Movies Till Dawn: What You Could Be Watching This Weekend (Cartoon Antics Edition)

Teen Titans: The Complete First Season” (2003, Warner Archives Collection) Debut season of the much-loved WB animated series about a quintet of youthful superheroes who divide their energies between fighting a baroque array of villains and contending with the same high school quandaries – friendship, romance, identity – that most of the viewers wrangled with (or were in the midst of wrangling) on the other side of the tube.

Much of the season is devoted to a complicated battle of wills between Robin (voiced by Scott Menville) and masked heel Slade (a reworking of DC Comics heel Deathstroke, and voiced with expert menace by Ron Perlman), though standout episodes are devoted to the sibling rivalry between alien princess Starfire and her sister Blackfire (both voiced by Hynden Walch), a teamup with Aqualad (Wil Wheaton) and an amusing/creepy faceoff with Mad Mod, a Carnaby Street-suited fiend voiced with relish by Malcolm McDowell. Expertly illustrated and written, “Teen Titans” should be exceptionally satisfying animated fare for those that know chapter and verse the source material – “New Teen Titans,” created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez –and newcomers alike. Warner Archives’ Blu-ray includes interviews with the primary voice cast – who continue to voice their roles on the out-to-lunch “Teen Titans Go!” (and its upcoming feature film) – and several features devoted to Japanese pop-punk band Puffy AmiYumi, who provide the relentlessly catchy theme song.

Duckman: The Complete Series “(1994-1997, CBS/Paramount) Klasky Csupo (“Rugrats”) produced this animated series for the USA Network, which sought a horse in the cartoons-for-grownups race dominated at the time by the company’s runaway hit, “The Simpsons.” Created by cartoonist Everett Peck, “Duckman” took some of its cues from its Fox TV cousin (and the underground comics that spawned it) by presenting its own grotesque take on the American family; here, the funhouse mirror reflects back at us an aggrieved, sexist fowl (voiced by Jason Alexander), his sister-in-law (Nancy Travis), who loathes him; his co-worker, a taciturn pig (Gregg Berger), and his three dim children (Dweezil Zappa, E.G. Daily and Dana Hill), two of whom are conjoined twins. Most of the action concerns Duckman investigating a case, though most, if not all of these, are launching pads for Alexander to fume and sputter in purest Costanza fashion. Along the way, there are occasional forays into musicals and pop culture parodies (the best of which is the Emmy-nominated “Haunted Society Plumbers,” which pays homage to classic one-reeler comedies), some clever, others just loud and crass. Your appreciation of “Duckman” will hinge largely on whether the series is a nostalgic touchstone for you, or if you like your animation on the frenzied side (and in a broad palette of yellow). CBS/Paramount’s 10-disc set bundles the extras from two previous DVD releases, including commentary on the first episode by Alexander and Peck, interviews with the cast and crew, and footage from the unaired pilot.

Static Shock: The Complete Third Season” (2003, Warner Archives) With the sudden surfeit of African-American superheroes in movie theaters and on TV, Warner Archives has picked the right time to revive interest in its “Static Shock” animated series. Based on the Milestone Media/DC series of the same name, the Kids WB program drew critical praise (and an Emmy) for its solid blend of teenage angst and caped crusading; like Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Virgil Hawkins/Static is an outsider who discovers that his newfound power – the ability to control electromagnetism – brings equal amounts of adventure and headaches. WB Animation, working with two of the character’s creators (Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan) kept Static’s adventures grounded in the reality of a black teenager (albeit a very kid-friendly take), even when Static was facing off against outlandish villains like Ebon (Gary Anthony Sturgis). Season 3 finds Static with a sidekick – pal Richie (Jason Marsden), who gets his own powers – while facing adult challenges through interaction with other DC figures, including Superman, Batman, the Justice League and Harley Quinn, as well a trip to Ghana that expands his (and our) understanding African history and culture. Animation, scripting and voice acting (led by Phil LaMarr as Static) are all top shelf, making this a show worth revisiting or introducing to teen viewers. WAC’s two-MOD set includes all thirteen episodes of the third season and a cross-over episode of “Superman: The Animated Series.”

Space Ghost and Dino Boy: The Complete Series” (1966-1967, Warner Archives Collection) Though probably best known today for his 1994-2008 stint as the host of the absurd “Space Ghost Coast to Coast,” the Hanna-Barbera hero Space Ghost played it straight for his television debut, which remains a well-loved Saturday morning memory for former kids of a certain age. The show’s 20 episodes seem crafted from its viewers’ idea of a perfect cartoon adventure: unflappable, slightly menacing hero (with the grandiloquent tones of Gary Owens) fights an exotic array of alien fiends (voiced by Ted Cassidy, Keye Luke and Don Messick, among others) with the help of his teen sidekicks (Tim Matheson and Ginny Tyler) and an arsenal of cool powers (flight, invisibility, laser armbands).

Gilding the whole package was the bold design and vivid colors of comic book veteran Alex Toth, who crafted several H-B series in the ’60s like “The Herculoids,” whose heroes turn up in the final “Space Ghost” episode. Toth’s career (remarkable and influential) and personality (prickly) are showcased in a feature-long documentary, “Simplicity: The Life and Art of Alex Toth,” which is included on Warner Archives’ MOD three-disc set, along with the entire 1966-1967 run of “Space Ghost” and its accompanying segment, “Dino Boy in the Lost Valley,” a perfectly okay bit of kid wish-fulfillment about a pre-teen plane wreck survivor who lands in a South American valley full of dinosaurs and monsters.

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About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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