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Schizophrenic CG "Pet Alien" Thinks It's Hand-Drawn

With the popularity of computer-generated animation on the rise, boosted by Pixar, Jimmy Neutron and many others, it comes as no surprise to see Cartoon Network get into the act. Their entry, called Pet Alien, is a half-hour cartoon produced by John Doze Studios and Taffy Entertainment, and though produced on computers it at times has much in common with its traditionally-crafted cousins.

ImageSet in Despray Bay, Pet Alien stars a kid named Tommy (voiced by Charlie Schlatter) who lives in a lighthouse with five aliens. The group gets into the usual goofy tangles, though given the setting is predicated on the fact that they are aliens clandestinely living in a human town I was surprised that problems associated with hiding them from the other humans didn’t come up more often. In one episode, an alien named Dinko (voiced by Charlie Adler) even goes to school with Tommy and is caught without a hall pass, which astonishly seems to be more of an issue than the fact that he’s extraterrestrial.

The character lineup, some designs, and the animation in general suffers from an immediately-recognizable similarity to Jimmy Neutron. The neighbor, Melba, seems to be cut from the same cloth as Cindy Vortex. Her voice, attitude, and catty comments are over-exaggerated and overpowering. The cast of humans also includes Gabby, the nerdy-type girl with a crush on Tommy. I can almost hear the fanfiction rolling off the presses. Can’t forget the football jock who sounds disturblingly like Mayor Quimby from The Simpsons. On top of that there’s a mime and a crotchety old sailor with an odd catch phrase (“Tis my old nemesis!”) among others.

The aliens are a varied bunch. There’s Dinko, Flip, Swanky, Gumpers, and Scruffy. Each has an individualized look. Dinko, who seems to be the lead alien, looks more like a dinosaur than an alien: small, green and energetic, he doesn’t ever seem able to quiet down. Gumpers is the big, stupid comic relief type with a tooth that seems to have a mind of its own. The tall, blue melodramatic Swanky, the small, jabbering ‘animal’-like Flip and the dog alien Scruffy round out the group.

The style of the show is pretty mixed. The lighthouse itself features a Tiki décor inside, while the town itself definitely gives off a 1950′s Retro B-film “Hometown USA” vibe.

The animation also recalls Nickelodeon’s boy genius. It’s simple and nothing spectacular. What really bothered me was the sloppy execution of little details. For example, in the first half of the episode titled I Was A Teenage Bearded Boy there’s a scene where Tommy is in a panic to remove a screaming green beard given to him by the aliens. When he’s in front of the mirror, the back edge of the beard, which should have been affixed to the character’s face, sticks out in space instead. The character animation itself is fluid enough, and they pull all the trips, jokes, falls and gags like a Warner Brothers cartoon might have a half a century ago. Then again, that’s the problem: it was cute once, but that was fifty years ago, and though Doze’s studio is capable enough it’s no Termite Terrace.

This all adds up to make the show, well, annoying. The cliched cartoon quips grow old fast. The other episode I reviewed, Escape from Detention X, sags under the pressure of too many double takes, eye blink sound effects, cloud producing run-cycles that go nowhere, tire-screech stops, boingy bouncing, and trailing eyeballs are all overused. On top of this the story features a very stupid joke about banjo-playing frogs that shows up four times too many.

Overall, I wasn’t terribly impressed by any aspect of the show. Pet Alien features features run-of-the-mill schoolyard plots (detention, the popular kids, etc.), the usual characters, and the unholy resurrection of venerable 2-D sight gags best left on the cels from whence they came. The show will probably bore anyone older than thirteen, but it may also have its share of fans. Just wait until the merchandising begins, though. I pray we’ll be spared talking stuffed Dinkos.

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