Weekend Animation Round-up: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ben 10: Omniverse, and The Clone Wars

Happy Saturday, you lovers of cartoons! In this week's Animation Round-up, Ben 10 meets a very flexible young lady, The Clone Wars teaches some younglings a lesson, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles must deal with a psychic monkey... AND THE RE-ANIMATOR!

Ben 10: Omniverse S01E08: “Hot Stretch”

“Hot Stretch” may be one of my favorite episodes of Omniverse so far. I admit that I don’t have much to compare it to, but the episode was generally fun with some solid action sequences, some really intense alien street hockey, and, of course, some cute flirty-flirty stuff.

Bellwood was in the grips of a massive heat wave, so of course some thief in a parka had stolen a fusion engine/orb/device for a nefarious purpose. It turned out the super-stretchy thief was Ester, a member of the Kraaho, a Tungsten-based race that requires extreme heat to survive. Their leader, Seebik, used the fusion engine to power some lasers that tapped into a magma flow under the Earth’s surface, which then erupted into Bellwood.

It wasn't the most complicated of plans, and the Kraaho were rather broadly painted Native American/Aboriginal-types which put a bit of a damper on things. But the episode did a lot to make Rook seem very good at his job as Ben’s partner, which is something I hadn’t really been feeling before now. He handled himself well against an assault from the Kraaho while Ben (as NRG) attempted to retrieve the fusion engine, and Rook was the one who first noticed that Ester was all sorts of into Ben. It was nice to see this fleshing-out of Rook, since he'd largely been regulated to straight man and English idiom misuser.

But it was really Ester I was happiest to see. This latest incarnation of Ben 10 has been low on the female characters, so it was nice to see one on the screen, and a capable one at that. I don’t expect Ester to appear in every episode (or even in every other episode), but certainly she can take a break from guiding the Kraaho to lend a hand every now and then.

And now I have a few questions for you Ben 10 aficionados:

– There was no mention of the universe-copying that was performed last week using Alien X, or even hints at it. Is it common for the series to drop and pick up larger arcs or concerns, or is something new to Omniverse?

– Bellwood’s pretty much wrecked after all that lava. Do the Plumbers have an easy way of fixing it? I’m not expecting to see Bellwood still demolished next week, but it seems like a continuity thing.

– Is Ditto really Ben’s cutest form? Is there a cuter one?

Star Wars: The Clone Wars S05E06: “The Gathering”

I sometimes forget that The Clone Wars is intended as a kid-friendly show, but then an episode like “The Gathering” reminds me. It was sort of a dull, toss-away episode (at least for now; who knows when Katooni will be back?!) that, if you’re a Star Wars fan, didn’t offer a lot of new things.

Ahsoka escorted a group of younglings (pre-Padawan Jedi, for those not aware) to Ilum, the planet that houses the cave where the Jedi get all their lightsaber crystals. I don’t think we’ve seen Ilum since Genndy’s Tartakovsky Star Wars: Clone Wars series (though I could be wrong), so it was nice to see another take on the interior of that cavern.

But the episode quickly descended into easy predictability as the Crystal Cave essentially became like the cave on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back, as each of the younglings faced off against some particular trial that improved their character, much like Luke faced off against his fear of becoming Darth Vader. Each of their respective crystals was in a place that challenged a character flaw (impatience, lack of confidence, over-reliance on technology, etc.), and that they had to turn to the to Force and to themselves to reach.

“The Gathering” didn’t offer much new insight into the Jedi Order or into any of the younglings, who were largely defined by their one character trait, and the episode felt very filler-y as a result.

No doubt a point of discussion in this week's comments will be the fate of The Clone Wars following Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Cartoon Network has the rights to the series through the end of the 2012-2013 season, and the rights to keep airing reruns through the end of 2013.

Following that, it’s not exactly clear what will happen to the series. It’d be a good fit for Disney XD, though I know many of us believed this season to the be the last (I think even Hasbro, the company that makes the toys, said it was), so it’ll be interesting to see whether Disney orders more episodes or decides to start fresh with a brand-new series.

I imagine a lot will hinge on how much Disney wants to “own” it. The Clone Wars brand is remarkably strong, so starting from scratch is risky, but Disney may also not want to invest in something until it can better control the home video distribution aspect, which is a deal they’ll have to work out with Warner Bros., as the Hollywood Reporter article notes.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles S01E05: “Monkey Brains”

It’s sort of surprising that TMNT would give us two Donnie-centric episodes in a row, but “Monkey Brains” did exactly that. It wasn't a not bad thing, though it did a feel a tad unbalanced in terms of character development. After working through learning to have to trust his own skills and weapons, this week Donnie learned not to overthink in combat—to trust his instinct, as it were, like Mikey.

If there's one thing to like about this episode and the previous one, it's that the show is drawing April a bit more into the narrative, which I’m completely in favor of. I’d like it more if Donnie weren’t acting like such a creeper between the voyeurism last week and then the flow chart this week, as if April were some character in a Japanese visual novel game. While that flow chart fit in with this episode's overall theme of Donnie overthinking things (a parallel I can appreciate), it didn’t lessen the ick factor for me. Certainly Splinter wanting to take her on as a pupil is a good sign for her future in the series, and I’m hopeful for her growth as a character.

The case of the episode, hunting down a mutant chimp/transformed scientist, wasn’t particularly compelling, but I freely admit that I enjoyed it a bit more than I should have due largely to Jeffrey Combs’ voice work as Falco, the evil scientist turned evil psychic. Combs’ voice is one of those delightfully menacing ones, a velvet hammer as it were, making it a nice fit for a deranged mind-reader.

The turtles’ fight with Falco was also pretty good. I really liked the use of the blue shadows to illustrate which moves each respective turtle planned on using; it helped to visualize Falco’s abilities beyond the standard psychic circles everyone uses (and that were still used here as well).

Also, as just an aside, how much did you love the “Space Heroes III” post mimicking Star Trek III: The Search for Spock?

What'd you think of this week's episodes?

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