We, Robots! (Part 20): Networking With Shields Up
Today, we’ll clean up the subject of more robotic output from Cartoon Network, as well as deal with a small number of productions which aired on the Kids W-B Saturday morning block. We’ll also highlight a Looney Tune which never had a specific screen history, intended for theatrical release in the wake of “Looney Tunes: Back in Action”, but pulled from release schedule when the feature failed to attain desired box office.
Superman: The Animated Series followed in the footsteps of the studio’s success at adapting Batman, going for realistic animation in faithful style to the classic comics, at times closely resembling the 1940’s Fleischer style that had been the studio’s original inspiration in getting into the DC Universe, but generally choosing a brighter color palette than either the Fleisher films or the world of Gotham, to contrast the show from the Batman product. Robots would continue to play a sporadic part of Superman’s world, including a return for Braniac commencing with Stolen Memories (11/2/96), with the information-gathering alien robot cutting a deal with Lex Luthor for interface with his vast store of computer data on Earth, but intent upon using it to control all of Earth’s computerized weaponry and eventually destroy the planet – the fewer creatures have the data, the more valuable it becomes. Superman of course gets to battle several robot drones, bringing back a bit of memories from “The Mechanical Monsters”. Also new to the animated screen was the first appearance of another Superman villain known as Metallo.
In The Way of All Flesh (10/19/96), Lex Luthor manages a prison break for a convict which Superman sent up the river for a term of unknown duration, who is bent on obtaining revenge against the alien. Luthor owes him a favor, for not implicating LexCorp in the very crime for which the convict was incarcerated. The convict, an ex-mercenary, is a man with nothing to lose, having somehow contracted a rare tropical virus which is said to be 100% fatal, and so consents to Luthor’s experiment, whereby Luthor plots to give him the power to conquer Superman through surgical implantation into a robotic body – the old “8th man” surgery. A central difference, however, is that Luthor’s robot will maintain within as its power source a chamber containing a large chunk of kryptonite – to weaken Superman during battle. The surgery is performed, and the convict awakes in a body whose artificial skin looks exactly like his own – but with a metallic skeleton with strength that allows him, as a sample demonstration, to leap off the platform of an elevated train station, and stand upon the tracks, then cause a train derailment single-handed. He complains, however, that, while he feels no pain, he also seems to have no feeling in his hands, it seeming like he is controlling his arms and legs from the outside. Luthor claims that some minor adjustments will be needed, but can be taken care of later. A first encounter with Superman goes well, with the Man of Steel matched in strength by “the real Man of Steel”, as the newly self-named Metallo calls himself. Metallo opens a shield door within his belly to expose the kryptonite, which does its work upon Superman, until Lous speeds between them with her car to intervene, pilling our hero out of the mineral’s effects.
Back at the Daily Planet, Lois and Clark Kent decide to do some investigating in the convict’s records, and discover a medical file, indicating the exposure of the convict to the deadly virus. As it is only known to exist on one remote island, a seemingly unlikely destination for the convict’s previous mercenary travels, Clark interrogates as Superman the medical lab where the tests were run – and discovers a vial of the virus among its stock, leading Clark to believe it was secretly administered to the convict while in prison. Further investigation by Lois finds a parking validation for a LexCorp vehicle in an incriminating location within the lab. Putting two and two together, Superman pays a visit to Luthor aboard his private yacht, just putting out to sea. However, Luthor has another visitor aboard – Metallo. The con has now realized that his inability to feel is not limited to his hands, but that his other senses of taste and smell have not returned, along with his inability to feel touch. In fact, even an attempt to steal a kiss has resulted in no pleasurable feeling at all. Metallo has confronted the head of the medical staff that performed the surgery for the promised “adjustments”, only to have the surgeon respond that his understanding of the “adjustments” was that Metallo would eventually adjust to the lack of these senses, with no process presently known to restore them to him. Metallo furiously confronts Luthor for the lie, but Luthor bluffs, claiming the matter is still under research by a hundred of his labs, and if he destroys Luthor, he is throwing away his only chance to obtain his senses back. Metallo is temporarily halted from seeking his vengeance, when Superman arrives. The battle rages again, and the kryptonite again weakens Superman, allowing Metallo to knock him into the ship’s hold, while Luthor shouts to “Finish him”. Though weak, Superman utters to Metallo the secret of the virus vial, which Superman produces from his pocket, indicating that Luthor was the one who directed its administration to him. Luthor again bluffs, claiming that Superman is trying to turn them against each other to save his own skin, and who knows what’s really in that vial. “Then why don’t we test it?” says Metallo, grabbing Luthor by the neck, and attempting to force Luthor to “drink up” from the vial’s contents.
Superman takes this opportunity to notice a small trail of gasoline leaking from the yacht’s fuel tank from the damage of the battle below decks. He uses his heat vision to ignite the fuel. An explosion throws Luthor and Metallo overboard. Metallo quickly realizes his new weight makes it impossible for him to swim, and he sinks rapidly beneath the waves to the bottom. Superman rescues Luthor, flying him back to the mainland, and dropping him off at a dock. “You’ll never pin this on me”, says Luthor, pointing out that the vial is destroyed, and Metallo lost at sea. “And even if you did find him, there’s still that kryptonite to worry about.” “I don’t think I’m the one who should be worrying”, says Superman, then flies away. Luthor looks out from the dock at the sea, as the camera changes to an underwater view far away, showing Metallo trudging along the ocean bottom, slowly but surely progressing in Luthor’s direction.
