The last few years have been called a golden age for animation. Cartoon creators have more say over their creations; they don’t have to pander to a certain audience. They can be story driven and comedic, and they do not have to make characters sellable (that means making a character likable so companies can sell toys and merchandise). But in every golden age, there are some things that just… don’t work. Some reboots have given new ways to look at the original material, while others destroy what the original had built. This article is all about a newer age of reboots and why they succeed or fail. For the sake of argument, I will try to stay brief, as well as staying with Cartoon Network reboots. Nickelodeon and Disney have bigger problems at the moment.
First, let me say that I am not an animator, but I am a huge fan of animation. I will not be judging the cartoon on its animation style. Many people have different styles and tastes, and I try to accept everything; even stuff made by Klasky Csupo (Rugrats, first season of Simpsons). Most of my background is in creating narratives; I have been producing content for TV, YouTube, radio and the web for around 5 years now. It is also apparent that I say I do not hate any shows in this article; these shows were given a reboot for a reason, meaning they were at one time very popular and well acclaimed.
Also, a piece of wisdom that I have learned from years of internet surfing: Either a fan is angry a show ended before its time through cancellation, or a fan is angry because the show lasted long enough to become mediocre and stale. An animator/YouTuber named RebelTaxi had a good point in his review of the 2016 PowerPuff Girls: “A reboot should be able to stand on its own without the viewer knowing or ever viewing the original”. His review is pretty long and not too SFW, and I don’t agree with all his points; but he does make a few great points about reboots (https://youtu.be/QExDCEiYP7I).
The Good: Samurai Jack
Lets start with something that isnt actually a reboot; it’s a continuation so the show can end. Samurai Jack is a show created by Gendy Tartakovsky (Dexters Lab, Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series, Hotel Transylvania) about a samurai warrior named Jack that must fight the evil Aku, a spirit from the beginning of time who has taken over the world. Jack is sent into the future by Aku in order for him to find a way to defeat Jack. The original run of the show was 4 seasons and a premiere movie, and instead of an ending movie, the show came back for its “final” season. Set 50 years in the future, Jack is trying to find the motivation and reason to fight Aku and to continue on.
In this continuation, the story is the same, but Gendy and the other writers are allowed more creativity and less restrictions on what they can show. In the early years of Cartoon Network many shows were heavily censored in that they were not allowed to show too much violence or mature themes. This view has eased over time; shows like Adventure Time and Regular Show paving the way for more mature content on prime time television.
So why is this series “good”? Well, within the first episode you are reminded of the story from previous seasons, given context on what has happened over the last 50 years, and show why Jack has become more brutal in his combat style. Then, the story moves forward. The writers do not rely on you seeing the previous episodes,nor do they change the plot or characters; they just show the new facts. Of course this is easier in a story driven animation like Samurai Jack, but there were ample opportunities for the writers to change everything. The story still feels like a Jack story, thus treating old fans to their feelings of nostalgia while creating new fans with the compelling story and excellent and vivid animation style.
The Bad: Powerpuff Girls 2016
Now let’s jump to a reboot that is currently shooting down in the ratings: the 2016 PowerPuff Girls. The original show started in the early years of Cartoon Network from 1998 to 2005. The show was originally created by Craig McCracken while he was attending CalArts, one of the most well known animation schools in the United States. The series ran 78 episodes, 1 feature film and 2 anniversary specials.
The show is about three super powered girls who were accidentally created and their struggle to use their powers to fight crime, as well as going to school and living with superhuman powers. The show often times goes from a feeling of cuteness to extreme (for the time period) cartoon violence, as well as parodying the superhero cartoon genre.
In 2016, The PowerPuff Girls reboot aired to a super hyped crowd of Cartoon Network viewers. At first, the reviews were mixed. But after half of the first season aired, the reception dropped from average to horrible. Fans did not like the adaptation of modern elements like memes, cell phones and twerking. Fans also did not like the changes in the characters attitudes and personality. The new creators stated that the show needed to be updated to relate to younger audiences, as well as updating the characters to be able to extend the shows story telling from its limited/timeless roots.
