The animation progression shows a differentiation of matter in terms that the emotional investment predicated in their narratives show a diversification that balances both humor and effectiveness.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars The second season preliminaries show the paradox we want to see heightened which is the relationship between Padme and Anakin and the splitting of duty versus emotion. This is where the darkest elements come into play. Ahsoka, Anakin’s Padewan, is coming into her own but showing more signs of recklessness which is what is inherent in Anakin’s teachings. The key is to show Anakin’s furthering differential with the needs of the Jedi Council as the holes in their defense become bigger and bigger. The most outstanding technical advance is how good the immenseness of the passing star freighters look. The hardest thing is to create that sense of depth in a heightened comic book style. It gives a sense of intensity that heightens last season’s capabilities.
South Park The series is great simply and, in many ways, because of its quick turnaround which can sometimes be less than a week. What is becoming more apparent is within its interesting human subtext. While the first couple episodes attack essences such as wrestling, it is one of the first ones about ghosts which turns into the angle of Michael Jackson not being at peace that is the most interesting, but not for the gloved one. There is a moment at the beginning when Ike, Stan’s little brother, is seeing ghosts. Now granted it is Billy Ray coming after him but the general fear and emotion that Ike is played with is almost heartbreaking. It is interesting thinking this about “South Park” but these moments are becoming more prevalent and are what balance it out and interestingly give it more depth than the other animated programs. Think about “I’m So Lonely” from “Team America”. Here is Kim Jong Il, a quite despicable person whom the guys make almost sympathetic. Of course bodily functions and sex jokes come back almost immediately but the poignancy, ironically, is there.
Family Guy With two integrated sequences in the first two episodes, “Family Guy” still reigns as the king of cool despite the fact that many young viewers might not get it. From the premiere with its extended ode to Disney 2D animation to some snarky side comments to the “Superfriends” Opening Credits sequence around Episode 3, the intent is simply inspired for those who grew up with it in the early 80s. The personification of the characters simply is in full stride since they don’t have to prove anything anymore as long as the pop culture references are sweet. Some social commentary however fleeting doesn’t hurt either.
The Simpsons The pendulum of the “Family Guy” competition resonates here simply because of the difference in the age of the creators of the shows which is being more obviously personified as both productions go on (and will inevitably be compared). “The Simpsons” head team is slightly older so their references are more old school. A good example is in the Halloween episode which pays its tributes to Hitchcock and the New Wave filmmakers while McFarlane is all about Spielberg, Lucas and the like. Not to say that some of The Simpsons’ inklings aren’t inspired. However there is a growing differential. The ode to Salvador Dali in the Halloween episode shows the production’s ability to still slice but an earlier episode with Homer becoming the Everyman Hollywood superhero comes off a little flat.
The Penguins Of Madagascar The key here which is continually interesting is the evolution of what kids are able to process. While this is a Nickelodeon cartoon, some of the elements it angles into are definitely bordering within the realm of adult. One episode has the Penguins trying to teach Roger the alligator to become more aggressive. In doing so they end up switching out his brain for Rico (the Penguin Braun). This causes the pathological elements of the unstable penguin to wreak havoc on the regular streets on NY like something out of a horror movie. Another episode has a female gopher who had never been out of the zoo (she was born in captivity) going insane when she sees the space around her. The angles show a form of psychosis which is great when you can have the cartoons function on separate levels because kids a lot of the time will just go for the surface but subconsciously get the messages that are there. Of course, then you have the aspect when the King Lemur looses his ability to bootie shake because some African monkeys put a vex on him when his ego gets out of control. The balance is maintained but it is interesting to see how the creators of the filmmakers continue to challenge the small screen.
Animation continues to build in earnest in consideration of the different cross-sections of what is being produced but the superstructured is becoming more interesting because of the different outlets. “Clone Wars” is on a different level because it is independently produced. “South Park” continues to excel because of its ability to do a quick turnaround. However, it is the emotional resonance of some scenes that is starting to shine through. “Family Guy” and “The Simpsons” are like Jay and Conan: compatriots vying for the same audience while still on the same network. “Penguins” meanwhile flies under the radar and goes on its merry way.
The competition continues.