As promised in a previous installment, some further visits to Dexter’s Laboratory are in order. Dexter was a frequent user of robots, so comprehensive coverage will be beyond this article’s scope. While some robotic episodes did not live up to full potential (including “Ultrajerk 2000″ (10/22/97) where Dexter builds a mechanical lab assistant with his own intelligence built-in, who of course takes over, and “Robo-Dexo 3000″ (6/2/02), in which Dexter tries to replace his battle-scarred Robo-Dexo 2000 robot with a newer model resembling Voltron, others provided more memorable entertainment. “Big Bots” (4/8/98) has Dexter randomly on patrol in his giant Robo-Dexo 2000 to save the day wherever help is needed. Dee Dee thinks his robot is the coolest, and asks him to build her one. Dexter laughs uproariously at the idea, until Dee Dee challenges him, stating that he won’t because he can’t. Dexter does not like a dare, and shouts “Let the building commence!” After laborious effort, a giant pink robot in Dee Dee’s likeness is created. Dee Dee’s eyes glow in amazement, and she thanks Dexter for the best gift ever. Dexter scoffs at her. What gift? He merely built it to show that he could, and now intends to dismantle it again. But a distress call comes in on a computer monitor about a populated island about to be blasted by an imminent volcanic eruption. Dexter is quickly dressed in battle gear, and rocketing up an elevator on the side of his robot to the command cockpit. But so is Dee Dee on a twin elevator on her new robot. Dexter asks his sister’s word that she will not take the robot out of the lab, and Dee Dee answers affirmatively – while continuing to do just what she pleases. Dee Dee shows up at the island ahead of Dexter, thanks to the new rocket jets Dexter installed in her robot’s boots. The two immediately start bickering as Dexter tries to get her to go home before she messes everything up, while the curious natives look on. The siblings forget entirely that the volcano’s eruption is starting. Dexter looks for something to plug it with, and tells Dee Dee to help by getting the natives to a safe place. She deposits them in the ocean, until Dexter notices and informs her there are sharks in there. Though Dee Dee is riding 20 stories above the water, she freaks out, and her robot jumps in terror onto the shoulders of Dexter’s. Dexter tosses her away, and the weight of her robot nearly sinks the island, but somehow washes the islanders back on shore. Dexter approaches with a huge boulder plucked from the sea, intended to plug the volcano. Dee Dee thinks the rock is about to crash on his head, and reflexively fires at it with a finger missile, obliterating it. Dexter screams at her interference, asking now what are they supposed to plug the volcano with. ‘With your big mouth”, shouts Dee Dee. “That’s it”, exclaims Dexter, and a brother-sister battle rages above the island as the robots exchange blows and forces of weaponry, while the natives flee in panic. Suddenly, the volcano belches to life again, and the siblings realize they have again forgotten their duty. Both charge the volcano, as the camera pans down to the natives. Suddenly, things calm down, and two of the natives exchange conversation in gibberish, while pointing up at the mountainside. “Big Bots”, says one of them, as the camera rises to show the volcano at last plugged – by both robots sitting on it – for the iris out.
Dyno-Might (5/6/98) provides an interesting crossover. Dexter receives an unexpected visitor at his front door – the Blue Falcon (with Gary Owens returning in the vocal role), carrying the shattered hulk of his robotic sidekick, Dyno-Mutt, who has been severely damaged in his latest battle. The Falcon has somehow heard of Dexter’s reputation as a genius in robotics, and has the dough to pay for a complete overhaul of the dog wonder. Dexter sets about his task, though somewhat disparaging of the technology from which the Mutt was created. He performs his service according to specs, then reactivates the dog-bot through an electrical cord plugged into his nostrils. Dyno-Mutt is his old self – and that isn’t necessarily good, as he immediately becomes curious of his laboratory surroundings, wondering what this and that do. In no time, he is leaving a path of destruction through everything he touches or investigates. Dexter pulls the plug on him, concluding that he is worse than Dee Dee. He sees no possibilities how a buffoon such as this can be of any use to the Falcon in fighting crime, and deposits Dyno-Mutt in a refuse can, instead choosing to build from scratch a new, technologically-improved canine. The Falcon waits outside reading magazines in the living room, while Dad mistakes his outfit for the team uniform of the Falcons sports team, and says he’s not surprised the Falcon is blue, as their team didn’t do so well last season. Dexter signals Falcon to enter the lab, to behold a robot which, although wearing a caped outfit similar to the original, resembles a giant ferocious Doberman pinscher. The beast is overzealous in crime-fighting, and soon seems intent on branding everyone a lawbreaker to attack – including the Blue Falcon and Dexter, whom he soon has in his robotic clutches. Falcon can’t understand why the robot will not recognize him, until Dexter confesses that it is not the old robot, but a brand-new prototype. Dexter admits he thought the old Dyno-Mutt was only a “goofy, idiotic sidekick”, but informs Falcon that the Mutt is still back in the lab. Falcon manages to push a button on his wrist armor, sending a signal to Dyno-Mutt’s antenna, reactivating him. Dyno-Mutt homes in on the signal, and, when the beast-robot will not react to him or treat him seriously, Dyno-Mutt makes himself more interesting to the beast-bot by switching head units, adopting in appearance the shape of a robotic cat. The new robot quickly releases Falcon and Dexter, and chases Dyno-Mutt just as any cartoon dog would chase a feline, finally cornering him up a telephone pole. “Now that I’ve got your attention, here’s a little present for you”, says Dyno-Mutt, ejecting from a chamber inside his chest a bone of size to match the beast-robot. The robot chomps on the bone, ignoring a fuse burning down on its side – and is blasted by dynamite within. Falcon and Dyno-Mutt are reunited, and Dexter apologizes for underestimating the Mutt. Falcon concludes by reminding Dexter, “It’s a goofy, idiotic sidekick that makes a super-hero look super.”
