In 10 Words or Less
Positive, high-energy, musical superhero fun
Loves: The Aquabats!, ska
Likes: Yo Gabba Gabba!
Dislikes: Tokusatsu shows
Hates: The current state of ska
I'm not going to be one of those cool guys and claim I've been a fan of The Aquabats! from way back, since the band's been active since the early â€˜90s in various permutations. Though I was (and still am) a big ska fan, they never really got onto my radar until they appeared on Yo Gabba Gabba!, one of my daughter's favorite kids shows, which was created in part by the lead Aquabat, the MC Bat Commander (Christian Jacobs.) Dressed in superhero garb, the group plays fun surf/punk/ska/rock music, while their stage shows feature battles with goofy monsters and a generally positive vibe. Just listen to their song "Pool Party" and try not to smile as they sing about chips, swimming and girls who look cute. They are simply a force for good.
The group, made up of the Commander (and lead-singer), guitarist Eaglebones Falconhawk, keyboardist Jimmy the Robot, bassist Crash McLarson and drummer Ricky Fitness, travels the land playing shows and battling the monsters it meets along the way, like the devious Uberchaun, the deadly Cobraman or the Lovecraftian Floating Eye of Death. Each episode pits the band against the bad guy of the week, leading up to a Power Rangers-like finale battle, where the group's special powers come in handy, like Crash's Hulk-ish ability to grow when emotional or Jimmy's laser fingers. Though the show is built around these big action moments, much of the episodes are spent on the way the group works with each other in a way that feels inspired by The Monkees' light, fun sense of plot motivation.
Each episode's main story is broken up a few times by various interstitials, the chief of which is the cartoon. Amusingly integrated into the live-action story by having one or more of the Aquabats find the cartoon playing somewhere, this serial anime-style Aquabats adventure is full of action, while still maintaining the group's silly sensibilities, and could easily stand on its own as a cartoon series. The other shorts are pure comedy, with ridiculous fake ads for bizarre products like Hairy Hiders fake mustaches and the disturbing Scruffy Scruff. a nightmare-inducing stuffed animal, along with Pink Panther-style wordless cartoons featuring the band's adorable little mascot Lil' Bat.
The joy of the Aquabats is the way it appeals to the young and the young at heart with adventures that are at least moderately exciting but also a great deal of fun, as the show never takes itself too seriously. Our heroes are capable of taking down a bad guy, but are just as likely to be their worst enemy, especially the Commander, who is seemingly bereft of powers, while also struggling with leading the group. Their goofy interactions, powered by their well-defined personas, are the driving force behind each episode, as well as the source of each episode's moral lesson, like the value of working together, having a plan or being nice to your friends. Thankfully, though an adult can spot these themes from a mile away, they aren't as aggressively obvious as the old G.I. Joe post-episode codas, and they fit right in with the group's Saturday morning fun concept.
If it hasn't been obvious for years, since the days of Pee-Wee's Playhouse, all children's programming should be the exclusive domain of alternative comedians, as they seem to best understand how to entertain kids while not leaving adults out in the cold, mainly by keeping things weird enough and including their wonderfully talented friends. This series is a perfect example, as the strangeness of the battles and all the odd side bits are universally entertaining (especially the adorable Lil' Bat) and the Aquabats have brought along oddball, yet notable guest stars and collaborators like Weird Al Yankovich, Paul Scheer, Samm Levine, Lou Diamond Phillips, Paul Rust, Rip Taylor and Homestar Runner co-creator Matt Chapman, which results in the appearance of a villain who looks and sounds suspiciously like a certain email answering tough guy with a wrestling mask. It's these little touches and the sillier, more surreal elements that will keep parents just as entertained as the little ones the show is made for.
The 13 episodes from the first season are spread over two DVDs, packed in a clear, dual-hubbed standard-width keepcase, which is inside a slipcover that repeats the cover art. The discs feature animated anamorphic widescreen menus offering options to play all episodes, select show and check out the special features where applicable. There are no audio options, no subtitles and no closed captioning.
Delivered via anamorphic widescreen transfers, these episodes are enjoyable to watch, with bright colors and a clean overall image that's free of any dirt or damage, but there are a few moments here and there that suffer from some remarkable pixelation, the likes of which you can easily spot from across the room. There aren't that many, but when they do arrive they are far too obvious. Otherwise, it's a fine presentation.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks offer enough power for the sound of a campy, basic-cable kids show, keeping the voices easily heard and the Aquabats' bouncy music strong and well-separated. There's nothing dynamic about the up-front, center-balanced sound, but it all seems to fit well with the show.
Five of the episodes include commentary by the five members of the band, which make for a fun listen, as the group are long-time friends and are intrinsically tied to the series. Though "in character," they aren't pretending this is anything but a TV show, and there's lots of talk about production details, as they discuss shooting the episodes and who the various extras are, giving a good picture of the low-budget effort it took to get to the air, including dealing with the ridiculous hypocrisy of network censors.
Here are the commented-upon episodes:
The original 20-minute pilot for this series is available here, with optional commentary by the Aquabats. Though in tone and concept it is very similar to the series that made it to air, it's quite different in construction, with a different theme song and opening titles and using a live-concert framing device while giving more time to the animation. Though one episode is a small sample size, it looks like it could have been even better than the series that made it onto the Hub. (It would have been great to see the earlier pilot that wasn't ordered to series, but since the band disowned it, it's not surprising it's not included.)
- Cowboy Android!
A 5:12 blooper reel shows how taxing the filming can be, as in addition to messing up lines, the boys struggle with running, falling and especially moving around in large monster costumes. It's fun stuff, and younger viewers will howl every time the M.C. Bat Commander breaks into a big silly smile.
Wrapping up the extras are 12 supposed Behind the Scenes bits (8:29), which are a bit all over the place. These goofy pieces, most of which are very short, include everything from the Aquabats taking acting classes to the group clowning around on the set. Again, these are going to play better with younger fans, but they are right in step with the band's sense of humor.
The Bottom Line
God bless the Hub, as they keep taking chances on shows that embrace the idea of family entertainment as TV that entertains the family, rather than just stuff that's just safe for the kiddies. The Aquabats Super Show is the latest example, offering a little something for everyone by building on the band's universal appeal. This set is fun top to bottom, and in addition to a mostly solid presentation, there are some fun extras that most kids shows miss out on. If you enjoy a silly bit of action fun, give it a look and expect a good time.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.