Review: Disney's "The 7D" and Cartoon Network's "Total Drama Pahkitew Island"
Walt Disney Television Animation has been producing some extraordinary stuff for the past few years, starting with the adventures of Phineas and Ferb and moving on to the daring visual invention of TRON Uprising and Motorcity; the endearingly oddball Gravity Falls; the kid-friendly outer-space acid trip in Wander Over Yonder; and the outstanding pre-school shows Doc McStuffins and Sofia the First. Unfortunately, I think their latest animated series The 7D falls short of expectations, given that string of recent successes and the pedigree of its creators. This reboot of the Seven Dwarfs manages to hammer out a distinct identity from its iconic predecessor, but the first episode doesn’t manage to get much further than above average.
In The 7D, Happy, Bashful, Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, Grumpy, and Doc have ditched (or maybe haven’t yet met) Snow White in favor of Queen Delightful, the slightly dippy monarch of the contemporary fairy tale land of Jollywood. The Queen (and her long-suffering assistant Lord Starchbottom) are perpetually pestered by the husband-and-wife warlock team of Grim and Hildy Gloom — she’s the brains, he’s the…uh, husband. Each half-hour of The 7D promises 2 11-minute stories of the dwarfs foiling Grim and Hildy’s latest coup attempt with much comedic mayhem along the way.
At least that’s the theory, anyway. The premiere episode is oddly disappointing. “The Long Long Winter” seems to think that simple repetition can make a joke funnier. This is only true if the joke was funny to begin with, but Grumpy getting inordinately upset about “kissy noises” doesn’t clear that hurdle. Neither do many of the other running gags throughout the episode, which involves a magic chicken and the threat of an eternal winter making Jollywood uninhabitable. “The Itsy Bitsy Spider Fighters” is funnier mostly for recycling the old reliable cartoon gag of a character seeing something that vanishes when everyone else goes to look (think Sylvester and the boxing kangaroo or any number of episodes of Scooby-Doo). It has a lively, chaotic energy and holds together better than the first story, even as it leaves one with a sense of deja vu.
In its frantic, noisy premiere, The 7D strikes out before landing a solid base hit. It’s not bad, but compared with the home runs Disney TV Animation has been hammering out recently, it’s still a bit of a disappointment.
I have little to no use for “reality” TV; the only shows I’ve ever sat through were the original Iron Chef (as much for the outlandish Japanese commentary as for the show itself) and PBS’s attempts at making them educational in The 1900 House and Frontier House. All the rest seem like highly artificial drama masquerading as unscripted spontaneity, which makes everything seem even more artificial as a result. I can see the appeal of an animated reality TV series, since the people on reality TV are often little more than exaggerated caricatures anyway, and dispensing with the pretense that what you’re watching is “real” seems like the perfect opportunity to sharply skewer the genre. However, my antipathy to reality TV outweighed the theoretical potential for animated reality TV, keeping me from watching Comedy Central’s Drawn Together or any of the Total Drama Island series up to now.
The good news about the latter show’s latest incarnation, Total Drama Pahkitew Island is that I find it irritating and annoying for all the same reasons as live-action reality TV, which means the show is quite successful in capturing the tropes of the reality TV genre. The bad news is that it’s still extraordinarily irritating to me, and makes the series feel like even more of a missed opportunity. It’s not the vicious parody of reality TV I was hoping for, but just a reality TV show where the cast isn’t bothering to pretend that they’re not just one-dimensional cartoon characters with simple, easy-to-identify character traits.
From what I can tell, the show format has stayed the same, with a motley cast of animated characters split into two teams and forced into ridiculous contests of skill with each other to see which team will defeat the other in the Survivor-like jungle island they’re on. The host of the show, Chris McLean, is enormously annoying, as are almost every other cast member on the show. The only exceptions are the team leaders Jasmine and Sky, who are thin and boring straight-arrows; singing princess Ella, who’s a mild parody of Snow White; and Chris’ assistant Chef. I also kind of liked Beardo, the competitor who speaks entirely in sound effects, because he’s slightly outlandish and seems like a riff on Michael Winslow‘s character in the Police Academy movies.
The best that can be said for the show is that if you like reality TV, Total Drama Pahkitew Island is a pretty good example of the genre. The worst that can be said for the show is that if you like reality TV, Total Drama Pahkitew Island is a pretty typical example of the genre.
Disney’s The 7D premieres on Monday, July 7, 2014, at 10:00 AM (ET/PT) on Disney XD. Total Drama Pahkitew Island premieres July 7 at 6:00 PM (ET/PT) on Cartoon Network.