Ego Trip (12/10/99) was an hour-long special installment with an interesting, complicated plot. Dexter has just thwarted an intrusion into his lab by his rival Mandark, in search of Dexter’s latest development – an all-powering neurotronic protocore (which looks like a king-size green atom). Dexter calmly returns to his inventing, but is intent on making up for lost time – so will not give his meddling sister Dee Dee the time of day, or the chance to speak, and points her in the direction of the exit. Dee Dee trudges over to what she thinks is an escape chute – but is actually the body of a grandfather’s clock which Dexter has converted into a time machine. She disappears within – and a few moments later, someone new emerges – a squad of robots, who surprise Dexter from behind. They announce that they have been sent from the future to destroy the one who saved the future. Dexter is unimpressed by the threat, and announces, “Prepare to meet your maker.” He assumes a disguise resembling a black-and-white version of Captain America, and slices the robots apart with a frisbee-like shield. Soon, the robots lay motionless on the floor. But Dexter is intrigued that someone went through the trouble of sending the squad after him from the future – and wonders just how cool his future self is to have saved the world. Determining after waiting 20 seconds that the future is too far away for him to just wait around to see it, he enters his time machine to catch a glimpse og his own future greatness. His first stop returns him to the lab, where the only change is that in venturing upstairs, he discovers he and his family no longer live in the house, which is now surrounded by the sprawl of a Jetsons-like city. Eluding law enforcement for illegal trespassing, he is nevertheless arrested for having a name instead of a number. A retina scan identifies him as “Number 12″, and he is “returned” to his place of employment – where he meets a young adult version of himself, who is a total wimp working is a cubicle to design more cubicles, in a corporation headed by, of all people, Mandark. Future Dexter endures a public flogging for being “almost late”, and Dexter questions why he puts up with this treatment. Leaning on a wall, Dexter stumbles on a secret wall compartment, in which he finds the neurotronic protocore, together with blueprints for its use in scientific devices of unbelievable imagination. But intimidated future Dexter will have nothing to do with these plans, and tells Dexter to just go away. Dexter informs him of the earlier robot attack, and that he is destined for great things in the further future, and coaxes the adult Dexter to sneak back to the time machine to venture further ahead to learn his true destiny.
Their next time jaunt finds the time machine in a museum, which also contains what’s left of Mandark – a brain stem preserved in a bottle. A curator greets the two past Dexters with respect, and conveys them via a thought-projection bubble car to a monolithic palace where far-future Dexter presides over a world where his visions of intelligence and harmony are thought-projected into the entire population by means of the protocore. However, there is little to learn about how Dexter became cool here – as far-future Dexter is a senile old man, who can’t remember a thing about how this future world came to be or how he got in it. Dexter realizes he’s traveled forward too far, and takes both future Dexters back to the time machine for a short hop in reverse to see when his greatness began. He finds the right era – but with substantial changes. The lab in which he re-materializes is almost destroyed, and above it a post-apocalyptic world where mankind has been reduced to the intelligence of Neanderthals and live in caves, without even the knowledge of how to produce fire. As Dexter attempts to show them how to rub sticks together, several hovering robotic drones arrive to quelch the flames, attempting to make an arrest for illegal use of science. The scene is interrupted by a macho-muscular hero who is also a future Dexter, who battles the robots to save the cave-dwellers and the three unexpected visitors. Dexter is now impressed with “himself”, but the hero proclaims that his fight is largely futile against the powers of Mandark. In flashback, he reveals that Mandark, when he and Dexter had first become of employable age, were both hired by the same corporation, but Mandark stole all of Dexter’s ideas and voraciously climbed the corporate ladder to take over the company, leaving young-adult Dexter subjugated in his cubicle. The protocore fell into Mandark’s hands (which Dexter realizes was caused by his own carelessly leaving it within view when he called young-adult Dexter away to the time machine), and Mandark has drained all the intelligence out of mankind by powering the protocore with reverse polarity. Dexter informs the hero that the lab still exists, which he did not know, and the four return there to create an assault robot to storm the castle-lair of future Mandark, who now weighs 350 ponds and luxuriates in a devil-hot hot tub. The Dexters take along the time machine within the robot, and penetrate a barrage of weaponry and obstacles. Only the command cockpit remains as they finally enter Mandark’s lair. Mandark has somehow predicted potential need for defensive backup – and has rounded together three versions of himself, matching the eras of the Dexters. A fierce battle of the clans takes place, each generation of Dexters evenly matching each generation of Mandarks. They stalemate in a human chain, each gripping the limb of another, while Dexter struggles to reach the button that with change the core’s polarity from negative to positive. Suddenly, who should appear in the chamber of the time machine clock but Dee Dee, who has just now materialized in the future. She prances by the struggling combatants, and stares at the button. “Ooh! What does this button do?” she sing-songs in her imbecilic naivete, and pushes the button herself. The polarity changes, and so does the world, as the Mandarks are also neutralized in the process. Dee Dee skips back into the time machine, and again disappears. The Dexters are both happy that the world is saved, but outraged that they didn’t get to do it. They set upon building a squad of robots to send back in the time machine to get Dee Dee – then Dexter returns everyone to their proper eras, before heading home himself to see what the robots have done to his sister. He arrives back in time a few seconds too soon, to witness himself finishing off the robot squad from the opening of the story – and suddenlt realizes they were the same robots that he himself sent back to get Dee Dee – never intent on destroying him as the saver of the future at all. Rather than use the time machine again to try to set his future right, Dexter just decides to let things go, admitting “My head hurts.”
