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Airing Date: May 11, 1996

Dexter’s Rival

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dexter, Dee Dee, Mandark
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

‘Dexter’s Rival’ introduces Dexter’s arch nemesis, Mandark (who apparently is called Astronominoff in real life).

In this episode Mandark outwits Dexter in every single task at school, being genuinely smarter than Dexter is. Even Mandark’s lab is much bigger than Dexter’s (and even contains a death star lurking outside). This of course, greatly upsets Dexter, but then he discovers that Mandark has one weak spot…

Mandark immediately is a priceless character – his arrogance, his typical way of talking and his trademark offbeat laughter make him a perfect foe. The way he perceives Dee Dee is a particular highlight of this episode, turning Dexter’s big sister in a piece of pure romantic beauty.

Dial M for Monkey: Simion

Directors: Paul Rudish & Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dial M for Monkey
Rating: ★★★
Review:

In ‘Dial M for Monkey: Simion’ monkey does not only have superpowers, he also lives in a futuristic science fiction world, even though this episode has the same introduction as the previous two Monkey episodes.

In this episode we see a little more of agent Honeydew, but most of the time is devoted to a very long speech by the villain, Simion. This tale of revenge simply bursts with familiar superhero tropes, but that doesn’t necessarily make it very funny. Like the other ‘Dial M for Monkey’ episodes ‘Simion’ remains mediocre at best, and the episode pales when compared to the bridging Dexter’s Laboratory episodes, ‘Dexter’s Rival’ and ‘Old Man Dexter’.

Old Man Dexter

See the post devoted to this episode

‘Dexter’s Rival/Dial M for Monkey: Simion/Old Man Dexter’ is available on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’

Airing Date: May 4, 1996

Dexter Dodgeball

Directors: Craig McCracken & Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dexter, Dee Dee
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

In ‘Dexter Dodgeball’ Dexter gets a substitute coach at school, who doesn’t care for the boy’s excuse note to excuse him from gym class. Instead, Dexter is forced to ‘play’ dodgeball every day of the week, which means he’s bombarded by bullies every day of the week. But then next week Dexter takes revenge…

The substitute coach is a direct echo from similar personas in Ren & Stimpy, while the scenes of Dexter’s Revenge have clear mecha anime influences. Like many other episodes of Dexter’s Laboratory the episode ends rather abruptly and a bit cornily.

Dial M for Monkey: Rasslor

Directors: Paul Rudish & Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dial M for Monkey
Rating: ★★★
Review:

In ‘Dial M for Monkey: Rasslor’ an alien wrestler called Rasslor challenges all earth’s superheroes to combat him. If they lose, he will destroy the Earth.

Rasslor is voiced by real wrestler Randy Savage (1952-2011), but more interestingly, this episode introduces the Justice Friends, which eventually would replace Dial M for Monkey as bridging parts of Dexter’s Laboratory episodes. Thus we can already see the Captain American-like Major Glory, the Thor-like Valhallen and, yet unnamed, the Hulk-like Krunk, as well as numerous other superheroes. None of these manages to beat Rasslor, and the alien wrestler refuses to combat Monkey…

The result is one of the more enjoyable Dial M for Monkey episodes, even if the speed drops as soon Monkey enters the stage.

Dexter’s Assistant

Directors: John McIntyre & Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dexter, Dee Dee
Rating: ★★★
Review:

In ‘Dexter’s Assistant’ Dexter conducts an experiment in which he needs somebody to press a button at the bottom, while he is on top of a giant machine. Because Dee Dee clearly isn’t able to do the job, he makes an assistant out of his sister by replacing her tiny brain for a giant one…

This is a fun episode, but it unfortunately has a rather predictable story line, and as often in this series, it ends rather inconclusively. The best scene may be that of Dexter with long hair, courtesy of Dee Dee’s hair lotion invention.

‘Dexter Dodgeball/Dial M for Monkey: Rasslor/Dexter’s Assistant’ is available on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’

Airing Date: April 27, 1996

On April 27, 1996 the series ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’ started in earnest, creating quite a stir, and influencing many television animation film makers with its original blend of 1950s design and animation, and cinematic anime influences. The series lasted four seasons, spread over eight years, but alas, alas, only the first season has been released on DVD.

In the first season every episode consisted of two Dexter’s Laboratory parts, bridged by an episode of either ‘Dial M for Monkey’ or ‘The Justice Friends’. Neither bridging series amounted to much more than filler material, and they were almost completely dropped in the second series.

Dee Deemensional

Director: John McIntyre
Stars: Dexter, Dee Dee
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

‘Dee Deemensional’ opens spectacularly with Dexter trying to battle a giant monster in his lab to no avail. To save the day he sends his sister back into time to warn him. But as may be expected his past self takes little heed to all Dee Dee has to say to him, and even a humiliating surrender won’t help him in the end. ‘Dee Deemensional’ is a delightful play with the concept of time travel, even though Dexter’s attempt to alter the future appears to be doomed.

Dial M for Monkey: Magmanamus

Directors: Paul Rudish & Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dial M for Monkey
Rating: ★★★
Review:

‘Dial M for Monkey: Magmanamus’ introduces an off-spin character from the Dexter’s Laboratory universe. It appears that Dexter’s unassuming test monkey secretly is a superhero. This episode is penned by Craig McCracken of later Powerpuff Girls-fame, and it already shows his passion for superheroes and monster movies. Monkey has to battle an annoyed lava monster called Magmanamus, who only tries to sleep, but who’s pretty annoyed by all human noises.

