Monday, 23 May 2011

Cartoon Character Conventions

It's been said time and again how television producers just regurgitate the same formulas over and over again. Cartoons fall victim to the same pitfalls. Each era has its own running themes but cartoons lately seem to follow the same character selection conventions in every single series.

This past January I was super stoked to watch the new Transformers Prime and G.I. Joe Renegades on Hasbro's new The Hub network. Naturally, I love 'em both. Lurv! Can't get enough. Instead of throwing a new-toy-of-the week in every episode, they focus on a smaller cast to foster more character-driven stories.

However, despite one show being about sentient robots and the other about renegade soldiers, it's the same damn group of characters, just packaged differently. Let's flip through the archetypes, yes?

The Leader
Every group of ragtag heroes needs their selfless, larger-than-life hero to look up to and lead them into battle. Prime and Renegades offers this in spades in the form of Optimus Prime and Duke. Optimus Prime has always been the Autobots' fearless leader from day one. The truck decals might have changed over the various media interpretations but Prime's always been a messiah amongst talking cars.

Similarly, although Duke was a later addition in the original G.I. Joe toy line, he has always been the go-to guy. The heart-of-gold farm boy who's right there in the trenches with his fellow soldiers. Despite the different voices, designs, hell, even species, it's the same dude. That token never-say-die leader who rallies the gang into action with "Yo Joe!" or "Autobots, roll out!" catch phrases.

The Sassy/Scrappy Bad Ass Chick
The ladies of the Eighties may have talked the talk with the boys, but they seldom walked the walk, relegated to love interests and hostages. Producers now have tried to rectify this by overcompensating with women who may not have the largest physical presence, but are the best fighters in the team with a sarcastic streak to boot.

Arcee is a prime (pardon the pun) example of this. Originally a mother hen pink car, she was a slutty lil' Autobot too, romantically linked to no less than three different Transformers. Producers broke convention by making her a bitchin' blue motorcycle in Transformers Prime, hoping that we'd still recognize her as female, even though she's not pink. She was also the most hot-headed and violent of the gang. Her trampy past was still intact, however, as it was hinted she and fallen Autobot Cliffjumper were more than "just friends."

Scarlett's makeover wasn't so drastic as she's always been a competent leader amongst the Joes only now her spandex and hooker boots have been butched up with utilitarian military garb and a sardonic, almost cold personality.

Both ladies benefited from the new character models but still, same gal, different clothes.

The Poetic Truck
Every team needs their muscle, their trump card who, when things get ugly, can swoop in and trash the joint. A huge physical presence who literally takes up serious real estate on the television screen. Only they can never be your typical frat boy. Nooo, no, they need the heart of a poet to offset the stereotype.

Bulkhead, despite literally being a truck, fits the bill perfectly. A hulking monster, he's also the clumsy gentle giant. A bit on-the-nose with his lack of intelligence but at least he's the nice guy, the dude you'd love to share a beer with... if he could actually sit on a bar stool.

Similarly, Roadblock is that "big Black dude" on Renegades who might be a towering figure but he's the friggin' Aunt Jemima of the Joes. A chef with the down-home Bayou sensibility, he's often pegged as the voice of reason. The ironic thing is despite going against expectations, both of these characters built new stereotypes.

The Annoying One
Nothing creates drama amongst your cast of characters like that one asshole who just complains and causes friction. In the Eighties these sidekicks were usually nags, small in stature like Snarf or Orko but now they're full-fledged cast members with loud mouths and bitchy tendencies.

Transformers Prime enjoys the constant griping of Ratchet, the medi-bot. Ever the nursemaid, he's seen little action but has no problems complaining when the other Autobots are banged up. He's also voiced by Jeffrey Combs who played Weyoun on Deep Space Nine who's creepy voice just sends me into a a seizure. So yeah, that doesn't help.

Oddly enough, Tunnel Rat is also the Joes' token medic but goes a step further by being smelly, lazy, and (gasp!) Asian! Add a grating voice (I'm seeing another trend here...) and an abrasive personality and blam! Token prick who serves his purpose but makes you audibly groan all the same.

The Fan Favorite
Here's the money shot, folks. Every show has that one instantly identifiable character who is used as the poster boy. Like Wolverine to the X-Men or Sarah Palin for Evil, Bumblebee and Snake-Eyes epitomize Transformers and G.I. Joe respectively. Those ultra-cool, super likeable characters with brand recognition make the show. Period. Without them, the show would instantly tank as the fans would take to message boards and the streets, raging to anyone who will listen.

Bumblebee might not be bad ass with frickin' laser beams on his head but he's the Autobot you loved to root for. The guy who could be you... if you were a talking car. Everyone's pal plus a rad yellow Camero!

Snake-Eyes is the polar opposite. A mute with a tragic past and mad ninja skillz, Snake-Eyes is that rogue loner with a code of ethics. And a katana! Again, someone cool who fans love to watch, even if his screen time is minimal. It's a tease. Something to look forward to. Something that keeps you watching.

Money shot.

Oh, and look at that. Looks like ThunderCats and Voltron are getting makeovers this Fall with brand new "re-imagined" shows!

Try and pick out who's who. They might look different but their prototype is the same across the board.

Viva originality!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Summer BLOCKbusters

I'm always a sucker for this. Next Movie recently posted movie posters from from this summer's upcoming blockbusters like Green Lantern, Thor, and Captain America.... only in LEGO form. Lurvs. Check them all out here!