Warner Bros. // 2011 // 220 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // November 4th, 2011
Just when your brain cells replenished.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm a big fan of Cartoon Network's Robot Chicken, the animated sketch comedy series created by Seth Green and Matt Senreich. The premise is simple enough: a bunch of action figures (mostly from the '80s, and most of which were also cartoons, including G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Strawberry Shortcake, and He-Man and The Masters of the Universe) are dropped into sketches ranging from 10 seconds to two minutes, designed to show the dark side of those beloved characters. Many of the sketches explode into graphic violence. Rinse. Repeat. It's a formula I haven't yet tired of, because the sketches are all very short (and therefore don't overstay their welcome) and because I admire the spirit of comic anarchy that inhabits the show. It's a series where truly anything goes, but the writers and creative staff still seem to have some sort of filter. I don't get the sense watching Robot Chicken that they've just thrown everything at the wall to see what sticks. It really does feel like they've gone with only the best ideas, even when those ideas include a Strawberry Shortcake character named Bitch Pudding (maybe my favorite recurring character on the show) or a robot that humps appliances.
There's not really any point in listing out the episode titles here, since they have nothing to do with the sketches contained within. Every season has a gimmick for its titles; Season Four, they were seemingly nonsensical until you read them all together, at which point you realized they combined to form a series of ransom notes. This season, the episodes are named after movie title mash-ups like "Major League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and "No Country for Old Dogs." Suffice it to say that this season of Robot Chicken contains a whole bunch of pop culture parodies, many of which end in horrific, bloody violence (often, it seems, because the writers aren't sure how else to get out of a sketch), with highlights that include "The Roast of Cobra Commander," a eulogy for Diablo Cody, the never-before-seen continuation of Toy Story 3, and the 100th episode spectacular featuring all of the regular cast of the show in one long, uninterrupted fight scene.
It's tough to review something like Robot Chicken, because it's not about characters or plot or anything conventional like that. I can't even say that the writing on the show has changed much in five seasons, because it still seems pretty much the same as it's always been. I will say that I don't think I laughed as much during Robot Chicken: Season Five as I have in the past, but I really couldn't say why. The show is the show is the show, and anyone with a fondness for extreme stop-motion gore or '80s nostalgia or cartoons dropping f-bombs (all of which makes the show sound as base and simplistic as possible, which might actually be the case) who have enjoyed the series up to this point will probably continue to do so. I'm not really sure how long Robot Chicken will be able to keep this up, because while on the one hand it seems like they could do it forever (there is endless pop culture to be spoofed, and the sketches are so short -- sometimes just a single joke -- that there's no reason they can't keep going), I also think it's starting to repeat itself a bit. Of course, the same claim probably could have been made by the second season, so maybe it's not the most valid of criticisms. At the same time, the animation is more polished and ambitious than in any other season of the show -- it really has come a long way -- so even if you're not cracking up consistently, there's always something visually interesting or amusing going on.
All 20 episodes of Robot Chicken: Season Five are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, spread across two discs, and if I'm not mistaken this is the first time the series has been offered in widescreen. The shows look just fine on DVD; while an HD version is available on Blu-ray, I can't find much to complain about with the standard definition copy, so fans may consider saving a couple of bucks by sticking with the DVDs. Colors are bright, detail is fine and compression or other artifacting isn't an issue. The 5.1 audio track is serviceable in delivering the dialogue and jokes, which are well-balanced with the show's many funny, sly song parodies and original musical numbers (which also play during the menus).
If you've been collecting the season-length Robot Chicken sets up until now, you shouldn't be surprised by the bonus features that appear here. Every episode comes with a commentary from a revolving door of cast members, creators, writers and guest stars, and while they can be very funny and entertaining, most of them suffer from the "too many people" party atmosphere to which so many commentary tracks fall victim. It's clear that everyone is having a good time, but that doesn't always come through to the listener amidst all the laughing and shouting. A few fully animated deleted scenes are present, but several of them are far, far too dark to have ever made it to air and it's easy to see why they were cut. Also included are a whole bunch of animatics for unused sketches, which are just animated sketches that have been given voice over. A lot of the jokes still play, making them essentially just cruder deleted scenes. A few alternate audio options have been included, which basically just offers variations on the jokes that made it to air. There's also a whole boatload of featurettes, covering everything from the voice acting to the guest stars (like Nathan Fillion and Jon Hamm) to behind-the-scenes footage. As before, there is the "Chicken Nuggets" feature, which takes you to featurettes and production footage during the episodes via optional branching.
I can't really defend my affection for Robot Chicken, except to say that it's fast-paced and violent and profane and totally inspired. You know, little reasons. It's not for everyone, but it's one of those shows that really for the people that it's for. I guess I'm one of those people.
Review content copyright © 2011 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 220 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site