Positive, high-energy, musical superhero fun
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 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.
Here are the commented-upon episodes:
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.
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