The Husband and I got curious as to what "My Little Pony" producer Lauren Faust has been up to lately, so we decided to record some episodes of Disney's "Wander Over Yonder," which Faust is producing with her husband, Craig McCracken. The show is about the adventures of two good-natured aliens who travel the galaxy in a soap bubble, helping people and foiling the machinations of evildoers--and having themselves a blast while they're doing it.
I didn't go into this with high expectations. The opening credits are really annoying--in fact, I almost didn't want to watch the show based on how irritating the sequence was. If there's a more annoying opening sequence out there, I haven't seen it. It makes the "SpongeBob" intro seem like epic poetry. And the animation style is not pretty--if Jay Ward had made a science fiction cartoon, it would have looked like this. It's also a weird blend of techniques, with flat, cheap-looking Colorforms cut-out Flash animation combined with highly textured 3D effects. I'm just warning you that it's hard to get into at a fast glance, but if you stick with it, you're in for a manic treat. This show is jam packed with sight gags, silly jokes, and high-energy shenanigans. Yes, shenanigans, something TV comedies seem to have forgotten about in the last twenty years or so. There are even hijinx. And best of all, it's science fiction cartoon comedy, where you can pull out all the stops and throw physics and reality out the window.
I laughed so hard at this show, I almost choked. In fact, if you don't laugh at "Wander Over Yonder's" antics, you'd better go get your pulse checked--you may be dead.
The eponymous Wander is a scrawny, orange-furred guy with enormous eyes, which are almost always welling up with some kind of emotion. He wears nothing but tennis shoes and a tall, scruffy hat with a star on it, which could indicate he's either a sheriff, or a wizard, or both, because the hat happens to be a literal magic bag of tricks. Wander tells Sylvia "it doesn't give you what you want, it gives you what you need." It's kind of like a Bag of Holding with an impish sense of humor.
Wander is unique. He's a bit like Gomer Pyle in his simplicity, a bit like Pee-Wee Herman in his exeuberance, a bit like Calvin in the amount of chaos he can create--but only for the bad guys--because Wander's motivating principle, if he's got one, is to Do Good and Help People. He's not cynical or sarcastic, and there isn't a malicious hair on his fuzzy little head. This guy makes Lauren Faust's other creations, the Little Ponies, seem a a bit selfish and conceited by comparison. He goes through life with a grin on his face and a song in his heart, usually with a banjo accompaniment. The Universe is a great, big, shiny toy for him, something to be marvelled at, enjoyed, and shared.
Mostly he shares it with his best friend Sylvia, a Zbornak--which you can think of as a Broncosaurus--whose main calling in life is to keep Wander from getting himself killed. She's pragmatic and excitable, more hot-headed than level-headed, and after years of working with Wander, she can still be astonished by him. She's also a formidable fighter, and insanely devoted to Wander. Even though she acts like Wander's trusty steed, one gets the sense that the dynamic skews rather more toward Sylvia being the responsible owner, and Wander being the lovable but uncontrollable pet.
They make good use of the Hat as they travel around, trying to spread peace and happiness at the expense of megalomanic bad guys like Lord Hater, a skeletal, rock-n-roll villain who takes himself far too seriously. Hater flies around in a skull-shaped starship that looks like something off a heavy metal album cover from the mid-seventies, and has at his disposal an enormous army of Watchdogs, soldiers with one giant eyeball for a head. I suspect the Watchdogs were going to be called Watchmen until they ran into trouble from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Hater's major-domo is Commander Peepers, who needs to be somewhat immortal in order to survive his boss's mood swings.Lord Hater's pretty scary looking for a cartoon villain, but he is a "cartoon" villain, which implies that he comes up on the losing end of every scheme he plots. Although he revels in evil--his minions chant "Hate's great! Best villain!"--he also has a soft spot for self-sacrificing subordinates and homicidal alien monsters with acidic spittle and mouths full of sharp, pointy teeth.
You can sort of feel for Lord Hater; every time he's on the verge of taking over the universe, Wander shows up with his big, goofy grin and his magic hat full of tricks, trying to show Hater a fun time. In one episode, Lord Hater is about to take advantage of a once-in-a-millennium chance to have any single wish granted to make himself ruler of the universe, and Wander arrives at Hater's dramatic moment, inviting him on a picnic and taking selfies of the two of them together. When Hater screams "I WISH YOU WOULD LEAVE ME ALONE FOR FIVE SECONDS!!!" the Celestial Being granting the wish says "I can swing that!" and Wander freezes for five seconds, thus ruining Hater's golden opportunity.
Like a lot of modern cartoons, "Wander Over Yonder" is aimed at the grown-ups. The series is packed with little visual homages to the classic cartoons of our childhood--for instance, in one scene where Wander is being attacked by a bull-like pit monster, the creature charges at Wander in a flurry of hooves, reminiscent of the Looney Tunes bullfighting cartoon "Bully For Bugs." In another episode, Wander and Sylvia are poking around in a creepy old derelict starship, and pass a Buzz Lightyear uniform hanging on a hook.
Perhaps, though, what I find most appealing about "Wander Over Yonder" is the theme that being nice to people is its own best reward. If you happen to save the universe while you're at it, well, y'know...bonus!