Archive | April 2015

Episode Review: Star vs The Forces of Evil (Season 1, Episode 1 ) – Star Comes To Earth / Party With A Pony

In the last few years, one of the most surprising names to be seen associated with television animation, is Walt Disney Studios. In the 80’s and 90’s, their television division hit it big with The Disney Afternoon lineup of after-school animated shows. Since then, there’s been almost nothing like it…until now.

The company launched an additional cable channel in 2009, called DisneyXD. Along with some live-action series, the channel is home to some popular animated series, embraced by many different age groups. These include shows such as Gravity Falls, Star Wars Rebels, and in the last month, Star vs The Forces of Evil.

The story of a Princess who comes to Earth from another dimension, officially premiered in late March, and garnered the highest ratings for a DisneyXD program debut, since the release of Star Wars Rebels. I didn’t discover it until around episode 3…and it quickly hooked me. In fact, so much so, that I decided to review each and every episode of Season 1.

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- Star Comes to Earth -

– Star Comes to Earth –

On her 14th Birthday, Star Butterfly, Princess of the Kingdom of Mewni, obtains her family’s ancestral wand…and within a matter of seconds, plunges the kingdom into chaos. Her parents then send her to Earth to “train,” enrolling her at Echo Creek Academy, and setting her up to live with the Diaz family. The Diaz’s also have a son at the school named Marco, who serves as Star’s “guide.”

Right off the bat, the show quickly reveals how Star is a little quirky (though a Princess, she likes to fight monsters, and even tame wild unicorns). While she does seem easily distracted and rather excitable, she isn’t completely crazy. When she accidentally opens a black hole in Marco’s room, she shows remorse for her spell-casting ability to not be perfect. That ability for her to not just be a brainless magical girl, helped make me want to see more of where her character would go.

Of course, it’s not like Star doesn’t have some fears regarding what her actions can entail. One of the most fun gags is Star’s fear of being sent to St Olga’s Reform School for Wayward Princesses. The sequence is brief, but it cracks me up every time I see it.

Marco Diaz serves as a great friend to Star as well. Though considered “the safe kid” by several in school, it is quickly established that Marco knows karate, and seeing him in action, made me excited for the fact that both he and Star can fight their own battles. The dynamic reminds me of Kim Possible and Ron Stoppable, and I mean that in the best way.

The episode also helps establish who Star’s main adversary is: a little bird-creature named Ludo, and his army of thuggish minions. His main goal is to obtain Star’s magic wand, though just what he intends to do with it, is left to our imagination.

Unlike some series that spend an entire (full) first episode laying out all the rules, this first segment only clocks in at 11 minutes, and serves moreso to give us a taste of what we can possibly expect to come down the pike. The segment is a little more talk-than-show at times, but as long as the talking leads to us understanding a little more, I’m all for it.

In conclusion, Star Comes To Earth is definitely an intriguing way to start off a new series.

Final Segment Grade: B+

Best Star Butterfly line from segment: “I had no idea these were your parents! I just assumed everyone on Earth had the last name Diaz!”

Best Star Butterfly line from segment: “I had no idea these were your parents! I just assumed everyone on Earth had the last name Diaz!”

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- Party With A Pony -

– Party With A Pony –

What Marco thinks is going to be a simple night of eating nachos with Star, turns into a royal pain, when Star’s best friend from Mewni, Princess Pony Head, stops by wanting to party with Star…and, she doesn’t seem at all happy to have met Marco. Star proposes that Marco come along on the proposed dimensional romp, certain that her two “besties” will become “besties” with each other.

Pony Head re-introduces us to the concept of ‘dimensional scissors’ from the first episode, which allows one to cut open dimensional portals. Here we get our first glimpse of other dimensions besides Mewni, though moreso the kind of hangouts for young, inter-dimensional beings.

Continuing on from the fast friendship in the first episode, it is nice to see Marco and Star communicating on a person-to-person basis, with Star seeming to find almost no problems with wanting to have a larger circle of friends within friends.

Sadly, for those who watch cartoons, one can easily start gleaning where the story is going as soon as Pony Head narrows her eyes at Marco. We’ve all seen that episode where the best friends of the main friend, don’t quite see eye-to-eye.

Jenny Slate voices the unrefined Pony Head, with a sassy whine that seemed familiar. Looking on IMDB, I soon realized she was also the annoying mother of Ted in the animated Lorax film. I will give this to Jenny: she can annoy like the dickens with that voice of hers!

There is an attempt to end the episode on a resolved angle, but it feels like it just becomes a little too by-the-book regarding problem and resolution.

One bright spot is Brian H Kim’s music throughout the segments, with Princess Pony Head’s theme seeming similar to the electronic sounds of Giorgio Moroder. He also works to give each dimension its own unique musical sound.

Personally, this segment might have seemed more proper to being included in the second episode. Maybe this second segment of the first episode, could have been better used to show Star interacting more on Earth, and establishing more of the supporting characters she and Marco encounter at school, and on a daily basis.

Final Segment Grade: B-

Best Star Butterfly line from segment: “He's the best turd I've ever known.”

Best Star Butterfly line from segment: “He’s the best turd I’ve ever known.”

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The first episode of Star vs The Forces of Evil, gives a pretty decent introduction with its first segment, Star Comes to Earth. Unfortunately, Party with a Pony takes a familiar story trope, and wraps it up in a story that plays a little too close to the chest. Even so, the episode does provide key story elements for future episodes.

*Coming up in my review of Episode 2, Star decides to play match maker, and gives her all to help Echo Creek Academy against their rivals in an upcoming football game.*

Season 1, Episode 2 – *Match Maker / School Spirit*

Episode Review: Star vs The Forces of Evil (Season 1, Episode 5 ) – Diaz Family Vacation / Brittney’s Party

 After 4 episodes, we’ve gotten to explore the different worlds that Star Butterfly, and Marco Diaz inhabit. We’ve seen them interact on Earth, fight monsters, and take a few dimensional trips here and there. Episode 5 continues to develop their world, with the segments Diaz Family Vacation, and Brittney’s Party.

