We all remember ReBoot, right? Early CGI cartoon that brought to life the inner workings of computers and the anthropomorphic data living within, excellent story, great characters and villains… I mean, it was kind of trashy, but for a kids show in the mid 90’s it was good stuff, and ran until 2001. And let us not forget Beast Wars which ran from ’96 to ’99, casting fuel on the fire of CGI’s rise to prominence on the animation scene.
But here’s the thing, shortly after these series ended there was a flurry of new computer-animated shows that attempted to ride the popularity of the new and revolutionary animation style available. Today they look dated, the graphics have been outdone a thousand times over, the animation is poor, textures are all plastic and reflect light oddly, and object interactions are entertaining to say the least.
But they’re still well worth a watch! Some of them are approaching twenty years old, and to see the difference in animation quality now compared to then is something truly staggering. The series below have some serious pros and cons, but as fragments of animation history, they are well worth dredging up… if you can find them.
Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future
The serialised adventures of a science fiction hero torn straight from the pages of the 1950’s comic strip, and keeping all of the worst science involved, like manta rays that filter feed through the upper atmosphere of Jupiter, advanced civilisations on Mars capable of strip mining Venus, complex and technologically advanced creatures living on orphaned planets that survive by steeling the water of others, and the idea that punching a monitor actually hurts The Mekon.
Each episode was one of a two-parter, embracing the serialisation of stories in the old pulp comics, and racking up suspense to keep people watching. It also meant that slightly longer tales could be told of daring adventure, in which our hero always comes out on top through superior aim, ace piloting skills, and being generally good at being the protagonist.
Josh McGrath became the cybernetically enhanced superhero Max Steel to sell toys for Mattel. A nineteen year old son of a weapons engineer and scientist involved in an accident involving nanotech, imagine a cross between DCs Cyborg, the Borg, and the Energiser Bunny, because his biggest weakness is a limited power supply that causes him to grow weak and potentially die. Don’t forget kids, even superheroes need batteries. Oh but he came with one hell of a battery of villains, Psycho, a heavily modified cyborg with a love of violence and ill-gotten gains, John Dread, the man-behind-the-curtain who craves the tech powering Steel, Bio-Con the man-snake, and John de Lancie!
This one got resurrected, and even had a few films to its name, but the rebooted series and live action film are far better known than the more obscure series that ran from 2000-2001, and it’s hard to come by those old episodes now.
Here’s my favourite of the lot, a Canal+ import from French-Canada. Though taking the name, the series is wholly fantasy and removed from the Arthurian mythos, combining heavy amounts of magic with some wholly created components. A plucky and upstart heroine is accompanied by a mystic monk, a mighty warrior woman, and an irritating miniature pet dragon as they attempt to free a kingdom from the yoke of an evil sorcerer who dwells in a flying castle. It’s a D&D adventure pure and simple, and I watched it religiously about seven years before I ever played the game.
The people sound like typical fantasy NPCs, in fact you may hear a few familiar voices, I’m fairly sure I heard one or two. You may also notice how tiny the hands are of most characters… uncomfortably small, and there are a lot of cunning uses of hats, bald characters, and skin-tight metal armour so that things look “right”.