Toons!

Today’s career-building activity involved doing something I haven’t done in quite some time — watching cartoons on TV.

As much as I love feature animation, I haven’t been moved to take in much made-for-television product — aside from the occasional episode of Legion of Super-Heroes, Justice League, or the various iterations of Spider-Man — in recent years. Since my coaches think I have an affinity for character work, however, I figured it was high time that I conducted some research into the current state of the medium.

So, I parked myself in front of the Cartoon Network for two hours.

First, I checked out Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Not being a major Star Wars fan, I was taken aback by the show’s pseudo-lifelike, computer-generated animation style, which feels more like a video game than series animation. I’d seen promos for this show some time back, but I hadn’t really tumbled to the visual approach.

The voice cast here does an excellent job. I’m not familiar with Matt Lanter, who plays Anakin Skywalker, but both he and James Arnold Taylor (the other lead actor, as Obi-Wan Kenobi) deliver nice performances. Their smooth, natural styles match well with the show’s visuals — a good thing, because the dark, somewhat stiff on-screen characters wouldn’t lend themselves well to over-the-top voicing. It’s fortunate that the acting is so effective, because the show itself is not, from my perspective, all that intriguing. (It’s rather boring, if I may be so blunt.) But I’m sure the Star Wars geeks dig it.

Next up came Ben 10: Alien Force, which I might describe as a spacefaring version of the old DC Comics feature Dial H for Hero. I was a little bit familiar with this series, because I’m a fan of the comic book work of its story editor, Dwayne McDuffie, and frequent the forums on Dwayne’s site.

Overall, I thought the voice work on Ben 10: Alien Force was surprisingly strong, given that the show is very much kids-targeted and probably doesn’t have much of an adult following. The lead voice, Yuri Lowenthal, I recognize from Legion of Super-Heroes, in which he played the young Superman. To my ear, Yuri sounds a skosh mature for his character’s supposed age of 15 years, but he’s a solid actor and carries his lead role well. The rest of the cast is good also. I was struck by the relatively natural approach taken by the actors, which seemed dialed back tonally from what I associate with typical action cartoon voicing. I’ll credit that to the voice director, Andrea Romano, whom I remember Susan Blu mentioning as preferring a more “realistic” sound.

Another series voice-directed by Andrea, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, followed. From an entertainment standpoint, I enjoyed this show the most among the four, because of my greater familiarity with the characters and closer connection with the material. I’m glad to see a Batman presentation with a lighter, more engaging tone, given that most of the characters recent appearances in all media have been oppressively grim. Batman: The Brave and the Bold is a fun show that I’ll watch again… even when it’s not “homework.”

The one thing that took me out of the show was what I perceived as a tonal dissonance between the episode’s lead characters — Batman, played by Diedrich Bader (the guy from the old Drew Carey Show), and Green Arrow (James Arnold Taylor again; nice to see that he’s getting plenty of work) — and some of the supporting roles. Whereas Bader and Taylor brought good naturalism to their parts (Taylor’s Green Arrow is a bit bouncy for my tastes, but that’s how the character is written in this series), the actors playing the other key roles opted for a more stereotypical “cartoony” read. None of the performances were bad, by any means — it just sounded to my ear as though Bader and Taylor were voicing one program, the everyone else dropped in from a different show.

My Cartoon Network experience concluded with something called Bakugan: Battle Brawlers, a fairly pedestrian example of anime, rendered and performed in the style I usually associate with this sort of program. It’s highly reminiscent of Pokemon both in approach and subject matter. I’m not an anime connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve seen it done better than this. Then again, I probably shouldn’t expect Miyazaki on Saturday morning at the Cartoon Network.

Although the brash, screechy tone of Bakugan — visually as well as vocally — made it agonizing to watch, I tried to keep an open mind. About one-third of the way through the program, I ran an experiment. I watched a segment with the sound muted, just to get a feel for what the show was like before the English track was applied. Then, I restored the sound, and listened for a segment without looking at the TV screen. By the end of the half-hour, I better appreciated the challenge the voice actors in this genre are up against.

I’d like to explore animation work as a part of my voiceover future. Toward that end, I should do more of this kind of sampling.

The state of TV animation (along with, well, pretty much everything else in the known universe) has changed substantially from when I was a kid. I really need to ramp up to speed.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Animation, Strategy, Voice acting, Voiceover

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