Cartoon Graveyard: Can’t Stop The MotionNovember 5, 2009
Confession time: I’m a total geek for stop-motion animation. The very idea of someone going to the trouble of building tiny detailed figures, props, and sets, putting them into dioramas, and then carefully arranging them so as to create the illusion of motion, and telling a story that way, is awesome. It has to be the most labor-intensive animation method on the planet, and it’s worth it because the end product looks so goddamned cool. So naturally I’m impressed by people like Nick Park and Henry Selick that make a living out of it. Hell, Wes Anderson reportedly directed Fantastic Mister Fox from thousands of miles away, just to show off (then again, it’s not like he’s the only acclaimed filmmaker with super powers. You know the real reason Scorsese wears those glasses? That’s right, heat vision). Making a stop-motion film tells me that the director cares enough about his or her story to put a great deal of time and effort into telling it. At least, it should. Unfortunately, sometimes it means that they think the effect will be cool enough that no one will notice if they just dick around for a while. And that, alas, is what we’re dealing with.
Title: Titan Maximum
Network: Adult Swim (Cartoon Network)
Premise: Two words: shitty Voltron.
How you feel about this show will probably depend on how you feel about Robot Chicken because, well, it’s made by the same people as Robot Chicken. Tom Root and Matthew Seinreich, two of the brai- er, the mastermi- um, the writers of the aforementioned stoner anthology show created Titan Maximum, and it shows. So since Robot Chicken tends to be a love-it-or-find-it-unspeakably-boring proposition, you should know already how you would react. But just in case you don’t, I’ll write about it some more! Yaaaaay!
Titan Maximum sets itself up as a parody of Voltron and its many imitators. The titular behemoth is a humanoid robot in the future piloted by alpha male Palmer, his nerdy but eager kid brother Willie, good-hearted blonde Jodi, sarcastic jerk Sasha, and a pissed-off looking monkey named Leon. They battle the evil machinations of Gibbs, a former Titan pilot and Jodi’s ex-boyfriend. On the surface, it seems like a good premise. ‘80s nostalgia for toy commercials disguised as TV cartoons is hot right now, thanks it part to Robot Chicken’s endless mining of that vein, and Voltron is a genuinely ridiculous concept. So there should some rich comic material here, no?
Well, no, actually. True to form, Root and Seinreich have apparently decided that the premise is hilarious enough for them to just coast along writing-wise. In place of the hoped-for satire of the very concept of giant crime-fighting robots, we get a parade of easy stereotypes (the hillbilly planet! The old people planet!) and nonstop sex talk. And by no means are these writers masters of vocabulary. Let me put it like this: watching The Wire gave me the impression that everyone in Baltimore swears like a sailor with a stubbed toe during every conversation, be it with loved ones, coworkers, or supervisors (and, having never been to Baltimore, I can only assume it’s true). Watching Titan Maximum, on the other hand, has led me to believe that in the future everyone talks like a 7th grader trying to show his friends how edgy he is. Allow me to demonstrate: nutsack. Are you now rolling on the floor in helpless mirth? Then you, sir or madam, will thoroughly enjoy this show. Having one character mix juvenile sex talk into serious conversation would be a good comic conceit; having everyone do it is just lame.
The show keeps Robot Chicken’s characteristic fifteen-minute running time, with commercials, which is really a handicap for a serialized action story. Every episode can get in about two plot points at most, then leaves the rest of the time for wheel-spinning comic business. It’s just not enough time to establish any kind of story, but I get the feeling no one’s trying to do that. In fact, “not trying” would be as good a way as any to characterize Titan Maximum. They’ve got a great premise, good animation, and… nothing else. Root and Seinreich occasionally hit on a good joke, such as hip-hop being the culture of old people in the future, and they have a gift for escalation, such as a scene in which an arm-wrestling champ (voiced by the illustrious H. Jon Benjamin, no less) demonstrates his nimble fingers via a series of increasingly absurd shadow puppets. But in between is a vast wasteland of dick jokes and recycled gags. It’s not a good sign when, midway through a fifteen-minute episode, I find myself waiting for the end.
Final Judgment: Twice the puppet sex of Team America: World Police, less than half the satire.