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 – Diaz Family Vacation –

– Diaz Family Vacation –

After a brief chat with her parents by way of her magic mirror, Star is informed by Marco about his parent’s wedding anniversary. Wanting to get them something for being “cool,” Star tells Marco’s parents that she’s taking the entire family to Mewni as her present to them…even though she’s not supposed to travel outside of Earth (or even possess ‘dimensional scissors’ to get the Diaz family to her world).

Star figures she can get by with guiding the Diaz family around the poorer areas of the kingdom, but panics when she sees her father is out amongst the common-folk. She then decides to detour the Diaz family into The Forest of Certain Death, where numerous creatures lurk.

A highlight of the episode is seeing a little more of the Land of Mewni, of which we were only introduced to about 5 minutes worth in the premiere episode. However, we get to see it as a kingdom built on layers, with the lower-class living in a European-style village. The showrunners attempt to wring some gags out of the weird locals, but it’s only marginally humorous.

Speaking of humorous, Marco’s parents are their usual, happy-go-lucky selves, with some of their humorous moments almost made from them being a little un-pc at times.

The journey into The Forest of Certain Death is where the episode really starts to pick up, showcasing some more of the different creature designs of this alternate dimension. As well, I’m sure many will be surprised how one of the more notable creatures is handled by Star and Marco.

An added highlight, is that we even get some time with Star’s father, which helped place another piece into the puzzle of just who Star Butterfly is.

Much like Quest Buy and Party with a Pony, this is another inter-dimensional romp that makes us wonder what more we could see if the episode had been longer. Like those two, I can just hope these are dimensional worlds we’ll be exploring in more detail in the future. After all, there’s bound to be more to Mewni…than meets the eye…

Final Segment Grade: B

Best Star Butterfly line from segment: “So this is what it's like, to be bored to death.

Best Star Butterfly line from segment: “So this is what it’s like to be bored to death.”

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– Brittney's Party –

– Brittney’s Party –

Echo Creek Academy’s head-cheerleader Brittney Wong is throwing an invite-only Birthday Party. When Brittney tells Star she can come to the party “when pigs fly,” Star conjures one up and immediately assumes she’s in…not realizing Brittney meant it as a figure-of-speech.

Later on that evening, Star transports herself and Marco onto Brittney’s party bus, much to the head cheerleader’s ire.  It also doesn’t help that Marco gets car-sick easily, and Ludo and his minions show up to hijack the bus.

A plus regarding this episode, was a continuation of the Marco Diaz/Jackie Lynn Thomas story dynamic, albeit briefly. We also see some callbacks to some of the other characters on the school’s cheer team, as introduced in the episode 2 segment, School Spirit. One notable is Sabrina, who ended up in a wheelchair in.that episode. Given what she went through in that segment and in Brittney’s Party, it looks like she’s going to become a regular “victim” in regards to pain, from both Brittney, and external forces.

We get to see some more of Star’s schoolmates, and her interaction with them too.  She’s super-friendly to everyone, including someone as snarky as Brittney Wong. However, even her best intentions do nothing to quell Brittney’s ice-queen demeanor.

The dynamic of Brittney Wong not being at all happy about Star crashing her party seems to work as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, Brittney is used to being the “it” girl, and it seems that Star is taking away the focus from “her” party. Star however, has no intentions of taking attention away from Brittney, but just wants (like during her days at school), to make sure everyone at the party is having a good time!

Of course, the fact that Star can do all sorts of magical things that cause everyone at the party to cheer, quickly gets on Brittney’s nerves. As well, Ms Wong does do a few things that might make her less-likable to some viewers (I think those who see the episode will know what they are).

The inclusion of Ludo and his gang, seems a little flimsy, almost as a way to patch up the third act of the 11-minute segment, to make the party go out with a bang. Even so, I can’t help but think this is the most I’ve ever laughed at Ludo in a particular episode. Alan Tudyk’s vocal work definitely makes me smile every time I’ve watched the segment.

Final Segment Grade: B

Best Star Butterfly line from segment: “I'm-go-ing-to-her-par-teeeeeee.

Best Star Butterfly line from segment: “I’m-go-ing-to-her-par-teeeeeee.”

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Overall, Episode 5 was middle-of-the-road when it came to being entertaining. Diaz Family Vacation was the highlight, in showing us a little more of Mewni, and Star Butterfly’s father. Brittney’s Party tries to balance itself between the effervescent Star Butterfly, and the snarky Brittney Wong, but never quite manages to make itself wholly entertaining. One almost has to dig through it to find choice moments that stick.

Best honorable mention line from episode: “Flyin' pig don't need this!

Best honorable mention line from episode: “Flyin’ pig don’t need this!” *snort*

As of this article’s posting, word is that a number of shows on DisneyXD are going to be on hiatus for the month of May, including Star vs The Forces of Evil.

My intentions were to do weekly reviews of the show during Season 1, though the lack of new shows for the next few weeks, means I’ll be going back and doing episode reviews for the first three episodes, as I just started reviewing the show in the last week.

A month-long hiatus will also be interesting, in regards to seeing how the current fans deal with the wait, as well as how many new fans will be gained, and be chomping at the bit when episode 6 comes out in June.

Retro Recaps: The Adventures of Pete and Pete ( Season 1, Episode 10) – What We Did on Our Summer Vacation

As Nickelodeon moved out of the 80’s and into the 90’s, they continued (like other cable TV channels) to see where they could go regarding programming. And thus, original, unconventional programming found its way to kids everywhere.

One of the most well-known shows from the Nickelodeon cable channel, is The Adventures of Pete and Pete. What started as a few minutes of two brothers named Pete (and a girl named Ellen), soon snowballed into a weekly series that ran on Nickelodeon for several years in the 90’s.

Taking place in Wellsville USA, (big) Pete (played by Michael C Maronna) and (little) Pete (played by Danny Tamberelli) were often at the forefront of weekly adventures, of which (big)Pete would narrate. It seemed normal enough, but there was plenty of weirdness to be had. As if the boys’ mom having a metal plate in her head wasn’t strange enough, the boys and their friends also had a personal superhero: the tights-wearing, facially-spastic Artie (“the strongest man, in the world”).

