A few years ago I stumbled across a pilot for a possible cartoon series to star Ashley Johnson in the lead role. That pilot became a series, that series will be getting a follow up some time next year, and there’s a handful of short episodes somewhere that I haven’t seen.
The series takes place on a train that is, unsurprisingly, infinite in length, and comprised of extradimensional cars that contain worlds that conform to a strange and alien theme. Kingdoms ruled by dogs, nations of sentient water blobs who are terrible salespeople, caverns of crystal that alter with sound, worlds where reflections can gain independence from their caster, that sort of thing. The cars reorder themselves on a whim, and some require quests to be completed or revelations to be reached before they will reveal a door onwards, some are just hard work.
Main character, Tulip, is a young programmer and games designer who flees a troubled home life to get to a design camp, and takes the train oblivious to how it’ll interfere with her plans. Suffice is to say that the train turns into a journey of self discovery, and she gathers new friends along the way, because it’s a kids show, of course she does, and one of them is a robot with mental troubles of its own, and the king of all corgi’s voiced by Ernie Hudson because hell yeah he is!
I won’t lie, I tend to evaluate any intellectual property based on how easily I imagine running a role-playing game in the setting and using the rules inherent to the world, and by that category alone I’m pretty well sold. Characters could start with a fixed level of mental disquiet, and every step of their journey either brings them closer to, or takes them farther from the revelation that will point the way home. Sessions are based on cars, their are enemies… allies, and all of it is in pursuit of personal betterment… like Quantum Leap… but it’s a train.
How can hindsight be so flawless if we use rosy tinted glasses to see it? We look at the kids shows of our youth as “the golden age”, hell, I’ve had plenty of arguments with people about who got the best era of cartoons, but the truth is we only remember the good ones. When I was a kid I watched Hey Arnold and Recess (also starring Ashley Johnson), and that’s still good TV, it’s dated surprisingly well over the years. But we also had Bodger and Badger, Teletubbies, and the Men in Black cartoon series. And it’s easy for us to watch kids TV now and say “Well this is terrible, we’d never have sat through this!” Well, we did, we just forgot because it wasn’t very good.
We’re already confronted with a generation who grew up on Adventure Time, of which I’m already a fan, and I think that – given another season or two – Infinity Train has that kind of potential. It doesn’t shy away from thoughtful dialogue, challenging issues, or emotional moments, nor does it dress up every heartbreaking moment in clunky metaphor, we see the unpleasant home life that drove Tulip to flee home, and we understand the struggle she’s going through. It’s a situation many children suffer with, and it can present them with challenges that are horrible and confusing, but all too real. And slowly but surely we see her come to terms with her situation, and that’s not say that things automatically get better for her. There’s a happy ending that’s not “happily ever after”, but accepting, and powerful in its own way.
Ok, it’s also a kids show, I’ve no doubt with a subtle change in target audience – like if this was an anime instead of a western cartoon – it’d be able to go a little darker, take things a little more seriously, maybe even take a more dramatic stance on the adversity Tulip faces; it’d be nice for more animation to embrace the melancholic. But I won’t lie, I’m curious to see what a second season of Infinity Train can offer. The trailer already shows that we have a new protagonist, but thanks to certain events in the first season we keep Ashley Johnson’s character, Tulip. There’s also no malevolent force controlling the train, so I’m curious to see what adversity our new hero faces.
Happy All Hallows Eve! Happy Halloween! Etc.
Anyway, let’s chat a little bit about Halloween and the significance it has on geek culture. After all, this is a night that many geeks revel in. So today, I thought I’d talk quickly about a few Halloween episodes from TV shows that I thoroughly enjoyed – And yes, there’ll be at least one Treehouse of Horror episode. With that said, let’s buckle down, get the popcorn and snuggle on the sofa with these spooky specials.
Bah, we’ve been doing these Top 10’s for years – For peanuts. Nevermind, if it can make these giant gentle beasties happy, then I’m sure these peanuts must be delicious. Don’t take this out of context, because today we’re going to be celebrating the huge, floppy-eared creatures with their trunks and tusks. So buckle up, we’re in for a rampage through our Top 10 Elephants.
Please note, Mammoths count, they’re in the same family. We never said “Elephants” had to be limited to Elephants, but their whole family definitely should be on the list. (more…)
Ok, we started Kickstarter Highlights to shine a light on smaller or lesser known projects that we wanted to see shine, or managed by people we love, but occasionally we like to talk about projects that we love that really don’t need the help. Case in point, Critical Role, the series that broke MCM London, a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors who play Dungeons & Dragons live on the internet for a few hours every week and draw massive viewership and crowds, and have been partially responsible to the exponential boom in popularity of the hobby!
