Monday, January 26, 2015

CARTOON REVIEW: Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure was a success in the theaters and one year later, it was followed up by an animated series. Back during this part of history, movies tended to get a lot of animated adaptations aimed at kids. Sure, you had obvious stuff like The Real Ghostbusters and Back to the Future... but then you had kids' shows based on adult stuff Robocop, Rambo, and Highlander! Sometimes the shows were a complete waste of time, like that Wizard of Oz cartoon that revived the Wicked Witch of the West.

This series would prove to be a well-handled follow-up to the original movie... or at least the first season, anyway.

SEASON 1 (Hanna-Barbera, CBS)

One of the major boons was the voice talent. Alex Winters, Keanu Reeves, and George Carlin reprised their respective roles for the cartoon. No jarring voice differences for the people who opted to go from the first movie into this show. Granted, not every single actor returned, but those three did more than enough. Even the guest stars weren't anything to sneeze at: they included Phil Hartman, Jonathan Winters, Kenneth Mars, and Little Richard (playing himself!).

Another good factor was not tampering with the Bill and Ted premise. In cartoon adaptations in the past, it was common to change settings: Gilligan's Planet was just Gilligan's Island in space, Laverne and Shirley in the Army was exactly what it sounded like (plus an anthropomorphic pig), Mork and Mindy went to high school, the cast of Happy Days became time travelers... it sounds like it would make for a friggin' host segment on Mystery Science Theater 3000! In this show, nothing is changed: Bill and Ted are two adolescent metal-heads who have a time-jumping phone booth.

"But National Father-figure-type dude, these are the Grimm Bros.!"

Basically, every episode involved the Wyld Stallyns going back in time to counteract a problem that they accidentally cause. But the thing is: sometimes they don't go directly to the time period they ultimately resolve the problem in. Remember, they weren't exactly book-smart, so they wind up in different places first. Here are a few examples:

Birds of a Feather Stick To the Roof of Your Mouth: The Wyld Stallyns house-sit for a man and accidentally let his cat eat a rare bird in his possession. They find a replacement when helping introduce Dr. David Livingston to Henry Stanley, but not before helping Admiral Richard Byrd find the South Pole (they looked up "bird" in the Circuits of Time Phone Book). 

This Babe Ruth "Babe" Is a Dude, Dude!: Bill and Ted's coach punishes the duo by making them clean a bunch of trophies; they accidentally ruin a baseball autographed by Babe Ruth. They learn that Ruth was a Yankee and fail to find him on the front lines of the Civil War... they do help General Abner Doubleday invent baseball, though! They eventually find Ruth... and give "blibber blubber" a better name.

A Most Excellent Roman Holiday: The Prestons and Captain Logan are upset that Bill and Ted's class schedules are nothing but several "Study Hall"s and one "Girls' P.E.". As a result, the duo are forced to take Latin, but their nerdy classmates are a light-year ahead of the Wyld Stallyns. Bill and Ted look up "Latin" in their phone book (in order to get help in translating the inscription on a Roman coin from Julius Caesar's era) and wind up in Latin America before the arrival of Columbus and nearly get sacrificed.

And before you ask, yes, they also get the names of the historical dudes screwed up like in EA: they call Marco Polo "Mr. O'Polo", for instance.

The history wasn't always perfect. For instance, in The More Heinous They Are, the Harder They Fall, the Wyld Stallyns go back in time in order to find a tough guy to make this bully leave Deacon alone. They visit King Henry VIII, who turns down the duo's offer and recommends that they get Ivan the Terrible. The problem with this is 1) Bill and Ted go to England and Russia in 1534, 2) Ivan the Terrible would not become the first czar until 1547, 3) which was ten years after Henry died. Then again, this kind of stuff can be easily forgiven. It's chiefly a comedy, unlike The Mouse on the Mayflower, so a little "theme park history" can go into it. A scene where the Wyld Stallyns are forced to build the Great Wall of China in 1295 (even though it had been around for hundreds of years at that point in real life) can get a pass for the sake of being a joke, too.

They also go to Transylvania in 1460 at one point and meet Dracula, who is depicted as vampire rather than the historical one (but they got the correct time period, though!).

But then again, this is probably my degree talking again.

"United you stand; divided, you take a dive!"

The plots were pretty good for that period of kids' TV, but not always. For starters, in Pocket Watch Full of Miracles, the Wyld Stallyns forget to pick up Mr. Preston's birthday present (a pocket watch) from the jewelry store. The store closes and they use the time machine to recover an identical one he'd lost when he was a kid. After numerous misadventures, they get one from Queen Victoria; this one turns out to be the very one Mr. Preston lost: it even had an inscription reading "Time is money" on the inside. This would be okay... if that same watch wasn't destroyed on the railroad tracks when Bill and Ted went to see John Henry!

Also, in the episode A Black Night in San Dimas, the Wyld Stallyns obtain a collectible cup from the Circle K Kozy Korner, travel back to the Third Crusade, and run afoul of the Black Knight and Saladin ("the Salad Dude"), both of whom think the cup is a "silver chalice". The Stallyns escape and go to England to pick up the princesses for their only appearance in the entire series. Saladin operated in 1192; Joanna and Elizabeth lived in the 1400s. The Black Knight somehow jumped to from the time of Saladin to that of Henry VI (based on an educated guess as to which Henry was king, EA never specified)... 279 years at the very most (being generous here) with no time machine. Though to be fair, the episode doesn't specify that this is 15th century England, the caption just reads "Medieval England: The Duke's Castle". Maybe it was changed just for the cartoon?

