You have to give it Sonic: even as his heyday was winding down, he was still enough of a household name to be used as the main character in a cartoon that otherwise has nothing to do with what he is about—he can join the pantheon of characters like Zorro or Sherlock Holmes who also had bad European-made cartoons where they find themselves in a the future or whatever. Someone at the production company desperately wanted to make a new Sonic the Hedgehog animated series, and if they had to awkwardly shoehorn Sonic and Robotnik into some generic Sci-Fi/fantasy nonsense, then that is what shall be done! What this means is while the “freedom fighter” aspect seen to varying degrees in the previous two cartoons is still there, now there is a prophecy! And a royal family! And magical music instruments! And Sonic has two siblings!
For one thing, that is an extremely ungainly title, the inevitable result of mixing marketing and an utter lack of imagination. Secondly, the narrator in the intro tells us that this is “a legend no one will forget” underpinned with a decidedly mock-epic score (the intro is also book-ended by scenes of Mario and Luigi reading an actual book, which could be a vague nod to the meta-presentation of the game as a stage play, but that’s probably giving the producers of this too much credit, which is to say any credit)—this seems to be selling us the idea that this incarnation of Super Mario Bros animation is the real deal, not like that lightweight Super Mario Bros. Super Showpiffle. This being the bridge between Super Show and Super Mario World, it axed the live action segments, had shorter cartoons, and changed some of the voice actors; I’ve already talked about those changes in the World post, but I thought maybe you needed to be reminded of the brave new paradigm we’ve entered.
There is some grand irony in a game used as a vehicle for high-quality animation being adapted into a eighties Saturday morning cartoon show—I can only assume that Don Bluth never saw this, because he kept making things rather than dying of an aneurysm in 1984. We are once again looking at a product of the Ruby-Spears cartoon factory, who felt that Dragon’s Lair was good enough for its own half-hour show rather than joining its companion Space Ace on the previously-analyzed Saturday Supercade; I mean, there’s obviously so much more to the story and characters of Dragon’s Lair that needs double the run-time. It’s not like the game was just a sequence of random scenes played one after another with little connecting them, there’s a lot of fully-explained backstory there. Obviously.
As an aside, you can definitely tell that someone respects the quality of the show because of how poorly-cropped the Youtube version of it is.
You already start off with a major handicap when you decide to translate Mortal Kombat into a Saturday morning cartoon—when 75% of the appeal of the game is its over-the-top violence, having to tone it down to basically nothing in order to fit television standards is guaranteed to turn away most of the series’ fans (the movie had a similar problem, albeit to a lesser extent.) So, when MK has to go completely bloodless, where does it turn to? Why, dumbed-down psychodrama, of course!
There couldn’t be a better transitional work between Music Has The Right To Childrenand Geogaddi than In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country; the change in mood from one album to the next makes more sense with that four-song sequence placed between them, containing elements of both while also being something wholly singular. Music took the nineties electronica Boards of Canada had experimented on in their earlier albums and used it as the cytoplasm for their distinct mix of phantasmal samples, whimsy, and strange references; if that album is a representation of the act of remembering, then Beautiful Place seems to be one of actually looking at those old, dusty things you remember, experiencing them as they are (I mean, the closing track is called “Zoetrope”). The warmer synths on the previous album are edged out by a more repetitive, mechanical sounds, especially in the first two songs—the worn, grinding functionality of the beats at the base of something like “Kid For Today” trade the ephemeral for something that feels way more physical, like it is being played from some old sound machine that’s barely holding together. That holds for the title track, which seems a bit more “traditional” BOC if only for the inclusion of laughing children and straight drum machines, but still maintains the starkness of the rest of the album. Importantly, though, it also very quietly segues into another one of the duo’s full-scale obsessions: yes, if naming a song after an important figure in the story of the Branch Davidians didn’t clue you in, quoting that same person a the later song tells us we’re now in full-on religious cult and symbolism territory. It’s the year 2000, and Boards of Canada is thinking about some things.
See, when I started this whole project, I kind of assumed that every show I watched would be exactly like this: minimum-effort Saturday morning filler that makes no sense and has only a nominal relationship to the game it is based on (as it turned out, that was only mostly accurate.) You can practically taste the marketing in every action-figure-hocking minute of this show, with teams of wacky characters martial-arting each other in poorly-animated ways; we certainly were not out of the era of animated advertisements disguised as TV series in 1994. And whose name do I see prominently displayed in the credits? Why, it’s Phil Harnage, auteur of “Mama Luigi”—albeit, he wasn’t the one who wrote this particular episode, but that’s not to say he shouldn’t share some of the blame for this. Everyone involved in this production has to own up.
As is Youtube’s manner these days, a few weeks ago I had to sit through a movie trailer before getting to the video I was actually intending to watch—the trailer was for a film called The Meg, a particularly moronic-looking giant shark movie/Jason Statham time-waster. How it is in this day and age giant sharks in movies look less believable than they did forty years ago? It’s also always a good sign when a movie’s release is changed at the last minute to August; surely it is to make sure that everyone will have the opportunity to see such high-minded fare at the ass-end of summer vacation. Regardless, I could feel a twinge of wistfulness seeing the title of The Meg flash across the screen, because this specific giant shark movie is one I’ve been reading about for as long as I have had regular Internet access. A decade and a half later, and we’ve finally reached the point where they can release a dumb giant shark movie in the theatres.