I’ve talked about them before. They’re a good – if inaccurate – representation of the hobby, vastly more entertaining to watch as it’s being played by actual performers, voice actors who know about taking turns when talking so that there’s no cross-talking, who can totally immerse themselves in their character so deeply that we can more clearly envision the action, and who get visibly emotional about the narrative, reacting appropriately to every moment of drama and capable of deftly improvising moments of their own.
So it makes sense for a bunch of actors with characters that they love and live, with connections in the industry who also love D&D, to club together and make a cartoon! One to go alongside the comics written by Matt Colville, and all of the other products, the books, the art, the live appearances… you get the idea they’re doing well.
The project will be supported by the studio Titmouse Inc, famous for shows like Metalocalypse, Venture Bros., Tigtone that I put on my to-do list lately, and Avatar: The Last Airbender, alongside a host of other major projects, so the animation will be in excellent hands. The cast will be played by themselves, with Matt Mercer serving the bulk of the NPCs… or rather those characters who are not the protagonists.
The test will be how well a D&D style narrative can be translated into a linear format, as it rarely crosses well into other formats – at least those that endeavour to capture the spirit of tabletop RP. As this project is dedicating itself more to existent characters and a well developed and explored world, things could be very different.
So, to the campaign itself. The target is $750,000 to fund the actual animation to a high standard, with a projected release of late 2020. Backer rewards do not include access to a digital stream or download of the final result, rather heavily implying that the final product will be available for everyone to enjoy, likely via their (newly independent of Geek & Sundry) YouTube channel and probably Twitch as it is their principle platform.
The rewards backers receive are instead encouraged to pledge for loot, some digital downloads of music uniquely composed for Critical Role, including a piece written and (partially) performed by the cast. Dice, sticker packs, art prints, cuddly toys, accessories for roleplay and memorabilia, and of course the upper echelons include personalised artwork by Titmouse, producer credits, and when you hit a five figure sum you get a studio tour and more.
Those upper echelon rewards? All gone. I would not be surprised to find a lot of D&D executives towards the top of that list, and possibly Matt Colville himself. The campaign? When I started writing it was at about $2.1 million, it’s now approaching $2.4M, and the campaign started less than five hours ago. IGN managed to squeeze out an article last night a few minutes after the project passed $1M, and I won’t be publishing this for another ten hours, who knows how much money might have poured into the pot. Stretch goals are disappearing, and the twenty-two minute animated short will be treble the length before I go to bed, and will be a feature length film by morning unless pledges slow down.
Sam Riegel and Travis Willingham have apparently been talking to producers for a while, and the attachment of the hobby still makes studios reluctant to engage with projects, presumably offers may have been made with limitations or changes. Crowd funding may lack security for the consumer… fairly certain the same group have ripped me off twice now… but it does put creativity in the hands of those passionate about a project. The CR team have proven time and time again that they are capable of producing high quality content. Here’s to another one.
Oh… there goes $2.5 million!
Side note…! Hot damn, 514% funding on Lasers and Liches!! Go check out this awesome project blending sci-fi and D&D, and adds bonus dinosaurs, perfect for anyone wanting to RP their way through Kung Fury or a Shadowrun Rave. You still have a week to get involved, and there are still stretch goals left to reach.
~Text message from Tim~
What do you mean it was made by a “different Chris”?
I may have mentioned I’m a bit of a late-to-the-party Avatar fan, I marathon’d the entire series a few years ago, and it’s become something of a node, a go-to point in my creative reference library whenever I create something fantasy. It’s an off-piste and indirect approach to the classical westernised fantasy of elves and dragons that Tolkien drew together from Arthurian, Norse, and Christian mythologies. The series embraced eastern viewpoints and philosophies, the notions of household and local gods or spirits, the Qi-like elements of elemental bending, and with it brought profoundly human elements, and rich political analogues.
That’s a tall order for a kids show! (more…)
Netflix advised me to watch this because I like sci-fi and animation, but while algorithms may fail when it comes to finding the nuances between Star Trek and Rick and Morty, suffice to say that this time they got lucky. The Hollow suckered me in with an interesting trailer, depicting a small group of amnesiac teens adventuring through a series of worlds that threaten them with mild peril, but it all looked so dramatic and mysterious, I had to know.
