The Buzz On Chowder

Hungry for something new and refreshing to satisfy your animation appetite? Look no further – Chowder is here. Originally I was going to wait until I would eventually cover this program when going through a review of Cartoon Network’s programming, but at the current pace this blog is set at that could take me a year or more. And blogs, in one view, are used to keep up with current news and events. I just couldn’t keep quiet about Chowder, so here are my two cents about it thus far.

It’s hard to write a review about this show – because most of what I could say has been said by many fans already. Chowder, which made its premiere on Cartoon Network in November 2007, stands out so far from everything else in animation these days that it’s on another planet. It’s uniquely original in all aspects. It’s set up in a whimsical world of exotic locale, where you never know what will happen next. It’s styled so much more differently and doesn’t feel as it’s ever limited by what it can do. It has a funky soundtrack that keeps characters in tune. It’s creatively written and jumps from being very funny and cute, too being totally gross but not in an excessive way. It’s full of random moments that make it interesting to watch, and is scripted to be unscripted with many funny “in-between” moments. The characters are designed well and have distinctive personalities, and let’s just face it – Chowder is downright adorable to watch as he’s such an innocent and energetic character that feels real. Adding to the winning formula, Chowder has an excellent voice cast and all characters interact well. One of its best traits is its dialogue – it’s written to be amusing for kids, but has such widespread appeal older viewers can enjoy the show as well. At 22 I found the show to come off very entertaining, sometimes thinking to myself, “Is this really just meant for kids ages 9-12?” It’s got hilarious moments that would wholly go over many young viewers’ heads, and yet it still retains a playfulness and charm I can’t recall ever seeing in a cartoon before.

Chowder for me was a series of firsts. It was the first time I ever noticed voice acting before anything else, and that’s rare. I was very surprised to look up Chowder’s voice actor on the net, and to find he has little to no previous acting credits – and he voice acts like a pro! He brings such a youthful exuberance to his character and as a good voice actor should, makes the character come alive. I can’t imagine anyone ever replacing Chowder’s voice, so lets hope his young voice actor Nicky Jones can hold off puberty for as long as possible. Panini’s voice actress Liliana Mumy was an excellent choice, I love the persona she gives her character. Add that she has a long acting resume, minus that I’m sure puberty won’t effect her as much so she can voice Panini for as long as possible.

Chowder was also the first time I realized it’s been far too long since a cartoon was traditionally animated, something I thought I’d never see again. Could it really be the lost art of making cartoons is making a comeback? In a world of flat Flash and cheap 3-D CGI, the show racks up more points with me just for that fact its animated in traditional 2-D, but from what I know it’s in a digital format (Someone want to clear up what the exact difference is? Will cells exist? Or is it all done by computer?). The animation is fantastic. It has a large palette of colors that really gives your eyes a visual treat; its backgrounds are textured and extensively detailed to wrap the show in its own jokingly quirky universe. It also has good flow and motion as well, a trait I often search but fail to find in other shows that offer jerky and stiff character movements. Lips move well to the voices, and facial expressions are nicely exaggerated when need be, all the more adding to a character’s personality.

Chowder was also the very first time I went out of my way to see a new cartoon. And that really says something, moreover the fact because I’m out of the prime age range they are trying to reach. Cartoon Network’s productions eventually make it to air on Teletoon here in Canada, but it takes months for them to finally get here and by then we are so far behind our viewers in the US. But I just couldn’t wait. After seeing short clips of it on Youtube, I actively looked and found a download of the first four episodes. The picture and sound quality weren’t all the great, but the series was as good as I thought it would be, and it made me wonder where a show like this has been hiding for all these years. Comparing a show like this to anything else is almost criminal, but I’d put Chowder between a cross of SpongeBob Squarepants and The Ren & Stimpy Show.

