Courtesy of Nickelodeon

March 12, 2017

One of The Saddest Stories in Animation

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Let me preface my column with a countdown of the saddest stories in animation:

  1. Littlefoot saying goodbye to his dying mother in The Land Before Time.
  2. Carl and Ellie’s life story unfolding at the beginning of Up.
  3.  The demise of Nickelodeon

I’ve written about Nickelodeon and its downfall before, but the issue came back to the forefront of my mind with a big event that got hyped up: Nickelodeon has recently put together the first Nicktoons crossover in over a decade! When I was little, I remember when The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius and The Fairly Oddparents crossed over in The Jimmy Timmy Power Hour.  That was kind of a big deal for me. I mean, two of my favorite cartoons were meeting in an hour-long special? That’s the kind of hype that eight-year-old me could get behind! So, of course my curiosity got piqued when I heard that Nickelodeon was giving another crossover a go. The episode is called “Beast of Friends”, a cross between Fairly Oddparents and newcomer Bunsen is a Beast. It premiered March 4. I gave it a watch.

It was terrible.

But that got me thinking, what about The Jimmy Timmy Power Hour? Was it actually better, or just pure nostalgia that I recalled? I gave it another watch, and while it wasn’t as amazingly spectacular as I remembered, it still held up pretty well. So what did it do right that “Beast of Friends” did wrong?

On the surface, the visual styles aren’t played around with as much. Jimmy Neutron was made using CGI, while Fairly Oddparents was hand-drawn. It was fun to see their respective protagonists in other shows’ animation styles. By contrast, Flash software is used for both Bunsen is a Beast and, as of this season, Fairly Oddparents. There’s not as much opportunity to have fun with one character going over to another universe and looking different. They attempt a few jokes over character designs, but they don’t really land. However, these jokes aren’t the most important difference between the crossovers. So what if we lose a few gags based on flat characters considering themselves “bulgy” in CGI, or CG characters lamenting their lack of depth? It really has little impact on the narrative as a whole.

Unfortunately, the narrative doesn’t really work either for “Beast of Friends”. The Jimmy Timmy Power Hour isn’t Citizen Kane or The Lord of the Rings, but it still manages to tell a coherent story: Timmy Turner is desperate for a science fair project and so he wishes himself into the best laboratory in the universe. It turns out to be Jimmy Neutron’s lab, and Jimmy accidentally takes Timmy’s emergency return pen and poofs himself into Timmy’s room. Timmy’s love for video games causes him to download a violent program into Jimmy’s robotic dog, who proceeds to rampage around the city. Meanwhile, Jimmy’s technological prowess lets him create a teleporter to get home, until the crazed teacher Mr. Crocker steals it to invade Fairy World.  Both worlds now have a crisis to face that’s unlike anything they’ve had to deal with before. Now, contrast that with “Beast of Friends”: Bunsen the beast wants to celebrate his Friendiversary with Cosmo the fairy… and that’s essentially the whole story. The villains of both shows “team up”, but don’t really do anything special. See the difference here? Power Hour takes advantage of both worlds’ unique challenges and assets to escalate the conflict in both shows involved. “Beast of Friends” is essentially just characters fooling around and twiddling their thumbs, essentially wasting the opportunities that they have available

Speaking of characters, I feel like “Beast of Friends” shot itself in the foot from its premise. Cosmo and Bunsen are friends and want to see each other. How did they meet? At a convention. Do we get to see them meet? Do we get to see what bonded them together? Nope, but we get an unfunny mess of a joke about the word “convention.” In Power Hour, the conflict comes from two different universes meeting and trying to figure their way around each other. Timmy gets thrust into Jimmy’s life as a boy genius and vice versa. Is it contrived and a bit implausible that they each get mistaken as each other? Well, yes, but it’s still interesting to see and makes for some good humor. “Beast of Friends” doesn’t get the luxury of having such a viable source of conflict and humor for the picking. Could it still have a good plot? Sure! Bunsen and Cosmo are friends, but let’s say when they introduce their respective families to each other, disagreements erupt, putting their friendship to the test. There, in one minute I put together a better idea for a crossover. There’s no friction between the characters to any degree, except when the villains pop out from behind a bush, and even then the villains are so incompetent that they might as well just not be there.

From here on out, I veer more from the mechanics of storytelling into more subjective territory, but the results are the same. Power Hour had a lot of jokes, and while I didn’t find them all funny, I got several laughs at least. Not once did “Beast of Friends” make me laugh. There was one gag, already unfunny the first time, that repeated five times over the course of the twenty-minute episode. At the fourth repetition, even the characters involved said “This is getting old,” and then they used it again.  The pacing didn’t work; at about halfway through, I remember thinking to myself “Nothing’s even happened yet! Get on with it!” The comedic timing is off, the narrative timing is off. It’s just a mess that doesn’t need to exist.

So why does it exist? Well, I have a strong hunch: I suspect that Fairly Oddparents is going to have the plug pulled soon. This season, the show began airing new episodes on Nicktoons Network instead of Nickelodeon proper, which has historically signified the coming death of a Nicktoon series. In addition, Bunsen is a Beast is a new show. And I mean, a very new show. It’s been around for less than three weeks and this much-hyped crossover was only the seventh episode to air. The whole thing reeks of an attempt to transfer the audience of Fairly Oddparents to Bunsen. Did it work? Well, it got me to watch a couple episodes of Bunsen, and boy do I have a LOT to say about the show. Keep an eye out for a future column with my very vocal thoughts about it. As for this crossover, “Beast of Friends” is just another inane production from a company that has very little soul left beating in its corporate heart.

David Gouldthorpe is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at [email protected].