TED: "Excuse us, most grief-stricken French babe..."
BILL: "...but are you not one of the famous Crepe Suzettes?"
Other than those points, it's a fun little outing. Sure, you may have Ted talking with Bill's voice and other animation errors, but it's alright. The animation isn't Miyazaki by any stretch of the imagination, but it suits the Stallynverse.

In addition to that, there were some pretty good gags as well (keep an eye out for Rufus examining a George Carlin album!).

HB did so many things right that the first thirteen episodes feel like a continuation of EA. Heck, they even kept the Stallyns' Cheers-style "Rufus!" for whenever Rufus shows up!

SEASON 2 (DiC, FOX)

After success on CBS, the cartoon was renewed for another season in 1991. For some reason, the animation would be done by DiC Entertainment and moved to FOX. Also, they had the idea to expand the phone booth's abilities so it could travel through books, movies, and television in addition to time. Not a bad concept. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

While DiC got the rights to make the second season, they failed to get Winter, Reeves, and Carlin to come back. As a result, they got Evan Richards and Chris Kennedy to play Bill and Ted, respectively (and we'll discuss them again in the future). They at least tried to sound the part, but they failed to fill the shoes of their movie counterparts.

Rufus got off a lot worse. The funny lines are absent and he takes on a more blase personality: outright telling the Wyld Stallyns where they are and stuff like that. The charisma and humor from EA and Season 1 are nowhere to be seen.

The animation style also tends to blend in with a good chunk the shows that DiC was pumping out during that period. The HB season had a sense of personality, this was just another early-90's cartoon.

SPOILER ALERT: These are the antagonists of the final episode. When the
episode culminates in a whodunit subplot near the end, the cartoon practically
TELLS you that these two are the guilty party. 

But for me, the biggest blow to Season 2 was the writing.

A little bit ago, I mentioned DiC expanding the phone booth's abilities; it was barely utilized. One episode, they try to help improve a mock-up Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, wind up getting the host fired, and try to get him back. In another, they go into a Leave It To Beaver stand-in and bring Not-Wally and Not-Beaver to their time. In another, the Stallyns shrink down, Fantastic Voyage-style, and journey through the body of their morbidly obese coach. There were also brief instances where they went into The Sound of Music, a Sherlock Holmes story, and Rodan. That's about it. The fact that this season didn't last very long wouldn't see much more utility.

But what about time travel? The Stallyns visit Leonardo da Vinci (previously met in Season 1, but now the conditions surrounding him are different), Christopher Columbus (who they'd earlier inspired to sail west), and Abner Doubleday (and they have to invent baseball again, too). Did DiC run out of ideas of where to send them? Or were the writers just as historically illiterate as Bill and Ted themselves?

They DID go to a couple of new times, though. They met Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812 during their failed attempt to change the American national anthem. Here's a game for that episode, should you watch it: whenever "The Star Spangled Banner" is played (as an instrumental or sung), take a swig.

Other times, the very scripting yielded logical problems:


Goodbye Columbus... and America: The Wyld Stallyns' fathers make them do chores and they use the booth to go on a cruise aboard the Santa Maria. Their shenanigans make Columbus give up his expedition. With America a sylvan wilderness, Rufus shows up as a Brit and explains everything that happened.

QUESTION: How does Rufus even exist in the altered timeline, or even Bill and Ted? He makes a shaky explanation that his family never immigrated from England, though. However, it doesn't explain the time machines or why the Stallyns' didn't vanish when Columbus turned his ships around to go back to Spain.

The existence of phone booths in this alternate timeline raises further questions.

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure in Babysitting: Bill and Ted go back to the 1970's in order to procure Mr. Preston's old guitar and wind up babysitting themselves.

QUESTION: What about the rules about interacting with yourself (or your relatives) in the past? Sure, it happened in EA, but that was purely by accident and resulted in a Pre-Destination Paradox. In the latter episodes of Season 1, there was concern about adverse effects that would occur when one intentionally screws around in his own past. As such, that action was deemed off-limits.


Even the jokes suffered. You had half-hearted Siskel and Ebert parodies who hated Leonrado's artwork and a Sherlock Holmes who is obsessed with the Hound of the Baskervilles. Probably the best one of the season involved Not-Mister Rodger's manager not finishing school.

HB may have had that one egregious plot hole in Pocket Watch and a few historical goofs here and there, but there was at least competence. DiC's output would tend to seem like the staff just didn't care about what they were doing.

Season 2 would only last for eight episodes before succumbing to the Curse of FOX. I have explained this phenomena during my review of the Napoleon Dynamite cartoon.


VERDICT

Season 1 had so much going for it that the dissolution of those factors really hurt during the transition to DiC. It wasn't always perfect, but it was appropriate as a Stallyns outing. Season 2, well, if you don't watch and just let it play on your iPad as you lay down in bed... it can help you get to sleep. It worked with me three out of four times. 

I say give it watch, you can Hulu it and if you don't like that, there's always YouTube. Definitely check out the HB episodes; skip Season 2 unless you're very patient or curious.




I'm DLAbaoaqu. Be excellent to each other.
DLA will return with Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey




Bill & Ted are owned by MGM/UA

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