For a while now I've been meaning to discuss more animation on this blog. It's definitely "not comics", but animation and comics have always been kissing cousins. My enthusiasm for comics may wax and wane, but I've loved cartoons since I was a little kid. I still prefer watching cartoons, even bad cartoons, to just about anything else.
Anyway, advance screenings of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie are starting to leak into the press, and the reactions are, ah, mixed. Which shouldn't surprise me. What does surprise me is that they actually made an ATHF movie in the first place. I mean, it probably cost next to nothing, considering how cheap the show already is. But it's such a cult artifact... although the audience is rabid, it is probably considerably smaller than the audience for, say, Firefly. And the general bewilderment with which the property is meant by the general public does not indicate that it will be much in the way of a breakout success.
No, ATHF is a niche. But the thing that always gets me is how people who don't "get" the show always misjudge just what that niche is. I mean, I don't know everyone who watches it: I could be in the minority. But I think it's probably one of the most intelligent shows on television, in terms of the amount of thought that goes into the premise and the execution. At the risk of overstating my case, it's definitely one of the more self-conscious and self-aware shows in the history of television, a show which could not even exist without an extremely sophisticated, not to say jaded, awareness of pop culture history and the disposable absurdity thereof. Sure, you could say it was essentially a comedy for stoners to get high to - but then you'd be taking it at face value, which is exactly the type of over-literal thinking that creates the talking fast-food items that live forever in our cultural detritus. No, despite the occasional overreaches into toilet humor, the show is a much more postmodern take on the Seinfeld template - a pile of useless high-concepts spinning their wheels, doing nothing, existing in a Beckett-esque limbo (New Jersey) where everything, no matter how earth-shaking or destructive, is reset every twelve minutes.
It's a formula that never fails to amuse me. I don't like to buy DVDs very often, because I am one of those people who just can't stand to watch movies over again until I've totally forgotten them (with a few exceptions), but I can rewatch my ATHF DVDs over and over again and still enjoy them. For some strange reason, they tickle my funny bone like just about nothing else. Also, the series has remained remarkably consistent in a way that many of the other Williams Street programs have not - as much as I enjoyed the Brak Show, for instance, it probably ended when it needed to. Harvey Birdman probably should have ended a long time ago. But unless they change the formula radically the movie should be the most purely enjoyable thing I see in theaters all year - and that's even if they release a movie composed entirely of Helen Mirren and Irene Jacobs mud-wrestling while Neko Case plays Stones and Bowie covers in the background.
My dad, in an offhand comment, once made a brilliant insight towards encapsulating the show's appeal. We were watching a few episodes off my DVDs and he pointed out something to the effect that "all these adventures they show in the opening credits - they never actually do any of these things". And that is the point - the glorious, mind-numbing, borderline-autistic point. They are talking fast-food products who live in a world of mad scientists, aliens and wizards, and everything they encounter is as mundane as it can possibly be.