I recall watching some of the episodes, but was never a big fan of Pete and Pete. Even so, there were plenty of episodes that spring to mind when I think back to yesteryear. Out of the three seasons, there was one that definitely stood out (most likely because it was in many of the TV commercials for the series).

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The episode starts with (big) Pete, reminiscing about their recent summer vacation. He then begins to tell of the sights and sounds of what summer brings: the landscaping wars between his father and a neighbor, the lengthening of your shadow, and the thundering sound of more electricity surging through local powerlines.

For the local kids of Wellsville, there is one day they all look forward to. On the first really hot day of summer, an ice cream man named Mr Tastee rolls into town in his Tastee-mobile, and hangs around serving cold treats until the final day of summer.

Unlike your conventional ice cream vendor, Mr Tastee is never without his swirly-topped head, which causes many of the kids to wonder who he really is. The only clue so far, is from a blind millionairess in town, who calls him: “Leonard.”

While the Pete brothers are exploring the summer with few cares, (big) Pete’s friend Ellen (played by Alison Fanelli) has a job at the QwikPik photo booth, in the local mall’s parking lot. One day, Ellen shows Pete and Pete a shocking thing: photos that were developed, from a person simply known as, “Tastee.” Eager to quell the mystery that has plagued the local kids, they break QwikPik company protocol, and look through the pictures.

They do belong to Mr Tastee alright…but in each picture, he’s still wearing the giant swirly-head, keeping the mystery alive! Seeing Mr Tastee by himself in all of them, Ellen can’t help but think that he looks lonely in his pictures, and the group begins to wonder: for being such a nice guy, does their summer savior have any friends?

Over the next few days, the group visits Mr Tastee on his stops, trying to get him to open up beyond just talking about the treats he sells, but Mr Tastee doesn’t provide them with anything concrete.

One day, they attempt to invite Mr Tastee to go fishing, but he declines, claiming he has to wax the Tastee-mobile. When they offer to help him, even here he refuses. The more they try to get him to open up, the more defensive the ice cream man becomes, before finally just giving them each a Blue Tornado Bar, claiming the sweets are “all they really need.”

“They’re just popsicles,” retorts Ellen.

“Exactly,” replies Mr Tastee. “And I’m just an ice cream man, and you’re just my customers, and that’s the way it has to be.”

Reluctantly, the trio take their Blue Tornado Bars, and Tastee rolls away…but the next day, he doesn’t show up. Or the day after that. Pretty soon, a heatwave takes hold, and the kids are unsure what to do, as Mr Tastee seems to have vanished!

Hope comes when Artie (The Strongest Man in the World), uses his super-sight, and far off (in Kentucky!), catches a faint glimpse of the Tastee-mobile!

Ellen and the Pete’s then start a major plan of action to try and find where Mr Tastee is. Ellen violates more QwikPik regulations, looking through customer photos, in which several show Mr Tastee or his truck in the background. (big) Pete also mans a local phonebooth, in which a hotline number has been posted to numerous fliers that have gone up arond the country. And even (little) Pete takes up watch on a local high-dive board.

Eventually, the Pete’s and their parents go to Cloghaven Beach, as part of a regular summer ritual the family performs. While wandering around, (big) Pete comes across a scummy-looking ice cream vendor named Captain Scrummy (played by REM‘s Michael Stipe). Pete inquires if the man has any Blue Tornado Bars, but all Scrummy has for sale are sludgesicles, claiming the sale of the Blue Tornado is only through Mr Tastee.

Figuring that maybe the Captain is in-the-know, he inquires if he knows where Mr Tastee is. Scrummy says he has no clue, but there was rumor of some nosy kids who ran him out of town.

When Pete claims that maybe these kids just wanted to be friends with Tastee, Scrummy gets defensive. He also tells how that giant swirly-head serves a purpose: to keep kids from asking personal questions.

“Why?” asks Pete. “What are you guys so afraid of?”

“Look,” explains Capt Scrummy. “Aren’t we here on the first hot day of every summer? Don’t we carry 49 different flavorrific flavors like ‘Pineapple Blurt?’ What else do you want from us?”

The question catches Pete off guard, and he ponders Scrummy’s words.

Eventually, the sights and sounds of summer begin to fade, and it feels that Mr Tastee may be gone for good. As August turns to September, and the weather begins to chill, (little) Pete steps down from the high-dive board, calling off his search efforts.

As the kids begin to disassemble their base camp in the photo booth, a knock comes on the window…and the kids are surprised to see Mr Tastee!

He tells the kids that he was surprised to see the fliers looking for him all over America, though returned to pick up his photos that had been developed during the first weeks of summer.

When Ellen tells how they missed him, Mr Tastee pleads with her not to say things like that, claiming that having friends is hard on a person who only comes around for a few months out of the year. When (big) Pete tells Tastee he doesn’t need to go, Tastee claims he HAS to go.

“I’m an ice cream man,” Tastee explains. “I am what the summer is: fireflies, thunderstorms, butt sweat on the car seat. And when it all goes, I have to go with it.”

When Ellen requests if maybe he can stay a little longer, Tastee offers the group a consolation: they can help him wax the Tastee-mobile before the sun sets. They accept the invite, and the trio emerge from the photo booth to help him (with (little) Pete waxing Tastee’s swirly-head as well).

Finally, the wax job is complete, and the sun has almost set. Tastee promises he’ll be back as usual next year, but before he goes, requests if he can get a Polaroid shot of himself with the kids. Once it’s developed, he places it on the dash of the Tastee-mobile, and drives away. As the kids watch him go, (big) Pete gives his final words on their summer mystery:

“Noone knows who he is or where he comes from, and probably noone ever will. I guess some things are supposed to stay a mystery. All we know is that he’s more than just an ice cream man. We’re more than just his customers. And when it comes to people missing you, it’s really not that terrible at all.”

