Since it began, Ed Edd ‘n’ Eddy has been dogged by a reputation as an ugly and annoying show, and despite performing well with kids it has yet to see much appreciation from animation enthusiasts or industry professionals. I can’t for the life of me understand why. While everyone is busy trying to rebuild the fractured and dysfunctional Spumco unit, which has not put out anything noteworthy in recent years aside from music videos and a hit on Carl Banks, the animation people have been looking for from TV has been there the whole time at aka Cartoons, based in Vancouver.
Take any given still frame of this week’s Halloween special, “Boo Haw Haw,” and you will see an unparalleled level of craftsmanship and creativity. There are poses in this special that I can’t believe could exist. Scott Underwood, Big Jim Miller, and Joel Dickie are quite possibly the three most inventive television storyboarders I have ever seen. This show is pretty much the zenith of television animation. Every time they come out with a new special, I can’t possibly imagine how they could top themselves with their next one, yet they still manage to. They push themselves to a level that no one else will ever reach. There’s just something about Ed Edd ‘n’ Eddy that begs to be studied; every character has a different, unique visual personality. There’s an exact science to how Eddy contorts in a way that is uniquely his, to how Edd emotes, to how a character is affected by violence or physics-bending implausibility. I hope that people dissect this cartoon long after it is over, because it deserves to be.
Yet while the animation in the Halloween special is at its usual unstoppable caliber, the writing has started to drop off since season four. And this is a growing concern because while cartoons can thrive on fantastic art, animation is as much a narrative medium as it is a visual medium and one side can’t hold up the other for too long before crumbling under the weight. Camp Lazlo, for example, is a beautiful show, but it’s emptier than a parcel of Bawls bottles at a teenager’s LAN party. Ed Edd ‘n’ Eddy‘s writing has always been servicable, playing to the strengths of the characters and delving into the subversive from time to time, but for some time the show has been teetering on the edge of formulaic writing and this episode tumbles over the edge.
The plot is so cliched it’s groan-worthy. Eddy’s brother has left behind a map to a secret world called Spook-E-Ville filled with perpetual trick-or-treating. Why does this sound familiar? Because there already was an episode about Eddy’s brother leaving behind a treasure map, and if you know the ending to that episode, you’ll know how this one ends (though the Kankers are surprisingly not involved, it’s not enough to save this mediocre story).
The sub-plot, which ends up taking center stage for most of the episode, concerns the sudden hallucinations that begin to hit Ed as his obsession with monster movie marathons takes a turn for the worse. In Ed’s delusions, he is the star of a B-movie attraction and the cul-de-sac kids are creatures of the night. These are very creative dream sequences artistically, but somewhere after the fifth or sixth hallucination you start to wonder if maybe this episode would have been better as an 11-minute story.
While Ed Edd ‘n’ Eddy doesn’t have the kind of pacing problems other shows have when doing full-length stories, this episode really needed a C-plot of some kind because neither of the current stories has any specific destination. Instead, it jogs in place until arbitrarily moving the Eds to Spook-E-Ville. A potential plot with Edd dragged away by Nazz to go trick or treating could have been a fine derail, but it is squashed almost immediately after it begins.
The dialogue in the special is not necessarily uninspired, but it won’t convert anyone who finds the characters annoying. Verbal jokes are rare, though a couple are amusing. The characterization should be the same as ever, but something doesn’t spark quite right. Edd is not nearly abrasive enough against the other two, Eddy isn’t the jackass he’s usually become in recent episodes, and Ed is more walk than talk.
While the Halloween special is an amazing sight to look at, that’s its only highlight. It’s a quite fantastic highlight, but if you’re not one to study animated poses you’re unlikely to stay interested. It’s a very hollow Halloween indeed.
The good news is that the new season of the show begins the very next week. With a return to the 11-minute format and consistently excellent art, all Danny Antounucci and his fellow aka Cartoon artists need to do is tweak the jokes, punch up the dialogue and steer clear of formula gorge for another excellent season.
“Boo Haw Haw” airs this Friday at 7 p.m. E/P on Cartoon Network.