It’s been awhile since we last saw Craig McCracken in action. The genius creator of The Powerpuff Girls and co-creator of Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends seemed to disappear as a wave of new talent spilled onto the US animation scene. While young blood like Pendleton Ward, J.G. Quintel and Alex Hirsch have been delivering cartoon smash hits that appeal to all ages, one of the key figures in paving the way for those artists was conspicuously and suddenly absent.
So where, has Craig McCracken been? Well, he’s been cooking up a new show called Wander Over Yonder for Disney with Lauren Faust, his wife and fellow co-creator of Foster’s (you may also know her for developing the wildly popular My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic). The premise is pretty simple: Wander is an ever-upbeat, sweetheart, silly alien meandering about the universe with faithful companion/steed Sylvia (nice Lone Ranger call out there). Luckily for Wander, Sylvia is also a more skeptical and ready-to-brawl individual, which comes in handy when Wander runs into the series’ main recurring villain, the exceedingly arrogant Lord Hater (nice Star Wars call out there). Hater doesn’t always factor into the plot as well, allowing Wonder and Sylvia to find well, any kind of trouble you could imagine when the universe is your setting.
I don’t want to spoil a lot here, but right off the bat, I have to say that McCracken and his team of animators (namely animation veteran Dave Thomas) have knocked the visuals out of the park. The usage of color to set the mood of any given scene is amazing from the start, calling to mind the best moments on The Powerpuff Girls. Exceedingly sweet moments are filled with an incredibly warm palette, but the second the Lord Hater shows up, a darker palette with moments of monochrome with red highlight immediately take over. The character design and movement is rather tight as well, deftly using both digital and traditional animation techniques to create a very vibrant and energetic feel. It’s definitely still very wired into McCracken’s love of the UPA and 70’s Hanna Barbara style, but he commands that palette so perfectly that it’s always a delight to watch. The storyboarding is also key in this, as it really feels like the animation and visuals are driving any given scene rather than the dialogue. Whether it’s a comedic moment or action packed chase, telling is always secondary to showing, and that’s great direction in my book. Ultimately, the visuals feel like a great balance between the best elements of The Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, and really leaves no question that McCracken still has it as an animator, and he’s surrounded himself with similar talent on this project.
The dialogue and story match the quality of the animation. With in the first few moments of dialogue there is a barrage of smart-aleck wordplay and clever, subtle references only the parents watching with their children will giggle at. It’s so deftly woven in that most of the witty dialogue slips by quickly, so you may need to pause and rewind or rewatch the each episode twice to catch everything. The antics are also decidedly cartoony, with Wander having a downright Looney Tunes-eqsue propensity for violating continuity, physics, and any other regular rule you’d expect. Blasted with eye lasers? No problem, as damage only lasts until the next scene at most. The show seems to be pretty episodic at the moment, but who knows how much episodic continuity may factor in. Even if it ultimately just resets every episode, it would still be a blast to watch because within two episodes, Wander Over Yonder leaves no doubt to the idea that they really will use the whole universe as a setting. With that established, there will always be some kind of antics for the cast to get into. Just like the animation, it’s not all just McCracken’s doing either. Lauren Faust’s writing is sharper than ever as she delivers really hilarious stories and fantastic character interplay in Wander. I think anyone who liked what she did for My Little Pony will love her work here. She takes the heartwarming aspects of Friendship is Magic and pairs them with the more sardonic elements of Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, and that contrast sets up a lot of jokes. It’s also exciting to see the Faust/McCracken team back together on a project especially since the result absolutely exceeds all expectations.
The actual delivery of that sweet yet wry dialogue is also a treat. Jack McBrayer brings his signature wide-eyed optimism to the character of Wander, and it’s just perfect casting. Everyone else brings their A-game to their respective roles as well, with April Winchell as Sylvia playing a perfectly grounded and skeptical foil to Brayer’s eternal sunshine, and Keith Ferguson bringing a mix of rage and narcissism to sell Lord Hater. The music is just as central as it has been in any other McCracken series, and here the music evokes some very Hanna Barbara vibes to really give Wander a throwback flavor. The opening theme has an upbeat, Bluegrass-vibe, underlining the western side of this space western comedy. The Bluegrass flavor also saturates the more laid back end theme. This continues throughout the rest of the score, though just as with the color design, isn’t above a dramatic shift toward something more Metal or Orchestral if the moment calls for it.
If you’re at a site like Toonzone, you should watch Wander Over Yonder. Download it off iTunes or watch when it premieres on Disney, but no matter how you do it, give it a chance. I literally can’t find anything to nitpick in it, and I came in expecting a lot because I am rather familiar with this staff’s past work. It’d be obvious if it anything was phoned in or meddled with by outside interests in a negative way, and there is not a single sign of that. All of the elements complements each other, forming an incredibly tight and brisk show. You can tell the key creatives here were left alone to make what they really wanted. It’s probably going to be the best new cartoon of 2013, and this is not a slow year for animation. There are tons of great shows on the air and online right now, and still Wander Over Yonder stands out as a slice of expertly crafted, yet totally unbridled fun.