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The childhood tradition of ice cream trucks rolling through the neighborhood was not a common thing where I grew up in Iowa. I do recall some that criss-crossed around my Grandma’s neighborhood in California. Though much like how Mr Tastee and Captain Scrummy tell of their positions in the world of summer, the people in the trucks were just there to dispense cold treats. The closest our family had to a Mr Tastee or our own, was the local Dairy Queen owner who I only know as Mr Roberts. He was a constant fixture at his location, always with a kind word for our family, and perfectly topped each ice cream serve with the typical DQ swirl on top.

Though in Wellsville, because Mr Tastee is such a regular in these kids’ lives, one can almost see why they would be concerned for his well-being. There is a scene where (little) Pete has no money, but offers Tastee a nasty-looking bug in a jar as trade for a Blue Tornado Bar- and Tastee obliges! Oftentimes, it’s the little things that make all the difference.

The search for Tastee almost feels like it serves two purposes. On one hand, (little) Pete and his young friends, seem a little more enamored around Tastee because of the “bodacious” Blue Tornado Bars he has, and want that return of normalcy to their summer experiences. In the case of (big) Pete and Ellen, they are a little older, and are more concerned about ‘who’ Tastee is as a person. That dynamic of “what does Mr Tastee mean to you,” probably helps make it stand out. The writing also is fun, notably in the speeches given during the show (of which most of the recap is filled with). Tastee’s speech about how he “is what the summer is,” is funny, but also a little sad in its own right.

The ending where he allows the kids to wax the Tastee-mobile, and include them in a picture, shows that he may have softened on his policies about getting too close to his customers. Not to say the Petes and Ellen are his friends, but maybe these gestures are his way of simply saying, “thank you for caring about me so much.”

With Summer Vacation, the sub-stories do get a little ridiculous seeing Artie doing battle with a wily Queen Bee, as well as (little) Pete ticking off the local pool’s lifeguard by continuing to keep jumping (and jumping) off the high-dive board until the authority figure snaps…though the weirdest bit is when the the Petes and their parents finds a 1978 Oldsmobile buried in the sands at Cloghaven beach. Of course, the show is just strange enough that one can accept it. Even (big) Pete casually tells Ellen about their find, as if they had just found a usable pair of shoes by the curb.

The episode serves as an interesting time-capsule as well: a world in which phonebooths existed, and parking lot photo booths were in their twilight years (I’ve seen a few turned into to-go coffee huts these days).

The best part I feel, is that in the end, the mystery of who Mr Tastee is, lives on. Though personally, I can’t help but speculate if he laid low for awhile, and assumed the identity of Captain Scrummy. The way Scrummy mentioned about a “rumor of nosy kids,” and then got defensive about Pete asking questions as well, almost seems like the other side of Tastee coming out.

The episode also reminded me of the structure of one of the best films about kids on a summer adventure: The Sandlot. Much like how that film was a narrative with a main story snaking through it, there were plenty of little side-stories popping up here and there with Summer Vacation as well.

Since seeing this episode, I’ve caught up on about a dozen more episodes of Pete and Pete, and I must say it is quirky, but still entertaining after almost 2 decades, actually seeming to get better with age unlike some shows from my youth. Maybe a few more episodes will be brought into the realms of Retro Recaps in the future.

Episode Review: Star vs The Forces of Evil (Season 1, Episode 4 ) – Cheer Up, Star/Quest Buy

4 episodes in, and I can’t believe I’ve become hooked on DisneyXD’s new series, Star vs The Forces of Evil. The adventures of Princess Star Butterfly and earthling Marco Diaz, has already captivated me with its hand-drawn animation, emotionally engaging characters, and storylines that are just weird enough without being too ridiculous. In fact, it’s worked so well, that I’m intending to review every single episode for the rest of Season 1. Personally, I can’t recall the last time an animated series has claimed me as a fan almost from the very beginning.

Episode 4 brings us two segments, entitled Cheer Up, Star, and Quest Buy. So let’s jump right in to gauge my thoughts on these segments.

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- Cheer Up, Star -

– Cheer Up, Star –

The episode starts with Star and Marco already being attacked by Ludo and his monster army. However, Star is perplexed as to just how/why Ludo is attacking them. Marco then explains the events that led to their current predicament: a twisted, sticky, heartbreaking tale that involved ‘the worst day ever,’ fish, musicians with records, and…”Space Unicorns.”

I will give the writers credit for throwing us halfway into the story, and then back-tracking to the beginning. Marco’s ‘worst day ever’ is pretty by-the-book, but Star’s fascination with a young musician named Oskar is rather cute, as she hopes he’ll call her (though on Marco’s cellphone). Composer Brian H Kim ups the ‘feels’ with a wonderful little music-box piece as Star waits by her phone. I was always enthralled by little emotional moments like these in other cartoons, and this one here definitely helped sway my feelings for the episode.

As well, there’s some fun little comedic moments, where we see both Marco and Star trying to cheer each other up regarding their sad moods during the segment. I’m not the easiest person to make laugh, but I actually found these comedy moments amusing, and a few of them are still stuck in my head. That’s what sold me on the story: the little things the characters do. I’m sure the storyboard artists were a major help in realizing a lot of what made this episode entertaining.

Speaking of little things, Eden Sher really adds an extra dimension with what she does with Star’s voice. From her trembling sigh thinking about Oskar, to her annoyance at being interrupted during a phone call.

Much like the episode School Spirit, this one plays around with Star’s foreign naivete, with her misunderstanding that Oskar has “a record.” There’s also a fun little callback to the 2nd episode’s segment titled Match Maker, in that we briefly see Star’s “F-” test paper as she waits for Oskar to call.

Marco’s parents are nowhere to be found in the episode, but a fun little game for repeat viewers, is to examine all the odds and ends in their backyard shed. There’s quite a few art supplies in there…including an animation disc! Someone on Twitter even wondered: were Marco’s parents former animators?

A fun item that may stick in most peoples heads, is the ringtone on Marco’s phone: the song Space Unicorn, by Parry Gripp. Much like Everything is Awesome is to The LEGO Movie, I could see Space Unicorn really becoming associated with the show very soon, given its catchy and fun-sounding nature.

