Thursday, June 12, 2008

Finite Cartoons III

Finite Cartoons I
Finite Cartoons II

Before I tell you about my final favorite Finite Cartoon (my definition of this term is here) I must confess something. I have not seen every episode of this one. Gads! Furthermore, once I researched it to refresh my memory of what I did know of it, I discovered that I might not be entirely correct on this one. That is, it may not be a Finite Cartoon in the truest sense. It seems as if it is more like a series with a continuity, but not an actual arc. I’m sorry. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it and as I stated, I didn’t get to see them all. However, this cartoon series has what I think are fascinating origins and production development. I’ll get to it in a bit.

First let me explain the difference between a continuity series and a finite series. A comment on the last post asked if the delightfully wacky parody of superheroes and supervillains, The Tick, counts as a Finite Cartoon. To the best of my knowledge it does not. The argument for it being one is that it has recurring tidbits such as the example given that Chairface’s attempt to emblaze his name on the moon can be seen throughout the shows after it first appears. Yet this just chalks up to consistency (which many cartoons do ignore, sadly.) I don’t see The Tick as having a general overall story that follows toward an ending. It’s a series of adventures, each separate but for the continuity of elements. I hope I’m making it clear enough. For the record, I love The Tick. SPOON!

All right…the last cartoon show I wish to talk about is Jumanji: The Animated Series. I have to tell you, I happened to experience Jumanji backward. Huh? Like this: The cartoon series is based on the live-action movie, which itself is based on a magnificent picture book by the amazing writer/illustrator Chris Van Allsburg. Somehow I never had picked up that particular book. I had wanted to see the movie, but it did not work out in the cards. I happened to catch the cartoon show one day. At first the drawing style threw me, for it takes some getting used to. [For instance, the character’s eyes are very far apart on their heads.] After time, I really came to enjoy the vaguely abstract character and setting design. Now, as I watched, it made me wonder. I knew the basic idea of the movie’s plot through general knowledge. But this show had the premise…backwards. I suppose I should explain the general idea for those who don’t know. Jumanji is a board game about traversing a jungle. But the game is “real.” When it says monkeys attack, well, they do. Creatures and people and floods and things come “out of the game” and manifest into our reality. In the movie version, a boy named Alan Parrish plays with his friend Sarah Whittle. A little black bubble in the center has green mist form into rhyming words for each turn, indicating what will happen, albeit usually in “clue” form. Alan’s message: In the jungle you must wait until someone rolls a five or eight. Then, the reverse happens to him - he gets “sucked into” the game through the black bubble. Sarah runs screaming. Decades later, two children named Peter and Judy move into the house and find the game in the attic. They start playing and experience its delicious horror…but they are not playing their own game…they become additional players to Alan and Sarah’s, as a game of Jumanji does not end until someone’s piece gets to the center of the board. Peter rolls and releases an adult Alan, now a “wild man” of the jungle. They have to enlist the help of reclusive Sarah, for they need to finish the game in order to stop the ever-increasing chaos unleashed upon their town. Got that? Good. Now you will be able to see why I became confused watching the cartoon. For in the series, Peter and Judy receive a clue and then both get sucked into the game, where they meet “Wild Man” Alan Parrish and have adventures with him in the jungle of Jumanji. In order to get out, they must figure out what their cryptic clue means. Alan, however, never saw his clue and is thus stuck in Jumanji. Sarah Whittle is not in the show. After getting ‘sucked into’ the TV show, I then, naturally, sought out the movie. Loved it. I knew they had expanded the story from the picture book, so I had a theory. Alan Parrish would not be in the book. Correct. It’s just Peter and Judy and the perils that escape from the game remain confined to their house only and they complete the adventure before their parents get home. [In the movie and cartoon, their parents had died and they live with their Aunt Nora played by Bebe Neuwirth. For the record, a young Kirsten Dunst plays Judy. Bonnie Hunt is adult Sarah Whittle. Robin Williams is adult Alan Parrish.]

I’m not sure about you, but I find this progression and re-adaptation from book to series fascinating. It’s cool how you can re-fashion something without losing the basics of the original. Chris Van Allsburg (love him!) is given credit on IMDB for helping with the screenplay, although in interviews he says that his (allowed) input had been extremely limited.

As for it being a Finite Cartoon, I’ve discovered that it at least has a rudimentary plotline of trying to find out Alan’s clue that he missed so that he can escape Jumanji. Sorry for this spoiler (spoiled it for me, too): In the final episode they do get the clue and Alan leaves with them and takes a shine to their Aunt Nora. So at the very least, it does “end.” So in that sense, it qualifies as Finite, though it may not fully deserve the title.
And guess what…Tim Curry has a role in this one, too! He plays Trader Slick of Jumanji, as the cartoon allowed for the creation of a whole set of new characters.

If you haven’t seen the movie or read Van Allsburg’s book…what are you waiting for?

Van Allsburg is also responsible for The Polar Express, among others. My favorite of his works, though, is The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Talk about creatively inspiring...!

Yes, YouTube strikes again. You can find nearly all the episodes of the Jumanji cartoon series there.

Two other examples of a Finite Cartoon (though I would not call them “favorites”) are:
Jackie Chan Adventures. Yes, the martial arts legend is also a ‘toon. I’ve caught quite a few episodes and have enjoyed it. But for me it did not have the same lure as Mighty Max, Danny Phantom or Jumanji. This one has the distinction of having a new (but contiguous) arc for each season.
Star Blazers (English Title). This is a Japanese anime series chronicling the adventures of a starship crew making their way to see Trilena of Telezar, who needs their help. (As I recall it.)
The web has info on both, of course.

If you know any more good Finite Cartoons, I’d love to know about them!

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