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Cartoon Network’s 'Up-Front': What Won’t They Think of Next?

Robots, superheroes, teen-age angst, the return of Bugs Bunny – and free lox; it’s Cartoon Network’s annual ‘up front’ unveiling of its new schedule.

A free breakfast buffet (lox wrapped around a pretzel – whose idea was that?), a 2-gig flash drive and a flashy live/multi-media stage show: not bad for a Wednesday morning in New York City. And I’m not even one of the deep-pocketed, impeccably dressed ad agency execs Cartoon Network hopes will drop a bundle in exchange for commercial time on their channel. It’s your typical ‘up front’ presentation, wherein the networks showcase their new shows in full razzly-dazzly mode – and on this particular morning Cartoon Network has plenty to razzle-dazzle with.

Hours and hours of new programming that is – plenty of it live-action too. Just sayin’ in case your cable box’s been stuck on the DIY Channel or you haven’t read Cartoon Brew for the last three years. Plenty of sports-themed shows, which are outside my purview and won’t be explored here. A few other highlights of the morning:

Lunch Table Group - Tower Prep. All images courtesy of Cartoon Network.

Almost all the action shows (whether animated or live action) seem to revolve around a teen/high-schooler who [hey gang, it’s Mad Libs time!] discovers that he is actually _noun_ and has the power to _verb_, and not only that, he’s the only one who can save the world from __ominous-sounding name__.

One of the live-action shows appears cut from somewhat different cloth. An ungenerous observer might be tempted to call it Teen Prisoner with a Side Helping of Harry Potter, but according to Cartoon Network’s press release, Tower Prep is “the story of a rebellious teen who wakes to find himself trapped at a mysterious prep school that offers no escape.” Fortunately it does offer its hero the chance to spar with an oily headmaster and link up with a trio of comrades, all of whom wear the official school colors while prowling gothic hallways and buildings in search of clues to their predicament. (Giant inflated spheres and magic wands were nowhere to be seen in the clips screened.) It’s Paul (Batman: The Animated Series) Dini’s move into live action, and between his pedigree and its pop-culture inspirations, Tower Prep may be worth a check-out.

Genndy Tarkovsky and his thick-outlined, UPA-influenced style is back on Cartoon Network with SymBionic Titan, following “three alien teenagers who crash-land on Earth and must protect their new home from alien invaders while navigating the perils of high school life.” (Anyone remember Osamu Tezuka’s Amazing Three? – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazing_Three – although Tezuka’s aliens were trying to decide whether or not to destroy the Earth…)

Fans of the big dumb Great Dane with the speech impediment will be able to choose between the new animated Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated series, or a live-action Curse of the Lake Monster movie. If they’re still hungry for mystery-tracking teens there’s the live-action series Unnatural History, featuring a “globe-trotting teenager” now enrolled in a high school on the grounds of “the National Museum Complex,” a Smithsonian-like institution “chock full of mysteries.”

Robotomy

There’s still plenty of cartoons to be had on the Cartoon Network. Chowder, a favorite of a lot of viewers older than the channel’s target demographic won’t be returning, but Pendleton Ward’s Adventure Time has already replaced it as a source of sheer dada-esque weirdness. Then there are quarter-hour shows like Robotomy, wherein two “outsider teenage droids” try to fit in with their fearsome fellow high school ‘bots. (Futurama’s Bender would feel right at home among the robotic crowd depicted in the show’s publicity still.) Fun fact: Robotomy’s co-executive-produced by Superjail’s Christy Karacas; is [adult swim] infiltrating prime-time Cartoon Network?

Young Justice

Robin’s ditched his Teen Titans pals to hang with a more mature group of supes in Young Justice, a show that looks like it will pile on the teenage angst (“being a teenager means proving yourself over and over…”) in between its heroes’ battles with supervillains.

Generator Rex

But wait, there’s more, including Generator Rex, a teen who can create “mechanical weapons and vehicles from his own body, but must balance his adrenaline-fueled adventures with the everyday ups and downs of being a teenager” (anybody other than me remember Turbo Teen?).

Then there’s the animated Mad series, the second show based on the what-me-worry boy’s magazine. This one looks to be closer in spirit to the mag, as opposed to Fox’s late night imitation SNL. The press release promises plenty of subversive parody (as subversive as one can get on Cartoon Network, that is), “a chaotic mix of animation styles” along with appearances by Alfred E. Neuman and the ‘Spy vs. Spy’ pair. (But how are they going to translate Don Martin’s “FAGROON klubble klubble” sound effects into actual audio?)

Bugs Bunny & Daffy - The Looney Tunes Show

Remember Loonatics Unleashed? (Personally, it took a lobotomy to cleanse my brain of it.) Warners and Cartoon Network are taking another stab at bringing the most famous stable of cartoon characters back with The Looney Tunes Show. In what sounds like a trifle overly conceptualized half hour, to quote the network’s press release,

Bugs and Daffy are out of the woods and living in the suburbs among such colorful neighbors as Yosemite Sam, Granny, Tweety and Sylvester.  In addition to each episode’s main story, The Looney Tunes Show also features “cartoons within a cartoon.”  The Tasmanian Devil, Speedy Gonzales, Marvin the Martian and other classic characters sing original songs in two-minute music videos called Merrie Melodies and the Road Runner and Coyote are featured in 2-1/2 minute CG shorts.

Taz breaking out in song? I’m not too sure about that one. On the other hand, the kinetic CGI camerawork in the Road Runner-Wile E. clip screened nicely complemented their kinetic chase across a frozen landscape.

Plenty of internet ire has already been vented by various toon bloggers regarding the redesigned Bugs and Daffy briefly glimpsed in the presentation. (Both sport oversized heads while Bugs’ feet have grown to gigantic proportions compared to his now-tiny body.) Personally though, I’m not ready to blow my stack. The Warner characters have gone through no small number of redesigns over the years; if their personalities shine through this latest iteration (Bugs still seems quite laid back and Daffy hyperactive as in his earlier days) and the stories do them justice, they should nicely survive this latest go-round. Come to think of it, nothing’s been able to kill the Looney Tunes gang so far – not even Loonatics Unleashed.

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