A final Dexter note is irresistible, despite the fact that the episode has little to do with robots, just because it is unlikely to cross into future trails. The Lab of Tomorrow (11/4/03) is a full-blown tribute to the series of “Tomorrow” pictures directed by Tex Avery for MGM in the late 40’s and early 50’s, with efforts to simulate the Avery style, and several direct references to past Avery spot gags. A narrator presides over the proceedings in the style of the originals (voice provided by Dexter’s lab monkey, who has finally developed the ability to talk). A spoof on “The House of Tomorrow” demonstrates a special secret laboratory entrance for every member of the modern family. Dad escapes from watching TV in gis easy chair into a chute, descending him into a secret lab where he also sits and watches TV. Mom’s lab is a getaway spa-resort. Dee Dee’s entrance is marked with a sign above, but every time she opens it, she runs headfirst into a brick wall. A cross-breeding gag mirrors “The Farm of Tomorrow”, developing the latest in sweat-free lab coats. A super-powered telescope harkens to “T.V. of Tomorrow”, revealing on another planet a view of a black and white Western movie. Only when Dexter pulls back the eyepiece a bit does he discover he’s focused on a TV screen, being watched by an alien. And the latest in anti-intrusion devices stops Mandark – a mechanical cylinder that unfolds into a massive giant fly swatter, then smashes Mandark flat. You never know where concepts from the classics will reappear.
Here’s a clip:
Samurai Jack was the creation of Genndy Tartakowsky, who also created Dexter’s Laboratory, and was one of the principal directors of The Powerpuff Girls – accounting for its hero’s striking resemblance to Professor Utonium. However, despite impressive atmospheric layouts and innovative character design on Jack’s enemies, the series went considerably farther than the Powerpuffs in pushing the envelope for acceptable cartoon violence, bordering more upon the level of contemporary anime, so that it felt it should have been more properly suited only for Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” block. The storytelling style also took some adjusting to if you could stomach the fights, as the directors avoided as much as possible providing the characters with any dialogue. Unfortunately, the pacing of the half-hour long stories was not that of Tom and Jerry to maintain undivided interest in silent pantomime, and so the attention span of the viewer can tend to wander in the slower moments of the show.
Many episodes dealt with robots, in a sort of apocalyptic future into which Jack has been cast. A sample example is Jack and the Annoying Creature (2/3/03). On his seemingly endless wanderings, Jack encounters a creature which looks like it stepped right out of Hayao Miyazaki’s feature “My Neighbor Totoro” – a huge, round ball of fluff that wants to make friends, but is a general nuisance to Jack’s progress. Jack trues to elude it all through the show, but it persists in following. Then, out of nowhere, in a desolate wasteland dotted only by rocky crags, Jack encounters what amounts to the equivalent of a robot motorcycle gang (though their choice of transportation is an all-terrain hot rod to carry the four of them). One looks like Frankenstein with a metallic pompadour. Another is fat and round, wearing service-station type coveralls with a jacket name insignia reading “Tony”, equipped with wide chomping jaws. A third has the torso build of a mechanical gorilla. The fourth, a female, seems to have the dress and build of a Heidi (though perhaps intended to resemble a 50’s rocker in a poodle skirt), and wields an oversized machine gun, as well as a pair of claw hands with razor-shap blades to slash at Jack.
