It’s a bit of an understatement to say that Titmouse Inc. has been doing pretty well for itself recently. With several shows currently in production for Adult Swim, it’s likely that you’ve seen the Titmouse logo at least once while navigating the current television animation landscape. In fact, their output got to the point where a New York studio had to be created to help support the growing Los Angeles operations, with said New York branch being a full-fledged animation studio. Yes, Titmouse has been doing well for itself when it comes to adult animation, but that’s not all they’re currently up to. In fact, if you haven’t noticed, they’re also dabbling in childrens’ animation for Disney XD. The end of April unleashed upon us the auto-charged action series Motorcity, which my older brother once eloquently described as “The Matrix with cars,” and which I can easily recommend as an enjoyable ride that everyone should check out.
Of course, I wouldn’t be talking about Titmouse right now if Motorcity was the only series they’re making for good ol’ Disney. No, because tonight, we can add Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja to the long list of shows that Chris Prynoski’s studio has under its belt. However, can we safely add the adventures of this teenage ninja to the list of great Titmouse productions? It’s time to dive into the pool before summer truly ends, to find out whether or not this stuff is the real cheese…SMOKE BOMB!!!
When I first saw the show’s trailer back in August, Jhonen Vasquez came to mind. And rightfully so, as it turns out that the man behind Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and Invader Zim actually did the main character designs…which makes sense when you realize that the trailer showed up at InvaderCon. Jhonen departs a little bit from his normal style here, but it is still immediately recognizable right off the bat. Another major pillar of the show’s style are all the sketches and doodles. From the title sequence to end credits, a lot of the things involving the Ninja-nomicon (basically to How to Be a Ninja For Dummies) results in the screen becoming filled not only with feudal-era Japan inspired imagery, but also the type of doodles usually found in the margins of high school notebooks or textbooks. Skulls, stylized words, arrows pointing to important information, etc. Both of these things result in Randy Cunningham becoming a show that is pleasing to the eye and helps amplifies the comedic writing.
Jhonen Vasquez fans shouldn’t expect the mastermind’s dark comedic writing to be on display here, as character designs are where his input begins and ends. The man doesn’t touch the writing process at all, so Randy Cunningham is decidedly more of your classic action-comedy. A classic action-comedy that creators Jed Elinoff and Scott Thomas, known for past work on Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated and The Haunting Hour apparently pitched to the network on its name alone. And similar to those series, all the extraordinary events that happen in each episode play more-or-less second fiddle to the relationship between Randy and his best friend Howard, who are just trying to get through each day of high school. Yes, there is plenty of fighting scenes against eldritch abominations and robotic monstrosities, as you’d expect from the title. But the bulk of RC9GN comes how these two freshmen play-off each other, and how their exploits overlap with the latest villainous occurrence caused by either evil businessman Hannibal McFist and scientist Willem Viceroy III (both hilarious characters in their own right) or the truly evil Sorcerer (voiced by the devilish Tim Curry). The dialogue between the characters succeeds in making their friendship feel real, and brings to mind my own friendship with an old high school classmate of mine. And let it be known that the series is privy to a lot of juvenile jokes for the younger set, with a few clever bits that only older audiences will pick up on. From silly slang such as “What the juice?” to jokes as simple as “Forget the cup holder, just make it deadly,” Randy Cunningham is a fun show with some pretty smart “dumb” writing.
That said, will this show gain as much popularity as others that dabble in the same comedy style, such as Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time or Disney’s own Gravity Falls? I certainly hope so, since this is yet another great series that I feel is bringing Disney back to the forefront of the television animation landscape after years of sub-par performance. Seeing Jhonen’s character designs on the small screen after so many years, in combination with some pretty good writing makes for an experience that I can safely recommend and believe a lot of people are going to enjoy. Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja premieres tonight at 7/6c on Disney XD.