Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Finite Cartoons

I really enjoy a good Finite Cartoon. What on earth is that? It’s the term I use for an episodic animated series which follows a progressive story arc. This differs from a regular show. A regular program is situation-based and each episode is complete in and of itself. Next episode, new story, solved within that time frame. Yes, a Finite Cartoon can also wrap up a situation within an episode, but there is more to it. A Finite Cartoon has a definite origin and moves along to a planned conclusion. I especially like the ones with side-story episodes as well, those that don’t actually factor into the spine of the overall tale. Just to mix it up a little bit and give the arc more weight when it does appear. I’ve certainly not seen every Finite Cartoon that exits, nor do I have a complete tally. But I do have a few favorites.

One of these had actually been an advertising ploy for bad toys produced in the early 90’s. But don’t let that fool you. It seems as if the writers and animators used the toys as a springboard, leaving it in the dust of their overactive imaginations. This series draws on a wealth of mythology from around the globe, alleged ancient civilizations and a whole set of newly created mythos. It’s no wonder I like it, especially since the protagonist of the story is of the Puer Archetype. (Boy Hero) He’s not a Puer Aeternus (Eternal Boy) like Peter Pan, but he’s a wonderful character nonetheless. His name is Max. Here's the basic story (and bear in mind this is a fantastical, almost comic-book show): A package is delivered to Max's house which he assumes to be for his mother, an archeologist working for a museum. But no, it is addressed to him. Inside is a statue of a fowl. After translating Egyptian hieroglyphics to be a personal message for him, he drops it and reveals a red baseball cap with a yellow “M” on it. Before long a lava beast attacks him on his bike and the cap automatically opens up a portal into which he escapes, ending up on another part of the world. He’s met by a Schwarzenegger-esque fellow with an enormous sword and a large foul (about half Max’s height.) Max has been chosen by prophecy and destiny to be the next Mighty One, he who stands up against the evils of the world. More specifically to take down Skullmaster of the Underground Kingdom, who is orchestrating much of the chaos above. (I know, I know, but it’s technically for kids, okay?) Skullmaster had been trapped by the previous Mighty One and is now making his escape. It progresses into a complicated story of pupils and teachers, ancient artifacts, beasties, legends and gods. It all comes to a magnificent conclusion at Stonehenge. Skullmaster is voiced by the iconic gentleman Tim Curry. Oh. The name of the show is Mighty Max. Whether you believe me or not, it’s a sophisticated well-written show, rich in “edutainment.” Unfortunately it’s not yet available on DVD. But I got to see all of it on TV, watching reruns (new to me) as an adult. Once the conclusion aired during the middle of the week, I figured the next day just might be the pilot. So I set the VCR (Jeepers, remember those?) for it. Yup, they aired the whole series over again, in order. So with a few glitches (thanks to imperfect technology and weather) I have 98% of the entire series on video tape. Someplace, in a box. It didn’t just go to waste, for I showed Cassidy the entire series and she agreed that it’s of a wonderful calibre. If it ever comes to DVD, do check it out. It’s a hell of a lot of fun. You can find a lot about it on the good ‘ol ‘net if you’re so inclined. Other vocal talent in it includes Tony Jay, Richard Moll, Rob Paulsen and Tress MacNeille. You may know the last two from Animaniacs. Ms. MacNeille also voices Agnes Skinner (and many others) for The Simpsons and has done work for Futurama and Rugrats, to name but a measly few of her track record.

That’s enough reading for now. I’ll tell you about another choice Finite Cartoon in the next post.
How about you? Have a “Finite Cartoon” favorite?

Finite Cartoons II
Finite Cartoons III
*After writing this, I discovered that someone has the entire series posted on YouTube. I’m not posting a link, as this is technically infringement. But I’m not going to discourage you from looking it up ;)


Danielle Mari said...

Oh MY! I don't think I've really ever seen one! What are some others?

Anonymous said...

Why "finite"?

Peter Von Brown said...

Because a "regular" series is open-ended. An infinite number of possibilities exist for the show. As long as you can think of a new siuation another episode, it can be done. A show that is "locked" (in the good sense) into a beginning, middle and end is primarily restricted to keeping with telling that story, therefore "finite."