Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Superhero Gift

Sometimes after yoga on Saturday mornings I watch cartoons. Mostly this is because I don't have cable and cartoons are the ONLY things on the basic channels you can get with a free cable box and rabbit ears on Saturday mornings. Unless you count Cindy Crawford's AMAZING skin care secret, but that is not as much fun to watch while eating. (And doing sudoku. I tend to multi-task at mealtimes.) Anyway, having sampled several different cartoon series, I think that the quality of cartoons has gone downhill in the years since I was an avid watcher. Not that the Smurfs were best example, but here are some of the shows I've come across recently:

1. A show about pieces of sushi with superpowers and their side-kick, Wasabi.

2. A show about girls and THEIR OWN HORSES. The main girl is White, with blonde hair and blue eyes, of course.

3. A show about animals from various continents and biomes getting themselves into easily fixable scenarios. Example: a hippo, a duck, a mouse, an elephant, a pelican and a bunny all get stuck in a pond (I know, it sounds like a bad joke) and have to figure out how to get out. First of all, how are the duck and the hippo even stuck? They LIVE IN THE WATER.

4. Several remakes of old shows, like Spiderman, but this time he's in high school. Lame.

I know that some of these elements have always appeared in children's shows, and are designed for kids to use their cognitive skills to figure out solutions before the plot does. I get that. But the difference between the dumbest-animals-ever-who-coexist-in-the-wrong-climate and something like Sesame Street is that these animals have NO sense of humor. It was like watching Samuel Beckett throw his characters into a pond. You could argue that My Little Pony was about horses as well, but they also had flying horses and no blatant race issues, so I hold firm on that point as well. And superhero sushi? Really? How does a flying piece of eel get anyone fired up? I'm sure people felt the same about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but at least turtles are real things that move. Sushi, in case you weren't sure, is supposed to be dead. Because you EAT it.

Anyway, the real kicker for me was when I saw Power Rangers on TV this morning. Like, the actual show from 1995, not like an updated version. The only difference is that they added 1960s-Batman-style action words and superlatives during some sequences, like CRASH, or WOW! Keep in mind that this is a show that was essentially stolen from Asia and not changed at all then either. So at least they're consistent. When they brought it to America, they looked at the evil characters and tried to make English sentences to match the mouth movements and then created a plot-line based on those nonsense phrases. Watch the show - this is totally what they did. Clearly they tried to keep costs down, and if they can now recycle the same shows without actually paying to change them, then all the better for them. But it's weird to see it on TV now. In today's show, Billy was wearing what can only be described as a capri janitor's uniform. In the culture of Saturday morning cartoons, where the goal is really for kids to come away from the screen asking to buy things, I'm not sure if Power Rangers can repeat their original success. Unless short-alls really do make a comeback. (In which case, Megasaurus it up!)

I wasn't even all that young when Power Rangers enjoyed their heyday. But my brother was, and he was a superfan. I mean, he watched the shows in full Ranger regalia, helmet and all. Holding his Red Power Ranger action figure and activating the power belt during appropriate fight sequences. He would also perform fight sequences, or at least his closest approximation. (This included lots of kicks and spinning, but mostly included him puffing his cheeks and whooshing his breath through clenched teeth. I think this was supposed to be either a ninja technique or the sound of fast-moving limbs.)

This is the same kid who made up new lyrics to Disney's The Lion King. G's version is as follows:

"The LI-on King.
The LI-on King.

I can't even read the words Lion King without singing this song now.

I mention all of this to give you a sense of how into cartoons my brother was. We both have a slight over-active imagination, as mentioned before, and there are pictures of each of us, eight years apart, dressed up in weird gear for dinner. Me in red swimming goggles, him in a Batman mask and cape. The cape was actually a Christmas present for G one year from "Santa." My mom designed and sewed it herself out of black and blue flannel. My brother wore it EVERY DAY until it permanently smelled like applesauce and sweat.

My brother and I would watch Batman: The Animated Series every day after school. I was slightly too old to fall in the target audience, but Batman is my favorite superhero, and this series was the first to really do him justice. You can disagree, but to me, Batman is way better than Superman or Spiderman because he's human, without mutant improvements, and driven to effect change because he was thrown a tragic curveball. He made himself into a badass.

So G in his cape and I in my self-conscious, pre-teen way would watch this show and dream of being badasses. I don't think it's any surprise that now we both like working out so much. So for Christmas last year, in my brother's stocking, I got him two things:

1. A jump rope to train with.

2. A DVD of The Dark Knight.

We have seen both of Christopher Nolan's new Batman re-imaginings together and love them in the way that we used to love the animated series. I know that DVDs aren't super creative gifts, but in this case, all the imagination exists in the movie itself. They did all the work, and we are just appreciative. The jump rope is how to shape yourself into a badass. Plus, G is studying to be an actor, and every actor needs a collection of roles for motivation. I think he has created a better fight sequence because of it.


  1. I completely agree with you about the cartoons. WTF? My nephew is all into the new Batman, etc, but whatever happened to the amazing after school line up of Gummi Bears, Ducktails, Rescue Rangers and TaleSpin? I loved coming home to watch those :)

  2. Erin~~ Exactly. Those are cartoons to be celebrated. And what happened to cool shows like Square 1?

  3. I don't remember Square 1, so I looked it up. I have no idea how I missed out on that one! My parents should have been all over that :)