The Golden Age: The Best TV Animation of 2008

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Animated Shorts: Avatar Ends, More...
Animated Shorts: Avatar Ends, More...
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It was an interesting year for televised animation. Part of this was due to the introduction of new platforms for the field. The other is, quite frankly, that there’s some interesting new blood entering the arena. Add the two together, and we repeat our regular claim – we are living in the new golden age of animation, where animation is being fully embraced as a medium, not a genre.

First things first, while the impact of the new platforms—whether internet, cel phone or what-have-you—is not a yet major force in animation, the implication is it probably won’t take much longer. Comedy Central certainly got a leg up with the second season of Lil’ Bush. Rough animation from “best of the web”-type shows display lots of potential. Organizations such as Adult Swim and Frederator admit they are combing the Net constantly for the next Mike Judge, Parker and Stone. Could another, more updated version of MTV’s old Liquid Television be far off in the future? Here’s hoping.

As for the new blood, it’s coming both in the forms of radical young talents and major organizations. Cartoon Network is getting theirs both ways. New shows like CH Greenblatt’s Chowder, Jay Stephens’ Secret Saturdays and Jennifer Pertch’s Total Drama Island and 6teen representing the young innovators. That’s not to say that it’s all newcomers - on the big guy front, there’s Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: Clone Wars. All these shows have been giving CN some incredible ratings boosts, especially the last half of the year. Also, don’t think Nickelodeon is taking this lightly. Based on previews, Dreamworks’ The Penguins of Madagascar has hit written all over it.

As for 2009, fans of the superhero genre should be ecstatic. In 2008, two of the big new hits were Spectacular Spider-Man and Batman: Brave and Bold. The spandex onslaught will go full bore with shows like Wolverine & The X-Men, Black Panther, Iron Man and many more on the horizon.

In the meantime, with this year’s list we’ve divided the shows into two groups; shows specifically aimed at kids K-12 years of age and more “adult” content. That said, here’s some of the best of 2008 had to offer.

All Ages

Avatar: The Last Airbender (Nickelodeon) – If you have to go, you can’t ask for a better way to end a series. The final confrontation between Aang and the Fire Lord was a tremendous bit of animated choreography and the build-up of the last five episodes to this climatic event were both mind-opening and incredibly detailed. Best of all, there are still plenty of story left to tell. Already on my short list for best of the decade.

Blog@: Review: Brave and the Bold
Blog@: Review: Brave and the Bold
Batman: Brave & Bold (WB/Cartoon Network) – This kid-friendly version of the further adventures of the not-so-dark Knight have been a pleasant surprise. James Tucker and company have put together a solid action show with a much younger age orientation, and pulled it off with finesse and skill. Also, it’s fun to see many of DC’s lesser known superheroes get their day in the sun.

Ben 10: Alien Force (Cartoon Network) – This latest incarnation of the show continues to impress. Master animator Glen Murakami and script editor Dwayne McDuffie have given Ben Tennyson, his cousin Gwen and colleague Kevin Levin some serious depth and an overall plot that is sure to keep one intrigued.

Chowder (Cartoon Network) – CH Greenblatt’s first TV series is, one can’t help but say it, a truly fresh and tasty entrée in the CN mix. Not only does his mix of animation styles never cease to impress, but his unendingly inventive scripts keeps kids and parents glued to the screen. All one add is let’s hear it for the master chef. We’ll gladly take seconds, thirds, as much as he can dish out.

Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends (Cartoon Network) – Animation master Craig McCracken proved he has a lot more stories to tell with this year’s holiday special. That there are around a dozen more shows slated for 2009 is also great news. If you ever need proof that imagination is a key to a good show, look no further.

Jane & The Dragon (WETA/qubo) – There’s just something about this girl-friendly show that I find refreshingly charming. Let’s hope there’s more tales of the adventurous young knight Jane and her jovial partner the Dragon.

Naruto (Cartoon Network) – This season of “filler” material was supposed to be the weakest part of this enduring anime series. Guess what? I found many of the miniarcs every bit as good as the original first series. The fact that the second “true” series, Shippuden, is now in production tells me there’s still a lot left in the tale of the young knuckleheaded ninja with dreams of becoming hokage.

