BCI Eclipse // 2006 // 150 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // December 5th, 2006
Cute, cuddly, and horribly wrong.
Do you ever ask yourself: "You know what I could go for tonight? Some cartoons depicting unspeakable violence being done to smiley, animated woodland animals!" If so, well, fella, have I got a magical gift for you!
The premise for Happy Tree Friends is simple: dedicate six minutes to applying as much whacked-out pain as within the realm of animated possibility to cute little animals. That's it. Six minutes of sappy music, pastel colors, and blood and sinew.
Episodes run about six minutes or so, and feature the same group of revolving characters, with names like Lumpy and Splendid and Pop and Cub and Nutty and Flippy and Disco Bear. By the end of episodes virtually every starring critter will have been killed in bloody, spectacular fashion. Shows wrap with a weirdly juxtaposed moral. There is no dialogue; just squeaky animal voices, music and the grinding and splattering sounds. The first nine episodes of the series that aired on the G4 network get the digital treatment:
* "The Wrong Side of the Tracks"
A visit to the amusement park. Lots of cute animals die.
* "From Hero to Eternity"
A super chipmunk inadvertently slaughters an entire town. Lots of cute animals die.
* "And the Kitchen Sink"
Pop gives Cub a bath. Lots of cute animals die.
* "Party Animal"
A war flashback leads to a blood-drenched surprise party. Lots of cute animals die.
* "Ipso Fatso"
In an effort to lose weight, Disco Bear takes to the treadmill, which malfunctions. Lots of cute animals die.
* "Don't Yank My Chain!"
The Mole and Handy run away from the cops and are pursued in a wild, bloody manhunt. Lots of cute animals die.
* "Dog Gone It!"
The town is besieged by a murderous puppy dog. Lots of cute animals die.
* "Concrete Solution"
Mayhem invades a construction site. Lots of cute animals die.
* "Sea What I Found"
It's a mad dash for buried treasure under the ocean. Lots of cute animals die.
Part of me likes the Happy Tree Friends, the absurdity of it all, the incredibly gruesome violence juxtaposed with the sterile Nick Jr. look of the show and its characters, the uniqueness of the concept (well sort of -- my junior high friends and I would waste countless study hall hours drawing dismembered cartoon animals). Another part of me thinks the series is sort of a cop-out, where real wit and cleverness have been substituted for cheap gags. There's another, smaller part of me that likes eating hot fudge right out of the jar with a spoon.
Look, from the adolescent weirdo's point-of-view, these shows are riotous. A nonstop parade of cuddle animals ruthlessly slaughtered in inventive ways? Just what the doctor ordered! But the realist understands the simple truth about Happy Tree Friends: it's a one-gag show. Sure it's a gag that undergoes a multitude of permutations and is capable of yielding some sick fun, but take away the violence gimmick and Happy Tree Friends has nothing going for it, save some cutesy animation.
I don't, however, think that this one-note wonder essence necessarily earns it a negative review. For what Happy Tree Friends sets out to do, it succeeds. It's all about the juxtaposition here, matching up the look and sound of an innocent kids show with over-the-top bloodshed. While the concept isn't groundbreaking (Peter Jackson's Meet the Feebles is the apex of this kind of "oh-man-that's-just-wrong" entertainment) the mayhem is very well-executed. Pun intended by the way. Bones are crushed, bodies flayed, brains dislodged, skulls cleaved, spinal columns snapped, tendons ripped out, eyeballs impaled, ribs cracked, flesh burned, antlers warped, furry tails sliced off, limbs removed, and gallons and gallons and gallons of animated blood spilled. For the premium in cartoon havoc, I doubt few contenders can challenge the sickos behind Happy Tree Friends.
But they shouldn't fool themselves either. In one of the behind-the-scenes features, one of the writers laments the fact that critics obsess about the violence because it's such a small part of the show. Sorry, but that's not going to fly. As far as screen time, yes the run-ups to the carnage eat more minutes, but episodes, and their accompanying plots, are merely vehicles for uncorking massive amounts of death and destruction. These guys made a series strictly devoted to cartoon violence, and that will of course generate controversy, but that's the cost. None of that faux umbrage, please.
So if this is a concept that grabs you, give this disc a shot. Volume 1 contains nine short episodes, and while the storytelling won't floor you, the plots are simply a means to an end. A grisly, grisly end.
Full frame and 2.0 stereo for the tech specs, but the show looks and sounds good. The animation comes across well, sporting vibrant colors and crisp detailing. Of the relatively lame extras (storyboards, short, making-of featurettes), the standouts are the commentary tracks for each episodes which are lively, interesting and a bit too self-aggrandizing.
There's some sinister glee to be had here at the expense of a legion of suffering cartoon animals, but know that Happy Tree Friends is a one-trick pony, and its value is largely articulated by how many different tricks (read: ways to animate violent death) the writers can squeeze out of it.
PETA won't be happy with a not guilty verdict, but screw 'em.
Review content copyright © 2006 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BCI Eclipse
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 150 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries
* Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes
* Official Site