Better than I remembered it, at least. Nickelodeon and Shout! Factory have released Aaahh!!! Real Monsters: Season 1, a 2-disc, 13-episode set from the Nickelodeon animated series' 1994 premiere season. Apparently, kids love to be grossed out, then and now, and what was popular with my older kids 15 years ago apparently still works with my younger ones, while I enjoyed the toon's dark tone and scraggily design. No extras for this so-so transfer.
In an unnamed urban city, down, down into the lower depths of the city's dump, a school for monsters exists. Run by the silkily imperious headmaster, The Gromble (voice talent of Gregg Berger), the worm-infested school's purpose is to take a young monster, its head full of mush, and turn it into a monster―the real kind that can scare a human half to death. The three young pals that garner most of The Gromble's attention are Ickis (voice talent of Charles Adler), Krumm (voice talent of David Eccles), and Oblina (voice talent of Christine Cavanaugh)―and that's because they're always screwing up. Ickis, who looks like a deranged red rabbit with a man-trap-sized set of incisors, is the peripatetic one who whines and cries when trouble comes his way. Krumm, a blue-lipped, naked little humanoid who caries his eyeballs in his hands and who has foul-smelling armpits, is the more phlegmatic, "down home" member of the group, while Oblina, who looks like an upside-down umbrella painted traffic-signal black and white (and with huge Rolling Stones lips), is the group's "rich kid," speaking with a cultured tongue...when she isn't pulling her guts inside-out. Together, the three misfits are often ordered top-side where the humans live (or...they sneak out against school orders) to learn how to scare, with results that often scare them.
I certainly remember Aaahh!!! Real Monsters being on all the time in our house all those years ago, but for whatever reason, it wasn't one of the shows that I could readily pull up from my memory. I know we had the action figures around here somewhere for years, long past the time the show was on the air (or at least long past the time it was actively being "pushed" by Nickelodeon), to the point where new little kids were playing with them without ever having seen the show. Back in '94, if I was actively seeking out a Nick toon, it had to Ren & Stimpy, but never Rugrats (how could an adult sit through that god-awful show?). So, I probably just tuned Aaahh!!! Real Monsters out...especially if they promoed it as, "...from the people who brought you Rugrats!" (just like that other Klasky-Csupo toon I avoided like the plague, The Wild Thornberrys). Watching it today, though, with my littlest kids, it went over quite well with them, particularly with my littlest boy, who proclaimed it "disgusting" before asking to watch more.
Aaahh!!! Real Monsters certainly is disgusting, what with its constant worm-munching (sometimes shown in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory close-up) and gross-out visuals (like Oblina pulling out her intestines) and references to "pus-mongers," "ringworms," "boogers," "maggots," "nose-pickers," "festering wounds," and "scab-scratchers." There's a Dali-esque wallowing in the distorted form here in Aaahh!!! Real Monsters's visual schematic, painted over with dark colors and grime and slime, and executed with a scraggily roughness that I found a welcome contrast to the look of most of the sunshiney stuff out there now. Every episode, you can look around the filthy corners of the frame and see some new monster design that tickles your fancy (like the monster weightlifter with four breasts), or some new way to showcase a grotesquerie (I particularly liked the shower, consisting of a suspended pig-like monster sweating over the bather). In Old Monster, the writers and animators are even playful enough to mess around with their animation style, going for a '30s Betty Boop look for the memories of The Shroink (spoiled entirely by the use of the completely inexplicable James Belushi as a monster hunter).
I'm not sure there's much more to Aaahh!!! Real Monsters than its impressive visual design, but it's silly enough to keep a kid's attention for awhile, and some of the set-ups are amusing enough (though not even close to being in the same league with Ren & Stimpy's gloriously bizarre humor). Of the three characters (not counting The Gromble, whose red pumps more than make up for his Frasier Crane voice knock-off), I enjoy listening to Ickis the most (his whiny giggle is pretty funny when he freaks out), and I enjoy watching Krumm (the gag of him holding his eyeballs in various combinations always works). But Oblina is a bore, both audibly and visually (her tony accent is played, and an old man's upside-down crutch is boring). I can't say any of the gags were especially witty or even clever, nor if there were many lines that were particularly memorable. While I remember the river of excrement that everyone rides in The Great Wave...I can't remember what anyone said during the episode, or if it was even funny. And that seems to be the big drawback with Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, at least at this early point in its production (maybe it got funnier later): it looks terrific, but it sounds...just okay.
The 13 episodes of the Aaahh!!! Real Monsters: Season 1 are:
The Switching Hour
Monsters, Get Real/Snorched If You Do, Snorched If You Don't
Curse Of The Krumm/Krumm Goes Hollywood
Monstrous Make-Over/A Wing and A Scare
Krumm's Pimple/Monster Hunter
Monsters Don't Dance/Gone Shopp'n
Old Monster/Mother, May I?
Don't Just Do It/Joined At The Hip
Smile And Say Oblina/The Great Wave
Cold Hard Toenails/Attack Of The Blobs
Chip Off The Old Beast/The War's Over
Where Have All The Monsters Gone?
Simon Strikes Back/The Ickis Box
Like the recent CatDog set I reviewed, this old timey Nickelodeon release isn't exactly digital magic here. The full-screen, 1.33:1 transfer looks a little wormy itself, with a somewhat noisy, softer image, and muted colors.
The Dolby Digital English split mono audio track is serviceable, with an okay re-recording level and little hiss. No subtitles or close-captions available.
No extras for this release.
Great to look at...but just okay to laugh at. Aaahh!!! Real Monsters doesn't seem like it's going to ascend into the front ranks of fondly-remembered Nick classics anytime soon, but that's okay. It's repulsive to look at (which is fun for little kids and interesting for the curious adults), and amusing in spurts, and that's enough to recommend the Aaahh!!! Real Monsters: Season 1 set.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.