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2012 Best and Worst in TV Cartoons

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We are living in a golden age of cartoons, with more animated TV available to watch, even for grown-ups, than ever before. 2012 didn't see as many new series premieres or comeback cartoons (Futurama, anyone?) as previous years, but there were still plenty of low points and high times this year. And now, the best and worst of 2012.

Worst New Series

Squabbits - Brickleberry
Comedy Central

When I began brainstorming what the worst and best of 2012 might be, I knew Brickleberry would make the list before I knew what category it would fill.

Before the cartoon premiered on Comedy Central on September 25, 2012, Daniel Tosh's controversial behavior toward a female audience member and last-minute editing of the pilot episode foretold problems in Brickleberry. Thin plots, even thinner characters, and a complete lack of creativity makes Brickleberry the boring cartoon it is, regardless that Comedy Central picked it up for a second season.

Best New Series

Cast - The Legend of Korra
Nickelodeon

The Legend of Korra is an adventure cartoon that both children and adults can, not only watch, but become lost in. Korra stands out easily as the best cartoon of 2012.

The Legend of Korra occurs 75 years after Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Airbender, another epic adventure series by the same creators. Each episode has a dash of humor mixed into a recipe of action and drama that tells the story of the newest Avatar. Every character is fully realized, with strengths and flaws that draw in the audience. From the setting, to the soundtrack, to the beautiful animation, The Legend of Korra is a series not to be missed. (In fact, watch for the DVD release before the second season begins in April.)

Honorable Mention: Unsupervised, Good Vibes and Dragons: Riders of Berk.

Worst News About Cartoon Development

The Birth of Pebbles - The Flintstones
All images TM & © 2010 Cartoon Network

In 2011, FOX announced that the-man-who-can-do-no wrong, Seth MacFarlane, was developing a re-imagining of The Flintstones slated for the 2012-2013 season.

Not only do I cringe when I hear the word re-imagining (it reminds of me Tim Burton's re-imagining of The Planet of the Apes), but I also groan out loud picturing Fred Flintstone in the hands of Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane.

The Flintstones harkens back to a gentler time, with Fred and Barney Rubble getting caught up in wacky, but innocent, schemes. How could The Flintstones maintain its iconic, classic dynamic when it would (possibly) be full of potty-mouthed cutaways full of porn jokes? I worried...

Best News About Cartoon Development

Seth MacFarlane - SXSW
Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for SXSW
...until April, 2012 when FOX announced that they were putting Seth MacFarlane's vision of The Flintstones on the backburner. The official story from FOX is that Seth MacFarlane's schedule was too busy, but I'm not alone when I speculate that FOX realized a bad idea before it began when fans, critics and the animation community protested. Cartoon Brew reports that MacFarlane says that FOX asked him to re-write the pilot, and he declined.

Worst Adaptation

Thundercone - Napoleon Dynamite
FOX

Napoleon Dynamite should have been a hit. The cartoon was based on the movie by the same title, starring the same characters, who were played by the same actors from the cult hit movie.

What happened? With a built-in fan base from the feature film, Napoleon Dynamite easily should have been a ratings success. Perhaps the magic of the movie, a beloved indie, was lost when it made the leap to TV animation? Perhaps the time to strike had passed and Napoleon Dynamite's fans had grown up and couldn't relate to its teenage losers? Perhaps a mid-season premiere date hurt the cartoon's chances? Or perhaps the storytelling was too cerebral for an audience who had tuned in to see Homer Simpson's goofy antics and Family Guy's obscene humor?

Whatever the reason, Napoleon Dynamite caught between 3 and 4 million viewers (about the same as The Cleveland Show, incidentally) and was quickly pulled from FOX's schedule, barely burning off its 6 total episodes.

Best Adaptation

Black Dynamite
Adult Swim

Another independent movie, however, very successfully transformed into a cartoon series on Adult Swim. Black Dynamite had no trouble maintaining the satirical humor that made the movie a fun parody of Blaxploitation movies of the '70s. With vivid colors and dark shadows, and hilarious dirty humor, Black Dynamite quickly found an audience in the wee hours on Adult Swim. Black Dynamite maintains a funny presence on on Twitter, hopefully teasing us for the second season, which will premiere in late 2013 or early 2014, according to Deadline.com.

