Weekly Animation Round-up: Droids in the Desert on The Clone Wars, Scary Stories on My Little Pony, and Mousers on TMNT

By Noel Kirkpatrick

Dec 11, 2012

The animation round-up is still as light as last week! This week, Adventure Time took the week off, leaving us with four shows instead of the usual five. On Ben 10: Omniverse, Ben and the crew stopped a pirate from putting ships in a bottle while on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, D-squad spent a day in a barren wasteland for an experimental episode. Meanwhile, on My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo finally start bonding, and on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Baxter Stockman returned with his iconic mousers.

Ben 10: Omniverse S01E13: “Gone Fishin'?”

On TV.com’s Totally Tubular! podcast, there’s been some question as to why more procedurals aren’t reviewed on the site, with the reason often being that it’s a bit more difficult to dig into them week after week after week. Writers have the challenge of finding ways to keep their reviews fresh interesting and readers may not exactly be in a rush to talk about the episode beyond saying whether they liked it or not, and that they knew it was the guest star who committed the murder, because, well, it’s always the guest star.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but I’m starting to hit a similar wall with Ben 10: Omniverse. The show, even when I may find fault with it, is just too well-executed in its particular formula to be anything but competent, with some parts of each episode being more entertaining than others. “Gone Fishin?” was not an exception to this rule. A scurvy space pirate named Captain Cork was sucking Earth’s boats through whirlpools, shrinking them, and putting them in bottles to then sell them to intergalactic collectors. Along the way, Magister Patelliday was kidnapped by Cork’s robots, but despite his Don Knotts-esque voice (supplied by Rob Paulsen), he was more than capable of handling himself.

Cork’s whole plot gave me a good chuckle—I thought it was clever—and the rest of the episode had nice bits, including using Crasshopper as bait for an unimpressive kraken and Rook’s brilliant use of noodling to catch fish. But the episode didn’t linger in my mind; it was the same sort of normal Ben 10 episode that I’ve generally come to expect from the series.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars S05E11: “A Sunny Day in the Void”

On the flip side of Ben 10, The Clone Wars' “A Sunny Day in the Void” stuck with me for a bit, for both good and bad reasons. Returning from the successful mission aboard the CIS dreadnought, D-Squad was heading home, only to find themselves in the middle of a storm of comets (which looked great) during their hyperspace jump, which forced them to crash land on Abafar, the most desolate of desolate planets.

Dave Filoni, the supervising director of The Clone Wars, referred to this episode as “abstract” and “really experimental stuff,” and he definitely wasn't wrong. The barrenness of Abafar was incredibly striking, and Filoni acknowledged the THX 1138 vibe in the episode’s aesthetics as feeling very much like that film’s white room. It left Gascon and the droids without much to look at or interact with except themselves, and things went in all sorts of odd directions.

Gascon reverted back to his arrogant, overcompensating, overstuffed self, something I'd hoped we had moved past after the droids did a nice job with the initial mission. It felt like a bit of a stretch so that the episode could get to the core of the arc’s conflict, as vocalized by Gascon: the value of training versus programming. Abafar’s lack of landmarks didn’t help the diminutive map-maker, and he balked at R2 pointing out that the astromechs are made for navigation.

While this debate is an interesting one, and one that I started the ball rolling on last week as I talked about the show’s use of droids, “A Sunny Day in the Void” didn’t leave you with much choice but to side with the droids as Gascon became increasingly unhinged and his arguments became more and more nonsensical. Much like last week, however, the episode provided Gascon with an out and a realization that the droids are more than the sums of their programming and gears, and the mission continued.

Then there was the very odd suicide humor, and I just do not know what to to do with it. WAC joked more than a few times about Gascon putting himself out of his misery, and it just seemed tone-deaf, and not all that funny, from a show perspective. It sort of fit with the experimental feeling of the episode, but I don’t know that it fit with the show. We’ll have plenty of time to mull on it, though, as this seems to be the last new episode of 2012.

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic S03E06: “Sleepless in Ponyville”

A couple of weeks ago with “One Bad Apple,” I commented that episodes centered on the Cutie Mark Crusaders tend to be less enjoyable and more heavy-handed. But here we had an episode that broke up that dynamic a bit by focusing on Scootaloo’s relationship with Rainbow Dash instead of the pursuit of that ever-important Cutie Mark. It was a very successful shift.

While Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom have always benefited from having blood sisters in Rarity and Applejack, Scootaloo has always been on her own. While the most direct parallel to her is Rainbow Dash, both in type of pony and attitude, the two have never really been thrown together, and thus when Rainbow Dash complimented Scootaloo on some mad scooter moves, Scootaloo became very excited.

And so the three pairs of ponies set off for a camping trip, and Rainbow Dash’s scary stories spooked Scootaloo enough that the poor pony just couldn’t sleep, but was too afraid to tell Rainbow Dash, lest Rainbow Dash not find Scootaloo cool any longer. It was a perfectly and wonderfully relatable story—wanting to impress an older, awesome person—and the conclusion, with Rainbow Dash admitting that her own stories scared her when she was young, provided a nice layer for the character, and showed that being tough isn’t always instantaneous.

Apart from the storytelling, a lot of the episode rested on the strength of its aesthetics, which were top-notch. While it leaned on long shots to show off forests and nightmare-scapes, they were very pleasing to the eye, with the nightmare sequences especially well-shaded and detailed with all the creep-tastic trees.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles S01E11: “Mousers Attack!”

As was promised by a few commenters a couple of weeks ago, the whole A-team/B-team thing resurfaced this week to generally uninteresting results. “Mousers Attack!” was entertaining enough, but the central character conflict didn’t illuminate anything new about the four brothers, nor did it seem to change things between them. It did, however reaffirm that they work best as a group, rather than divided into pairs.

Following April’s mugging at the hands of some Purple Dragons, the turtles decided to go and retrieve her stolen goods, including a phone. Things became complicated when mousers arrived the Purple Dragons’ hideout shortly after the turtles did, requiring the group to split up, with Leo and Raph (the A-team) going after the mousers and Don and Mike (the B-team) going after the Purple Dragons that escaped with April’s phone.

The episode should've felt overly busy between Leo and Raph fighting a never-ending army of mousers, Dogpound attempting to break into the phone to locate the turtles (how hard can searching the sewers really be?!), Don and Mike attempting to get the phone back from Dogpound, and Baxter Stockman lurking about, but it never really did, which is to the episode’s credit.

But it achieved this by not being too substantial. Don and Mike were unable to act since Don’s plans were too elaborate and both he and Mike lack the necessary decisiveness to act on any of them (Mike’s contribution to planning sessions is, of course, to just name the operations). This isn't a new revelation, as we already knew that both characters are prone to these traits, so it felt more like wheel-spinning and comedy—albeit good comedy—than anything particularly important.

Leo and Raph’s battle with the mousers demonstrated their competency as fighters, but fighting didn’t do them much good when they just couldn’t escape due to a lack of intelligence about the mousers. Sure, they figured out it was the spray, and they did attempt to solve the problem, but in the end, there wasn’t much that could be done beyond providing the mousers with a strong gamma signal to follow.

While "Mousers Attack!" wanted to be about picking your battles, it needed to zero in more on the fact that each turtle brings a certain dynamic to the team, and that ast the leader, Leo more than anyone, needs to understand how to make a balanced team when they pair off.

What did you think of this week's episodes?

  • Comments (13)
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  • Writerpatrick Dec 12, 2012

    Clone Wars seems to have turned into The Droids. Have they run out of ideas? Considering this could be it's last season it seems a shame to waste episodes like this.

  • mcepin3 Dec 12, 2012

    things that keep me coming back to these new TMNT, are pure and simple 3 things for me: writing,humor and voice acting. Writing and humor go hand in hand and might put them in one basket,but I think it's fair what I have written. Also don't think,I really need to explain what I said,because I will just recap episode :D

    They only stole her phone :D or did I miss anything? Didn't turtles go out just for her phone?