They all approach with radio blaring a 50’s style song entitled “Wild Ride”. And for no reason whatsoever start gunning for Jack. Jack eludes them around the rocky crags, and their erratic driving soon crashes the vehicle into one of them. But this doesn’t stop the gang, who surround Jack from all sides. The female, at least, decides to play more fairly, dropping the machine gun, and figuring it’s more fun to slash Jack into little bitty pieces. The Frankenstein fires his own weapon at Jack – a gun loaded with tranquilizer darts, several of which hit Jack’s right arm, paralyzing him from lifting his Samurai sword. What follows is an exceptionally-violent mauling, complete with painful screams from Jack as the four pummel the near-helpless warrior. From behind one of the crags, Jack’s fuzzy “friend” appears once again, but is shocked to see what is transpiring. He timidly ducks back behind the rock, and shivers as he hears the last sounds of the battle, and Jack’s agonized scream, then silence except for the continuing blows. The creature’s yellow eyes suddenly turn to red, as something snaps inside him, and he essentially “Hulks out” into a towering red monster, with talon feet and claws, and gigantic fanged dentures. He now looms into view over the top of the rock, and doles out vengeance perhaps even more violently than the attackers, stomping them flat into the ground, smashing them into the cliffsides, and grinding them between his teeth into metal fragments. Once the wasteland is littered with their debris, the creature slowly pops back to his original fuzzy form, to observe the motionless Jack, wearing only tattered remnants of his outfit, half-buried in the dust. The creature flops itself on the ground and weeps bitterly, until some of its tears splash onto Jack’s face, reviving the battle-toughened warrior, who somehow seems to be much less the worse for wear than we were expecting. Realizing what the creature has done for him, Jack begins to smile, and clears his throat to attract the attention of the creature. The two are reunited, with the creature ecstatic and clutching Jack over-enthusiastically to his chest, first to Jack’s discomfort, but eventually received with an accepting smile, as if to say “Oh, well”. Jack finally speaks to the creature, indicating there is a village over the next hill, where perhaps they can find food and shelter. The creature happily bounces its way toward their destination, first ahead of Jack, then eventually gathering Jack up in his arms once again, as they disappear over the horizon for the fade out.
As noted above, a Daffy Duck short, Duck Dodgers in Attack of the Drones, was intended for release in theatres, but pulled from lack of box office receipts for Looney Tunes: Back in Action. It thus did not have a debut until 3/31/04. It would actually have been a worthy theatrical entry, markedly better than several Chuck Jones projects which had preceded it to the big screen, such as the lackluster “Superior Duck.” The short takes Dodgers’ legacy in a different direction than usual, forgoing both Marvin Martian and Eager Young Space Cadet, and instead transposing Dodgers into a universe directly designed to lampoon Star Wars – complete with dimensional scrolling chapter introduction, interrupted by letters moving into the screen reading “Hey, look!”, followed by a pan over to an intergalactic space fight. A horde of piranha-like giant aliens floats through space, devouring every ship in their path. A wedge-shaped dreadnaught is munched like an oversized slice of pizza, leaving unchewed part of the crust. A television camera broadcasts the debacle, then transmission dies as the camera itself is swallowed. The telecast is witnessed by Dodgers, in the meeting hall of a council of elders of the “force”, presided over by a Yoda-like creature resembling Elmer Fudd. The council also includes one of Chuck Jones’ instant Martians from “Hare Way To the Stars”, a blue creature resembling as close as possible Disney’s Stitch, the Flintstones’ The Great Gazoo, Dr, Zoiberg from “Futurama”, and two unidentified aliens who appear to resemble Ming the Merciless and Jar Jar Binks. Dodgers admits he sure wouldn’t want to meet up with those puppies he’s just seen on the screen – but still realizes it is his duty yet again to save the world. He decides he will need a team of savage samurai, “psychopathic to a fault, able to stare slaughter in the face and snicker like schoolgirls.” But where to obtain such warriors? Of course! The local photocopy shop. Dodgers lays down on the glass of a photocopier, setting the machine’s buttons to produce 100 robots, with a violence meter reading of 98%. Metal versions of Dodgers, with faces that roughly resemble Darth Vader storm troopers, spring off the proverbial griddle like hot cakes. Dodgers transports the whole legion to deep space aboard his ship, directly Into the path of the oncoming aliens. Shaking them out the nose of the ship much like a salt shaker, Dodgers watches as the drones jet-pack their way toward the alien advance. The fierce monsters open their teeth-filled jaws, and each swallows one of the drones, to Dodgers’ momentary dismay. Suddenly, a metal fist emerges through the dentures of one of the aliens, and bulging within each alien begins from blows struck within its gullet. Each of the aliens explodes apart, as a finishing blow from a clone disintegrates it into cosmic dust. Dodgers and his squad return to Earth as heroes. Dodgers receives a medal, then extends praise to the drones from the podium as “the most destructive band of merciless misfits ever assembled. Dismissed.” While Dodgers ponders whether he will receive the Nobel Peace Prize, his drones take their leave, to senselessly go on a rampage. They overturn space cars. Arbitrarily kiss passing girls in reverse half-Nelson grips. Break into parking meters. Chop down bridges. And light fire to trash cans, which run away on robotic legs. Elmer-Yoda phones Dodgers to stop this onslaught, or not come home tonight. Dodgers tries various means of attack. He detects the presence of a drone only after engaging in a classic imitation of the Marx Brothers’ “mirror” bit from “Duck Soup”, matching the robot’s every dance move, until the robot blasts away a part of Dodgers’ midriff with a ray gun. A creative bit lampoons the double-ended light sabre used by Darth Maul in Star Wars I, as Dodgers reveals one which not only extends cutting rays from both ends, but a third that projects forward, a fourth that projects backward (right through his torso), and a fifth that extends upwards (through his beak).
