Cartoons: How the Clone Wars and Tron: Uprising have raised the bar

Cartoons.

This word almost instantly makes the average adult think of Saturday mornings, when children would be crowded around a television set, bowl of cereal in hand and vegetative to the queries of the parents.

For some of us fogies old enough to remember, Saturday was not only cartoon day, there were also the seemingly LSD-driven Sid and Marty Krofft shows, that, compared to today’s Teletubbies or Yo Gabba Gabba, were totally normal. Who would ever forget Land of the Lost, or H.R. Pufnstuf or Sigmund and the Sea Monsters?

[youtube id=”RlRCH0EKYmM” width=”600″ height=”350″]

There was also, for those even older than I, another tripped out show, The Banana Splits Show. This was a variety show based out of the late ’60s (I would watch this in syndication in the ’70s) which featured one of the first serial shows within its one hour time slot specifically meant for children. This segment, Danger Island, was directed by none other than Richard Donner, of Lethal Weapon and Goonies fame, and starred Jan-Michael Vincent, of Air Wolf fame.

[youtube id=”gtzKQKNSQNo” width=”600″ height=”350″]

Danger Island was in total a three-hour show that was cut into 36 segments, each approximately five minutes in length, and placed in The Banana Splits Show. The episodes would have a cliffhanger ending that would be resolved in the next episode. To me it was genius, and kept kids returning to see what happened to the main character Link (Vincent) and Chongo.

Despite the success of live-action serials, at the time the thought of providing serial cartoons seemed out of the question.

Was it that executives did not want to create a series that spanned the course of an entire season? Were they only trying to create mind-numbing entertainment for the masses? Did they even give a shit? Why doesn’t Donald Duck wear pants? What gas mileage did Speed Buggy get, and did he die if he ran out of gas?

Superheroes have been rife in cartoons since they began, Superman came in the ’40s from Max Fleischer. The ’60s saw a rash of Marvel-based shows: Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Thor, Captain America and Iron Man. Yep Tony Stark was on TV in the ’60s. Imagine if they had made this into the modern theme song for the film.

[youtube id=”0Wn4iYoMcAA” width=”600″ height=”350″]

In the early ’90s X-Men: The Animated Series created several arcing stories that would expand past the average two episodes. This would later be revisited in more X-Men cartoons.

Even Batman: The Animated Series would occasionally create a two-episode arcing story, but even with its prowess as being considered the best cartoon on television and even given a Sunday night time slot after The Simpsons for adults to feel fine about watching it, they did nothing to expand it out. It would remain in the typical cartoon “do not go past two episodes cause no one would watch it” mentality.

Later, in walks a bad boy and his good guy friends with Star Wars: The Clone Wars. It features an season-long serial story, comprised of multiple individual stories and also multiple-episode plots. The stories within the episodes contribute to an overall plot. This plot is based on the film Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of the Sith. It follows the Jedi order in their battle against the Sith and ever so slowly shows the decision making process and eventual weaknesses of Anakin Skywalker that Emperor Palpatine would later exploit to coerce him over to the dark side of the force.

[youtube id=”crdWmdb80wc” width=”600″ height=”350″]

The series is not the first cartoon to ever be created for both children and adults. However, unlike the X-Men series, it has succeeded in bringing multiple generations to the Cartoon Network for 30 minutes at a time. The chance of someone missing a major key point to Anakin’s demise is too great so the fans return each time to experience the exploits of the council.

The show is genius, and is pushing the boundaries of how networks view cartoons. No longer are children alone at the television set. Parents are joining them now, as are people without children, both returning to the television to watch episode after episode. The Clone Wars has reached out its lightsaber-wielding hand and demanded a nation, nay – a world, to watch the show.

Now Disney XD has followed suit. They have released a story-arc show that provides entertainment and bridges the gap between the films Tron and Tron: Legacy.

[youtube id=”gv5Bvr5ePOw” width=”600″ height=”350″]

Tron is another show that has individual episodes or two-part episodes. However the show is based around the actions of the protagonist, Beck, and his mentor, the injured Tron himself.  Together they are training Beck to fill the shoes of Tron to fight against the rule of Clu, and his general Tesler.

The cartoon is adult enough to be enjoyed and still keep children involved as well. Reminiscent of the animation style in the old Aeon Flux cartoon, Tron: Uprising combines action and adventure into a twisting story plot that will eventually explain to us how Tron becomes Rinzler from Tron: Legacy, and where Beck disappeared to before the film.

The stories are smart, detailed, and show us the depth of how far Clu and his reign will go to ensure the programs in the grid, or in this case Argon City, know that he is in charge. There is as of yet, and we’re 4 episodes into the series, no mention of Kevin Flynn, The hero of the first film and the creator of the world inside the computer known as the Grid.

The cartoon is shaping up to take the lessons learned from the Clone Wars and expand on them. It is engaging and the voice cast is superb, including Elijah Wood as Beck, Lance Henriksen as Tesler, Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman) as Pavel and Mandy Moore as Mara.

This ensemble is more reminiscent of a film cast, rather than a cartoon vocalization cast. Paul Reubens, again, has proven that he is not just a single character, but is able to personify any character he tries. His character is outstandingly slimy and at the same time the best “Yes Man” I have seen.

Beck, played by Wood, is equally deep. His character is conflicted by his new alter ego who is known as the Renegade, or to others as Tron. He sees the consequences that his actions against General Tesler and Clu are having on the people of Argon City.

Overall, the future of cartoons needs to be rethought and expanded on these new principals. The future of cartoons needs not only be in the hands of children. There is also a huge adult fan base, larger than previously thought. Looking at the popularity of Anime films and shows should demonstrate this point to studio executives. The popularity of these new shows should also prove to them that a cartoon with a deep story for adults, and that’s entertaining enough for children, can be as popular as any prime time show out there.

These two examples are based on their popular film franchises. Whether or not the networks will plan something that is original, or maybe based on a comic book, is yet to be seen. But if done right, as these two are, it has the possibility of being just as popular.

Maybe it is time in the United States to take a lesson from the large number of adult based cartoons available on television in Japan and create an adult Anime style show of our own?

I would love to hear your thoughts and invite you to leave your input below. Please rate the shows I talked about and let us know what you think of them.