Monday, April 21, 2008

NYCC 08: The Mighty B! Panel

I came to Comic Con on Sunday for one reason; The Mighty B! panel. A full episode ("Sweet Sixteenth") was screened along with a number of pencil tests, character models, and background art, and I am now certain of what I had already suspected; this show (premiering April 26th) is going to be a solid hit with my slice of the cartoon watching demographic. That would be the Too-Old-To-Be-Watching-Cartoons crowd who helped to make shows like Spongebob and Powerpuff Girls such cultural phenoms. Just look at the team's pedigree:

Amy Poehler: Co-Creator and voice of the lead character. As you can see in the character models above, Bessie's personality is an amalgam of many of Amy's child characters, i.e. Andy Richter's Sister, SNL's Kaitlyn ("RICK!"), and especially Cassie the girl scout, who can be seen in the first episode of of The Uprights Citizens Brigade show (Cassie is my 2nd favorite of her UCB characters, right after Arby). Andy Ritchter and Rob Corrdy also contribute voices, and I imagine a number of other New York comedy folks will show up eventually as well.

The other two co-creators are Erik Wiese of Spongebob and Cynthia True of Fairly Oddparents, two shows that I'd say are the finest comedy Nicktoons of the last decade (okay, there may be room on that list for one more). Also on the animation team are folks from Ren and Stimpy, and you can really see the influence of all of those shows in both the writing and especially in the kinetic, wild-takes-aplenty style of the animation.

After the jump: hand drawn animation! Gorgeous painted backgrounds! Goofy, hyperactive female protagonists! They said it couldn't be done, but we have the technology!

Mighty B! is set in San Francisco, and creators Wiese and True mentioned wanting to set the show outside of the generic suburbia so many kids cartoons seem to exist in. They projected several of the show's outstandingly beautiful hand-painted backgrounds during the panel, and though these photos hardly do them justice, you can see the amount of care and artistry the Mighty B team is putting into the show. As an East Bay native who has spent my share of time in San Francisco, I'm impressed with how these painting capture the unique architecture and angularity of SF through the vibrant filter of a child's perspective. The panel also projected a still from an episode called "Bat Mitzvah Crashers" (noted as a favorite by True and Wiese), certainly not something you'd expect to see in a typical nicktoon (okay, fine, Rugrats) so it seems like the diversity of living in a big city will also be reflected.

The animation is all hand-drawn, which combined with a real sense of spontaneity in the voicework (how could you not allow for improv when your cast includes Amy, Andy Richter, and Rob Corddry) gives the show an extremely free-wheeling feel. At times the pacing felt almost out-of-control in the episode I watched, though I don't imagine that kids are going to be phased by any formal wonkiness that nerds like me care about. Besides, nothing risked nothing gained; the chaotic pace also results in some really inspired moments of humor that recall the craziness of Ren and Stimpy's early seasons.

Lastly, the prospect of seeing a girl protagonist in a cartoon that is not "a girl's show" is really exciting. Growing up as both an obsessive fan of cartoons and a goofy, nerdy girl, I was aware from a very young age that all the cartoon characters that made me laugh were boys. Girl protagonists were, as aptly put by Cynthia True, "straight-men and sidekicks". As much as I love female characters like Sandy from Spongebob and Wanda from Oddparents, their roles are generally to pull back the action, to worry and advise against things. Even girls who have their own shows in this brave new millennium such as Kim Possible and Jenny from Teenage Robot tend to have almost model minority personalities; level headed, strong, smart, pretty, and bland. These are cartoon characters with no extremes; where's the fun in that? The most silly, strange girls in modern cartoons may be Bubbles of the Powerpuffs and Starfire of Teen Titans, and both of these characters must share the stage with others. The Mighty B! is Bessie's show, and I can't recall ever seeing an animated character like her before. Wacky to the point of unhinged, energetic to the point of hyperactive, Bessie is made of extremes. Will kids respond to her? I think so. The show's inclusion of choreographed action sequences by animators from Airbender (we saw an pencil test from a Ping Pong battle which had me laughing out loud) and a good amount of ever-popular gross out humor, I think this show has a great chance of connecting with kids, and it's success would go a long way in changing people's ideas of what a girl protagonist can be. This is a show I have been waiting for for a long time, and I'm eager to see how it's received. Fingers crossed.

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