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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Freakazoid - The Complete First Season
Freakazoid - The Complete First Season
Warner Bros. // Unrated // July 29, 2008
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted August 19, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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In 10 Words or Less
The oddest, funniest superhero cartoon ever

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: "Freakazoid," "Animaniacs," absurd comedy, animation
Likes: The Huntsman, Toby Danger
Dislikes: The Lawn Gnomes
Hates: Kids TV with nothing for adults

The Show
Say what you will about Steven Spielberg, whether you think he's a filmmaking genius or a manipulative creator of mass-market pablum, but he certainly knows how to produce children's television. Consider that when tackling kids cartoons in the '90s, his creative crew pumped four Emmy-winning series that are still fondly remembered and oft-watched to this day. But of the four, the one that was truly unique, and, as is often the case, least remembered, had to be "Freakazoid."

Possibly the first superhero with an origin tied into the Internet, Freakazoid is the alter ego of nerdy Dexter Douglas. When he was sucked into the net, thanks to a faulty computer chip, he gained near limitless powers. Basically, if he thinks it, it can happen. The problem is, with these powers comes severe insanity, which results in Freakazoid displaying an obsession with obscure pop culture and a sense of silliness beyond compare. The series mirrors the oddball sensibility by breaking the fourth wall and doing anything at any time, ignoring the general "rules" of TV and storytelling. Dexter's mom, for example, breaks the mold for mother characters, keeping the cheery smiles, but saying hilariously dark things.

The Freakazoid stories are actually pretty average superhero tales, as Dexter hides his special powers from friends and family, desires Steph, a girl who loves Freakazoid; and helps the police, specifically low-key Sergeant Cosgrove (voiced by Ed Asner.) It's the way they're told and the fun nature of the bad guys that makes them so enjoyable. You've got a caveman who subscribes to The New Yorker, scenes that stop to allow Freakazoid to wander backstage and ruminate on the production effort, and possibly the greatest use of an announcer in cartoon history, leading to any number of fun non-sequitors.

Freakazoid and his world isn't the only reason to enjoy this series though, as there's a bit of an anthology concept at work, with additional characters, unconnected to the man in the red pajamas. These include the Lawn Gnomes, a group of Tolkien-like outdoor decorations out adventuring; the Huntsman, a man's man frustrated by a lack of crime-fighting activity; and Lord Bravery, a rather fussy and ineffective British superhero. These parodies are very well-done, especially the pre-Venture Brothers "Johnny Quest" take-off "Toby Danger," which tells the joke perfectly, down to the low-budget animation.

The series was extremely well-made, starting with the catchy theme song that sets the mood for the show and an incredible voice cast featuring Paul Rugg, Rob Paulsen, Maurice LaMarche, Ricardo Montalban, Craig Ferguson, Steven Furst and Tress MacNeille, but the audience it was made for wasn't the one the network wanted. When you're telling jokes about "F-Troop," Leonard Nimoy and 1950s horror films, you're bound to attract an older group of viewers to the Kids WB than advertisers want, yet there's enough silly stuff going on in the show that younger viewers can still enjoy it. In that way, it's probably the perfect family cartoon, though having to explain why Freakazoid's hands are kissing and his feet are arguing is probably more work than any parent really needs.

The DVDs
The two-disc set (one half of which is a two-sided flipper) is packed in a clear single-width keepcase with a tray, which is wrapped in a foil-covered slipcover that repeats the cover art. The DVDs feature static anamorphic widescreen menus (backed by a loop of the great theme song) with options to watch all the episodes, select shows, check out extras and adjust languages. Audio options include Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 English tracks, while subtitles are available in English SDH. There's no closed captioning.

The Quality
At first glance, the full-frame transfers on these episodes look pretty good, with decent, though slightly dull color, but giving them a good look will point out dirt and damage throughout the season. For the most part, it's not oppressive, (though episode 7 is particularly sketchy) but it's consistent, and will annoy picky viewers. It's much worse than seen on the "Animaniacs" DVDs. The pixilation along thin black outlines is particularly evident on these episodes also.

Surprisingly, the audio is available in both a 2.0 track (as it original aired) and a 5.1 mix, but you won't notice much of a difference, outside of the use of the surrounds to enhance the sound. The dialogue and special effects are nice and clear, as well as the fantastic music, which recalls the excellent orchestral efforts of old Looney Tunes animation.

The Extras
There are three commentaries included on this set, with writer/actor Paul Rugg, writer John McCann and producer Tom Ruegger on "key episodes," which are episodes 1, 2 and 12. The tracks are fun to listen to, as Rugg and McCann are sufficiently self-deprecating, pointing out the many jokes kids would never get and the inspiration for many of the jokes, while talking about how the episodes were produced. Occasionally they get caught just watching the show, especially on Episode 12 (which has noticeable dead air), but any fan will want to give these entertaining commentaries a listen.

Side two of the second DVD is where you'll find "The Original Freak," a 17-minute featurette on the development of the series, featuring new interviews with original creator Bruce Timm, producer Tom Ruegger, director Scott Jeralds, writer John McCann and the voice of Freakazoid, writer Paul Rugg. The piece is an excellent overview of how the show came together, changed from the original concept, and a bit about why it ended up working, yet not lasting. The chance to see some of the original concept art, and hear from the talented and funny people behind the show is more than enough reason to check this extra out.

But that's not all you get, as there's a four-minute featurette on the promos that preceded the show's premiere, a set of odd parodies of cruise-line commercials that don't show a single character from the show. Ruegger and Rugg provide some quick thoughts on the ads before they unspool in one big reel, in a level of quality that looks like something someone found on a shelf in their den. I don't remember them, outside of a redux that aired during one of the first-season episodes.

The Bottom Line
Though I loved "Animaniacs," the DVDs I really wanted (and thought I'd never get) were from "Freakazoid," as the surreal comedy of the series took everything I liked about "Animaniacs" and upped the ante to an even more adult level, making it an instant classic for animation fans. The DVDs sound great, but could have used a clean-up to make it look better. At least there was a solid effort on the extras, likely a nod to the show's older audience. If you've never seen the series, and like comedy that's silly and out-there, you owe it to yourself to take a look at this show, and if you're a fan, here's your chance to rediscover this gem.

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.

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*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.

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