Final Segment Grade: B+

Best Star Butterfly line from episode: *laughing*

Best Star Butterfly line from segment: *laughing* “I’m in a fish!”

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- Quest Buy -

– Quest Buy –

When Star loses the charger to her magic wand, she and Marco make a dimensional jump to the maze-like Quest Buy, a labyrinthine store that has everything…even a run-in with Ludo and his gang on a shopping excursion.

The concept of a magic wand needing power (albeit, magical power), is a rather fun gag to go on, though they do try to add a ticking clock mechanism to the plot, claiming the wand will forever cease to function without a charge. I guess we can just assume Star’s parents and ancestors were just more careful with keeping the wand powered up?

This is also the first episode since Party with a Pony, where we’ve found ourselves in another dimension. I must admit, I LOVE the concept of Quest Buy, which is like a neverending CostCo/Best Buy/Fry’s Electronics/etc with very little information on where to find anything…which is how most of those stores are in real life! The dilemma of finding the right charger for Star’s wand, reminded me of this past December, when my Dad and I found ourselves looking over dozens of HDMI cables, unsure which would be the right one for his TV and Blu-Ray player.

It’s also fun to see Ludo and his minions also attempting to just be ordinary, everyday creatures doing daily things. We get a few little jokes here-and-there in Quest Buy as well, notably regarding the nonchalant “sloths” working the floor that provide little assistance (“that’s not my department”).

There’s also a little subplot about messiness vs orderliness, though luckily it doesn’t get too front-and-center. It’s definitely one of several items that pop up but don’t overstay their welcome.

The episode is also one of the first where Star’s magic wand is unable to get her and Marco out of a tight spot, leaving the two to work together with their strengths and mental powers.

Though it is entertaining, the episode does feel a tad rushed in places. Star and Marco encounter a Sphinx and even booby-traps, but one can’t help but feel that the concept of being lost in a maze-like store might have been better suited for a full 22-minute episode. After all, for a place called Quest Buy, one can only imagine the kinds of madness its customers encounter. Then again, whose to say we might not find ourselves back in this dimension for another crazy purchase in the future?

Final Segment Grade: B

Best Star line from episode:

Best Star Butterfly line from segment: “It’s possessed…I’m gonna touch it…”

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In conclusion, Episode 4’s segments were a pretty entertaining duo. On one hand, we got to see some emotion between Star and Marco with Cheer Up, Star. And on the other end, we visited another of the myriad dimensions this series has to offer, with Quest Buy.

*Coming up in Episode 5, Star Butterfly brings the Diaz family to her home world of Mewni, and ends up attending a Birthday Party for Echo Creek Academy’s head-cheerleader, Brittney Wong. What wonders/craziness will unfold? We’ll find out soon enough.*

Season 1, Episode 5 – *Diaz Family Vacation / Brittney’s Party*

An Animated Dissection: Thoughts on Star Vs The Forces of Evil

Let’s face it, a lot of animation that comes out of Japan has permeated into our culture, and caused many of us to look beyond the notable mainstays of our own native lands of North America, and what its animation landscape is (which in retrospect, is rather limited when it comes to certain realms of imagination).

One of the more popular tropes of Japanese Anime, has been the one dubbed “Magical Girl.” Oftentimes, this trope involves an otherworldly girl, who comes to Earth with magic powers or weapons, and a slew of strange and otherworldly instances or creatures, that seem intent on destroying her, or the Magical Girl’s new homeworld. This trope has been seen in the past, in such series as Sailor Moon, Urusei Yatsura, and Ah! My Goddess.

These series have often been thought of fondly by many, and have inspired many of today’s artists. If you saw or enjoyed these shows, you might find yourself surprised by the new DisneyXD series, Star Vs The Forces of Evil.

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In the dimensional Kingdom of Mewni, teenage princess Star Butterfly, is finally of age to obtain her royal family’s prized wand…however, it doesn’t take long before her over-excited and bubbly nature, causes plenty of chaos (it doesn’t help that she also likes to fight monsters). Rather than do something productive and talk to their daughter, her parents decide to send her to Earth so she can “train,” but most likely an excuse to keep her out of their hair.

After enrolling her in a local school in Echo Creek (which I’m assuming is in California), Star is placed with the Diaz Family, whose son Marco is given the task of showing her around, and getting her acclimated to her new home(world).

 

Character-wise, I expected the worst from Star Butterfly, but the writers have actually managed to balance her out pretty well. While she can get over-excited at times, she doesn’t mean to be a bubbly force of destruction (most of the time). She has her little moments of quiet, as well as understanding if something doesn’t quite work out properly. Eden Sher’s vocals are definitely a little different than what I expected from the pictures of Star. Instead of being typically high, Eden’s voice hits at a mid-level, which took me a little while to warm up to. However, she definitely nails a lot of the little ‘manic’ and expressive moments for Star so well, that the voice started to grow on me.

The show writers also have fun regarding the different ways that Star calls up her attacks. They’re often randomly combined words that seem to unleash powers and abilities one wouldn’t consider (like “Syrup Tsunami Shockwave”). Of course, some she doesn’t pronounce properly, or understand their meanings…which can lead to funny scenarios with a little chaos thrown in. And just like a person from another country, there’s plenty of opportunities for verbal misunderstandings, that can lead to intriguing stories.

Marco Diaz serves as a fun counterpoint to Star. Though considered “the safe kid,” Marco is mainly a guy who likes order at times, but also seems to thirst for a little adventure…which he seems to have gotten in spades. I do like what Adam McArthur brings to Marco voice-wise. He really nails both the highs and lows of the character’s emotional moments.

Some of what has happened so far, reminds me of why I loved the anime/manga series, Urusei Yatsura. That series also had a magical girl (a green-haired, bikini-wearing alien princess named Lum), but one who, like Star, would often dabble in things that seemed a combination of magic, and Science Fiction. That’s definitely the case in a few scenarios I’ve seen so far. A great example are ‘dimensional scissors,’ which allows one to snip open a hole into other dimensions.