And I’m doing research, trying to write adventures for younger players. That’s my excuse for watching a kid’s show. (more…)
Ben Edlund’s big blue hero has returned for a third outing onto the small screen, this time through Amazon Prime! You may have seen the pilot last year with Peter Serafinowicz donning the cerulean onesie and antennae, and now we have as far as episode six, certainly enough to start drawing comparisons between both the ’90s cartoon, but more importantly the 2001 short series with Patrick Warburton.
Let me say that I have loved the Tick in every iteration thus far, and to this day I haven’t worked out if he’s a parody of superheroes or just plain funny. For someone so dim he is shockingly verbose and oddly philosophical, despite espousing philosophies that simply don’t work in the real world, especially if you’re not bulletproof or unfeasibly strong like long-suffering and unwilling sidekick Arthur. So with my heart on my sleeve instead of in my chest where it should be, let’s start by looking at our live-action adaptions of that jovial giant of justice.
Critics! You face The Tick! (more…)
I do not watch enough anime, that is a fact. I have a watchlist as tall as I am, almost as tall as the games I want to play, the books I want to read and the films I want to watch, and were it not for the fact that I’m expected to contribute to society in order to survive in it, I’d be getting it all done. Stupid society and it’s evolutionary imperatives for survival.
I have, however, watched a great deal of western TV and films. Having two screens means that I can sit with a series or film running on my left while I work on the right. Or sometimes play Minecraft because life is difficult and sometimes you need infinite Lego to make it seem better. I am a grown man without shame, and I have been watching a kids cartoon. Or have I? (more…)
Welcome back to our weekly Top 10 list and this week it’s alternative animated films!
There’ll be no Disney- Oh no wait, there’s some… Well there’s no big CGI produ- oh no, there it is…
Still, not one entry on this list could be considered your everyday cartoon, but they’re brilliant to watch. Cult classics and family favourites, puppets and stop motion! Enjoy our weird and wonderful Top 10!
10) Space Jam – 1996
Looney Tunes fans were beyond happy with this film and I too sort of live nostalgically about it.
Michael Jordan plays intergalactic basketball with some cartoon characters. So to put this into perspective, this is a movie where a lot of cartoon animation being animated alongside live-action stories and elements. Whilst it’s not the greatest of films, it’s certainly quite unique and worth a watch at the very least. Plus it was quite amusing which is always a bonus.
9) Small Soldiers – 1998
Small Soldiers will never go down in the history books as one of the greatest films of all time. Heck, online critic Doug Walker, AKA the Nostalgia Critic basically pans this movie. But actually, I think it was rather clever for its use of animation.
It’s not a film that’ll captivate you emotionally, nor mentally. It’s also going to make you cringe often. However, it used these little CGI puppets in a film that was almost entirely live-action. A good proportion of the major cast however was CGI and these live-actors including some young actors had to get used to the idea: They’re talking to an inanimate object for real, but in the movie it’ll be a living, moving creation. Strange!
8) A Scanner Darkly – 2006
So here’s one that passed many people by. In spite of a star-studded cast and highly original style, A Scanner Darkly was based on a Phillip K. Dick book and filmed in live action before being converted to animation later. Following the tale of an undercover cop trying to trace the source of a drug called Substance D, the film’s style allows it to slip into hallucination sequences seamlessly.
Worth a watch for its’ style alone, A Scanner Darkly is a fantastically weird animated film. Not for the easily creeped-out however, it features a lot of messed up imagery and Robert Downey-Junior as a giant cockroach.
7) Muppets Treasure Island – 1996
Ahh, Muppets. Jim Henson created a cast of amazing characters who have entertained families for decades, and retell some classic tales with their classic word-play, slapstick and big musical numbers in some infamous feature-length productions. We had a lot to choose from, but Treasure Island was by far our favourite for its’ raucous songs, brilliant performances, and brilliant Muppet moments.
Tim Curry and Billy Connelly feature in the cast, but the real stars of the show have always been Rizzo, Gonzo, Kermit, Miss Piggy and Mister Bimble the man who lives in Fozzy’s finger.
6) The Lego Movie – 2014
It came as something of a dissapointment to me to discover that the Lego Movie had been made entirely in CGI, but looking back I actually understand. Though the characters only have a limited range of movement because they are kept as true as possible to the Lego minifigures, animating all of that Lego water and all of the Lego explosions? My gods, we’d still be waiting for a full-length Lego feature for another century.
And what a movie it was. In every way it captured what Lego is all about, bringing the toy to life in a way that saw the imagination of generations explode onto the big screen. In short: Everything (about the film) Is AWESOME!
5) Coraline – 2009
From the team that brought us The Nightmare Before Christmas (sans Tim Burton) comes a dark tale about appreciating what you have. A stop motion film about a young girl who is moved begrudgingly to a new house in the country and discovers a seemingly blissful version of her own world on the other side of a hidden door.