Chowder is one hot dish of a cartoon right now. Since my discovery of it towards the end of 2007, I’ve seen its online fandom rapidly flourish in a short time in forms of fanart, websites, and various fan-made videos on Youtube – some of which have over 100,000 views already. What a handy marketing trick to get the show noticed even more. The show had high expectations when it came to premiere, and has already quickly become one of the network’s headlining series. I can only hope it continues to have the success its having this early on, as sometimes victory too early can result in expectations becoming too high far too soon. I sincerely hope Chowder doesn’t jump the shark that quickly, and that it lives every episode like it was its first. The worst thing that could happen to an original show like this is repetition in stories and character behavior, and I hope “Chowder/Panini” episodes don’t take over the series just to satisfy fans that want to see a couple together.

Chowder leaps out of the creative mind of C.H. Greenblatt, whose blog is linked here. You can find up-to-date information and media on the series there. A good review of the series from Toon Zone can be found here, as well as a cool fan-made flash video here. And please flame this reviewer off the face of the earth for stating the cartoon is a “throw away series”. It’s the exact opposite – Chowder has a winning recipe behind it, and when all mixed together creates a scrumches delicacy that will satisfy the taste buds and cravings for the true animation connoisseur. I hope to get my fill of Chowder when it lands on the menu here in Canada. Let’s hope it’s soon – because I’m starving.


Networks In The United States – Part 5

To wrap up this segment – I’ll cover the rest of the networks that air, or used to air, cartoons and live action kids shows in the US. Mind you I’m doing this to the best of my knowledge as I don’t live there, so if I have made any errors don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

MTV – Known more for their music videos than cartoons, although these days that wouldn’t even be true in relating to the music videos, the network has produced and aired many popular and cult classic teen/adult oriented shows. This first started in 1991 with the premiere of Liquid Television, an animation showcase of creator-driven short cartoons. The show served as a launching point for several high-profile cartoons like Beavis And Butt-head and Æon Flux. In the years to follow they would produce many more shows, many gaining a cult following long after their cancellation such as Downtown, underGRADS, and Daria. They don’t seem to be doing much these days with animation; as far as I know they haven’t produced anything new for at least five years.

UPN – Don’t know much about this network, only for the fact it had the exact same life span as The WB at 11 years, and would end up shutting down in 2006 and merging with it to form The CW Television Network. When the station launched they aired cartoons on weekends in a lineup known as UPN Kids – some affiliates airing the block on Sundays instead of Saturdays. It mostly aired old anime like Dragon Ball Z and Samurai Pizza Cats. In 1999 the network made a deal with Disney to air select programming from Disney’s One Saturday Morning block; the new lineup would be called Disney’s One Too. Many station affiliates were already airing the syndicated Disney Afternoon block to begin with, and with the new block Disney’s cartoons were no longer syndicated but aired on UPN stations – some markets running it on weekday mornings, others weekday afternoons. After eight years of airing animated shows, the network dropped out in airing children’s programming in September 2003 when their contract with Disney came to an end.

USA Network – Had a popular animation block called USA Cartoon Express which ran from 1982 to 1996. It has the honor of being the first structured animation block on cable television, predating Nickelodeon’s animation blocks by half a decade and Cartoon Network by more than a decade. Its initial setup was comprised mostly of reruns from the Hanna-Barbera library, but by the end of the 80’s a more diverse lineup of cartoons aired in the block including The Real Ghostbusters, G.I. Joe, and Alvin & The Chipmunks. Turner Broadcasting purchased Hanna-Barbera and launched Cartoon Network in 1992, thus taking a chunk of Cartoon Express programming with it. In 1994 the block was moved from weekday afternoons to weekday mornings, in addition to its Sunday morning lineup, and revamped the entire look of the block. The block even launched original shows – the first two Cartoon Express series The Itsy-Bitsy Spider and Problem Child didn’t catch on with viewers. The network briefly acquired the broadcast rights to Terrytoons shorts and DC Comics related cartoons. Eventually the block was revamped into a weekday morning “all-action” block named USA Action Extreme Team with programs like Mighty Max, Sailor Moon, and Gargoyles. By the summer of 1996, USA Network ended all animation blocks on all its outlets after a 14 year run.