  • mcepin3 Dec 11, 2012

    for me it was torture to watch this episode of Clone Wars. even as they made this episode,I would be glad,if they decided to not air it. Someone should be smart enough and said,this season can do without this episode and people will get our story,even if we just "skip" this episode. Up until,they crash landed on that planet,it was good(how long did that last?2min?) and then brutal 20min left of episode. They are in hyperspace and they get warning,that with storm of comets,they are on crash course. Ok I get that,but after then I don't get it. Was that red thing alarm( on window ) or indicating,that they are already in middle of it. By the time they drop out,it seems they are already in middle of it,so let's say some "miracle" that they are still alive(even though I think,they should be dead at that point:D ). While comets were going one way, smaller rocks or comet babies were coming from other direction towards ship and our droids. I did like that scene the most,where each droids "drops" cable to another for rescue.
    And then crash landing...and...arrrrghhh....just torture to watch it. I handle Jar-Jar scenes quite well,because I kinda like him(depends on how they use him),but this is just too much. I I knew it,they will go in circles, all that "heat" madness talk,imagining that they see stuff,etc. Pointless upon pointless scenes. And at end of it,just out of nowhere and because it was time for episode to end,come those "birds"(or how we call them) and rescue little guy and Wac. Woooow.really?!?!? :D

    Didn't watch newest episode of TMNT yet,but will watch it tomorrow.

  • iheartfrosty Dec 11, 2012

    I understand what you're saying about Ben10 but I really enjoy your newcomer analysis and it helps me see flaws that I miss because I've been watching for years and I love the characters.

  • noelrk Dec 11, 2012

    I don't necessarily see "flaws" since I do think the show is well-made, and it knows its formula and structure inside and out. It's just whether or not the variations on that structure, like with the hour-long procedural, lend themselves to weekly thoughts. Which isn't a big deal, or a knock on the show at all. It's very good at what it does.

    I'm sticking with the show through the rest of the month at the very least, but am also thinking about how this column will look once DC Nation returns sometime in January. Starting that conversation with Jen, and we'll see how things go.

  • JT_Kirk Dec 11, 2012

    A very generous review for Clone Wars. I couldn't agree more about the reversion of Col. Gascon's personality being unwelcome, or about the disturbing "kill yourself" stuff. My problem with this episode was that it felt half-baked as far as a story went, it was an episode about nothing, saying nothing, and achieving nothing, it could have been covered in the flashback blurb at the beginning of the episode with ease.

    Filoni also referred to this episode as harkening back to Moebius' art. I'm only roughly familiar with the reference so I did a little image searching of it, and to be honest, this episode missed the mark there quite badly. Moebius drew a void that had a visual personality and characters that filled it with an emotional context - hopelessness or rest or survival in that void - while Clone Wars missed that beat almost entirely. Perhaps it's the nature of the CGI artform, but I found no visual statement at all, no art in the sky or the ground, no statement of long-term void, just a cheap pattern skin on the ground to have it stand out from the sky - you can see it in that screenshot above.

    Ultimately, what makes this episode ruinous is that very quickly into it, our well-known characters - the astromechs - up and leave so that the audience follows the new characters that are both somewhat grating as people. These new characters, Gascon and WAC, go through the motions of being lost in attempted-comical fashion that serves chiefly to remind one of a myriad of prior attempts at the concept - we've seen the mismatched pair in Looney Tunes cartoons, and in many other tv and movies, it's become a cheap cliche thanks to the screen, and this episode serves to add nothing to that, only to take from it in clumsy fashion. There is nobody for the audience to like here, and ultimately there isn't even a fulfilled goal, only a cliffhanger of a ghost town.

    I don't mind them trying something new, I just mind them not thinking it out at all. The "Mortis" episodes were experimental too, and even though they were mixed of success they got a lot more traction out of their experiment than this did with its own. The worst part is that it feels like a lazy phone-in, yet I suspect they worked as hard on it as any episode, and either way it ended in a total flop.

  • noelrk Dec 11, 2012

    But all that being said (damn keyboard)...those aspects I mentioned dragged down the episode as a whole for me. A stronger, more dialectical approach to the programming/training issue would've helped a lot (and less histronics from Gascon), but even if the execution wasn't completely on the mark, I admire the attempt, perhaps more than I should.

  • JT_Kirk Dec 12, 2012

    That is a considerably problem with an episode like this, greater ideas that cannot be supported by the limitations at hand. They might have wanted to explore those ideas deeply, but instead they just touched on them and either had to move on due to time or keep it simple due to a perception that the kiddies couldn't follow philosophical discussions to a deeper conclusion.

