After helping usher in the new golden age of animation - by creating "The Powerpuff Girls" as well as by working on college buddy Genndy Tartakovsky's "Dexter Laboratory" - Craig McCracken has somehow managed to top himself. "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends," McCracken's follow-up to "Powerpuff," ranks among the very best cartoons to ever grace television screens. It's a wildly inventive mix of creative wonder, comic genius, and well-crafted chaos.
The show, which premiered on Cartoon Network in August 2004 and has run for four seasons (with a fifth set to air later this year), tells of a home where imaginary friends can go once their creators have outgrown them. We first discover the house as nine-year-old Mac (voiced by Sean Marquette) is forced to send his mischievous friend Blooregard Q. Kazoo (Keith Ferguson) - that's "Bloo" for short - to live there. Mac, who does not feel he's outgrown his imagination, strikes a deal with the proprietors: they will not put Bloo up for adoption as long as Mac visits every day.
Bloo is a simple, rounded blue form, something like a ghost from Pac-Man, but with arms that come out when needed. A walking oval of sorts, Bloo is our first indication of what to expect from "Foster's" - the residents are all manners of creative beings, some resembling the crude sketches of young children, others being wildly detailed creatures, almost all of which defy logic. We meet an assortment of inventions, from the Scribbles (a collection of floating scratches, the first imagined fantasies of babies) to giant, violent, locked-away monsters (the mental handiwork of older boys prone to thinking up the worst) to, in one brilliant throwaway gag from the series opener, familiar faces from other cartoons (created by lazy children who watch too much television and have no true imagination to call their own - which begs the question, are kids who need to adopt imaginary friends also too lazy to think up their own, or are they doing a good deed by providing a new place for abandoned thoughts to live and play? I vote for the latter).
Our series centers on Mac, Bloo, and Bloo's new housemates: Mrs. Foster, the (mostly) silent gentle old lady who founded the home; Frankie (Gray DeLisle), Madame Foster's granddaughter; the giant rabbit Mr. Herriman (Tom Kane), who runs the house; Wilt (Phil LaMarr), a super-tall, super-skinny, one-armed basketball whiz who's polite to a fault; Eduardo (Tom Kenny), the easily scared, kind-hearted giant monster; and Coco (Candi Milo), a plant-bird-thing. The house itself is another character altogether, a seemingly endless maze of hallways, trap doors, and mysterious corners.
Some of you may have recognized the human names listed there as being some of the most talented voice actors working today. This is important, as "Foster's" relies heavily on the vocal abilities of its cast not only to build such lovable, wonderful characters, but also to carry much of the show's comedy. Here is a series with an expert sense of comic timing, and its cast gets every punch line just right.
And yet there are times in the series when voices are not needed at all. As he showed us in "Powerpuff," McCracken is a virtuoso of silent comedy. "Foster's" frequently uses long stretches of wordless interplay to stretch the laughs to their fullest. Few shows would have the courage to try this so often (including in the series opener itself), but McCracken and his production team display the right kind of confidence in the material.
Indeed, some of the show's biggest laughs come from McCracken's trademark pauses, wherein not only does the dialogue stop, but so does the action. Humor abounds from characters freezing in place, perhaps only one loooooong solitary movement breaking the standstill.
Which is connected, in a way, to another trick: repetition as a gag. It's impossible to watch Bloo's endless, insane dance in "Adoptcalypse Now" without cracking up at the goofy simplicity of it. "Foster's" is loaded with moments like these (some of them even get repeated at greater length as "end of episode gags," to much delight), and it reveals the series as a showcase for the sort of visual comedy reminiscent of the expertly timed sight gags of the cartoons of the previous golden age, when Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck ruled the screen.
It all adds up to a celebration of the imagination. Here is a place where fantasy and reality blend in magical ways, where people are rewarded for open minds, where flights of fancy reign supreme. Goofiness has no end, and the sillier, the better (even the theme song is a masterpiece of the bizarre) - all while actually managing to maintain characters about which we actually care. Expertly crafted from first idea to last illustration, this is a perfect cartoon.
Warner Bros. has collected the series' first thirteen episodes in a two-disc collection titled "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: The Complete Season 1." The set comes in a single-wide keep case with a hinged tray holding the second disc. A cardboard slipcover hides some enjoyable artwork underneath.
The episodes featured in this collection are:
Disc One: "House of Bloo's - Part 1," "House of Bloo's - Part 2," "House of Bloo's - Part 3," "Busted," "Dinner Is Swerved," "Adoptcalypse Now," "Store Wars," and "Bloooo."
Disc Two: "The Trouble with Scribbles," "Seeing Red"/"Phone Home," "World Wide Wabbit," "Berry Scary" and "Who Let the Dogs In?"
Video & Audio
Each episode of "Foster's" is a gorgeous combination of bright, bold character artwork and rich, detailed backgrounds, both of which shine in this crisp, flawless transfer. Modern cartoons almost always look terrific, but "Foster's" tops them all. Presented in its original 1.33:1 broadcast format.
The soundtrack is equally impressive, with the Dolby stereo making the most of the layered uses of music and effects. Equally sharp Spanish and French tracks are also both in Dolby stereo. Optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles are provided.
"Store Wars" includes a very funny character commentary from Bloo, Mac, and Frankie, who treat the track as a sequel of sorts to the episode (which, by the way, is the funniest of the season). The trio discuss the events of the episode, with Frankie lamenting being banned from the mall where Bloo caused so much havoc.
In "What Happens When Your Imagination Runs Wild?" (2:44), the creators of the show briefly discuss the origins of the series and its public response, then spend the rest of their time clowning around with their own imaginary friends. Short, but very fun.
Five "Foster's" promos remind us that some of the best stuff on Cartoon Network is being shown in between the shows. (An ad for a "big, tall, and imaginary" clothing store is especially delightful.)
The "Gallery of Friends" (7:08), which plays as an animated slideshow, showcases some of the supporting friends, creatures with names like George Mucas, One Eye Cy, and, of course, Creaky Pete.
The thirty-seconds-apiece "End of Episode Gags" are collected to watch separately from the shows themselves. I could watch the "Store Wars" gag all day.
Previews for other Warner Bros. releases round out the set (not counting a clever Easter egg!). A preview for "Ben 10" plays as both discs load; you can skip it if you choose by pressing the "menu" button.
"Foster's" is one of the best shows of any kind currently on television, a winner for viewers of any age. These early episodes, many of which remain the series' very best, are must-haves, and their presentation here is outstanding. This first season collection belongs in the DVD Talk Collector Series.