ABC Family – This network came to be after Fox Family was sold to ABC in 2001. Even though I never got the channel, I do remember promos for Fox Family Channel, and while I’d like to expand more on the network there isn’t much info about it. All I know is that it premiered sometime in the 90’s and aired much of what Fox Kids was airing at the time in an assigned children’s programming block. The network would also come to air many older shows and Saturday morning “classics” like Bobby’s World, Camp Candy, and Dennis The Menace, meanwhile ushering in various Canadian produced shows like Braceface and Mega Babies. ABC Family’s Jetix block made its debut on the network in 2002 airing anime such as Medabots, Beyblade, and Digimon: Digital Monsters. The block ran until August 2006 when it was switched to air on Toon Disney, leaving the network without an animation block they have yet to replace.

More information about these networks can be found on Wikipedia. If there is one trend that is evident after compiling this post – its that these major networks with small blocks dedicated to children’s programming all eventually fell victim to cable networks that were solely dedicated to children’s programming all the time (with the exception of MTV). Therefore with losing an audience who would rather watch Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network, these networks lose interest in hosting a block with cartoons as they don’t see it profitable, and they eventually fade away – much like the classic Saturday morning blocks of my time. It goes back to what I mentioned at the end of this post, and that only networks that air cartoons 24/7 are the places to really find your animation fix these days – as major networks have abandoned their small blocks of animation because no one is paying attention to them anymore. As with the case of MTV – adult animation has always been a hard market to be really successful in, and I think perhaps they just gave up on making anymore animated shows as most of them only lasted one season.

In pertaining to the three previous children’s networks I covered (Nick, Disney and CN), there is another trend I’ve come to realize – is that they all more or less share the same progression as they age. They have an early stage where the network develops its identity with viewers, and during this time they will import shows from various other networks and countries. They will eventually enter a golden age where the network is very popular with viewers, and during this time original productions commence. Of course you can only appreciate a golden age once many years have been put behind it and you finally realize it was a golden age, but back then it was just the network improving on itself. These networks (moreover the older ones) seem to have a good first ten years, but then they reach a point of jumping the shark. They improved so much, did so many things, released so many great shows – and suddenly the winning formula is lost due to the changes of time and shifts in viewership to a new generation of audience. They begin to falter, over and over again, lose their status as the network they were once known for, and worst of all start to get compared to how they used to be years ago. During this time these networks will make sister/spin-off channels because they have such a large catalogue of programming they can’t fit it all on their current network, therefore many older shows see the light of day again – this being more of a treat to older viewers. It’s not enough though, and the network just isn’t putting out the same greatness it once was. Was it the audience? Or the changes in animation itself that cause some networks to miss the mark with almost every new show they put out? Has every story from every point of view been told? Is nothing truly new anymore? From what I’ve examined in the lifespan of a children’s network, and how most of them aren’t what they used to be, I think it’s time we got a new animation station so the process of a fresh and new network that airs great cartoons can once again be celebrated.


Networks In The United States – Part 4

The WB Television Network – Launched January 11, 1995 / Dissolved September 17, 2006
Usually referred to as The WB; while it was not a full fledged children’s network, Warner Bros. Animation’s biggest hit shows would eventually find a home there. The WB launched the Kids’ WB programming block in September 1995 which mixed Warners’ biggest hit shows (like Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs that originated on Fox Kids or in syndication) with new productions and original shows.

After the Turner-Time Warner merger in 1996 Kids’ WB formed an alliance with Cartoon Network, and overtime they shared more and more programming. In 1999 they acquired from syndication the American version of the popular anime Pokémon that became a widespread hit with viewers. Eventually the weekday version of the block dissolved by 2006 along with the network, but retained a Saturday morning lineup on the new CW Television Network under the same name. However by late 2007 the network stated the Kids’ WB block will end in September 2008, selling the programming to (I hope you’re sitting down for this, as my jaw hit the floor when I found this out) 4Kids Entertainment – the same crap factory that ruined the old Fox Saturday morning lineup of cartoons.

If that wasn’t enough to make Warner Brothers jump the shark in relation to animation, its also the fact that they haven’t produced a decent hit show since 1998’s Histeria!, the last good Tom Ruegger produced show for Warner Bros. Animation. So if you are asking has Warner Brothers jumped the shark with its viewing audience and current programming – they have. A show like Animaniacs has aged well and is still as fresh as ever to watch; you sure won’t be able to say that for any of the current (forgettable) cartoons they’ve made recently. The WB network never expanded to Canada – most likely because YTV, Fox, Global, and Teletoon aired most of their programming. Youtube has lots of WB Network related stuff and Kids’ WB related stuff so check that out as well. You can view their network sign off here.