Finally, Dodgers approaches a drone, choosing as his weapon a double-ray light-saber nunchuck. The drone responds with a duplicate nunchuck of his own. Dodgers whirls the weapon around and around, until it tangles upon his beak, winds around it, and explodes in his face. The drone, to his surprise, duplicates Dodgers’ mistake to a T, exploding his own head off. Dodgers realizes the drones are exact copies of himself, with all his own hopes and dreams. He performs a little analysis of his own personality, asking, “If I were an exact copy of me, what would I want?” The answer results in Dodgers building a fake structure with sign above the door reading “Fame, Money, and Medals for Studly Space Heroes.” A line of drones forms at the door. Inside, before a fake stage curtain, Dodgers presents each drone with a medal, a “small honorarium”, and an “untrademarked movie award”, for “Best Performance by a Special Effect”. No sooner does each drone receive these goodies, than a trap door opens below them, dropping them into a metal-crunching grinder, depositing the remains in a trash dumpster below, while the goodies bounce back up into Dodgers’ hands, for presentment to the next victim. “If only the real Oscars could work this way”, says Dodgers. As the 100th drone disappears through the trap door, Dodgers emerges from the structure, presuming his work done. There stands another drone. Dodgers is about to question where he came from, but stops short, easily perceiving the answer. An endless line of identical drones extends all the way back to the copy shop door, where even more emerge by the second. “Hey! Who said you could copy yourselves? That was MY idea!” He pauses, realization sinking in that that’s exactly why the robots thought of it, and mutters, “Oh, yeah.” The flood of drones sweeps through the city like a tidal wave, and Dodgers winds up hanging from the flagpole of a tall building, with drones just below snapping at his heels. “Well, I don’t see how this could get any worse”, he says. Suddenly the instant Martian joins him in fleeing from the drones up the flagpole, takes a look at Dodgers, and begins to purr like a kitten as hearts fill its eyes, infatuated with out hero. Dodgers looks at the audience helplessly in the face of this new development, and we iris out.
When Duck Dodgers premiered as a series, another robotic episode appeared – The Fowl Friend (8/30/03). Eager Young Space Cadet (Porky) is busy sweeping up Dodgers’ spaceship, while Dodgers lounges around reading space comics, claiming to Dr. I.Q. High that he is swamped with work, and can’t very well be expected to take on new assignments unless he can get a robotic slave assigned to his crew. Against his better judgment, High assigns Agent Roboto to Dodgers’ ship – a dead ringer for Robby the Robot from MGM’s “Fantastic Planet”. The robot is more eager to please than Eager Young Space Cadet, doing the laundry, mowing the astroturf, and alphabetizing Dodgers’ comic book collection. Dodgers can get to like this. The robot constantly refers to Dodgers as “Sir” in proper military manner, until Dodgers permits him to drop the “formal stuff”. “Then, may I call you, friend?”, the robot asks. Taken a bit aback, Dodgers says “I guess so”, and receives over-enthusiastic hugs that nearly strangle him. “Am I interrupting something”, asks Porky, announcing that they are approaching the target of a Martian battle station. Manning a shuttle, the three shift their vehicle into invisibility mode, and land on the battle station’s loading dock, invisibly knocking over barrels and shoving aside two space ships in the process. Dodgers emerges from the invisibility, laser gun in hand, but achieves no element of surprise, as he is immediately fired upon by two robotic drones. As he hides behind one of the barrels, Roboto emerges, his arms turning into rotating triple machine gun barrels, blasting away the two drones and more that follow. “Protect the laser cannon”, yells commander Marvin Martian. Dodgers begins a verbal discourse to announce his intention to destroy the cannon, but never gets to finish it – as Roboto has the weapon destroyed before it can be spoken about. His firing also sets the station into a state of imminent explosion. “But I usually get to explode the station”, mutters Dodgers, as Roboto seizes his arm and drags him to the shuttle for a quick getaway before the station’s obliteration. Returning to the mother ship, Dodgers awaits the plaudits of Dr. High – only to hear praise heaped upon the robot, and even for minor contributions by Porky. Dodgers waits for praise of his own, but receives only laughter for expecting it, and appreciation of his “sense of humor”. Dodgers can see this situation is becoming uncomfortable to his ego.
