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"Fanboy & ChumChum: Brain Freeze": I Scream Headache

I’m disappointed but not really surprised that this latest Fanboy & ChumChum DVD is a mostly unpleasant watch. I surprised myself by sort of enjoying the first release—which, I assume, was a kind of “best of” collection—but even in those episodes it was obvious that the show had poor writing and a tendency to substitute obnoxiousness for wit. The episodes on this set magnify the show’s flaws and only marginally display its virtues (snappy timing, spontaneous visual gags, and clever character dynamics). The show still has some of the best CGI visuals in television animation—the poses and gags still stomp flat anything done before, even if they are less plentiful here than on the last set—but that’s not saying much. This particular DVD also includes an animatic as a bonus feature, forcing me to concede just how much better the show would look if it was traditionally animated.

Every episode here is based around a single theme—the two main characters love of a slushy knock-off, the Frosty Freezy Freeze. The title episode, “Brain Freeze”, begins with an admittedly clever idea: the boy’s favorite flavor is replaced with another flavor, which is identical except that it is a dark shade of red. This causes the boys to go into hysterics and try to get the old flavor back, which causes them to drink too much of it, which causes them to wake up “hung-over”, which— Well, let’s observe that this episode is extremely overwritten. No other episode I’ve seen of this show has such a schizophrenic plot, so it may, at least, be an anomaly in that regard. However this episode also features an annoying trend I see on other episodes on this set—the plots tend to go from the extremely ridiculous to the ridiculously ridiculous. I understand that the universe this show exists in does not exactly follow our laws, but I don’t like when it begins disobeying its own. Namely, this episode treats the main characters not as hyperactive, over-imaginative children, but as hyper-active over-imaginative children with actual super-powers.

Three episodes, “Refill Madness”, “Jingle Fever” and “Back from the Future”, focus mainly on the attempts of a secondary character (Lenny, a teen who works at the Frosty Mart) to discourage the two main characters from spending much time in his store. These are the best of the set, because they focus on how other characters interact with the main two. However, something’s wrong with the balance between the characters here. Fanboy and ChumChum are shown to be annoying, but not annoying enough to move Lenny—a seemingly reasonable, if extremely put-upon, character—to the extents of madness we’re asked to buy. I’m reminded of the much earlier episode “Wiz Boy”, which had a similar premise. In that episode Fanboy and ChumChum also bother someone, and he tries to get them to go away, but in that one their antics are set to offend, on a personal level, a character that has already been established as something of a jerk.

The other three episodes, “Berry Sick”, “Norse-ing Around,” and “The Frosty Bus”, are mostly forgettable. All three of them establish a single joke and then beat it to death. “Norse-ing” at least introduces a very well-done, silly-looking Viking. The character designers behind this show are magnificently underutilized.

I want to like this show, as one of the few that is at least trying to be visually inventive with CGI, but it’s not looking good. None of the episodes on these sets have exactly been unwatchable, but alarmingly few have actually been worth watching either. There are likely to be more themed releases down the road, so maybe those numbers will improve—but I’m not holding my breath.

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