    To admire this attempt for its intentions is to credit Roger Corman and Syfy Saturday films with genius just because there's a muddled message buried deep in the fractured foundation of a mediocre application. Corman may want to make every film as deep as The Day The Earth Stood Still, but most are closer to Plan 9 From Outer Space.

  • mcepin3 Dec 11, 2012

    don't blame the keyboard....sooo not cool:D

  • noelrk Dec 11, 2012

    It would appear to be generous! I think I may have liked it more than those paragraphs let on, hedging my bets, as it were. Perhaps I was feeling limited by a desire to keep a manageable length. I feel like I could've done a single long post on it, and maybe I should have?

    I saw the Moebius art mention, and I see it as an inspiration, but like you said, it misses the mark as an homage (if that's what they were even aiming for).

    But I'm going to disagree the whole "nothing" as a negative for the episode, as the nothingness is important for the episode's intent. It is about something in that it's the nothingness that rattles Gascon to his core, nothing for his rational mind and training to deal with. It's very absurdist, but the humor surrounding it kept a little too silly than perhaps the episode might have otherwise needed or was a touch too episode-rupturing in the case of the life-ending humor, a staple of absurdist and existential things, but since Clone Wars isn't normally in that vein, it's was perhaps one nudge too far.

    But it's also to that end that we end up WAC and Gascon as our primary characters. The mechs are assured of themselves and their goals. There's no internal struggle for any of them, and that's why they had to leave. WAC and Gascon are both coming to grips with themselves, who they are and who they want to be, and the void forces them to figure that out.

    It's too early to say if anything's been achieved or not achieved though. Gascon seemed to have learned something last week, but reverted back this week. We'll see if this crisis of self carries through when the show returns to the arc in January. WAC, I imagine, will be just fine.

  • JT_Kirk Dec 12, 2012

    If you liked it at all, then it wouldn't appear to be generous I suppose... insane, maybe, but not generous. ;-) Clearly you could have written a whole article on this one, and doing so would have been contentious for the small audience of Clone Wars viewers who patronize this site, but without an arguing counterpoint to bounce ideas off of, what more would you have said on it?

    Perhaps if we had a character we already knew, someone who is more fully-fleshed out and valued to the audience, I could follow you on the idea of following an episode where the protagonist is torn apart spinning his wheels; but Col. Gascon is a very off-note Clone Wars character we were introduced to only one episode back, and he's a pretty shallow character thus far so it's difficult to get an audience to care about his feelings. But you are right on the money pointing out that the humor kept it too light to tackle the issue it was hinting at, this is where the "Looney Tunes" aspect drags it down, nobody ever worries that Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck is going to be permanently damaged from the ruinous situations they find themselves in because it always feels like a cartoon: no shotgun to the face ever leaves the audience concerned for any other result than a faceful of black soot. Gascon is a meaningless character, he bounces around and blusters and acts unjustifiably superior to his mechanical squadmates, but at the end of the day it's hard to care that his mission, his sanity, and his life are in jeopardy because he is still a tiny jerk of a froggy nobody, his life as far as we've seen up until now has been mainly antics and what little character growth he had was wiped out immediately in this episode. And it surely doesn't help that it didn't wrap up its story, it merely paused for a few weeks.

    Artoo used to quake in his boots (proverbially speaking) and question orders and act foolishly, but the prequels moved to make him more stalwart and it kills him as a flexible enough character to carry the internal struggle issue, which is too bad because a scene with the astromechs bickering and WAC having to translate it all for Gascon would have been a lot more interesting than what we ended up with.

  • FoxZerro Dec 11, 2012

    One thing about the Leo and Raph pairing during the Turtle Episode is that they were able to shut down a lareg amount of them using Raphael's idea about dropping a street light in a pool of water. Yes it didn't end the conflict but it was quick and decisive thinking and unfortunately sort of undermined the whole brains of the B-Team and the brawn of the A-team message.

  • noelrk Dec 11, 2012

    I think that was more an example of their tactical thinking and training than Don's particular brand of intelligence and tech know-how, which would've allowed them actually escape the mousers instead of fighting endless waves of them.

    Either way, it's still undermined.