As told by Judge Maurice Cobbs.
"This is total propaganda! Assuming that I'm using that word correctly!"—Courtney Gripling
It's been a while since I've watched any Nicktoons—in angry protest at their having cancelled the brilliantly bizarre Invader Zim while the show was in its prime—and frankly, I have to view most of them with a skeptical eye. True, I quickly became a die-hard fan of Zim, but really, the whole Spongebob Squarepants thing is as disturbing as it is depressing, and the rest of the lineup—Aaahhh! Real Monsters!, The Wild Thornberrys, Fairly Odd Parents, and so forth—though undeniably popular, never held my interest. Certainly not when I could turn the channel to Cartoon Network and plug in to Powerpuff Girls (where's my boxed sets?) and Johnny Bravo.
With the Emmy-nominated As Told By Ginger, Nick hasn't provided anything especially new, and these should all be familiar character types, even for younger viewers: the loyal misfit best friends, the obnoxious popular girl, the scheming rival girl, the strange little brother and his equally strange best friend, and so forth. And at the center, Ginger—basically a good girl who gets sometimes caught up in her quest for popularity. But if these character types are well used, perhaps it is because they are types that everyone can, on some level, relate to. The key to the charm of As Told by Ginger is the quirky uniqueness of the characters (in spite of the stock character types) coupled with the austere verisimilitude of Ginger's world, animated though it may be. In any case, though I remember my junior high school days with bittersweet fondness, I am grateful that I've moved past it all: trying to fit in among people who think that you're weird, feeling awkward and inadequate while trying to find your place in life, the yearning for the girl who is out of your reach…er, wait a minute…that sounds uncomfortably like my life right now.
I digress. The second of three TV movies produced for the popular animated show, this engaging adventure has redheaded Ginger Foutley (voiced by Batman Beyond regular Melissa Disney) leaving home for the first time to visit the prestigious Avalanche Arts Academy. Ginger is nervous at the thought of going away, but not as nervous as her best friends Macie Lightfoot and Dodie Bishop (Jackie Harris and Aspen Miller), who dread the thought of life without Ginger—even for just one semester. The wealthy and popular Courtney Gripling (Liz Georges, voice of Debra Whitman on Fox's Spider-Man) is also despondent at the thought of a Gingerless Lucky Jr. High—much to the chagrin of the venomous Miranda Killgallen (die-hard animation fans will recognize veteran voice actor Cree Summer, who voiced Penny on Inspector Gadget, Princess Kneesa on Ewoks, and, more recently, Luminara Unduli on Cartoon Network's Clone Wars), who already feels that Ginger has taken too much of Courtney's time from her, and sets a diabolical plan in motion to make sure that Ginger stays away for good! But Ginger's absence has an unexpected side effect, causing Darren Patterson (Kenny Blank, Dead Man on Campus), the boy next door, to re-examine his feelings for her. Meanwhile, Ginger's brother Carl (Jeannie Elias, St. Elsewhere) and his friend Hoodsey Bishop (played by the incredibly prolific Tress MacNeille, who counts Animaniacs, Rugrats, and Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers among her many screen credits) are eager to beat snobbish Blake Gripling (Klasky Csupo regular Kath Soucie) in the annual Winter competition, and discover that their best chance lies with a new friend, Noelle (voiced by series creator Emily Kapnek), and her strange telekinetic powers. But will she have the Yoko effect on Carl and Hoodsey, and destroy their friendship forever?
This feature was entirely enjoyable. Although the animators could have easily chosen the bland and harmless route taken by most children's programming, instead they've provided a sincere story that is well told, with distinctive personalities that linger in your memory long after the feature is over. The show looks good on DVD, too—nice, sharp picture and bold color, coupled with a great audio mix. I thought that the animation was really weird—although, granted, kids that age seem weird to me these days anyway, so there you go. Klasky Csupo animation isn't really my favorite, I'll admit, so I'm somewhat biased; I haven't really been thrilled by anything they've done since Duckman (where's my boxed sets?), probably another reason I abandoned Nicktoons—since, like, half their lineup seems to be animated by that studio. Still, nothing succeeds like success, and Klasky Csupo seems to have had that in spades, as the runaway popularity of Rugrats demonstrates.
Fans of As Told by Ginger will be delighted at the first of the special features: the previously unreleased pilot episode "The Party." Or maybe not—the animation is rough, sloppy, and sometimes blurred; some of the character designs are radically different; and the storyline, involving a coveted invitation to Courtney Gripling's party, is rather bland and uninteresting. The affair looks as if it were never meant for public display, and yet here it is. Clocking in at a brief 12 minutes, this feature is interesting only in comparison to the also-included first episode of the series, "Ginger The Juvey," which takes the basic plot of the pilot and expands it. Here, Ginger is invited to Courtney's surprise birthday party, but is manipulated by the scheming Miranda into stealing the "perfect gift," which predictably lands Ginger and her friends in big trouble. For your time-wasting pleasure, a DVD mystery/trivia game has also been included—"Who Stole Ginger's Journal?"—which will no doubt keep anyone under the age of five years old riveted to the screen. Others may quickly grow bored.
As Told By Ginger: Far From Home is the sort of thing that's great for family viewing—it's great fun and not so incomprehensible that it will leave parents scratching their heads in confusion. The theme song by Macy Gray is rather loud and obnoxious, but hey—you can't have everything. Where would you put it? All in all, well done. Not guilty.
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• Bonus Episodes: "The Party," "Ginger the Juvey"
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