Friday, January 13, 2012

SMCS Companion Piece #20: Dexter's Laboratory

Happy New Year, Blah blah blah. Last weekend on the Saturday Morning Cartoon Show we played Dexter’s Laboratory. Now it’s a bit hard to wrap my head around it but this cartoon is nearly seventeen years. That’s a long goddamn time; kids born around the same time as this cartoon are damn near done with High School this year. It weird that something I enjoyed so much in my childhood (And not even in my good “young” childhood, but rather my 12-13 years) is so old now. Because that means I’m old. And I’m only getting older. And without the benefit of being rich and famous I don’t possess the secret power to stop this process anytime soon.

Anyway Dexter’s Lab is the first of what would be a new wave of 90s cartoons. Created by Genndy Tartakovsky this was ultimately Cartoon Network’s second original program after Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast (Before this Cartoon Network had solely been broadcasting old cartoons’ from Time Warner’s extensive catalog and had for years). The original short premiered in 1995 on World Premier Toons/What a Cartoon, a show that featured several one-shot shorts that acted as pilots for potential new programming. After several shorts featured on the anthology show Dexter’s Lab finally got its own series in 1996 which lasted until 1998, with a proper series finale in 1999. However it was bought back in 2001 and managed to linger on until 2003, but those last two seasons weren’t exactly met with the same enthusiasms from fans. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

More Dexter’s Lab after the jump.


Pictured: Dexter and Dee Dee
Not Pictured: The vicious, never ending cycle of their war
The plot of the cartoon follows Dexter, a super genius eight year old with a massive, and secret, laboratory where he conducts all sorts of impossible scientific experiments. Joining him is his ditzy, ballerina older sister Dee Dee. The premise of any given episode, especially the original pilot shorts, usually revolved around Dee Dee somehow breaking into Dexter’s lab and messing with one of his inventions (“Ooooh, what does this button do?”) creating havoc, and often destruction, in her wake. Also featured was Dexter’s scientific rival Susan Astronominov Mandark, who’s goal in life is to prove he’s smarter than the boy genius and also destroy his lab (And also get with his crush Dee Dee). Dexter and Dee Dee’s misadventures in super science made up the bulk of the show’s run. And it. Was. AWESOME. Part old school Warner Bros. cartoon, part Hannah-Barbara show and with plenty of Japanese anime and Super Sentai influence; Dexter’s Lab manage to pay homage to old school animation while also forging its own unique style. Like how Nicktoons such as Doug, Rugrats and Ren & Stimpy did earlier in the decade this show managed to change the cartoon landscape.

In addition to the sibling’s adventures the show also featured two other cartoons in the middle. First was Dial M for Monkey which featured Dexter’s lab monkey whom, unbeknown to his master, developed an array of super powers which he uses to fight the forces of evil as Monkey, the world’s greatest hero. Second was The Justice Friends, which is basically a sitcom about a couple of Avengers parodies living under one roof, complete with cheesy soundtrack and bad jokes. The team was made up of Major Glory, Valhallen the Viking God of Rock, and The Infraggable Krunk. These shorts were…um…not as good as Dexter’s Lab or Dial M for Monkey. By a lot. As it “Why the hell am I watching this crap?” This is easily the weakest part of the show and it’s only real misstep.

Also voiced by Frank Welker
 Dexter’s Lab lasted for two seasons ending with “Last But Not Beast”, the show’s only full half-hour episode, as the series finale. In 1999 however Genndy Tartakovsky returned to make “Ego Trip”, a television movie to act as a more proper finale. Here Dexter travels to the future after a robot attack on his lab in order to find the truth about how he was going to “save the future” (The robots had come to destroy the future savior of the world). The film was filled with some of the best comedy and the best action of the show and was a satisfying way to end the show. I actually remember watching this and being absolutely floored with how funny and entertaining it was; ultimately solidifying this show as one of my favorite animated series of all time. Dexter’s Lab was a perfect storm and ended before it could possibly wear out its welcome allowing the genius that is Tartakovsky to move on to other projects (Star Wars: Clone Wars, Samurai Jack, Symbiotic Titan).

Then Cartoon Network brought the show back in 2001. The major problem with the two additional seasons of the show was that the bulk of people working on it were different from the ones who had made the series so good before. Writers who had worked to make the show such a unique and entertaining venture had moved on because, you know, the show ended two years prior. Even Tartakovsky was too busy to be involved and we all know that 9 times out of 10 when a creator leaves a series the show tends to take a nosedive in quality. I’m sure the later seasons had its fans but we can probably agree that for the most part New Dexter just ain’t as good as Old Dexter. Ratings weren’t off the charts so Cartoon Network pulled the plug in 2003 and it’s just as well.

