Saturday, July 01, 2006

"Toby Danger"

Doug Wildey's "Jonny Quest" must be one of the most-parodied cartoons of all time. The Wikipedia entry includes a good list of "Quest" spoofs, including Cartoon Network's show "The Venture Brothers," which is basically a week-to-week sendup of "Quest." But by far the best parody of "Jonny Quest," and one of the best parodies ever made anywhere, is the cartoon "Toby Danger," originally aired on "Freakazoid!"

"Toby Danger" wasn't actually created for "Freakazoid!," though. Tom Minton, a writer for "Animaniacs" who specialized in parodies of other genres and styles of cartoon (he'd done a famous episode of "The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse" incorporating vicious send-ups of other cartoon series), came up with the idea to do an elaborate parody of "Jonny Quest." The names would be changed, the character designs would be different, and even some of the characters would be entirely different (instead of Hadji, we got a teenage girl named Sandra Danger), but the inspiration would be obvious. The "Toby Danger" cartoon was written and storyboarded, but it wasn't put into production because no one could figure out where to put it: the limited-animation, non-cartoony style it required wouldn't have fit in with the very cartoony style of "Animaniacs."

Then "Freakazoid!" was suddenly revamped from a straightforward adventure-comedy into an out-and-out comedy, and with very little time to produce the new series, the producers were putting in just about anything they could to get 13 episodes ready in time. So "Toby Danger," with a script and storyboard ready to go, was put into production and aired as part of the second episode of "Freakazoid!" Some people liked it better than the rest of the show; me, I liked it all.

As storyboarded by Brian Chin and Butch Lukic (who are both caricatured in the cartoon, along with Minton), it's a great-looking cartoon (though a lot of retakes apparently had to be done because the overseas studio initially didn't make the animation limited enough), perfectly capturing the style and look of "Jonny Quest," and all the infamous things like the casual racism ("Heads up, you heathen monkeys!") and the scream everybody lets out when anything bad happens ("Aieee!"). But What makes "Toby Danger" a great parody is that it goes beyond just mimicking the style and look of the show and actually attacks the themes and messages of the original show. "Jonny Quest" was relentlessly optimistic about science and technology; the great scientist, Dr. Benton Quest, constantly saves the day with his inventions. In "Toby Danger," Dr. Vernon Danger is a deluded nut whose inventions cause more damage than they fix: one of his inventions is responsible for the carnage in the first place; he practically wipes out a city trying to save it; and he casually mentions that he adopted Sandra after his experiments wiped out her home town.

Minton wrote, and Chin and Lukic storyboarded, a second "Toby Danger" cartoon, but despite the acclaim of the original, it was never produced; "Freakazoid!" switched to full-length half-hour stories for its second season, so there was nowhere to put another "Danger" cartoon. It would be interesting to speculate on whether "Danger" could have succeeded as a full-length spinoff; I think it would have been better than "Venture Brothers," all told.


Anonymous said...

"The Venture Brothers" suffers a little in comparison to "Toby" in all likelihood due to the need to cater to what the Adult Swim audience is expecting from its non-anime shows -- i.e. at least one decent dollup of gross out humor per episode. A sign of the times, and of what Cartoon Network thinks of its audience.

That said, "Venture" is still the best thing being produced for the Adult Swim block right now.

JD Rhoades said...

"Toby Danger" is hilarious, but mainly because it's such a dead-on parody of Jonny Quest. It doesn't have a whole lot of jokes that aren't, shall we say, Quest-dependent for their humor. So it may have been too smart for its target audience, most of whom would be too young to get the in jokes.

Anonymous said...

Venture Brothers isn't a good comparison, because while it started off as a straight-forward tired parody, it grew into something much greater, bascially abandoning the premise within a few episodes and uniquely developing the series characters. (However, the ongoing history of Venture family line is hilarious.) By the end of the first season it was one of the funniest shows on TV.

While I cracked up at seeing Toby Danger when it ran, I don't think it would've been very good as a recurring short since it pretty much blew its wad in the first go. As such a direct parody, I'm not really sure where else they would go with it (as JD said) - even in the Venture Brothers, they're actually the second/third generation of Ventures, which allowed a very inventive history of a middle-aged, cranky Johnny Quest...

Anonymous said...

You spent an awful lot of time watching those 1990s Warner TV toons, didn't you? I guess they worked for you better than they worked for me. The Animaniacs, for example, were more grating to me than "zany," hard as they worked to assure me they were the latter. Overall, I found those Warner TV cartoons more "look at us, aren't we clever" funny than I found them "laugh out loud" funny. Maybe I was a weird kid.

Anonymous said...

The funniest thing ever to come out of WB, imho. I read the script way before it got made, in Animaniacs days(when it seemed unlikely it ever would get mde)....god, Minton is the funniest, most subversive(and unsung)cartoon writer on the planet.

Anonymous said...

What as the name of the episode Tom wrote for Mighty Mouse? That episode must have been the one that kicked off the trend of cartoons paroding other cartoons in modern times.

Jenny Lerew said...

Jorge, I believe it was "Don't Touch That Dial!" and it was a classic.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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