Phineas & Ferb (Disney) – Another truly inventive show that takes what should have been a rapidly exhausted formula and milks it for all it’s worth. Just the idea that creators Dan Provenmire and Swampy Marsh come up with at least two new songs per episode is impressive enough. Then there are the further adventures of Perry The Platypus constantly being woven in on top of P&F’s never-ending ways of entertaining themselves each way. The only bad news is, sooner or later, Provenmire and Marsh will hit 104 adventures. Thank god there are more seasons to the year.

Shawn The Sheep (Aardman/Disney) – The Aardman crew manage to take a Wallace and Gromit side character and fill him with enough charm and looniness to keep you entertained for hours on end. Barnyard antics have never been so much fun.

Spectacular Spider-Man (Culver Entertainment/4Kids) – My pick of superhero series of the year. This retconning of the Webslinger’s mythos has managed to captivate and enthrall for its first season of 13 episodes, with never breaking the reasons why we love Mr. Parker and pals to begin with. Informed sources say the show will shortly be moving to Disney, where the second and nearly completed third season will spearhead a new superhero block. Sounds like there’s still plenty of juice left.

Spongebob Squarepants (Nickelodeon) – What can you say? Ten years in and the square yellow invertebrate still manages to hold his own.

Clone Wars: Grievances With Grievous
Clone Wars: Grievances With Grievous
Star Wars: Clone Wars (Lucasfilm/CN) – The series that managed to remember that Star Wars is supposed to be fun is doing pretty well, all things considered. I’ve been especially enjoying the side stories revolving around Yoda, the Clones and Kit Fisto, and understand we’ll soon see series stars Ahsoka and Anikin come into their own. No matter what, I know what I’m doing every Friday night. You should, too.

Adult

Aqua Teen Hunger Force (Adult Swim) – The diet-conscious trio continues to pack in the calories with stream-of-conscious humor, absurd situations and the greatest skewering of New Jersey this side of the Atlantic. One view and it’s easy to see why the Force is now [AS] flagship show.

The Drinky Crow Show (Adult Swim) – Tony Millionaire’s madcap creations have made a truly indelible mark on my consciousness. The further tales of the lovelorn crow, his sex-driven monkey pal Gabby and the rest of those who sail on the good ship Maakies please!

King of the Hill (Fox) – It must be great being Mike Judge. This year he has proven without a doubt that one can produce an intelligent, soft-spoken, mature show about suburban life, and no network can stop him. His coming to Adult Swim starting this January should finally establish the show as the true classic it is.

Lil’ Bush (Comedy Central) – Talk about giving the soon-to-be-past administration all the respect it deserved! This series shows that there’s a ton of black humor to be gained from the Bush administration. The only crime here is the series had to end because Obama starts this January. That said, Donnick Cary’s take on the Bushes will be the only thing I miss about the past administration.

Metalocalypse (Adult Swim) – This absolutely brutal take on all things heavy metal may infuriate the hardcore, but sure does rock the worlds of those with a sense of humor. Here’s to a great third season.

Moribito: Spirit Of The Guardian (Production IG/Adult Swim) – First things first: Shame on you Adult Swim for not giving this intelligent anime series the same time and space you give to such borefests as Bleach. This is a beautifully rendered, thoughtful tale of a woman commissioned to protect the life of a child. The only catch is the child is a son of Japan’s emperor and pops wants him dead. A superlative take on feudal Japan. Now give it the proper, and stable time slot it so richly deserves.

Robot Chicken (Shadow Machine/Adult Swim) – Every new episode manages to come up with something that makes one’s jaw drop to the ground. Let’s hope these boys with too many toys will continue to entertain for many more years to come.

The Simpsons (Fox) – The #1 citizens of Springfield have managed to produce another season of delights and derangement. With the record-breaking 21st season around the corner, this animation institution still manages to impress.

South Park (Comedy Central) – Parker & Stone’s misanthropic minors also still continue to jab their pointed parodies into the eyes of an ever loving public.

The Venture Brothers (Adult Swim) – Jackson Publick and company pulled one hell of a trick with the end of last season. How the Ventures, the Monarch, the League and everyone else involved will handle the new rulers of the underworld is something I can’t wait to see.

Next Column: We start a major interview with voice actors supreme Yuri Lowenthal and Tara Platt.

Related:

The Black Panther Animated Series Trailer

Skewering the Force: Matt Senreich on Robot Chicken: Star Wars 2

Talking to the Phineas & Ferb Creators

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