Thursday, October 1, 2015

RR Earthworm Jim (Cartoon series)

Once again, the trousers of evil are yanked down by the mocking hands of justice!

Superheroes and evil twins go together like peanut butter and... evil peanut butter!

Name: Earthworm Jim: Complete Series also known as Earthworm Jim (1995) aka Earthworm Jim the animated series or Earthworm Jim (TV series)
Created by Doug TenNapel
Original run 1995-96
Genre Comedy/Adventure/Scif/Superhero parody animated series

Believe it or not, when Shiny Entertainment first created Earthworm Jim the objective has always been to someday produce a whole animated series and entire toyline on the franchise.

In fact the original game was published by Playmates Toys from a partnership in which Shiny would create a successful franchise to become popular with kids while Playmates would give them the necessary budget to do so and launch an entire line of toys around said games.

Inspired by the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That is where Doug TenNapel came into play. They decided to put a cartoonist in charge of creating several visually-interesting characters for the toys.

The Earthworm Jim animated series was launched about a year after the release of the first game. Developed by Doug Langdale and produced by Universal Cartoon Studios, it would air on Kids' WB from September 1995 to December 1996 for two seasons, for a total of 23 episodes. Doug TenNapel and David Perry remained as executive producers to supervise the adaptation.

The cartoon follows roughly the exact same plot as the games.

It all began when the evil alien Queen Slug-for-a-Butt ordered this mad scientist Professor Monkey-for-a-Head to build a super suit for her. It was powered by the "Battery of the Gods". The suit was to be delivered by the space mercenary Psy-Crow when he accidentally dropped it on Earth! An ordinary Earth worm, Jim (I see what you did there!!) found it and got turned into a superhero!

The show follows the adventures of Earthworm Jim and his friend and sidekick Peter Puppy - a cute tiny puppy that turns into an indestructible Hulk-like monster whenever he gets angry. From their home in a quiet suburban neighborhood to the far out space. Oh, and they're often on missions for or to save Princess What's-Her-Name, actually the twin sister of Queen Slug-for-a-Butt (yup).

Along the way they face all kinds of villains, from both Earthworm Jim games. All the major villains popped up once or twice, such as Evil the Cat, Bob the Killer Goldfish, and severl others.

Also they made a brand new villain for the show - Jim's evil doppelganger, simply named Evil Jim! Who would end up being brought back into the games afterwards.

The episodes of the show were all pretty random. The games were already pretty cartoony and lend themselves rather easily into a cartoon. The colorful cast of quirky villains were great and imaginative.

The first episode began with Jim looking for a new sidekick. After that a printing error in a book revealed the secret to destroy the entire universe and everyone's after it.. The thing is Jim has the book! His power suit is loose on power and they need a new battery. Bob the Killer Goldfish attempts to steal Jim's super suit. Professor Monkey-For-A-Head tries to conquer the world with furniture! An enchanted sword turns Jim into a viking! Evil the Cat steals Jim's snowglobe. The villains reminisce the first time they captured Jim. Princess What's-Her-Name overthrows her sister Queen Slug-For-A-Butt. Our heroes need to rescue the Great Worm Spirit! Jim travels through Pete's subconscious (which is almost the plot of Earthworm Jim 3D by the way). Evil Jim tries to create evil versions of Jim's friends. Evil the Cat falls in love. Psy-Crow gets high on coffee. Monkey-For-A-Head turns people into apes. Jim and Pete switch roles. A Wizard of Oz parody. And the show finally ended on a Christmas special episode of all things!

There's some great ideas like having Jim try to retrieve an eggbeater for his neighbor across the whole galaxy. And unlike shows that needed a lot of adaptation to work as a game like Sonic or those other extremely 90s games such as Battletoads and Bubsy that never made past the pilot, Jim kept his entire concept and translated easily into a full feature show.

Season 1 lasted for 13 episodes from September 1995 to February '96. Season 2 ran from September 1996 to December '96, and lasted for about 19 episodes.

While the Earthworm Jim cartoon is mostly forgotten in favor of original early 90s Warner Bros., I find it to be actually the same type of show that even relies on the same kind of tone and humor as those other Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain and Freakazoid.

It stuck pretty close to the aesthetic of the source material and kept Doug TenNapel's tone and story intact.