Dodgers rigs up a destructive trap for Roboto, radio positioning a homing beacon to land on the surface of a floating Martian space mine outside the ship. He then tells Roboto that they must be ever-vigilant for distress calls from anyone “lost in space”. Activating the beacon’s blip, Dodgers tells Roboto it is a call for help, and to rescue the lost “friend”. He waits, expecting the explosion when Roboto contacts the mine. Instead, Roboto succeeds not only in retieving the mine from space, but bringing it aboard the ship, handing it to Dodgers. The mine is ticking, with an explosion imminent. Dodgers runs helter-skelter around the ship, seeking somewhere to dispose of it. In direct parody to the Adam West feature “Batman”, Dodgers opens one room after another, discovering “Priceless works of art”, Porky entertaining a group of French orphans, and a third room populated by “simple Amish folk.” “Some days you just can’t get rid of a Martial space mine”, hollers a panicked Dodgers. He finally locates a trash chute, but instead of dropping the mine in, hides within it himself. Porky rounds the corner, spotting the mine on the floor, and decides it’s something the French orphans shouldn’t stumble over, so drops it down the chute after Dodgers. BOOM! A sign on the trash chute rotates to the setting, “Eject”, and a view out the window reveals a featherless Dodgers drifting into space.
Dodgers sets Roboto up for another fall, by dropping a gaudy metal broach which Dodgers claims is a “family heirloom” into the engine port. Roboto volunteers to retrieve it, and enters the engine chamber. Dodgers activates the engines at full capacity, exposing Roboto to searing jets of fiery heat. He leaves them on until the engines overheat, and blast apart from the ship. But Roboto is already back inside the cabin, glowing with heat, but announcing he has rescued the broach, and insisting on pinning the red-hot jewelry onto Dodgers’ chest. “No! Keep it. Sell it on line”, screams Dodgers, but receives the burning badge anyway with all the pain of a branding iron. Porky enters with more bad news. A meteor is headed saight for them, and the engines won’t respond. (Little wonder, as he is unaware of their being blown away.) In direct parody of “The Iron Giant”, as Dodgers sees no hope of escape, Roboto offers to sacrifice himself to save his “friend.” “I go. You stay. No following.” Roboto soars headfirst into the meteor, blasting it apart, but also himself in the process. What is left of his parts us retrieved from space, and brought back to Dr. High’s headquarters, where Dodgers delivers a less-than-heartfelt eulogy, referring to Roboto as a “brother”, then realizing he never stole Dodgers’ girlfriends or wrecked his Corvette, so the relationship was more like a second-cousin. As the ceremony closes, Dr. High observes that among the parts is Roboto’s cranial capaciter, which still appears to be in good shape. Dr. High states that he ought to have Roboto back up and running in a matter of days. Dodgers takes hold of the part, then says “Oops”, deliberately dropping it to the floor, where it partially shatters. “Oops again” says Dodgers, stepping on it. He continues to vigorously stomp on the part over and over, while High comments, “Then again, it may take a little longer.”
A few lines are necessary regarding Whatever Happened to Robot Jones? (Cartoon Network, 2002-2003). The answer to the question? He was forgotten. The show’s concept was basically a lift of “C.L.I.D.E. and Prejudice” from Tiny Toon Adventures, with a robot as new student attending middle school. He faces the expected trouble fitting in, though making a few friends along the way, and falls into a pattern of immersing himself in typical situations of his fellow students, to run analysis on the human race and draw conclusions about their behavior in a personal data log. In design, he s basically a cube-shaped head with a slot for a mouth, and a clear domed “lobe” unit fastened on top, all connected to a body of robotic joints and claw-style hands. His disposition is of a typical juvenile, though his voice is metallic in tone. He is subject to typical robot weaknesses like data overload, as in “Cube Wars”, where he attempts to solve a Rubik’s cube on which two stickers have been switched to make solving it impossible, and fractures his swollen head in the process into the form of a mixed-up Rubik’s cube itself. His “Mom” and “Dad” units supervise his activity at home, where Mom performs never-ending household chores with robotic efficiency, while Dad merely stares at a television set in emotionless analysis of programming. The show was no work of art, with animation sketchy and sloppy without reaching the level of an intended homage to childhood scrawl. It seemed clever at the time, and was periodically entertaining in content, but I do not believe it has worn well over the years, and did not overly impress upon reviewing.
Megas XLR (Cartoon Network, 2004-2005) was a clever send-up of virtually every branch of anime, mirroring its camera techniques, but twisting the perspective of standard giant robot battles to two modern-day dudes from Jersey City, who preside over a junkyard. (Shades of “Swat Kats” and “The Iron Giant”.) They are the unexpected recipients of a super-powerful giant robot from the future, transported back in time to prevent capture of its technology by an invading alien race. With its command cockpit damaged in its head unit, the dudes replace it with the chassis of a 1950’s Chevy. They trick-out its controls with hi-fi radio, food dispensers, joysticks, Nintendo game controls, and all manner of “cool” components. Their robot becomes a center of attention, when its original pilot (a female resistance fighter) catches up to it, complaining, “What have you done to my robot?” She becomes back-seat diver for tech support of the team, while heavy-set Coop retains command of the new driver’s seat. His video-game skills come in handy as the robot battles all manner of villains, including both monsters and machines, plus the original attacking aliens who have also traveled through time to get the robot back. Scenarios include parodies of well-known franchises such as “Sailor Moon” (whose leader is so set on making a spinning grand entrance that the other members of her team are left impatiently tapping their feet, waiting and waiting for her to finish), and Battle-Bots (placing Coop in a cage match versus a bevy of other giant robots). Coop’s tactics are consistently unorthodox, leaving his opponents stunned and puzzled. When oil supply for Megas runs low, he refills via the squeezings from a Philly cheese steak, leaving the robot’s gauges, responding with phrases like, “That’s plenty”, and “No, really, I’m fine.” When a robot in the cage battle attacks Megas with sonic waves, Coop retaliates by activating “The Jammer”, a command which reveals a wall of every hi-fi speaker Coop owns, and activates an internal Karaoke stage Coop has built into the robot’s chest, where he performs an ear-splitting rendition of “I Gave My Love a Cherry”. He even out-punches a robotic foe without resorting to the robot’s weaponry, by activating a video game disc parodying “Dance Dance Revolution”, and using his own dance moves to control the robot’s limbs for a smashing victory. It was a fun breath of fresh air, in an original approach which gave the anime medium a good swift kick in the pants where it was really needed.