And much like Urusei, Star’s presence seems to definitely invite the weird and the strange to come forth, and change around Marco’s average little life…which definitely helps, as he seems more than ready to jump into some of the adventures Star drags him into.

Watching the show, the art style feels like a fan-crazed mashup of several different series, such as Sailor Moon, Ren & Stimpy, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, and The Powerpuff Girls (to name a few). Plus, what I thought would be cheaply-done animation, isn’t the case here. There’s some wonderful little bits of animation follow-through in some actions within the show, and some amazingly subtle little touches here and there. Those with an eye for such things I feel, will appreciate the little touches.

The show gets some high marks from me, on also not trying to push Star and Marco into ‘immediate couples territory.’ Both characters have other characters they have an interest in, and it is refreshing to see the two playing off each other in certain scenarios, as just being “friends.” As well, both are able to handle things pretty well on their own, with each fighting their own battles if need be (Marco knows karate). That ability for both Marco and Star to be on a level playing field, is also a great concept, and at times, reminded me a little of the adventures of Kim Possible, and Ron Stoppable.

The dynamic of the blonde-haired/blue-eyed girl being the “foreign particle” in the Diaz family is also a fun way of shaking up social norms. Luckily (so far), we haven’t had some crazy ex-government guy who wants to expose Star as some alien girl and take away her wand. My one hope is that the majority of future stories will continue to largely be accepting of Star, as if a girl with a magic-spewing wand is just an everyday thing. After all, that was often the norm in most anime series.

In regards to “The Forces of Evil” as mentioned in the show’s title, the series wastes no time in giving us the evilly diminutive bird-creature named Ludo, and his strange army of thuggish monsters. Maybe one day we’ll know just how Ludo set his sights on trying to take down Star, but for now, we’re just in-the-know that he mainly wants her family wand for his own nefarious purposes.

Of course, what would an adventuresome romp through dimensions and monster fights be, without some catchy music? Composer Brian H Kim is the main music man on the series, and he infuses the episodes with the kind of action-packed, yet emotional music that is sure to hit just the right spot for anime-soundtrack lovers. Brian has even posted musical cues from the show on his Tumblr site, which allows one to really hear how he tends to give each episode its own unique flavor.

As of the writing of this blog posting, only 4 episodes have been release for Star Vs The Forces of Evil. However, the storylines and structure have me eager to see just where they can take the series.

As well, most shows these days either run a full 22 minutes, or are split up into two 11-minute segments. Star is a show that has gone the 11-minute route, and manages to handle fitting its stories into these time allotments quite well. Some shows feel severely truncated when placed in these time restrictions, but this show manages to get in and get out with plenty of time to spare regarding some of the story plots. One has to wonder if in the future, maybe some stories will get bigger, and require a full 22-minutes.

With word that a second season has already been approved, I may find myself reviewing Season 1 overall when the dust has settled. Given how the series has been received so far, it’s possible it could be a huge hit for Disney, on the same level as Gravity Falls.

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Final Grade: B+

Final Thoughts: Star Vs The Forces of Evil is just wild and weird enough to be a new series that can play by its own rules, though not quite as much of an open playing field as Adventure Time.The main characters are definitely likable, and play off of each other quite well, with stories that can take place with Star and Marco working together, or on differing storylines. As well, the worlds and concepts provide plenty of opportunities for visiting new worlds, or for having some of Star’s interplanetary friends drop by. As outlined in the paragraphs above, I also feel it hits that sweet spot for those who love anime and manga.

An Animated Dissection: Thoughts on Inspector Gadget (2015)

As a young child, the one thing that could often rouse me out of bed before 8 am, were early-morning cartoons. One of my earliest memories was waking up at my Grandma’s in California in the mid-1980’s, and turning the TV on at 7 am to watch Inspector Gadget.

The show was simple enough: a bumbling detective with an arsenal of gadgets, would be tasked with solving a case, but it would ultimately be solved by his niece Penny, and her intelligent dog, Brain. Almost all of the cases would involve the unseen Dr Claw, and his evil syndicate known as M.A.D.

Much like Transformers of that same era, my viewings of the series didn’t go beyond it’s first iteration. In the last 30 years, the series has been reworked many times. While many of us know of the film versions made by Walt Disney Pictures, the basis for Gadget would be reworked into numerous other television series, such as Gadget Boy, and Gadget and the Gadgetinis. There were also a couple direct-to-video movies made in the early 2000’s, but from most reviews, their subject matter was pretty terrible.

Last fall, word came out that a revival/re-imagining of Inspector Gadget was happening. DHX Media and Teletoons were working on the production, that was recently picked up to run on Netflix, as part of their Original Series lineup.

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Taking place some (untold) years after Inspector Gadget defeated Dr Claw, Claw’s handsome-yet-annoying nephew, named Talon (Claw…Talon…get it?), thaws him out of an iceberg, and plots with his Uncle to rebuild the M.A.D. crime syndicate.

With word of Claw’s return, the organization named HQ, brings Gadget out of retirement to stop him. Currently, Gadget’s niece Penny has worked her way into HQ, becoming an Agent-in-Training, and now officially gets to assist Gadget on his new missions. Given our current tech-filled era, the series has upgraded some of the character’s accoutrements. Gone are Penny’s computer book and wrist watch. In their place, are floating projection screens that she can utilize to retrieve information, or control certain things.

Another plus is that unlike the iterations following the 1999 live-action film, the Gadgetmobile is simply a transforming car (without a voice!). There is even a moment in this series where we see the original Gadgetmobile from the 1980’s…before it crumbles to dust given its age.

There are also some minor character nods to the original series, in the naming of some supporting characters. One notable is Professor Von Slickstein, who was originally an older scientist who had given Gadget his gadgets in the first place. Here, he’s a younger scientist, who also seems to be a little more ‘trendy’ when it comes to certain things. As well, Chief Quimby is back to brief Gadget on his missions, and manages to resemble his first animated counterpart (he’s in orange, in the picture below).