Heavily stylized and nightmarish, Coraline captured our imaginations and filled the dark corners of our minds with the terrifying, button-eyed spectre of “The Other Mother.”
4) Who Framed Rodger Rabbit? – 1988
Bob Hoskins starred in the infamous cartoon-noir drama, mixing compelling live action performances with a vast cast of legendary cartoon characters including the only appearance of Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse on screen together. I think what really brings the film together though (in spite of the incredible collaborative effort) must be the character of Judge Doom, played by Christopher Lloyd, the terrifying cartoon disguised as a real human, enacting a twisted vendetta against the populace of Toontown.
Rodger Rabbit’s most famous appearance is a terrifying film for something that’s supposed to be family friendly. Cartoon death, torture and sex symbols? The hideous monster beneath Judge Doom’s face? Why is this list so full of scary films for kids? Why are we writing this?
3)Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers – 1993
Yes the inventor and his pet pooch are back once again with the 1993 hit film The Wrong Trousers. Why does this get as far as number 3 in our top 10 spot?
Claymation. This film is done out of clay. If you don’t know much about claymation, there’s not many films made entirely out of clay because it’s such a long, tedious process. It’s painful to imagine how many hundreds of hours were spent making each and every character, then adding in their emotion, by stopping their recording and restarting their recording. Each move needed to be precise and each expression was captured crystal-clear. That’s right, this film as well as being made out of clay was also stop-motion.
Just look at Gromit if you don’t believe how awesome the quality of this film was.
2) Team America: World Police – 2004
South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker bring their intelligently dumb comedy to the big screen in Gerry Anderson style marionation complete with real explosions and over the top action (although the sex scene was all Parker/Stone, unless there’s a Thunderbirds episode I’ve yet to see). Team America is universally offensive, totally unnecessary, and absolutely ingenious.
Gerry Anderson (who’s Kickstarter campaign starts TODAY) inspired generations before his passing in 2012, and Team America is a fantastic big-screen adaption and homage to his style. Let’s hope Firestorm can honour his memory in a slightly more family-friendly way though…
1) Labyrinth – 1986
Here it is, Labyrinth which might be one of the most iconic films of the 80s. The reason this comes in at number 1 was its stunning use of puppets and CGI combined.
Also, this film features some of the cheesiest 80’s songs imaginable. We didn’t need to say too much about Labyrinth that probably hasn’t been covered in a major thesis, only that the technology that they were using for the time was relatively experimental. Alongside labyrinth, we could have mentioned Gremlins, but we felt out of the films from around this period of time, Labyrinth stands out the most. Hoggle and the gang being actual muppets which are now displayed in a museum is quite exciting. To think the actors and actresses in this film would have had to get used to the idea that these puppets were “real”.
It’s all made weirder when you listen to David Bowie throughout this film, as clearly he’s still debating what kind of magic spell to use.
Animation is big business, and pinning down what makes it alternative these days is a little difficult. But with our list assembled we were still left with a few brilliant examples left over that still warrant mention. This keeps happening to us, but Top 12 isn’t so catchy…
Mature Content Warning because Junk Head, an independently made stop-motion animation available to view on youtube, is set in a world so heavily industrialized that biological reproduction has become impossible, and follows an cyborg agent sent into the deep city to find a “sample” that has, rather clearly gained something necessary to biological reproduction.
Intended to be the first of a series, I watched the film and found myself really hoping that a series materializes, as the bizarre urban-wilderness and strange people who occupy it are amazingly realized and entirely created by one man. It’s made it into our honourary section because it deserves some honour.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
This was the first Final Fantasy film and it was a full blown feature-length film entirely out of CGI and awesome effects. With a fun and relatively complex plot which was played through with a beautiful soundtrack and some of the best visuals of its time.
Whilst it’s true to Final Fantasy style, this film is basically all CGI, even if it was impressive. As such, it wasn’t really fitting for our alternative animation theme, but we thought it deserved a mention at the very least.
Animation is a brilliant way to present a story in a unique world with style, but to really make it stand apart the animation itself must be unique. We did our best to choose the best, but do you have an alternative (harr harr) for us? Give us some more suggestions in the comments, or on our Facebook or Twitter!
This week’s Top 10 rather elegantly sets up tomorrow’s Kickstarter Highlight, Gerry Anderson’s all-new ultramarionation Firestorm! We mentioned it last week, but the campaign begins today. Be sure to come back to us for all the information. And come back to us next week for another Top 10!