Tom and Jerry Tales, a sometimes successful throwback to classic animated style with a respectable budget, produced Hi, Robot (11/11/06). Though not among the series’ best efforts, it still produces a few smiles. It is a takeoff upon the wind-up girl mouse idea Tom used as one of his traps in the classic episode “Mouse Trouble”. The story begins with Tom asleep in the living room, while a little boy (a newcomer to the cast) sends in a mechanical mouse operated by a remote radio control, intending to pull a prank on Tom. He causes the mouse to scamper back and forth in front of Tom’s sleeping figure, but gets no response from the snoring cat – so he causes the mouse to bounce upon Tom’s tail, startling him awake. Tom resorts to baser instincts, and quickly swallows the mouse – until the unyielding metal framework lodges in his throat, too difficult to swallow. The bot snickers with delight from around a corner, as Tom coughs and gags – but then succeeds in spitting out the mouse after self-administering to his chest a Heimlich maneuver. The mechanical mouse hits a wall, then lies motionless, with its limbs askew and one eye popping out on a spring. The boy realizes fun is over, and tosses away the remote, which lands near Tom. Tom picks up the remains of the mouse, then accidentally leans on the remote, causing the mouse to resume some movement. Tom catches on that the device is mechanical, and sees possibilities in it for his constant war against Jerry.
Tom works through the night with tools, paint, and fabric in the basement, retrofitting the mechanical toy. As dawn breaks, his creation is completed – a seductive, mechanical female mouse, in a form-fitting gown and blonde wig. The device now has some unique moves, skittering about upright on its hind legs, and making turns in segmented fashion, its head, torso, and hips spinning independently of each other at separate times into the desired position. A knock at Jerry’s mousehole door causes Jerry to peer out a door peephole, until his eyeball bulges out to fill the hole entirely. Jerry opens the door, revealing his one eye still bulged-out, until it pops back into place. He invites the visitor in. She skitters her way through the doorway, performs one of her spin-turns. and plops down on Jerry’s mouse-sized sofa. Jerry also seats himself, then sidles up to her romantically. Tom, looking in through the doorway with remote in his paws, has some fun with Jerry, controlling the robot to point at Jerry’s cheese supply for a nosh. Jerry offers her a piece – but she takes the whole bowl and devours it, reacting with an audible burp. Jerry nevertheless is still seeing hearts in his eyes. At Tom’s command, the robot gets up and skitters outside, with Jerry following. She enters the kitchen, and points up at the refrigerator, her appetite still not sated. Jerry shrugs his shoulders, indicating he doesn’t know how to get the door open. The robot reaches her extending hands upward, and with super-strength, rips the entire door off its hinges, then points at another wedge of cheese on an upper shelf. Jerry climbs, and so does the robot. She polishes off the whole wedge again with another burp.
Tom decides that now’s the time to spring on Jerry, and makes a chomp at him with his jaws. Jerry dodges, and stuffs a watermelon into Tom’s open mouth. Jerry grabs the girl, and climbs to the next shelf by means of a strand of spaghetti dangling from a bowl. Using the spaghetti like a lariat, Jerry hooks Tom by the tail, then fives him a spin, wrapping Tom’s torso in spaghetti as if he were a mummy. Tom hops his way after the fleeing Jerry and robot, and eventually makes his way to the remote control. With a few jiggles of the joystick, he commands the robot to lift Jerry, and carry him back to Tom. Jerry looks into her eyes sadly, as lover betrayed. The robot suddenly develops a glimmer of unexpected artificial intelligence, its countenance falling from a smile to a look of sympathetic sadness – then a look of disdain at the face of Tom, as he looms above her, signaling with his paw to hand Jerry over. The robot drops Jerry, and begins marching menacingly toward Tom. Tom backs away, placing several obstacles in the robot’s path, which she continues to march over, with nothing stopping her. Grabbing up Tom by the neck, she administers a thrashing and a judo flip that send Tom crashing into a metal two-part wastebasket, wearing the parts so that he looks somewhat like a robot himself. The girl then extends her mechanical arms to embrace Jerry, smothering him with affectionate kusses for the iris out.
We’ll make a final delve into Disney TV and an overview of some random series next week, then follow with the final phase of this trail – a survey of animated robots in theatrical features.