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"T.U.F.F. Puppy": Is It Enough To Be Funny?

by on September 30, 2010

Normally I’d fill a review like this by talking a lot about plots and characters and visuals. But you know what, I get to do enough of that with other shows. T.U.F.F. Puppy gives me the chance to talk about something else.

I want to start by saying that Butch Hartman is quite talented. He directed episodes for a bunch of great shows, from Dexter’s Laboratory to Cow And Chicken, and he put together one of Nickelodeon’s giant franchises,The Fairly Oddparents. He even reached for new ground by trying a more directly action-oriented series in Danny Phantom. Judging by his accomplishments, you really can’t fault the guy, and he’s worked with just about every luminary in animation in the late 1990s through early 2000s.

Yet there are lots of animators, both of his generation and after, who have pushed the limits harder and further. You rarely hear him lauded with the kind of shining praise earned by veterans like Genndy Tartakovsky or newcomers like Pen Ward.

Frankly, T.U.F.F. Puppy isn’t going to change that at all. It doesn’t just look like a Hartman show, it sounds and moves like one. The main character, Dudley Puppy, shares Cosmo’s penchant for randomness, blaring idiocy, and quasi-competence, and he looks and sometimes acts a lot like Johnny Bravo, another show Hartman worked on. The scientist character is basically Prof. Frink from The Simpsons with Porky Pig’s stutter added. Even the musical cues sound like they’ve been lifted from The Fairly Oddparents, a feeling further accentuated by Grey DeLisle doing the exact same voice for Kitty Katswell, her character on this show, as she did for Vicki. The tendency toward repetitious verbal jokes, often screamed by the various characters, reminds me a ton of FOP as well. The villain’s master scheme in the pilot episode is very, very similar to the now classic Powerpuff Girls episode “Monkey See, Doggy Do,” something I hope was meant as an homage, but it sure doesn’t feel like that. That, and the fact that one of the other henchmen looks like Wally Gator, makes me think all these elements are more about parody and reference than cheap plagiarism, but it doesn’t stick that feeling well enough.

So, it misses that mark for a seasoned animation nerd like myself, but I doubt the average kid will care. Most of its intended audience weren’t even born when the shows Hartman nods/cribs were on the air. To be fair, it also boasts many virtues. It’s crisply animated and well paced, and if you like Hartman’s previous series, it delivers the exact same comedic flavor. Sure, the lead character is a bit of an unlikable moron at points, but that’s an animation staple, and one Hartman’s always been solid on. It is well made, and you could tune into any given episode and get a laugh or few from what I can tell. There are also lots of great technical elements as well, including great extreme poses, a decent dose of squash and stretch, rapid fire storyboarding and it turns even certain animation clichés onto their ears. Even with my picky tastes, I’d take T.U.F.F. Puppy over a lot of the rest of Nick’s line-up, including the later seasons of FOP and all of the current live action shows.

The problem is that it’s almost like Hartman has taken up Klasky Csupo’s old mantle at Nick, making various goofy shows with a similar visual style but different settings and tones. You get to the point where certain elements feel so identical you halfway expect a crossover or two down the line, but it’s never low-quality work either. It’s not a bad thing for a network to have people like him on retainer, and Hartman certainly has the talent to take that role. But it’s still a disappointment, because Hartman has shown he has a greater range than this, and the various pilots he cut for What-A-Cartoon and Oh Yeah! Cartoons show that even when he’s in the creator’s seat, he can do more than he’s demonstrated with the originals he’s done for Nick, both visually and story-wise. There is no reason for him to fall into Klasky Csupo-like patterns.

T.U.F.F. Puppy is okay, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me laugh. But it’s just not fresh to old eyes like mine, and I suspect a lot of the Toonzone readership will feel the same. Still, you should give it a shot, and the show has so many technical pluses in its favor that I’d be shocked if it didn’t do well with kids.

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