Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Clone Wars Cartoons, Part 2

I will continue my discussion of the Clone Wars cartoons by turning now to the new (2008) animated series. Before delving into it, however, I should point out that I have only (as of the time of writing this) seen five episodes of this series and did NOT see the feature-length pilot movie released in theaters. Even so, I think I've seen enough to make some observations.

In contrast to the traditional, 2D animation of the first Clone Wars cartoons, the new series is done in computer-generated 3D. As such, it is truly some of the best computer animation out there. It is no wonder, considering that Lucasfilm's own animation studio is in charge of it. Except for the stylized treatment of the characters, the rest of the animation (scenery, space-battles, etc.) looks as though it was taken right out of the prequel trilogy films. In a way, I'm glad the animators kept the 'stylized' look of the human(oid) characters, because thus far, nobody has really been able to capture 'realistic' people in 3D animation—most come off looking creepily plastic. 

I have to admit that my initial critique of this show as going to be a lot more negative, but in the effort of being fair, I had to take a step back and really look at the show for what it is. And in doing so, I can't say that it is bad. In fact, it has a few things that recommend it. I think my initial disappointment with it comes from the fact that I really did like what Tartakovsky did with the first series, and to have him pushed aside like that irked me. He is certainly a much better director of action than whoever is in charge of this 3D series. The fights here come off as a lot more machine-like and less kinetic. And I imagine a lot of that has to do with the fact it is computer generated. There is that distinct 'inorganic precision' when characters move that is the downfall of a lot of CG stuff.

In fairness, I have to recognize that this cartoon was obviously designed to appeal to a younger (8-11yr) audience. Because of this, the series has a distinctly 'corny' feel to it, from the incredibly over-dramatic narrator who opens each episode (he sounds a lot like the " the Hall of Justice" guy from the Superfriends) to the incredibly goofy battle droids, who are played heavily for 'comic relief '("roger roger" and even more nonsense of that sort). Fine. Okay, so its a cartoon made for kids. And I have to admit that if I were thirty years younger, it might appeal to me more. 

There is this strange duality to it all—its a kid's show, only it has an awful lot of death in it. Not just droids are being taken down. Clone troopers die in just about every episode, and they make no effort to conceal the fact that clones ARE people. I can't imagine this show being allowed past any children's television censors from the 70's or 80's.. or even 90's. So I think even the producers of this show may be a bit confused—its like they're trying to appeal to kids, but are including factors that are perhaps a bit more violent than the younger range of their demographic should be exposed to. As a result, it leaves me a bit confused. Why make things wacky and goofy one minute to appeal to kids, then violent and serious the next to appeal to adults? Well, okay. I understand. Its called having your cake and eating it too, and (despite how stupid a saying that is) its a problem. 

As far as story lines go, this series is hit and miss. It is hampered a bit by its target audience, dumbing things down to the point where they may be just a bit too obvious even by 8-11 year old standards. As mentioned before, the 'comic relief' droids are VERY prevalent (and annoying) in this show but they pale in comparison to the use of Jar Jar binks. First of all, let me say that I never hated the character in the movies. Annoying? Yes, but I never cared enough about him to hate him. That being said, after ONE Jar Jar episode of Clone Wars, I now hate this Gungan. Though played for comic relief, Jar Jar's 'wacky antics' (he couldn't figure out how his seatbelt worked) wound up directly causing the death of a Republic senator and about a half-dozen clone troopers. Wow. Yeah. That's funny. Hah. Ha. ha. Again, its another direct example of the odd duality of this show. Slapstick is okay for kids. Slapstick that causes death? That's just.. unsettling.

The things that I've seen that recommend this show include the relationship between Anakin and Obi Wan. Finally, we see that the two of them do seem to get along. They do seem to be friends finally, instead of snippy rivals as they're shown in the movies. Likewise, the other Jedi characters (such as Yoda and Plo Koon) are shown to have emotions and personalities other than just your stereotypical jedi master. In the episodes I've seen, both of them show a very reassuring concern for the fates of the Clones under their command. Yoda even seems to know his troopers on a personal level, and has a nice little pep-talk where he points out that though they may be clones, they are people too—distinct and important. 

In fact, the Clone troopers (and the ways they're handled) are proving to be one of the more interesting aspects of this series. One episode places a good deal of focus on the Clones trying to find a traitor in their own ranks. It showcases a bit of how these soldiers interact, how they distinguish themselves and their personalities and even how they feel about their 'forced servitude' to the Republic. It was a refreshingly 'adult' look at a subject nobody ever brought up before—but then again, a subject like this is a bit over the heads of their target market so...yeah. I'm confused again.

Overall, I am a bit more optimistic about this series than I was when it came out. It has tackled some interesting subjects and (if I can get past the droids and Jar Jar) it may be worth it to stick with it while it develops. So far, most of the stories seem to fit in nicely with the continuity of the universe—and without stepping all over the original series. That is something I can appreciate.

Oh, and P.S.: Anakin's spunky 'tween' apprentice? Meh. I don't dislike her. I don't like  her. So far, she hasn't really impressed me as a character, and she comes off as somewhat gimmicky. But we'll see. 

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