owned channel is really only known for Transformers: Prime and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  Since the channel's inception, it has struggled with trying to compete with the big three of Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, and Cartoon Network.  SheZow is The Hub's latest effort to try and drum up some ratings.  Will it work?  Not likely.

While a solid enough premise, SheZow just fails to deliver on so many levels.  The art has an annoying wonky-for-the-sake-of-wonky look to it.  One basic rule of animation is to make your eyes asymmetrical to make your character look more lifelike and less like a cardboard cutout.  This does not mean to simply make one eye bigger than the other in every shot.  The Flash animation is smooth, but the bright colors and style just don't work visually.  It worked for My Little Pony, but since then, every new Hub show uses the exact same style of animation regardless of whether or not it looks good.

And the writing, dear God, the writing!  The characters are far too obnoxious to be likable and have dreadful senses of humor.  Imagine every lame gender-based trope you can, then cram it into a single show.  Remember my Peter Parker in heels joke earlier?  Well take that and make it worse.  Several jokes aren't even inherently bad, but are just so mishandled that they fail completely.  And the puns...puns everywhere.  The puns are so "she-lariously" awful that they make Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin look like Shakespeare, and this is coming from someone who laughs like an idiot at every single "Veterinarian's Hospital" sketch from The Muppet Show.

"Maybe he just needs a good pun-ch to the face!"

Maybe SheZow just needs some time to develop itself.  MLP: FiM was similarly cringe-inducing for much of its first season, but then really blossomed into a rather enjoyable series after that.  Season one of SheZow has already aired in Australia and hasn't caused too much of an uproar, so maybe it has a chance.  I do truly like the idea of a show that doesn't sit comfortably into one of the several boxes that tend to categorize programs, but if it doesn't get better, all I see is one more failed show from The Hub. Get your act together and go get it, girl!