Now for me, the show was not that bad at its premiere. As with many newer Cartoon Network shows, the focus on current pop-culture and memes are inevitable; the channel has to compete with the internet. But, like many, I could not get over the personality changes. Bubbles, the Powerpuff Girl that is the nicer, gentler (with a few exceptions) was shown in the previous series to have somewhat of a mean streak. That is shown in the reboot, but now all of the girls have a mean streak. That takes away from the point of the evil-esque attitude, and makes it almost meaningless.
Another problem I have is the narrator. The narrator in the original show setup every episode, and ended every episode, which sometimes ended with a twist saying the villains saved the day. Now, the narrator has very few lines in any given episode, and the endings he is in are mostly the twist ending. But for a viewer that had never seen the original, they would not know the twist ending from the regular ending, which could leave people confused.
I could go on forever on why this show is kind of bombing, but this article is already long enough. Ultimately the show was most likely brought back so Cartoon Network could cash in on early 2000/1990’s nostalgia, as well as make a quick buck on merchandise.
The Ugly: Teen Titans Go!
Finally, the last reboot I will discuss in this article is Teen Titans Go!. The original Teen Titans was another action animation that aired in 2003. The show ran 5 seasons and aired one special called “Teen Titans:Trouble in Tokyo”, which served as a season finale. Like Samurai Jack, the show dealt with some mature themes while also showing some cartoon violence; thus it ran into some of the same problems with censorship that Jack ran into.
The show is often seen as one of the best action shows that have ever aired on Cartoon Network; often praised for its character development and dark situations. The show follows 5 teenage superheroes as they fight crime in Jump City. The show does a overall story while still being a villain/monster of the week type show.
Teen Titans Go! However, is a comedic look at what the titans do in between episodes of the original series. The show focuses on times immediately following some of the most memorable moments from the original show; sometimes even showing the aftermath of fights at the beginning of some episodes. It is a creative idea, but aside from a few episodes, the Titans are mostly hanging out in their home base, Titan Tower.
The show initially received mixed views when it first aired, but most critics agree that the show is pandering to a new audience; not those who loved or wanted to see the old action cartoon style of the original. The plot is not really of importance in this show, but the viewers get enough information to understand why the Titans are together and what their specialities are.
Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with Teen Titans Go!. On one hand, the show is a satire on the seriousness of comic book cartoons. They even go to great lengths to make fun of these shows when Teen Titans Go! is compared to a current running action comic book show: Young Justice. That is a breath of fresh air to me, seeing as every DC animation since The Batman Animated Series is trying to be that gritty, dark and serious story.
With that being said, from a character development standpoint, Teen Titans Go! has done a complete 180 from the original show. The characters are all dumbed down. Seeing as the writers are going for a completely different audience, that was probably done on purpose. In the original, the only really silly/goofball type character was Beast Boy (the green, shape shifting animal from Doom Patrol), now all of the characters are Beast Boy times 1000. For some people that may be an awesome thing to hear, but… it does grow old after a while.
The reason this is ugly to me is because it is one of the most popular shows on Cartoon Network at the moment. It is becoming Cartoon Network’s Spongebob – always playing when newer shows are not premiering, and mostly early in the morning. I can complain all I want, but the show does have a following in younger audiences and is geared towards younger kids humor.
I tried to make this article somewhat brief, but I think there is a lot going on in the animation world. This maybe the best time to see primetime animation that is not limited by heavy censorship. With that being said, all TV networks have to make revenue somehow. Most times that means cashing in on a already well known title to make a quick buck on merchandise. To be honest, I cant really blame them; if only 1 out of every 3 reboots is good and is worth my time, then it might be worth seeing a few bombs.
Another thing to note: as I was writing this article, two new shows were rebooted. Invader Zim will be getting a new movie made for TV; and Reboot, one of the first CGI animations to make it onto TV, is also getting a… reboot (I hate puns). This trend is really just starting, so maybe we will get a few good shows out of this fad.
For TMN, I am Tim Abrams.