Many old school Nick fans tend to lump The Angry Beavers in with the first seven NickToons in terms of quality. Some are even of the opinion that Beavers was the last good NickToon before things permanently went downhill. In truth, I recall liking the show as a young teen, but re-watching it as an adult, for the most part, it isn’t nearly as funny as I remember.
There are many reasons for this. First, let’s look at our main characters. We’ve got two brother beavers, Norbert (the light brown, laid-back, surfer-accented one) and Daggett (the dark brown, fast-talking, nasal, uppity one). They live together in a wood hut and alternatively have fun together and get on each other’s nerves, depending on what the script requires. You may be tempted to write them off as Ren & Stimpy knock-offs, but they have distinctly different personalities than that cat and dog. No, the problem is, I never felt the beaver duo had any real comedic chemistry with each other; I’m not sure if it’s the voice acting, the dialog, or the timing direction, or all those factors, but it always feels like they’re talking past each other instead of playing off each other. And for a show with only two major characters, that’s kind of a problem.
As a result of the absent dynamic between the two, most of the plots aren’t as engaging as they should be. Furthermore, good comedy should originate from the characters, not the absurd situations. When you have uninteresting characters, it doesn’t matter how goofy the plots are, or how wacky the execution is; it’s not going to engage you. Such was the case here — there were a lot of episodes with energy, to be sure, but I felt apathetic towards what was unfolding. It doesn’t help that some of the plots are fairly generic in that they could be done on any kid’s cartoon, such as Norbert and Daggett going to the beach, going to the carnival, or Norbert faking an illness. Furthermore, certain episodes feel completely pointless, such as an episode where the duo regress to younger versions of themselves, or another where Norbert goes through amnesia. In both instances, the main characters don’t really feel all that concerned about their respective problems, so why am I supposed to care?
The presentation is also a letdown, and feels more visually restrained than, say, Ren & Stimpy or SpongeBob SquarePants. There are very few specific facial expressions or funny poses, which means all the comedy has to come through the voice acting. And since the voice acting mostly fell flat (two verbal quirks, consisting of Norbert constantly mis-pronouncing words and Daggett muttering in a spastic fashion and hyperventilating in excitement, should be much funnier than they are), it leaves me with very few avenues for laughs. Occasionally there will be a well-timed pratfall, but more often a gag will fall flat due to bad comic timing or dialog editing. I also didn’t think the music was very good; my problem wasn’t so much the use of synthesized music but it always seemed to be working against the comedy and action on-screen instead of accentuating it. That said, I did enjoy some of the famous song parodies used at various points. And for what it’s worth, I think the intro sequence is one of the best in the NickToons library, with Norbert and Daggett fighting for camera time while the instrumental theme song (heavy on the flamenco trumpet) plays. It’s a well-storyboarded piece with more loose animation than you see in the individual episodes, a typical practice for many shows of the time where the intro looks better than the actual show.
It may sound like I hate the entire series. Well, that’s not true; there are a few inspired episodes on this series set. “You Promised” is classic conflict in that Norbert agrees to be Daggett’s slave in a year from that moment. But Norbert is quite surprised when Daggett remembers the exact date, and begrudgingly caters to his every whim. I also enjoyed “Same Time Last Week,” where Norbert slugs Daggett so hard that Daggett literally travels back in time, and has to avoid the same fate occurring, in a Groundhog Day-esque plot. I also genuinely liked “Gonna Getcha,” where, during a scuffle, Daggett farts on Norbert’s head, crossing a line of dirty fighting. See, a plot like this works, because many of us can relate to “going too far,” and fretting that someone will get us back for something we did. Some episodes are helped by comic timing, such as “Alley Oops,” which further proves my hypothesis that bowling episodes are virtually guaranteed to be funny by default. An episode like “Pass it On” benefits both from a storyline that goes in random directions (as each character makes up a different part of the plot) and varying art styles as a result. And certain isolated gags in random episodes work, like in “Chocolate Up to Experience” when Daggett repeatedly is hit by the swinging supermarket doors, which is a good example of an overly-long gag that starts out funny, gets less funny, but gets funny again because of its length. Overall, though, I wouldn’t say any episode in this series reaches the heights of something like Ren & Stimpy‘s “Stimpy’s Invention” or Rocko’s Modern Life‘s “Wacky Delly.”
As with the individual Shout! Factory releases, there are no special features on this complete series set. The video quality isn’t anything to write home about (it’s a pre-digital show, what do you expect), but I’ve seen much worse. And luckily, later in the series, the video benefits from digital coloring. Much like the Rocko’s Modern Life complete set, the discs are housed in a keep case with multiple swinging hinges. I have no complaints with it.
I know The Angry Beavers has a decent-sized fanbase, but I honestly don’t feel like it’s held up nearly as well as most of the other pre-2000 NickToons. I simply didn’t find myself laughing all that much, and its execution leaves something to be desired.