There are some parts of the new series that would have been nice to have a backstory to. Take the organization known as HQ, for example. Much of what the organization does is largely a mystery. They are situated in Metroville (where the original series took place), but it’s not really clear if they are an offshoot of the Metroville Police, or something else entirely.

Each episode is broken down into two 11 minute segments, with the 1st episode (titled Inspector Gadget 2.0) being the only two-parter of the 16 Season 1 episodes.

In this version of Inspector Gadget, Penny is one of the few positives that will definitely stand out. Given how she was utilized in the first series a long time ago, getting her chance in the spotlight will definitely please some of the older fans of the series. Of course, don’t expect rocket science plots here.

The new series attempts to bring Claw moreso away from sitting around, but turns him into a broad comedic bad guy at times, whose banter with Talon, may remind some of the banter between Dr Evil and Scott Evil in the Austin Powers film series.

As the newest character to the series, Talon definitely becomes a little obnoxious at times, and every other episode seems to have him and Penny bantering while fighting, playing on the old animosity-equals-attraction cliche we’ve seen plenty of times.

Probably of all the characters, one who ends up being sidelined the most, is Brain. Maybe he could have been given more to do if the episodes were longer, but with Penny taking up a good chunk of time, Brain becomes the silent tag-along. As well, his character design just doesn’t feel quite right in this computer-generated world.

The voice-cast is also hit-and-miss at times. Ivan Sherry gives Gadget a voice that feels like the result of Don Adams & Dan Aykroyd combined. Tara Strong does manage to channel a little of Cree Summer in her voicework as Penny, but one can almost hear some of Twilight Sparkle coming through.

Martin Roach as Dr Claw is definitely a pleasant surprise. At first, I had assumed they had gotten Frank Welker back, but in the quieter moments, Roach can hit those familiar places…when the script isn’t calling for Claw to get comedic, that is. The show also delves into a style that I can only describe as “2 1/2-D.” While much of the animated world is rendered in the computer, there are a few (quick) hand-drawn “emotional” moments (like the one above), let alone some hand-drawn effects thrown in. The show-runners even have retro-style title cards for each episode.

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It’s a given that the new iteration of Inspector Gadget is not going to be a cookie-cutter of its original 80’s series. As well, much of the semi-seriousness of those storylines have given way to some rather eye-rolling slapstick. Plus, one won’t find much in the way of incendiary bombs in this iteration, a sign of our times that explosive weaponry isn’t as funny as it once was.

Much like the Inspector himself, much of the enjoyment is relatively brainless. Then again, the show runners are expecting to get cheap laughs and enjoyment from a younger audience, even though they have gone out of their way to work in some nostalgic ‘easter eggs’ for us old-timers. It’s a pity they couldn’t find a happy medium, and craft a show that could be enjoyed by both parents and children, in the same way that Sesame Street or My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has done.

In the end, the new Inspector Gadget is just mindless fluff, but not completely un-redeemable. One surprise was an episode where Penny finds out that a former HQ agent had defected to M.A.D. The reason? The agent was tired of everyone giving Gadget credit for what she had done. Of all the plots, this one was the stand-out, that there could be some interesting things still to be done.

Currently, all 16 episodes of Season 1 can be found in North America, on Netflix. One figures that if Season 1 does well, maybe they could make some improvements in Season 2…as long as they don’t get desperate and bring back Corporal Capeman, or send M.A.D. agents back in time to wipe out Gadget’s ancestors.

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Final Grade: C-

Final Thoughts: Giving Penny a chance to be in the spotlight, doesn’t excuse the corny humor, let-alone excising any serious undertones that could have led to the new series being a little more memorable. As well, for those of us who saw the first Inspector Gadget series, the nostalgic touches can only hold our attention for so long.

and…

Final Words: "I'll get you next time, Gadget...NEXT TIME!!!!"

Final Words: “I’ll get you next time, Gadget…NEXT TIME!!!!”

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An Animated Dissection: Thoughts on Season 1 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

With Season 5 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic about to be unleashed on the world, I thought I’d throw out this little post on the series.

Like many, I was dragged kicking and screaming into a show that seemed opposite to what I generally look for: emotional storylines, interesting characters, and situations I could find relations to. Hey, as a guy who has been obsessed with animation (and studied it in college), I’ve never strayed far from my ‘rule of 3.’

Being introduced to the series as Season 2 was underway, gave me more than enough material to catch up on, as well as “merge” into the fandom as that season began to head toward its season finale.

Since that time, a lot has happened, and we’ve seen the world originally conceived of by Lauren Faust, go in a lot of different places and directions that she probably never would have thought (or wanted to).

That then brought a question to my mind: as the series goes on, it seems that some have started to look back on that introductory season, and started to pick it apart and cringe: the kind of reaction one sees when looking at old baby pictures.

Given that this topic seems to have been slowly circulating into some fan-review videos, I thought I’d offer my two cents, on why this Season should not be pounded into the ground as THE! WORST! POSSIBLE! THING!!

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First Seasons are generally not perfect

Seriously, think back to other series you’ve most likely watched over the course of your lifespan. That first season? It probably was not the greatest thing ever, but admit it: most of what you watched had to start somewhere. We’ve seen it with many animated productions. First season jitters, that include:

– not-so-perfect animation –

– voice actors finding their way –

– story points that oftentimes don’t carry over into later seasons –

I’m sure we can all pick out little vocal things here and there, that have changed over the course of the series, not counting the maturity of the young voice actresses playing the Cutie Mark Crusaders, of course.

Speaking of the CMC, I know a lot of people grew to dislike them in Season 1, given that all they talked about was getting their Cutie Marks. However, as we soon saw, they pretty quickly wore out that plot thread, and such things soon became less of a focal point as the series went on. It’s possible they could have stretched this out by having them do just one task-per-episode, but one could see how that could get a little old.

As well, it seems the series loved to dig in and treat the girls almost like filly versions of Disney’s Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Mischievous little kids who oftentimes caused a little trouble, like in the Stare Master episode. As a Disney fan, everything from them being called “Sweet little angels,” to opening their eyes one after the other, just hit all the buttons in my Disney references information.

