Judge Victor Valdivia is also an incessant pickup artist with a goofy accent and weird hair. Where's his cartoon series?
Man, I'm pretty!
Johnny Bravo aired on the Cartoon network in 1997 as one of the first original cartoons the network ever aired. Before then, Cartoon Network was known for airing reruns of old classic cartoons like Looney Tunes and The Flintstones, but with Johnny Bravo CN was actually attempting to revive the old Hanna-Barbera style of animation with a more modern sensibility. Johnny Bravo would later become famous as the show that launched the careers of animation showrunners Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy) and Butch Hartman (The Fairly OddParents), but it's an entertaining and amusing little show in its own right that may be one of the more underrated of its time.
Facts of the Case
Johnny Bravo (Jeff Bennett, The Penguins of Madagascar) is an Elvis-lovin', karate-knowin', sunglasses-wearin' beefcake who loves his momma (Brenda Vaccaro, Midnight Cowboy) and hits on every pretty lady he meets, even when they mace him, taser him, or try to run him over with a steamroller. The only female who shows any interest in him is his five-year-old neighbor Little Suzy (Mae Whitman, Parenthood), who thinks he's a fun playmate. While trying desperately and unsuccessfully to talk up women with his impossibly lame pickup lines and doltish self-regard, he unwittingly ends up getting involved in outlandish adventures that include secret agents, talking animals, and C-list celebrities like Adam West, Donnie Osmond, and the cast of Scooby Doo. This two-disc set compiles all thirteen episodes that make up the first season.
Dismissed when it first aired as mediocre and forgettable, Johnny Bravo has actually aged much better than it would have seemed at the time. Because it lacks the intellectual and emotional depth of The Simpsons, the aggressive fearlessness of South Park, or the subversive satire of Beavis and Butt-Head, it may be easy to label Johnny Bravo as one-dimensional and silly. Yes, in many ways, it is. It's also true that while it may not be as groundbreaking as those shows were, it fits in with many current animation shows much better now than it did then.
The obvious comparisons, of course, are to Family Guy. The non-sequiturs, the use of faded celebrities as punchlines, the characters that are mostly just jokes rather than fully fleshed out people—these are all in evidence. That may have irritated some viewers at the time, but now, with shows like Drawn Together and some of the shows on Adult Swim, that style of humor has become essentially the norm for animated series aimed at adults. Johnny Bravo also took some flak for its animation style, which is colorful but simplistic. It's clearly patterned after the mid-'60s style used by Hanna-Barbera (the imprint the show was released under). The show's creator, Van Partible, avoided extensive in-betweening to use quick flashes and blurs instead every time Johnny moved. Some saw that as contrived, but actually, the animation style fits the show perfectly. Simultaneously retro and flashy, it only adds to the sheer pleasure of watching the show.
Mostly, though, it's easy to see now that Johnny Bravo is hilarious. It's not nearly as revolutionary as some of its peers, but if you're looking for good honest laughs, Johnny Bravo delivers. The humor isn't crude or risqué; though Johnny spends virtually every episode hitting on women, it's obvious he has no idea what he would do with one once he gets one. It's also entertaining to see Johnny's misguided attempts to use his considerable brawn to solve every single problem in front of him, even just earning enough pocket change to buy his Momma a present. The voice acting is always great. Bennett's performance is always amusing but even the supporting actors, including Whitman, who really was five when she recorded her dialogue, are funny and lively. The real highlights of the series, however, are the more elaborate animation parodies that are so well-done that they rank with the best of any other show. MacFarlane's "The Sensitive Male," for instance, is a flawless spoof of Schoolhouse Rock! in which Jack Sheldon, the original voice of Schoolhouse Rock, sings various songs to Johnny about how to pick up women by pretending to be sensitive. "Bravo Dooby Doo" has Johnny meeting the cast of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! and not only uses almost all of the original voice cast from the series but even many of the original animation drawings as well. These parody episodes are the show's best but that's not to shortchange the others, which are all at least entertaining. Johnny Bravo is such an endearing and charming character that even despite his many personal shortcomings, he's fun to watch in any circumstances.
For this package, Cartoon Network has put together a good set of extras. Three episodes come with commentary from Van Partible and various cast and crew members discussing how the shows were written and animated. These are excellent, full of details and stories. There's also a featurette, "Bringing Up Johnny Bravo" (12:29), containing interviews with various creative personnel behind the show, that is worth seeing. Though MacFarlane himself doesn't appear on any commentaries or extras, he did provide his original demos for his Schoolhouse Rock parody episode, which contain some minor variations from the finished version. Finally, the set is rounded out with some "Pencil Tests" (15:01) that were used as rough animation guides for directors to make changes. As for the technical specs, they're solid. The full-screen transfer and Dolby stereo mix are both cleaned up considerably, showing off the series to full advantage.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The only misstep is the character of Jungle Boy, a Tarzan-esque cute little kid who lives in the jungle, wears a loincloth, and is beloved by all of the jungle animals even though he doesn't really do anything. This one-note character is apparently some sort of parody of media manipulation, but he's not that funny and his occasional appearances in a handful of cartoons are low points. He's easy to ignore, since he's barely a minor character, but this is the one part of Johnny Bravo that doesn't really work.
Fans of Family Guy and Adult Swim should have no problem picking up this set. Johnny Bravo helped pave the way for those projects, but it's also a genuinely amusing and enjoyable show in its own right. Don't expect jaw-dropping greatness, but it does hit the mark more often than not. Viewers interested in more adult-themed animation should find Johnny Bravo worth a look.
Not guilty. Whoa, mama!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Cartoon Network
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