It’s time for this week's animation round-up! In the last few days, the Plumbers had to deal with a malfunctioning Omnitrix on Ben 10: Omniverse, the younglings and Ahsoka teamed up with Hondo to escape Grievous’s clutches on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the Cutie Mark Crusaders dealt with a bully on My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles acquired a new mode of transportation, and Finn climbed the most epic tree ever on Adventure Time.
The entire premise of “Outbreak,” that Dr. Psychobos needed to retrieve a component from the Omnitrix for his Nemetrix, begged the question of why Malware and Pyschobos bothered with Khyber in the first place—especially since Psychobos had very little trouble getting the component. Psychobos and Malware were at odds, as Malware (and then Khyber) wanted Ben destroyed and Psychobos was after Azmuth, so already their scheme was strained under the weight of their different goals.
I imagine that the episode was still a bit of a delight for longtime Ben 10 fans as the malfunctioning Omnitrix released its transforming energy around the Plumbers’ HQ, turning various occupants—including some captured villains—into some of the Omnitrix’s alien forms. Of course all the villains got the cool and powerful aliens while the Plumbers got the less-awesome villains, including an adorable chibi-fied Rook-turned-Upchuck. It was the kind of fan-service-y episode that shows like Ben 10 can—and should—do every once in a while.
Me, I was just a little lost given my lack of familiarity with the villains, but the episode was still fun. I do find myself wishing that Ben grew a little bit between episodes; some acknowledgment that he’s not invincible or as smart as he thinks he is would be most welcomed, and episodes like this one are small slices of humble pie that Ben never seems to fully digest.
We’ve reached the conclusion of this arc, and "A Necessary Bond" was probably the most exciting of the four episodes. And David Tennant was back (though sadly in a much smaller capacity).
The episode was actually mostly good. The opening chase sequence was one of those virtuoso action sequences that contained plenty of thrills and made the inevitability of the Jedi's recapturing something more interesting than it would have been otherwise, even if it included a cliff turn at the last second. The same couldn’t be said for their chase through some canyons on the way to Hondo’s vault, which fell into podracing territory in look and levels of excitement, but it was going to be difficult to top the opening.
Grievous’s arrival on Florrum, on Dooku’s orders, wasn’t exactly the most riveting of plot developments, but it served its plot purpose in uniting the Jedi and Hondo’s pirates. Given that Hondo has lost his base of operations, most of his ships, and many of his men, I hope that this is the last we see of the Weequay pirate for a while. Meaningful nod with Katooni aside, the character is still a little overly flexible for narrative means.
I was annoyed by two things in this episode, though only one of them is legitimate. The first was Ahsoka’s duel with Grievous. Grievous’s skill and cunning is always something that varies depending on the needs of the show, so Ahsoka holding her own against the general was difficult to buy into. I’ve come to terms with that sort of thing from The Clone Wars.
My other, in-no-way-legitimate complaint has is that Huyang mentioned that this whole ordeal was as exciting as when Yoda went to go get his lightsaber crystal. ... ... ... WHY DIDN’T WE GET TO HEAR THAT STORY, SHOW?! I WANT TO HEAR THAT STORY. I mean, don’t you want to see Yoda and Huyang teaming up and being awesome? I do!
My Little Pony generally has a lesson to offer, and that’s fine. It’s actually one of the show’s strengths, as it balances being genuinely entertaining while still imparting a moral or life lesson. And more often than not, the show also excels at not being too on-the-nose about it. Except when it’s a Cutie Mark Crusaders episode, and then the show tends to fall victim to painful after-school-special impulses.
“One Bad Apple” fell squarely into this camp as Babs Seed (voiced by Bryanna Drummond, laying on a Brooklyn accent a little too thickly), a cousin of Apple Bloom’s from Manehattan arrived in Ponyville. Babs—like Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo—doesn’t have her cutie mark yet, and so the young ponies were very excited at the prospect of a new member in their blank flank club. But Babs very quickly threw in her lot in with Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon and began to bully the Cutie Mark Crusaders.
And so the episode relied on standard bullying PSA rhetoric, including informing an older person about the bullying (in this case, Applejack). Of course, the Crusaders first had to play a prank on Babs during the Summer Harvest (a rigged golden apple float) before learning that Babs arrived in Ponyville to escape some bullying in Manehattan, and that her bullying was just the result of not wanting to be teased in Ponyville as well.
It was all just so pointed and overly reinforced throughout the episode that “One Bad Apple” didn’t completely fit with the show’s overall tone of gently weaving in a lesson. Sure, there was some good stuff, like Pinkie Pie’s delightful yelling of “VEGGIE SALAD!” as her lettuce float crashed or the “Babs Seed” song, which conjured up old memories of A Pup Named Scooby-Doo in its execution and style, but it wasn't enough to balance out the heavy-handed nature of lesson.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been on a small roll the past couple of weeks, with strong episodes that've pushed the series forward in really productive ways. If those episodes were the “two steps forward,” “Panic in the Sewers” was the very definition of “one step back.” Maybe even three steps.
When the show first premiered, I questioned its reason for existing, beyond selling toys. My big gripe with "Panic in the Sewers" is that it felt like exactly that: a very long, plotless commercial for some new toys. Which isn’t totally fair, because there was the semblance of a plot: The turtles got word that Shredder (and/or Bradford-now-Dogpound) was planning to flood the sewers with a chemical concoction to wipe out their lair, and they had to stop it. And that was pretty much it.
The episode never came together in an interesting way for me. It was jumbled mess of scenes, with Splinter’s concern for the turtles’ well-being never the core of the episode as it likely should have been. Instead, we got a chase after the chemical truck in a new turtle buggy that Don had built, and of course it broke into four parts, laying the foundation for a neat toy in the future. (You can actually buy a Ninja Stealth Bike that comes with an exclusive Raph figure for about $23 bucks.)
Perhaps I’m just being jaded and cynical, but I didn’t see the big vehicle sequences in The Clone Wars this week as a thinly veiled attempt to sell me some toy versions of pirate skiffs or the Jedi ship the younglings were on. “Panic in the Sewers” was just so... half-baked that it doesn’t seem like it could be anything else.
When I started covering Adventure Time for this round-up, fellow TV.com writer Cory Barker asked about the show in the comments, and I told him that the best way to think about it was from the point of view of a kid with a mismatched toy chest on a rainy Saturday afternoon. “Up a Tree” took that premise and moved it outside as Finn climbed the most epic tree ever to retrieve his throwing-and-catching-disc (because Frisbee is a trademarked property).
The big charm of Adventure Time has always been the way it stretches a simple premise to the fantastic without crossing over into satire or irony. And so this notion of retrieving a lost toy in a tree, something anyone who has played outside can relate to, became a quest—just like it may have seemed when as a kid you attempted to climb a tree in real life. Branches break, animals get in the way, fear settles in, and then there’s the matter of getting back down.
“Up a Tree” played on all of these aspects with its twisted wit, particularly the cult of the tree. The whole “In the tree, part of the tree” mantra from the animals was just creepy enough to be delightful but not distracting (I loved that the owl wore a tee-shirt that said “Owl” on it), and for me stirred up memories of the Great Deku Tree in The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. Finn’s eventual escape with the non-flying squirrel was cute (though the “yes and no” gag wore itself out), and the last-minute save by the throwing-and-catching disc was indeed “the perfect throw” with which to end the segment.