I know some people want straight-on continuity, but it’s often not going to happen. Most of the time, a series is just trying to get enough episodes to fill the schedule block they’ve been given.

Every series has at least a few things that they change or mess around with as the series goes on. One example is on Cheers, where Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammar), often talked about how his father was a scientist, and deceased…but in Frasier, that continuity was changed so that his father Martin Crane (John Mahoney) was a retired Seattle Police Officer.

With FiM, we’ve seen plenty of continuity from that first season seem to get thrown off the canonical track. A prime example: The Everfree Forest. A wild and dangerous place…that as we’ve seen in the last few seasons, seems only to be that way if the plot calls for it. Other times, Applebloom can easily walk to Zecora’s, or the ponies to The Castle of the Two Sisters.

And we’ll continue to see such  ‘did you know that’ moments as the series goes on. Historical characters that come out of nowhere (Tirek), newly-mentioned relations (Shining Armor), characters that are back-tracked into continuity (Maud Pie), and much more.

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"You either die a Hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the Villain"

“You either die a Hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the Villain”

This line has grown pretty cliche since Harvey Dent uttered it in The Dark Knight, but it does bring up a good point. Ever since Lauren Faust left the series, there have been some fans that have decried her absence, claiming that her stories and final-word would have launched the series into realms that would have been incredible.

It’s nothing new. We’ve seen it happen with other series (James Cameron only went as far as Terminator 2, for example). Almost every series has that group of people that keeps clamoring for more, but want the creator to be there until the end of time, eager for them to keep churning out their wondrous world, despite those creative persons wishing to pursue other projects.

But still, there are other series where key players stuck around…and in the end, their ‘heroic’ efforts to the fans, turned to ‘bitter betrayal’ in the wake of what happened.

A key example is George Lucas. A man who is both praised and vilified by the Star Wars and Indiana Jones fandoms. many were excited when “The Maker” announced he would write and direct the prequels. Of course, over the last 15 years, Lucas has gone from a super-genius, to an out-of-touch madman who doesn’t understand his fandom.

Sometimes, one has to let go. I tell many that I have let go of my anger…which I wasn’t really about much with the prequels. Sure, I was disappointed at times, but in the end, what is it going to accomplish? I can’t redo the prequels. You can always speculate about ‘what you would have done different,’ but it’s never going to happen.

Faust’s leaving to pursue other avenues I can wholeheartedly accept. Though she has been unable to get her Galaxy Girls
concept off the ground, I will admit I am eager for more word on her upcoming film from Sony Pictures Animation, about the mythological Gorgon named Medusa.

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A portal of things to come

A portal of things to come

Ok, if Season 1 of FiM is far from perfect, I would like to point out one thing: if anything, it made you eager to see just where the series could go from there. After all, if it hadn’t done some things well, would you have even wanted to see where it went when Season 2 started?

From the beginning, I didn’t have a clue as to where it was all going to go beyond the Grand Galloping Gala. If Season 1 caught my attention as I walked into a room, Season 2 was what made me sit down and watch. I find Season 1 works as a great portal as to what would come. Yes, a lot of episodes are not perfect, but they showed us that there was “something there” within the stories.

Personalities were still being developed, and as we saw, Twilight Sparkle was still getting used to her new home, as well as trying to learn more about Friendship. Season 1 is just as much a blank slate for us as it was for Twilight Sparkle. She didn’t know all the answers, and as such, we were able to be guided along with her as she kept on going.

There have been many keystones and signposts that the writers and the showstaff have tried to stick to regarding Faust (such as little nods to Greek Mythology, something she loves a lot), but there are times when one can’t always stay on the straight and narrow.

Having seen a lot of animated series over my lifetime (I was there during the Saturday Morning Cartoon blitzkrieg of the 1980’s, and The Disney Afternoon‘s rise to popularity), it oftentimes seemed that in the beginning, the plan for Season 1, was, “there is no plan.”

In a way, Season 1 for most shows is like playing in the sandbox: you throw around ideas. Some may stick, and others will fall by the wayside. We saw some side characters come to prominence, and others that have just become part of the gaggle of stock background extras.

FiM’s Season 1 stories also seem a little more hodge-podge than in later seasons. Much like the others series like Powerpuff Girls or Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, the singular episodes of Season 1 often delved into standard story topics we’ve seen in other series (such as “babysitting isn’t easy,” “wanting to make your friends happy,” and even “not everything different is bad”).

While I do think there was meant to be some seriousness to Faust’s story regarding Celestia and Luna’s Alicorn-like prime status, it eventually ended up getting stretched out and built out on as the series continued.

Season 1 I feel, was not meant to take itself too seriously, but just like with 1977’s Star Wars, a fandom was unleashed upon it, and the littlest details and such were thrown open to a world that its creators could not have foreseen. As such, when the show hasn’t moved as fast as the fans would, fan-couplings, fanon, and fan-fiction have reared their heads.

In Conclusion

I know i haven’t made this season out to be the greatest one ever. That was not my point, but to remind people that oftentimes, what introduces us to certain things, may help us find the good that can lead us onward…and in the case of this series, there was enough good to keep us willing to venture forward with the series. Season 1 was like wandering into a new store or restaurant, and pretty soon, the experience made us eager to see what we could get on return visits.

Who knows? maybe one day, some who look down their noses at the first season, may find their peace with its simplicity. If the show grows too complex or beyond what others are willing to accept (Rainbow Power, anyone?), Season 1 could be like returning to your childhood home after a bustling and noisy life in the city: a chance to reclaim a sense of normalcy.

I will admit that sometimes, my mind does turn to the day when eventually, G4 (aka ‘Generation 4’) of the My Little Pony series will end, and Hasbro will revamp the series. You can deny it all you want, but it will happen. As someone whose seen the Transformers series go through multiple iterations over its 30 year history, things definitely do not stay the same for long, as a toy company has to entice children and parents to buy new product.

Will they go in a whole new direction with G5, or take pieces of G4 and embellish it?…well, that’s a discussion for another time, (far) in the future.