Tuesday, September 28, 2004

I get no thrill from this atomic age

Finally, just to get one last thing out of my head, I need to write about the Ottawa International Animation Festival 2004 once again. As mentioned in passing during my reviews of competition screenings, I don't like Teletoon's new series Atomic Betty. Of the series whose primary gimmick is the thick-edged graphic design style, I'd rather see My Life as a Teenage Robot or even Grim & Evil get the glory. But I digress. I spent most of last Thursday at a volunteer shift at the Television Animation Conference section of the festival, i.e. a rented room at the Chateau Laurier. I had the opportunity there to see most of a session with the show's producers, and used it to jot down some notes about exactly why it disappoints me. I dislike the series for several reasons, but first among them is the style. It's emulating the thick-edged design philosophy of Dexter's Lab and The Powerpuff Girls, after both Genndy Tartakovsky and Craig McCracken, respectively, have abandoned it for new, more innovative (and more technically accomplished) looks in Samurai Jack and Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. Jumping on a bandwagon just after the drivers have jumped off seems foolish in any event, but even more so considering the Kurosawa-like cinematography of the former or the infectiously deranged cheer of the former. Adherence to cliches after they are cliches does not show a great deal of prescience on the part of Atomic Productions or their French coproducers. It's also the product of astonishingly cynical marketing, even for a series made for international syndication. I was mildly disgusted as the producers proudly touted the 93-country launch as being highly advantageous for this Christmas season's coming AB-branded product lineup; they're still working on the specifics, but hoped to have a four-foot section to themselves in every Target store in the US by November. The official sneakers - which they had mockup designs for on display - also seemed like a weak tie-in, as such things go. Moreover, I dislike that it's Cancon for no particular reason, like a great many other Canadian productions. It does not functionally aid the story in any way for Betty to be Canadian, yet the fact that she is qualifies the program for preferential treatment in the Canadian market (not to mention Telefilm Canada funding), despite the emphasis on selling to foreign markets. The law of unintended consequences here means that regulation designed to exclude American content from Canada is instead subsidizing Canadian profits from overseas buyers. Is that right? However, there's one thing I can really appreciate: Atomic Betty's archnemesis, Maximus IQ. Maximus is an anthopomorphic alien Siamese cat of a megalomanical space-emperor. That's some kind of dialectical brilliance going on there; at once, he's reflecting his obvious inspiration, Flash Gordon's Ming the Merciless, but being non-specifically Asian he can also be a reference to Ming's pulp villain precursor of Fu Manchu. Yet he's just an alien cat; how could anyone make accusations that the show revives stereotypes of the Yellow Peril? Kudos to the production team for coming up with such clever synthesis. Such stereotypes are, of course, nothing to be proud of today, but they're still part of the pulp fiction tradition that even modern animated sci-fi continues, and giving them a slight ironic nod (while ignoring the vicious racism that characters like Fu Manchu embodied) is interestingly sharp for a show that's otherwise fairly bland.

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