Worst News About Cartoon Movie

Hong Kong Phooey Giant Decal
Pricegrabber.com

Every fan of a TV cartoon worries when he hears that a movie is going to be made that is based on said cartoon. We've grimaced through The Smurfs, Yogi Bear and The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Now we wait on pins and needles to find out if beloved Hanna-Barbera character Hong Kong Phooey will chop his way to success, or spin out and bomb. Recently, early video from Hong Kong Phooey was leaked and promises a clever live-action movie starring the voice of Eddie Murphy. Will the movie suffer an Eddie Murphy curse? Without a scheduled release date, we can only wait and see.

Best News About Cartoon Movie

SpongeBob SquarePants and Patrick Star
Nickelodeon
I'm read-y! I'm read-y! In March, Viacom (owner of Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon) announced a new SpongeBob SquarePants movie that will be released in 2014. Being an unabashed SpongeBob fan, I was delighted with the first SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, released in 2004. It raked in $85 million and pleased fans, with most of the focus on SpongeBob's and Patrick's road trip to Shell City. Though I know the next movie will have to boast a few A-list names who have no business voicing an animated movie (I'm looking at you, Scarlett Johansson), I'm sure that the producers will build on the successful formula they found in 2004.

Worst Celebrity Parody

Lady Hooha - Ugly Americans
Comedy Central

Ugly Americans isn't the best cartoon Comedy Central has ever produced, but it continues to find an audience for its gross-out humor. In "The Stalking Dead" this season, Ugly Americans did a send up of Lady Gaga in the form of Lady Hooha. Her music video, full of decomposing body parts, starts a zombie trend in New York City.

Comedy Central really hyped this episode, hoping to cash in on the Lady Gaga reference. Frankly, Lady Gaga's real-life performances and videos, full of strange visuals, isn't much different than the Ugly Americans treatment. She did wear raw meat as a dress, remember? Just mentioning she would be in an episode was the punchline of the joke.

Best Celebrity Parody

Food Truckin' - Bob's Burgers
FOX
Actress Megan Mullaly is all over Bob's Burgers. She guest-starred as Linda's sister Gayle in "Art Crawl," and as a marijuana farmer named Beverly in "Bob Fires the Kids." But her turn as Tabitha Johansson, a character who is a parody of Tori Amos, was pure genius in "Food Truckin'." Her breathy rendition of the less-than-subtle "Oil Spill" had me rolling on the couch. Even Tori Amos fans had to agree that the character's piano stool gyrations combined with Mullaly's performance was a spot-on satire of the fiery-haired singer. If you re-watch "Food Truckin'," be sure to stick around for the credits when you can hear the longer version of "Oil Spill." The lyrics are not to be missed.

Worst Documentary Related to Cartoons

Bill Plympton
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI)

Full disclosure: I couldn't get past the first 30 minutes of Adventures in Plymptoons!, the documentary about the allegedly groundbreaking animator Bill Plympton.

I'm told, through press releases, that Bill Plympton is a visionary; he has earned Academy Award award nominations twice. From the short amount of time I spent listening to Bill talk about himself, to his sister and friends talk about Bill, he's a creative genius. But all I could see is an artist who has a bent toward the lascivious and spent a lot of time in school drawing pictures that got him in trouble.

Bill Plympton talks a lot about how all of his hard work got him where he is today. He fails to mention the connections he had or how almost all success in an artistic field is sheer luck. He came across as arrogant and lewd.

Apparently, I'm too common to appreciate his brand of animation.

Best Documentary Related to Cartoons

All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps
StoryCorps

StoryCorps is a production company that records audio tracks of real people telling their own stories, usually about a turning point or milestone in their lives. Then their animators go to work, using the audio tracks to paint a visual story to match.

StoryCorps first came to my attention for their treatment of stories told by survivors of 9/11, poignant and painful, but now forever memorialized in StoryCorps' animated shorts.

In 2012, StoryCorps released their first DVD compilation, which includes 10 animated shorts featuring the extraordinary events that occur in the lives of ordinary people.

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