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Buffy the Cartoon Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Animated Series

At some point prior to the demise of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, an animated spin-off was proposed. It ultimately never came to pass, despite some aggressive lobbying by Joss Whedon and his colleagues, and despite a number of pieces of concept art that were released generating some degree of interest. Recently, however, a promo video was released (or leaked), giving fans a chance to see what the show that never was would have looked like. Some generous soul uploaded it to YouTube for your viewing consumption.

To be honest, my overriding reaction is that the show’s failure to materialise is no big loss. Based on this three and a half minute clip, it suffers from exactly the same problems as the Season 8 comics, namely flat characterisation and what I like to call “ice cream on the hamburgers” syndrome: essentially, a tendency to throw in everything but the kitchen sink simply because it’s possible. The “real” Buffy series made the most of its limited budget and generally found creative ways around monetary issues (the occasional clumsy CGI dragon notwithstanding). Here, the philosophy seems to have been that, because the medium is animation rather than live action, there’s no limit to what you can do.

This is a myth propagated by scriptwriters and executives who have no understanding of animation. Doing a visually audacious set-piece in animation is no different from doing one in live action, in that it takes longer and requires more work. Unfortunately, scriptwriters are rarely particularly good at thinking visually, generally speaking because it’s not in their job descriptor and the artist/writer segregation of the post-60s animation industry means that they are completely cut off from the visual side of production. It takes less than five seconds for a budding writer to type the words “a huge dragon flies through the entire city and has an epic fight with Buffy”. Now imagine the poor guy who has to draw it. It’s therefore no surprise that such scenes often have a lacklustre quality to them: they can’t be much fun to do, and as a result the animator ends up merely going through the motions and producing a piece of technically complex but ultimately lifeless animation.

The whole of the animated Buffy promo feels lifeless. It also feels rather pointless. What, after all, is this achieving that wasn’t already being achieved, more successfully, in its live action variant (barring the obvious increase in scope and scale mentioned above)? Okay, you’ve got Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Head et al voicing the characters they played in the live action show (Sarah Michelle Gellar didn’t want to participate and as a result was voiced by a soundalike, but everyone else appears to have been on board), but again this doesn’t achieve much, because none of the actors seem particularly comfortable in their roles. I’ve said it many times, but it’s worth repeating: to provide voice-overs for animation requires a completely different set of skills than to act on screen or on the stage. For one thing, you’re limited to your voice, and, let’s be honest, there aren’t many actors who are famed for their voices above all else. Put simply, a good actor doesn’t necessarily equate to a good voice actor. (Of course, it works in reverse too. Would you automatically assume Jim Cummings or Cam Clarke would be able to cut it in the live action world?)

So, ultimately, what you have is a curiosity piece that doesn’t serve much purpose other than to provide a brief thrill at the sight of something which looks vaguely like Sarah Michelle Gellar (and Alyson Hannigan, and…) moving around in animated form. Not exactly the strongest basis upon which to build a series. I’m not saying it wouldn’t have worked or found its audience, but it ultimately looks fairly limp and generic, and I’m not convinced Joss Whedon’s style of writing translates effectively into the animated world (just as I’m not convinced it translates effectively into comics).

 
Posted: Wednesday, August 06, 2008 at 10:21 PM | Comments: 7
Categories: Animation | Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | TV | Web

 
Comments

1.

Hopefully the Whedon pummeling can soon take a break with the pending Dollhouse, and even... this:

http://www.drhorrible.com/

Posted by: Anon, August 6, 2008 11:42 PM

2.

Hmm, Dr. Horrible. I was meaning to do a post about that. It was a fun little diversion, or at least it would have been if Joss hadn’t pulled the “Completely Unexpected And Utterly Shocking Killing Off One Of The Main Characters” trick out of the bag yet again. He seems to be intent on making himself look like a one-trick pony these days. It’s got to the point where I don’t bother investing in the characters any more because I know one of them will, at some point down the line, be offed purely for shock value.

Posted by: Whiggles, August 7, 2008 12:02 AM

3.

Mark Hammil is a good example of someone who hadpretty poor live action work (after STAR WARS) and yet turned out to be a brilliant voice actor.

Posted by: Marcus, August 7, 2008 10:40 PM

4.

I’m not overly familiar with Mark Hammil’s work, but I’ll take your word for it. Actors with distinctive voices like Christopher Lee and Vincent Price have also done excellent work in animation, with Price’s performance as Rattigan in The Great Mouse Detective and his narration in Tim Burton’s Vincent standing out particularly.

Posted by: Whiggles, August 8, 2008 9:39 AM

5.

Hammil's biggest voice work was his brilliant turn as The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, but he has also worked in countless other animated shows ever since. I think he might be one of the very best voice actors working in the US today along with Phil Lamarr.

And Price was a very good voice actoras well. I also heard Roseanne Barr did very well in that Home On The Range movie, she did have a very distinct voice after all. :D

Posted by: Marcus, August 8, 2008 9:52 PM

6.

Both Hamill and LaMarr can be heard in Justice League, soon out on BD. Highly recommended, the first season (as most first seasons) takes a while to find its footing, but by Season Two and Unlimited it's a rockin' superhero show.

http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/movies.php?id=869

Posted by: Anon, August 9, 2008 9:01 PM

7.

Agreed, from the second season on, Justice League was not only excellent, but I would say it was the best action/adventure show on television in general at the time before the new Battlestar Galactica came along. Of course, since it is animated it never got the attention it deserved.

Nothing will ever top the 1993-1995 Batman series for me, but Justice League was the only Bruce Timm animated series that came very very close.

Posted by: Marcus, August 11, 2008 12:45 AM

Comments on this entry and all entries up to and including June 31st 2009 have been closed. The discussion continues on the new Land of Whimsy blog:

http://www.landofwhimsy.com

 

 
 
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