"Aaahh! Real Monsters" Season 2: I Scream For Monsters
Aaahh! Real Monsters, which debuted in 1994, was Klasky-Csupo’s second NickToon, and represents a better time, before they milked Rugrats to death and started churning out similar-looking shows like As Told By Ginger and Rocket Power.
Aaahh!‘s premise may sound familiar: a group of monsters scaring humans; evocations of Pixar’s Monsters Inc. But aside from the log-line similarities, the two stories (including the reasons for scaring) and character types are completely different Aaahh! stars Ickis, the long-eared, magenta monster who can grow in size; Krumm, a hairy creature who holds his eyes in his hands and has a putrid stench; and Oblina, a candy cane-esque female who pulls out her own guts–so you won’t see me hopping on the “Monsters Inc. copied Aaahh!” bandwagon. The point is, they’re two different entities that deserve to be viewed as such.
The show is certainly not at a loss when it comes to creativity. The premise itself lends for some interesting plots that you wouldn’t see in other shows (for instance, Ickis getting stuck in a human’s head, or Ickis being turned into a tree). The designs of the monsters are all unique, there are numerous, unique scenarios for the scares, and the environments are appropriately grimy and grungy. And there are moments which had me laughing just from how bizarre they are: In one episode, Ickis, Krumm and Oblina end up in the ocean, chased by a Jacques Cousteau-esque filmmaker in a submarine with leg-like attachments. However, at one point during the chase, an octopus inadvertently saves the day by mistaking the sub for another octopus and tangoing with it. I can confidently say I don’t see that every day.
My favorite episodes on this set? “Spontaneously Combustible”, a fine season opener where Ickis gets a temporary condition that causes him to belch smoke (and may eventually cause him to explode). The idea is a subtle allusion to AIDS, and works quite well. “Monsters Are Real”, about the monsters in a panic because Ickis has been photographed, offers a genuine threat to their existence and is a lot of fun with how they destroy the evidence. “The Monster Who Came In From the Cold”, about Oblina going undercover as a human, is a fun change of pace, because instead of scaring the humans, she’s there to report on human behavior. And while an overused type of plot, I liked “Rosh-O-Monster”, which details Ickis, Krumm, and Oblina each recounting their scares verbally instead of using the view finder; this of course results in three very different versions of what really happened.
If Aaahh! has a flaw, it’s that it’s too energetic. The show rarely stops for a breath; everything moves at a rapid pace, with some cuts only lasting a few frames. Characters move at accelerated paces, at times almost as though they’re in fast forward. And combined with Drew Neumann’s relentless, pounding “Mickey Mousing” music punctuating nearly everything on-screen, it can get exhausting if you marathon the show. That said, too much energy is arguably a good problem for a show to have.
The vocals on the show match the energy of the animation; Charlie Adler, David Eccles, and Christine Cavanaugh voice Ickis, Krumm, and Oblina, respectively, and give each the perfect line reads for the specific emotion/situation required. But my personal favorite of the vocal cast is Gregg Berger as the monsters’ menacing, strict teacher, The Gromble. The amount of inflections this guy goes through in a single sentence is hilarious, at one point having a high-pitched, sing-songy manner of speaking, then shouting like a madman. Add onto that some deep, sinister grumblings, and you have a character that’s just fun to listen to. This kind of range also means it’s interesting to wait and see how he reacts to the various predicaments the students present to him.
As with many animated ’90s shows on DVD, the video quality is average: Sharpness can vary in quality, and there are intermittent issues with dot crawl, interlacing, jaggies, and artifacting. Occasionally, the tape splice can be visible at the very top of the image as well. And while not related to the video transfer, Aaahh! isn’t the most vibrant show; it has a fairly drab color palette most of the time, which doesn’t help matters. There are no special features on the set. A suggestion for the third set: I’d love a tribute to Jim Duffy, one of the directors on this show (who also worked on the earlier Rugrats seasons and helped give both shows their distinctive style). He passed away this year and retrospective interviews with his fellow cast/crew members would be great.
Aaahh! Real Monsters is a good show, though admittedly its deliberately ugly art style will understandably put off some viewers. The same goes for the emphasis on gross-out gags, common with NickToons at the time. And it’s best not to watch a bunch of episodes in a row; its madcap pace will probably get tiring. Still, for those nostalgic about this show, you’ll be surprised how well it holds up. And I could see new viewers getting into the proceedings as well.