Also there are giant robots.  Several giant robots
In case you couldn’t tell I love Dexter’s Lab. It’s still great to watch even though it’s a 14 year old show and something that older cartoon fans and the kids can all enjoy. It also helped to launch the careers of several big name cartoon creators; Craig McCraken (Powerpuff Girls, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends), Butch Hartman (Fairly Odd Parents), and even Seth McFarlane (Family Guy, American Dad, and some other shitty show). It set the standard for all Cartoon Network original shows to follow it for years and it’s affects are still felt today. You think Scott Fellows wasn’t thinking about this show when he pooped out the abomination known as Johnny Test? Seriously, that show is like Dexter’s Lab’s evil twin.

About as funny as a fork to the eye
For more on Dexter's Laboratory click here. For the Saturday Morning Cartoon Show podcast (Which is up and running again) click here.

2 comments:

  1. Beta Magnus,

    I love Dexter's Laboratory, for it is my favorite TV show and cartoon, while James Cameron's AVATAR is my favorite movie.

    Anyway, Beta, I have a dream project for me to pursue, and that dream project of mine is called "The Princess of Shangara", and it is a massive, elaborate, big screen live action/animated cartoon hybrid multi-part epic tale of mythical, legendary and biblical proportions that'll be based on and inspired by characters from my favorite cartoon Dexter's Laboratory, as well as those from the Powerpuff Girls.

    Set in a multi-style, multi-cultural fantasy world where dinosaurs still roamed, dragons rule the skies, and a race of mystical god-like beings called 'avatars' shape and keep balance between the realms of flesh, spirit, even nature, for good or ill, The Princess of Shangara will mainly center on and will revolve around Lee Lee, the Asian friend of Dee Dee, Dexter's sister, The Princess of Shangara referred to in the title and in question, and one of the avatars, and who, according to an ancient prophecy, is destined to stop the evil Mandark, Dark Lord of the Avatars, from conquering and enslaving the world.

    She is accompanied on her hero's journey by Dexter and Dee Dee, as well as Dee Dee's black friend Mee Mee, as they travel through distant and exotic faraway lands and as they battle the evil forces of Mandark, as well as prehistoric predators such as T-Rexes and Raptors, as well as a Spinosaurus.

    To bring the Dexter's Laboratory and Powerpuff Girls characters (or, ‘toona’kâiya’, as they shall be known here) to life on the big screen, even though it's a live action/animation hybrid epic, I'd rather stick to the technique that works best for these characters: 2D traditional hand drawn animation, and in a character design and animation art style that should even hark back to both shows' earlier Genndy Tartakovsky-involved character design and animation art roots.

    I also intend to photograph all the live action elements on both 35mm Panavision and 15/70mm IMAX formats, just as in The Dark Knight and Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol, but not in 3-D, though. (The regular non-IMAX scenes should be framed at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio)

    As for the music score for it, it should be an epic cinematic music score that should incorporate unusual and exotic, ethnic instrumental and vocal musical sounds from around the world, as well as some electronic synthesizers and computers, into a full traditional orchestral score. If so, every culture encountered in The Princess of Shangara should have its very own musical culture and association.

    As for the sound work, I think Skywalker Sound or the like should handle such and even a theatrical 7.1 channel audio mix.

    As for a visual effects studio that would composite the 2D traditionally hand drawn animated Dexter's Lab and Powerpuff Girls toona’kâiya characters into a world fabricated mostly from live action background plates, miniatures and/or digital CG environments, I think Peter Jackson's Weta Studios and/or George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic and/or the like should mainly produce the effects that will composite the traditional 2D animated cartoon characters into a world fabricated from such elements.

    As for a production company that should handle releasing and distribution duties for it, I would root for Cartoon Network, Warner Bros. Pictures, 20th Century Fox, or maybe all three studios plus Legendary Pictures or New Regency.

    A thousand apologies for typing such a long comment, but, even if every frame and detail has to be perfect, and even if it have to be well thought and with a better and superbly crafted epic script and plot than even cartoons of today or so, The Princess of Shangara is gonna be cool and awesome and great and epic! Or would it?

    -Tim

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