"Squirrel Boy" It's Like a Good Cartoon, Only More Boring
I’ll admit it, I don’t watch as much of Cartoon Network as I did in the past. I used to watch the channel every day. Now, outside of Toonami, Adult Swim and the weekday runs of Pokémon Advanced Challenge and Naruto, I don’t watch Cartoon Network at all. The network’s newest show, Squirrel Boy, doesn’t exactly give me a good reason to check out the rest of the network.
Squirrel Boy is about a random kid named Andy Johnson. Sure, he is your typical insecure nerd. Glasses, messy red hair, freckles, horizontally-striped shirt, all your typical cartoon nerdiness. What’s special is that he has a pet squirrel named Rodney. Rodney isn’t just any squirrel. The critter is over three feet tall and talks. Normally, giant talking squirrels would’ve been spotted and captured for scientific study, probably so the military can make an entire army of giant, talking squirrels to, I don’t know, eat every last acorn in Europe or something. But no, that would’ve been interesting. Instead, we get the typical wacky hi-jinx that an insecure kid and a wacky fuzzy animal have in pretty much every other cartoon series ever made.
In “A Line in the Sandwich,” things look up, specifically in regards to a commercial for a Fobject. For only $499.99, Andy and Rodney can obtain a Fobject, which is an object that’s fun! Some funny banter about how pathetic commercials aimed at kids are is thrown around here, and if this kind of stuff had continued, maybe the end product would’ve been better. Instead, we go into the typical lemonade stand-type plot. Turns out Andy’s aunt has a special secret sauce that makes any sandwich taste yummy. When they decide to exploit the secret sauce for their own gains (using a jar of said sauce which never seems to get empty), the two make a fortune. Things go awry when Rodney is convinced people are buying the sandwiches because of his Cap’n Crunch rip-off hat, not because of the special sauce. As the two friends continue to argue, their friendship continues to decline.
Next, we have “Tree for Two.” Andy is playing with his rocket in the park when Rodney suggests (after beating up the rocket for no reason) that they launch it near a tree so they can tell how high it flies. As expected, the rocket gets stuck in the tree. Well, I can’t say “as expected,” because I was expecting the rocket to somehow explode and burn the park down, but I digress. After viewing a video about how injured a squirrel got climbing said tree, Rodney is fearful of getting the rocket. To make matters worse, an annoying bird is roaming the tree, pecking at our squirrel friend! Andy, meanwhile, tries his hardest to hide his error by shooing his father away, but Mr. J (as they call him in the show) is very persistent.
There’s only one word I can use to describe the two episodes: boring. It’s not even mind-numbingly, excruciatingly, only-two-minutes-have-passed-but-seems-like-ten-hours boring. No, this is more along the lines of “OK, that was mildly-but-not-really interesting. When’s Naurto on again?” boring. It may be that I’m sick of the nerdy kid who’s the straight man, and the wacky animal sidekick who suggests the most boneheaded things that, obviously, backfire big time, plot structure. It’s been done a gazillion times, and in much better series (like Looney Tunes). Unfortunately, Squirrel Boy doesn’t offer anything new, despite being created by Everett Peck, creator of the cult classic Duckman. There aren’t many supporting characters either. Andy has a mom, but she doesn’t show up at all in these two episodes (sans the opening, where she just stands there) and Andy’s dad, Mr. J, who is probably the most boring father I’ve ever seen on a Cartoon Network show. He’s not lacking common sense like Dexter’s dad in Dexter’s Laboratory, he’s not super-smart like Professor Utonium in Powerpuff Girls, nor is he even anywhere as funny as any of the fathers in South Park. He’s just…there. Kind of like the show as a whole.
The show isn’t without its clichés either. Rodney fixes everything, or at least attempts to fix things, by hallucinating. In both episodes, Rodney finds out what’s wrong with himself and what he should do to make everything right again. I don’t know if he’s been grabbing a little “inspiration” from Scooby-Doo and Shaggy off-camera, or if it’s a prescription or what, but these hallucinatory fantasies make the already stale episode dragon on even further. It’s like they’re going for an Aqua Teen Hunger Force-type outlandishness, while restricted by the people who programmed Tickle U, what with the mild-mannered talking pigeon and the far-too-happy-for-their-own-good lawn gnomes. I hope this doesn’t turn into a running gag that Rodney has these fantasies every single episode, because even here it’s losing steam, and it’s only two episodes in. It also makes it hard to establish parameters on this show. Is Rodney the only freakily tall, talking animal, or do all the animals talk? Is the world full of idiots like in Powerpuff Girls, South Park, or Invader Zim, or is it normal like in Johnny Bravo or The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest? For a boring show, I’m sure putting a lot of thought into this.
The animation, at least, is rather good. Movements are very fluid, no frames are skipped, and it is basically as good as all the other Cartoon Network Studios shows on the network right now. The designs aren’t my style, but fans of Duckman should get a kick out of them. The only bad part of the animation is the coloring. There are a lot of muted browns and yellows in this show, and it just doesn’t feel very vibrant. Some of the writers liken this to how Looney Tunes used its colors, but the colors on Looney Tunes were used more effectively, so that even when the colors faded, the show still looked vibrant and exciting, even when compared to the digital works of today. In the end, the animation is, like everything else in this show, boring.
And here we come to the sound portion of the show. Andy is voiced by Pamela Adlon (Bobby from King of the Hill and Otto from Time Squad). She does a good job voicing Andy as best she can, but her performance isn’t as good as her other work. That, or I’m getting sick of her voice for some reason. Rodney’s VA should be of little surprise, as it seems after Invader Zim, Richard Horvitz has been typecast as any random wacky main character. His performance is standard Horvitz, but Rodney just isn’t as dynamic as Billy in Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Zim in Invader Zim, or Fritz the Bitter Goblin in Duel Masters, so he ends up rather forgettable as well. Finally, the only other major regular, Mr. J, is voiced by Kurtwood Smith, (Red in That 70’s Show and Agent Bennett in Batman Beyond/The Zeta Project). If you’ve been reading this far, you can tell what my reaction is to his voice: Boring, boring, and more boring. Then again, it’s not like Mr. Smith has anything real juicy to work with here. Music is boring as well, and the opening theme is one of the most lackluster I’ve heard in a while.
I remember a time when cartoons weren’t boring. Unfortunately, most of those cartoons are only available on DVD nowadays. If Squirrel Boy is any indication, that trend will continue for a long, long while.