Networks In The United States – Part 3

Cartoon Network – Launched October 1, 1992
Created by Turner Broadcasting; in 1990 the company purchased animation studio Hanna-Barbera Productions and acquired its large library of cartoons. Cartoon Network was created as an outlet for their huge library of animation, and initial programming on the network consisted exclusively of reruns of classic cartoons from Warner Bros., MGM, and Hanna-Barbera.

H-B started production on What-A-Cartoon! Show which was a series of creator-driven short cartoons (much like Nickelodeon’s Oh Yeah! Cartoons series) that premiered in 1995. This show spun-off several successful series and gave birth to CN’s first set of originally produced shows such as Dexter’s Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, and Cow & Chicken. By 1998 the Hanna-Barbera name began to disappear from the newer shows from the studio in favor of the Cartoon Network Studios name – The Powerpuff Girls being the last cartoon to end with H-B’s trademark swirling star logo in the ending credits. In 1996 Time Warner purchased Turner Broadcasting and with it Cartoon Network, who gained access to the complete Warner Bros. cartoon library. Along with this they focused on creating new material for Cartoon Network, which came in perfect timing with the What-A-Cartoon! Show mentioned above that premiered a year earlier.

Eventually the classic cartoons were replaced with current Cartoon Network Studios shows (and other cartoons sourced from other networks and other countries), which therefore led to the spin-off sister channel Boomerang making its debut in April 2000. Starting in 2004, as like The Disney Channel started to do with their own in house shows, CN started to take off the more “recent classics” they produced from the 90’s. The network has had a series of very successful programming blocks as well, such as Cartoon Cartoons (used to be a collective name for Cartoon Network’s original shows). The action-oriented Toonami block has been running since 1997, and is known for showing a large impressive list of Japanese anime and movies. Another claim to fame is its Adult Swim block that ultimately turned into CN’s adult sister network of the same name, which premiered in September 2001. The block plays American animated comedy and animes and OVA’s intended for audiences 18 and older, generally with minimal or no editing for content – and like CN’s normal programming, this block has aired a noteworthy amount of shows. A good portion of the Adult Swim block is made up of original programming produced by Cartoon Network in association with its network division Williams Street, which produces and programs Adult Swim. Cartoon Network has expanded all over the world, but Canada remains one of the few places where it hasn’t – most likely because YTV and Teletoon have aired most of their programming.

Has Cartoon Network jumped the shark with its viewing audience and current programming? As far as I see it, no they haven’t. CN was a latecomer in producing its own shows (compared to Nick and WB), and it wasn’t until the mid 90’s where that ball starting rolling. I think they are still in their prime. Where other networks have continued to falter over the years with failing cartoon shows, CN is the only notable network I see still pumping out good shows. Personally, I saw this proved over and over again first starting in 2004 with Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends, and then The Life & Times Of Juniper Lee made its debut in 2005 – both are solid shows. Out of all the new offerings for animated shows from (major) networks in the US in 2006, their series Squirrel Boy was the only one that stood out over a cavalcade of bland offerings. They struck gold again with their new series Chowder which premiered in November 2007 – a show that hasn’t even made it here yet but already looks like a fantastic series. It’s just further proof that this network hasn’t lost their touch. They also have a knack for making animated shows live long lives – Codename: Kids Next Door just recently aired its last episode in January after premiering in December 2002. At the time of its premiere I didn’t think nothing of it, but only now realize as with the shows mentioned above that it proves CN makes good, entertaining animation. It illustrates this in its current fleet of programming, and its back catalogue full of great, long running shows. Never has a network been so deserving and true to its name – Cartoon Network truly is an excellent network for cartoons. Youtube has lots of Cartoon Network related stuff so check that out as well. The network has a parade of original animated bumpers, like this one. Too bad other networks didn’t celebrate their anniversaries with cool ads like this.