Judge Bryan Pope thinking the whole life imitating art / art imitating life thing is completely overrated.
"Hello, cartoon friends! I'm your number one fan!"
Anyone who's navigated the minefields of junior high school can sympathize with twelve-year-old everyman Jimmy Roberts (Dominic Janes). He's just outside the periphery of the school's elite, the cute brunette in homeroom hardly gives him a passing glance, and his family is weird. No, I mean really weird. Making matters worse is the new brain Jimmy received after being slammed into by a trolley during a class field trip to Gollyworld, a Disneyland-like amusement park. Thanks to the new noodle, which once belonged to famous animator and Gollyworld founder Milt Appleday (Fred Willard), Jimmy's life is invaded by all of Appleday's most popular cartoon creations, whom only he can see. As if seventh grade weren't complicated enough already, right?
What a fun premise for kids' show, and what an appropriate one to fly under the banner of the Cartoon Network, a network that rarely steps foot into live-action territory. Re-Animated has a lot of other things going for it, too: a winning hero in Janes, a cast that is peppered with welcome faces (Willard is way underused, but it's a pleasure to see him anyway) and voices (Paul Reubens and Ellen Greene each lend their pipes), a couple of sly jabs at Disney's recent "hip" Mickey Mouse makeover, and a handful of cute cartoon characters.
Problem is, those cute characters, including Golly and Dolly Gopher, are overshadowed by live actors who act like cartoons themselves. Take Jimmy's entire family, for instance. His father (Bil Dwyer), who's also the principal at Jimmy's school, eats sugar cubes for breakfast and likes to talk with his belly button. Jimmy's sister (Rhea Lando), for no other reason than the sheer silliness of it, is a green-skinned alien who was brought to earth by Jimmy's astronaut mother (Rachel Quaintance). And who has just moved into the spare bedroom? Milt's grown son, Sonny Appleday (Matt Knudsen), who becomes an adopted third child despite his nefarious designs on Jimmy's new brain.
Wacky stuff, sure, but it's just too much to too little effect. Besides, what's so special about zany cartoon characters coming to life, if the world around them is every bit as outlandish? The story is standard stuff about a boy learning to be true to himself and his friends, and, except for a couple of funny moments—a hyper-enthusiastic Gollyworld tour guide reminded me of Jan Hooks' unforgettable Alamo guide in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, which, by the way, is an example of a live-action cartoon done right—and one amusing non sequitur ("That's so offensive. It's like saying all Belgians are good at juggling."), the comedy falls flat. After Golly and company make an anarchic entrance right out of a Warner Bros. short (they pop out of a safe after it lands on Jimmy's head), they're given little to do but stop in every so often to comment on the action. They're playing backup when they should be headlining the show. Of course, the most pertinent question for a show like this is whether it will appeal to grade-school kids. My six-year-old son seemed to like it well enough, but even his enthusiasm was muted.
Re-Animated is about imagination run amok, and imagination is one thing this show could use a little more of.
As expected for a new production from Cartoon Network, Re-Animated looks fantastic on DVD. It's presented in its original widescreen format (it's unclear what aspect ratio was used), and the colors are bright and sharp, the picture very clear. The film's appropriately busy sound design gets a lot of mileage thanks to the Dolby Surround 2.0 audio.
The package lists as extras the less than three-minute Golly Gopher short "Hero in TRAINing" and an equally brief special effects featurette hosted by Sonny Appleday. What the package doesn't say is that the disc includes an engaging feature-length audio commentary by director Bruce Hurwit and cowriters Adam Pava and Tim McKeon. Talk about an Easter egg worth finding (the disc includes at least three more eggs, by the way, but they're not worth hunting for). Hurwit, Pava and McKeon chat nonstop about their creation, sharing fun tidbits such as exactly how many sugar cubes Dwyer ate while filming his first scene. It's a fun listen.
I liked Hurwit, Pava and McKeon. I liked them a lot. And here's hoping they and their characters find their footing this fall when they spin off into the weekly series Out of Jimmy's Head. I'll be rooting for them.
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• "Hero in TRAINing" cartoon short
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