One of my earliest memories is me, four years old, sitting in front of the TV watching Josie and the Pussycats (the cartoon – I’m not THAT young). Suddenly the TV froze – there was some problem with the signal. That really upset me, and for some reason it also made me think that such bliss (and by bliss I mean staying home watching TV) wouldn’t last forever – I was one year away from going to kinder garden, thus entering a life of perpetual duty that would not end until I, old and tired, went into retirement (I’m sure I didn’t think it in such terms, being a 4-year old).
This to say, cartoons played a big role in my childhood – I specially enjoyed Hanna-Barbera’s creations (which by then were mostly reruns – I’m not THAT old either). The Flintstones, Top Cat, Johnny Quest and Scooby Doo, just to name a few, represented hours of fun and bliss. And because those were the cartoons my parents had grown up with as well, there was little resistance from them to us watching them. All was good.
Then things started to change. A new wave of cartoons flooded the Cartoon Network (we were never a Nickelodeon family – something that would only change for me many years later with the advent of Avatar and, currently, The Legend of Korra) and suddenly we found ourselves watching a cadre of angular, slightly insane and seemingly over-simplistic cartoons (2 Stupid Dogs, Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, Cow and Chicken, I Am Weasel) and we didn’t know how to feel about it. Both my parents did, though – they didn’t approve. These new wave of toons was far too alien to like, and that’s was all there was to it (an opinion they hold to this very day). Perhaps influenced by them, I also distanced myself from them and insisted in more traditional animation – except for anime (actually just Pokémon) because, hell, it was Japanese, it was allowed to be different.
The “new wave” of CN cartoons were angular, simplistic and somewhat insane. We didn’t approve.
Yet recently, for some reason, I was doing some research on Star Wars and came across a mention of the Emmy Award-winning Clone Wars ”micro series” that aired on Cartoon Network from 2003 to 2005 and bridged the gap between Episodes II and III (and was later canceled and replaced by the CGI series The Clone Wars – the difference hinges on the “The“). The series depicts many battles that took place during the Clone Wars, and deals with the first signs of Anakin’s corruption and the straining of his relationship with Obi Wan and the Jedi council – as well as the rise of some dark figures like Asajj Ventress and General Grevious.
I watched it and really enjoyed it – I had to agree with all the rave reviews it got. It may be short (all three “seasons” combined don’t make it to the two-hour mark) but it’s deep, entertaining and true to the franchise. It almost makes you sorry it didn’t last longer – but perhaps that was exactly why it was so good, who knows. Yet one thing caught my attention: this cartoon was indubitably part of that “new wave” of cartoons out of the maison Hanna-Barbera I had previously dissed. The hard lines, the queer shapes, the swift movements and sometimes ridiculous expressions made it clear. And yet that didn’t seem to bother me. In fact, I found it to be all the better for it.
Clone Wars as indubitably part of that “new wave” of cartoons – yet that didn’t bother me.
Being in a pedantic period of my life where I’ve had an “awakening” and started calling myself an “artist” (yeah, whatever), I’ve been discovering many films/series/other forms of art which I previously considered “too weird” to actually be enjoyable and have a message hidden within, or at least a very good reasoning (yet, true to myself, I watched Pulp Fiction and found it wildly overrated. Best Movie Oscar nomination? C’ mon). My first reaction after watching Clone Wars was “wow”. The second was to try and find out as much as I could about it. Sadly, there’s not much information about it besides the Wikipedia and Wookiepedia pages on it and this behind the scenes featurette on YouTube (in which George Lucas himself gives us a piece of his mind). It’s a shame really that there’s no much more material, because it’s obvious just form watching the series that the creative team behind it was teeming with ideas, both story and art-wise. Specially the series creator, Genndy Tartakovsky.
It seems Lucasarts was interested in tasking him with the creation of the series because they were impressed with his work in Samurai Jack, another Cartoon Network series which I had previously ignored. Going back and revisiting it, I realized that the artistic style which I had rejected now seemed to fit the series’ story and even, at times, to be truly beautiful. The series deals with the resurgence of an evil demon, Aku, and the one warrior who can stop him. In the first episode, this nameless samurai, still a child, escapes Aku and goes around the world learning all sorts of fighting and other skills. Finally becoming a man grown and claiming his father’s sword, the one that originally defeated Aku, he faces the demon. Yet just as he is about to defeat it, Aku opens a portal and sends him to the future – a depressing, overrun world where Aku rules over everything. Samurai Jack, as he’s nicknamed by the inhabitants of this future world, embarks on a journey to find a way back to his own time and prevent this horrible future from ever taking place.
The artistic style I previously rejected now seemed to fit the story and be, on occasion, truly beautiful
Besides loving the story and the art, I even found Samurai Jack to be, apart from some oversimplification, an adult series, evocative of Tarantino’s work (specially, of course, Kill Bill). It’s filled with gory, silent fights and moments of introspection and meditation. The essence of Samurai Jack translated beautifully to Clone Wars, specially in episodes like Chapter 13, where Mace Windu takes down an entire battalion in Dantooine without using his lightsaber – or uttering a single line of dialogue. Suddenly I found myself admiring Tartakovsky – and my interest in the Hanna-Barbera productions was reanimated. Tartakovsky was one of the animators leading this “new wave” of toons at the CN – which began with 2 Stupid Dogs, of which Tartakovsky was a collaborator.
Sadly, not all of this toons were to my liking – it was mainly Tartakovsky’s work that stood out to me. As a whole, Hanna-Barbera’s output during the 60s and 70s strikes me as more creative and beautiful, but Tartakovsky’s work deserves recognition (and it’s gotten it – the Emmys must be piling up in his house). Let’s hope that Samurai Jack movie ever sees the light of day.
PS: I’ve been trying to find a beautiful, definitive book on Hanna-Barbera history and creations, but so far I haven’t found anything worthwhile. If you know of a book or DVD or whatever that fits this criteria, send me an e-mail!
PS 2: Something that does set me off in Tartakovsky’s style is when he exaggerates form (such as drawing muscles where there are none) or portrays disgusting things like snot or old nails. And that happens a lot.