Need a new animated show to check out? Here’s what I’ve been watching lately. Two are TV series, one is a direct to home market movie. Two are recommended and one is…well, read on and see.
Justice League Action
Any new DC comics animated TV show has to contend with comparisons to its well-loved predecessors. For me, the fact that the DC Universe has been portrayed so well in the past actually frees up the cartoons that follow to go in different directions with design, character, and tone. While Justice League Action does take a page or two from older series (Always nice to hear you back in the cape and cowl, Kevin Conroy), it’s very much its own show, the kind of light, kid-friendly superhero show that Batman: The Brave and the Bold didn’t quite become.
Episodes are short and simple, usually with a small number of heroes tackling a single mission. In a time where most shows are continuity-heavy, it’s more of a series of stand alone tales, a choice that feels surprisingly refreshing. With strong character design, entertaining stories, and more heroes and villains than you can shake a cosmic staff at, it’s a highly enjoyable romp perfect for when you’re in the mood for some all-ages superhero fun.
Rating: 4 out of 5 space cabs
Batman and Harley Quinn
On the other side of DC animation land, there’s Batman and Harley Quinn, a movie-length return to the old DC animated universe that began in Batman: The Animated Series. With so much love and history behind it, the movie should be a joyful nostalgia trip. Unfortunately, it’s a mess nearly the whole way through. The plot, involving Batman and Nightwing recruiting a now reformed Harley to help them foil Poison Ivy’s latest plant-based scheme – frequently drags. Arlene Sorkin does not return to voice Harley, not a requirement in every iteration of the character, but disappointing in a supposed continuation of the original series. But what really wrecks this movie is the tone, which seems to strive for a very juvenile version of an “adult” film. There’s swearing, blood, death, an excruciatingly long fart joke, a not kid-friendly version of the old 60’s TV series sound effects, and an implied sex scene that seems even more baffling in the wake of the ill-conceived one added to the animated version of The Killing Joke. Almost none of this is necessary to the plot, which makes it feel even more tacked on and grasping for maturity. The original Batman: TAS was smart and legitimately mature, but you could still watch it with kids. This one you can’t and there’s no good reason why not. It has a few moments that keep it from total no-star status. The opening credits are easily more fun than the whole rest of the movie. But as a follow-up to one of the great animated series of all time, it’s a massive disappointment.
Rating: 1 out of 5 batarangs
I don’t like ending on a bad note, so let’s round out the list with a series I’ve really been enjoying. I’ve been an anticipating Disney’s reboot of DuckTales with a mix of excitement and worry. The original series was fantastic in its best moments and I wasn’t sure how I’d take to a new style and a new set of duck voices. Fortunately, like the better DC cartoons post-Batman:TAS, the new DuckTales takes pieces of what works about the concept and goes in a new direction with it. There are plenty of nods to the classic series, other Disney Afternoon shows, and the Barks and Rosa comics, but never to the point where newcomers to Duckburg get confused. The greater involvement of Donald is a welcome addition, as is the character differentiation of his nephews, who are treated as interchangeable in most other shows and stories. Webby’s character is suitably updated and fleshed out. The stories are mostly stand-alone, but hint at a few ongoing arcs, including the falling out between Donald and Scrooge, a missing member of the Duck family, and the return of one of Scrooge’s greatest foes. So far, the action has been largely limited to Duckburg and more focused on the kids, but I’m expecting more globetrotting treasure hunts in episodes to come.
Rating: 5 out of 5 number one dimes