It never hurt Earthworm Jim had a great cast of voice actors. Rounded by the talented Dan Castellaneta in what is perhaps my favorite role of his, oh so underrated compared to his Homer Simpson (and apparently the selling point of the above DVD). Dan Castellaneta's voice just perfectly suits Earthworm Jim! And I couldn't imagine Jim's voice otherwise anymore. He also did Evil Jim, the Grim Reaper, and a few other characters on the show like most of the cast.

The great Jim Cummings voiced Psy-Crow, Bob the Killer Goldfish, and several others.

The rest of the voices consisted of Charles Adler, Edward Hibbert, John Kassir, Andrea Martin, Kath Soucie and many more.

Finally the show was narrated by Jeff Bennett. And let's not forget to mention the awesome and catchy silly theme song composed by William Kevin Anderson which is forever stuck in my head even after two decades.

The humor was absurd and the stories surreal.

It was a great adaptation, one that knew and respected its source material, and it shows. The creator Doug TenNapel worked on show (and even lend his likeness for this "Great Worm Spirit"). It never strayed too far from the games' sense of humor. It was an easy translation from game to cartoon.

Where the games jumped different themes and gameplay mechanics almost every level, the show here kept similar spontaneous random directions. The episodes had a lot of randomness.

And despite all that, the show even had some sense of continuity. Some random sight gags in on episode would receive a zinger a later episode.

They were able to keep the crazy campy tone of the games. It only lasted two seasons but it hit all the right notes. My least favorite bit in the show is probably the random cows that dropped off on people at the end of almost every episode to mimic the ending of the first game (without the fantastic explanation the game had).

Most stories saw one of the villains try to steal Jim's super suit to destroy or take over the world. The episodes would begin with a cold opening, Jim and Pete on some previous unseen adventures. Some interesting ideas were played with such as the power behind the super suit. They broke the fourth wall constantly. And the episodes would also receive a quick vignette around the commercial breaks, mostly revolving around the villains and their life. Getting to know all these fun colorful characters - "and now we're back to Earthworm Jim!". Psy-Crow going through a career change, Evil the Cat becoming a movie star, etc.

This Earthworm Jim cartoon was pretty close in tone and spirit to the games.

It was received mostly by positive reception, with most people noticing the effort for a game adaptation, thanks to the involvement of Doug TenNapel I'm sure. They really kept the spirit of game. 

And a standalone series, it worked great thanks to its approach. It was a great superhero parody, much in the same tone as The Tick and Freakazoid. With a lot of allusions and references to the genre.

The Second Season received a slight revamp and ditched the random off vignettes and intros for full-episode stories. But it was still the same fun and humor, remaining consistently good, thankfully.

While it was mostly made for slightly younger children, it was just as zany and enjoyable for older fans. With a lot of visual humor for little children, but plenty to enjoy for adults as well such as constant adult references and jabs at subjects most kids wouldn't notice (I mean they even mention WWII and President Truman!).

It had a unique tone and never took itself too seriously. It recaptured the visuals and aesthetic of the games and kept easily recognizable levels like Heck, the homeworld of Evil the Cat, or Bob's pain-in-the-ass underwater base.

Overall, Earthworm Jim was a really fun cartoon series. It just nailed the tone of its source material, and even stands on its own thanks to great humor. Plus it didn't rely as much on pop culture references as other Warner Bros. series like Animaniacs at the time. It was fun. Weird. And a perfect game cartoon adaptation.

In my eyes, this is easily the most faithful closest game adaptation we ever saw on any other medium.

Plus it had a fantastic cast, and Dan Castellaneta is no stranger to why this was as good as it gets. He did a great performance and was perfectly suited for Jim. He came to define Earthworm Jim in my eyes. He simply is Earthworm Jim for me.

The tone, art style and characters of this cartoon would soon affect the games in return. Evil Jim made a significant appearance on the portable episode Earthworm Jim: Menace 2 the Galaxy, while the third main episode Earthworm Jim 3D was heavily inspired by the show.

A comic book series was launched in American and Europe shortly around the cartoon.

And although it never reached the success Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles', Playmates would launch new waves of action figures based on the show, including several more characters and variants. A last wave including the last few missing characters such as Queen Slug-for-a-Butt and Evil Jim sadly never made it and were canceled. And you know what? They were pretty alright as far as kids' toys go. 

After all these years, back in 2008 when Shiny attempted to bring the whole franchise back, a new Earthworm Jim series was announced... but so far we have never heard from it again....

I give it:
2.5 / 3 Felixes!

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