"Class of 3000": Eclectic, But Not In A "The Love Below" Way
Animation has been playing with music, popular and otherwise, before you could even get sound on film, and at points has been a driving force behind creating animated shorts and films – after all, they were not called Merrie Melodies for nothing, and the Disney musical formula was quite profitable until they sort of burned it out towards the end of the 1990s. Shoot, even internationally, music and animation often come together, ranging from musical films like France’s The Triplets of Belleville, to animated serials from Japan about aspiring rock stars like Beck, Gravitation and Nana. Even when it’s not taking the spotlight, music is a critical part of animation, perhaps now more than ever. I doubt Cowboy Bebop would have half the impact if were not for Yoko Kanno’s outstanding score, and the same can be said of anything Jim Venable has ever scored. After all, what’s The Powerpuff Girls without it’s blasting breakbeat electronica? Not even half as entertaining. Ditto for Samurai Jack’s tribal techno and even Clerks: The Animated Series’ perfectly arranged sitcom score.
So given, all that tradition, and given a musical genius like Andre3000 — a man whose ability to fuse and reinvent genres while still maintaining a listenable, accessible sound is perhaps only matched by Beck — I kind of had some high hopes for Class of 3000, Andre’s animation collaboration with Cartoon Network. I mean, as a musician and as an animation fan, I figured this had a serious potential for excellence. However, in terms of animation, writing and music, it fails to be consistent, let alone engaging.
For starters, it’s very, very verbose for a supposedly musical series. Now, part of this can be chalked up to the fact that Cartoon Network now wants at least some semblance of a script before shows are even approved to be boarded any more, but that doesn’t necessarily have to get in the way of being verbally concise and visually engaging. I mean, a.k.a Cartoon had to switch Ed, Edd n’ Eddy to a script-first process starting with the holiday specials, but ultimately they still focused on keeping the humor visual and the dialogue tight and snappy, allowing the show to feel the same as it ever did. Meanwhile, Class of 3000 feels telegraphed because it’s so wordy and over-expository. In the episode “The Devil and Li’D,” it drags with exposition to drive home a fairly simple point: the music business is run by scum. To be fair, it does manage to be somewhat amusing in the process, but the few decent jokes seem to be wedged in between dialogue that’s dull, preachy and all-around un-entertaining. This is perhaps in spite of fact that it’s a quasi-personal episode: Andre himself in recent interviews has said he’s done with being an active celebrity, and that he just wants to write music, a sentiment his character in the show, Sunny Bridges, definitely exudes, but it’s couched in a kind of cheesy metaphor in Class of 3000. If it were more handled directly, it might at least be compelling (though still probably not funny), but to follow a somewhat circuitous route to make that point is much more cloying, especially when so few laughs are yielded from it.
Further still, the music, which could have driven the series past any problems by being musically fresh and tightly used, instead feels very typical and generic for a cartoon. While there are a few aural glimpses of really neat background music, most of it sounds like stock kids’ cartoon music. The musical numbers don’t necessarily fire on all cylinders either, something particularly disheartening considering it’s Andre3000 in charge of those tracks. Not that I was expecting something as instantly catchy as “B.O.B.,” “Hey Ya!” or “Rosa Parks” every episode, but when you get the feeling that The Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi Show had better musical direction (and it had simultaneous advantage/disadvantage of not having original songs by Puffy Ami Yumi for the montages, but pre-recorded cuts from their albums) something’s awry. An intentionally produced and formulaic J-Pop act should not be outdoing Andre3000. In fact, just looking to contemporary series, I can think of at least three that are making better use of better, more consistent music right now, two of which are running on Cartoon Network (Ed, Edd n’ Eddy, Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends and Nana.) It’s never really bad music direction, but given the concept, it should be fantastic.
To be fair, it’s not all mediocre: the animation and backgrounds on Class of 3000 are very good, and at points, it’s a great love letter to Atlanta visually, which is really kind of cool somehow. As someone who isn’t from Los Angeles, New York City or Tokyo, I always enjoy it when an animated series can really solidly set itself outside of those settings in another environment without that environment being generic suburbia, (i.e, a place I already live in, and I have little interest in seeing animated unless it’s being turned on its ear). The movement in the show is automatically tweened at points, something that clashes with the relatively fluid movement the traditionally animated parts have (especially since most of it is traditionally animated, making the auto-tweened cheats obvious), but on the whole, it’s fairly tight, or at least watchable when it comes to the visuals.
To put it another way, I don’t think anyone is slacking, it’s just not harmonizing.
Wait a second…
Now I think about it, Class of 3000 is almost funny in a surreal, accidental way. You see, the main moral of the second episode, “Peanuts, Get Yer Peanuts!” is you have to work together to get a great result, and animation is no exception. At the moment, Class of 3000 isn’t as harmonious as it could or rather should be, but with a little tuning and rehearsal, it might be a classic. However, just as with Sunny Bridges’ class in this cartoon, it’s not going to be easy to get underway, especially since it’s already in motion. However, for its own sake, I hope it does. I’d rather see this series become a platinum record rather than a demo-tape in the trash bin of animation and music history. Maybe by the end of season though, they’ll have enough practice under their belt to play Carnegie Hall. Or some kind of music-related metaphor like that.
Class of 3000 premieres Friday November 3rd at 8pm on Cartoon Network’s Fridays. The episodes discussed in this review will actually air at a later date.