Somebody imagined Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky. Sheesh, what does that say about that kid?
"I'm not here to listen to your ignorant critique of high art!"—Duchess, to Terrence
In a world where your imagination comes to life, children still grow up. But what happens to their imaginary friends? They must either fend for themselves or find a new home. Fortunately, there is a place your imaginary friend can stay until he or she or it can get adopted by a new kid—presumably one lacking the capacity to imagine a friend of his or her own. The television commercial calls it a "funderful, wonderful imagination habitation." Some call it "that freaky weirdo house with all those freaky weirdos." Everyone else names it after the feisty old lady and her temperamental granddaughter who run the place: Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends.
Facts of the Case
Blooregard Q. Kazoo is the unfettered id. He is selfish, self-absorbed, and in constant need of your undivided attention. "Being a burden is great," he says. "It's my seventh favorite thing to be." He is also delightfully wild, funny, and the perfect embodiment of childhood vigor. He has a problem though: he cannot stay at home with the boy who created him, eight-year-old Mac. So Bloo moves into Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, where he hangs out during the day with his new friends, trying to stay out of trouble. It isn't easy, and most of the time he fails, much to the displeasure of house manager Mr. Herriman and Frankie, Madame Foster's overworked granddaughter.
Mac has agreed to visit Bloo every day, in order to keep him from being adopted by another kid. So Mac and Bloo relish every moment of Mac's childhood. If you could bring your imaginary friend to life, what would you do?
If you follow John Kricfalusi's maxim that cartoons are better when actually made by cartoonists, then you will love the look of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. The influences on McCracken's art design (at least those I recognized) range from children's book illustrators like Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss, to "grown-up" artists like Picasso and Miró, to '50s cartoon artists like Jay Ward and Mary Blair, all linked by their striking uses of shape and color. Bloo is the perfect example of this attention to design. He is so perfectly simple in execution; a fluidly curving blue shape, like a Jean Arp sculpture brought to life. When he does spring arms and becomes anthropomorphic, it seems more like a matter of convenience than something natural to him.
For most artists working with Flash animation, the limitations of the flat, brightly colored plane accentuates their limits. McCracken and company, like the great Warner Brothers' cartoonists of the 1940s, who found in their limited budgets the inspiration to take pure design to its limits by playing up stillness and expression to sharpen their comic timing to a diamond edge, give the characters of Foster's more personality and life than even McCracken's delightfully energetic Powerpuff Girls had. One of the delights of this show is that you never know what clever bit of art design is just around the next corner.
As you can see from the screen shot I took of the show's opening sequence (the shot with several of the main characters framed in a house window), visual composition—the use of space and color—are striking. McCracken and company also manage to tease Macromedia Flash to its limits in displaying facial expression and flow of movement. You can see this in the frame of Bloo listening to Creaky Pete in "The Trouble With Scribbles." I could offer a thousand examples like this.
Foster's is not only about clever art design. McCracken, who developed Cartoon Network's first breakthrough original hit, The Powerpuff Girls, has put together another team of animators with a knack for memorable characters and tight, funny writing. While Mac and Bloo are the center of attention in the show, part of what makes Foster's hold up over the long run is its strong supporting cast. The house is owned by the feisty Madame Foster, but it is run with an iron paw by bunny butler Mr. Herriman, once Madame Foster's own imaginary friend. Bloo's best pals in the house are Wilt, Eduardo, and Coco. The broken, basketball-playing Wilt is relentlessly tall, relentlessly helpful, and always aims to please. In fact, he cannot say no to anybody, which often gets him in trouble. And after the trouble, he'll apologize profusely for causing an inconvenience. Eduardo is a toothy beast in luchadore pants. He is also really just a big baby, afraid of everybody. As for Coco, her head looks like a palm tree, and she lays eggs filled with surprise treats, but this, um, "bird airplane plant thing" is probably the smartest of the core group of friends. Unfortunately, almost nobody can understand a word she says, since everything just sounds like "cococococococo."
These characters all have enough personality to sustain solo outings throughout the run of the show. (In fact, Wilt was the featured player in the recent Foster's telefilm, Good Wilt Hunting.) This gives Foster's plenty of opportunities for clever stories and enough variety to drive it—so far—through four seasons on the Cartoon Network.
The DVD release of the first season of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends gives you two discs' worth of delightful misadventures that will please kids and adults in equal measure. The fun is spread over two discs:
• "House of Bloo's"
• "Dinner Is Swerved"
• "Adoptcalypse Now"
• "Store Wars"
• "The Trouble With Scribbles"
• "Seeing Red/Phone Home"
• "World Wide Wabbit"
• "Berry Scary"
• "Who Let the Dogs In?"
This first season really just gets the ball rolling. The weirdest and wildest characters—like the overimaginative Goo and the thoroughly bizarre Cheese—will not show up until later. It is rare to find a television series set that leaves you wanting more, and I popped out the second disc thinking that I might browse the television listings to see when Cartoon Network was next running the show.
Foster's is one of those rare cartoon series where all the elements come together. The art is inventive enough that you could watch this with the sound off. The scripts offer plenty of word play and crisp dialogue. One of the best features of the show is its musical score by James Venable and Jennifer Remington. The whole thing has an off-kilter hot jazz flavor, as if Cab Calloway wandered into a recording booth with a circus calliope. McCracken's Powerpuff Girls was a great show, but with Foster's, he is firing on all cylinders.
Cartoon shows rarely get much love on DVD, mostly because marketing departments figure that only kids will be enjoying this stuff. There is only one commentary track: Mac, Bloo, and Frankie offer fast-paced chatter over "Store Wars." It works as a great audio-only sketch and shows the quality of writing and characterization on this show: the dialogue stands on its own even without the animation. Nonetheless, it would have been nice to have a real commentary track from the creators or voice actors talking about the production of the show.
"What Happens When Your Imagination Runs Wild?" features a brief interview with McCracken, who admits surprise at the show's wide demographic appeal. Some of the crew introduce their own imaginary friends, who don't actually have much to say themselves. Cute, but altogether too short. A series of clever bumpers (including Cheese, who always makes me laugh) from the Cartoon Network are included. There is a gallery featuring some imaginary friends who wander the backgrounds in various episodes. Think of them as Foster's "extras." Finally, there is a collection of those end-credit gag sequences that punctuate several of the episodes. All are extended versions of gags that actually appear in the show, and are blown up from the original end sequences (you can sometimes see the edges of the credits running to the left). Look for one of two Powerpuff Girls jokes here. There are also a few Easter eggs peppered about the discs.
I've seen nearly all of the episodes on this two-disc set many, many times. Every time I turn on the Cartoon Network, it seems like they are running "Dinner Is Swerved," for heaven's sake. But I found myself laughing all over again at these, admiring the art design, and promising my daughter that she could watch these when I was done with this review. Actually, she's waiting for them now. Maybe she'll bring all her stuffed animals, set up a tea party for them, and let them all watch too. Imaginary friends should have some fun too.
The court pleads for someone to adopt this DVD and give it a good home. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Character Commentary Track
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