This episode is noteworthy for its very limited animation, with some shots being practically stills. Only Magmanamus himself is animated quite broadly, but his character unfortunately is all too talkative and rather tiresome.

Monkey never got the same status as the surrounding Dexter episodes, and was dropped halfway the first season, although the character remained in Dexter’s Laboratory, and got one episode in Season Two. Indeed, ‘Dial M for Monkey: Magmanamus’ hardly fulfils its premise, and is more entertaining as a spoof of cheap 1960s superhero shows than as entertainment in itself.

Maternal Combat

Directors: Rob Renzetti & Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dexter, Dee Dee
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Dexter’s mother is ill, so Dexter builds a ‘momdroid’ to help to clean the house. All goes well, until Dee Dee grabs the remote. ‘Maternal combat’ is one of the less inspired Dexter’s Laboratory episodes: part of it is devoted to Dee Dee’s cooking, which is hardly related to the main story, and the episode fizzles out as if the studio was out of ideas. The best part is when Dexter’s Dad returns home, and greets his wife three times, unaware that two of them are, in fact, robots.

‘Deedeemensional/Dial M for Monkey: Magmanamus/Maternal Combat’ is available on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Airing Date: April 14, 1996 & May 26, 1996
Stars: Dexter, Dee Dee
Rating: ★★½
Review:

‘Dimwit Dexter’ is the last of four pilot episodes of ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’, airing less than two weeks before the full series started. The episode returned a little later as the third part of the fifth episode.

This episode starts with images of Dexter frantically practicing science. This causes a meltdown inside his head, which is depicted as a nuclear reactor, rendering the boy completely imbecile. Dee Dee takes advantage of the situation and dresses him up like a girl. But it’s the idiotic Dexter himself who does the most harm to himself when he runs out on the street in only his underpants, and doing all kinds of stupid tricks, like kissing the butt of a duck, making him the laughing stock of the whole neighborhood.

In showing actions of stupidity ‘Dimwit Dexter’ clearly owes a lot to ‘Ren and Stimpy’, and the scenes of Dexter humiliating himself without knowing are fun to watch, but the episode ends abruptly and without a proper conclusion, rendering it flat. Nevertheless, these abrupt and inconclusive endings would become a typical characteristic of the series.

Watch an excerpt from ‘Dimwit Dexter’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Dimwit Dexter’ is available on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’

Directors: Craig McCracken & Genndy Tartakovsky
Airing Date: March 24, 1996 & May 12, 1996
Stars: Dexter, Dee Dee
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

‘Old Man Dexter’ is the third of four pilot episodes of ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’. It would later return as the third part of the third episode.

‘Old Man Dexter’ plays with the idea that Dexter is still a little boy. In this episode Dexter is too young to stay awake for the 20:00 h ‘late early movie’. Dexter’s solution is to make himself older, but then Dee Dee messes with his experiment…

‘Old Man Dexter’ is a funny little gem. Especially the sequence in which Dexter descends the stairs is hilarious. The sound effects accompanying his shaky arms are priceless. Parts from this episode would return in the end titles of the official series.

Watch an excerpt from ‘Old Man Dexter’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Old Man Dexter’ is available on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Airing Date: March 10, 1996 & June 2, 1996
Stars: Dexter, Dee Dee
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Big Sister’ is the second of four pilot episodes of ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’ that appeared on Cartoon Network before the official series was launched. ‘The Big Sister’ then would reappear as the third part of the sixth episode.

This sequence starts with the zoom into Dexter’s lab that was later reused to start the end titles. In these we follow a smell that turns out to be from chocolate chip cookies made by Dexter for his laboratory rats. Of course, Dee Dee wants one, too, but the cookies contain secret formula X27, which turns Dee Dee into a giantess, rampaging the city. It’s up to Dexter to save the world!

This episode contains nice references to both King Kong and Japanese mecha films. The episode clearly borrows from the mecha anime visual style, something that would permeate the complete Dexter’s Laboratory series, blending surprisingly well with the 1950s cartoon modern style to create something new and fresh. Nevertheless, highlight of this episode is when Dexter’s fantasy runs away with him.

Watch ‘The Big Sister’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Big Sister’ is available on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Airing Date: February 26, 1995 & May 19, 1996
Stars: Dexter, Dee Dee
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

‘Changes’ is the very first Dexter’s Laboratory episode. The short first appeared on Cartoon Network’s ‘World Premiere Toons’ on February 26, 1995, although it would reappear as the third part of the fourth episode.

‘Changes’ already contains all elements that make Dexter’s Laboratory such a striking and refreshing addition to animated television: first a strong 1950s influence in design, particularly emulating the work of UPA and John Hubley’s early Storyboard studio work, with the bold line work and highly stylized characters, emphasizing primary forms, like triangles and ovals. Second, the equally stylized animation, with its often unnatural movement, strong emphasis on poses, and striking alterations between fast and slow actions. This, too, harks back to the cartoon modern era (a third element, a cinematic approach with elements of anime, would appear in the second installment, ‘The Big Sister‘). Fourth, the unnatural sound effects, often accompanying silent action, like eye movement or stretching arms. Fifth, the musical soundtrack, which follows the action closely, and remains interesting throughout.

The premise is that Dexter is a hyper-intelligent kid who somehow has an enormous secret lab somehow stowed away in his room, while his big and not so bright sister Dee Dee is a pest to him. ‘Changes’ contains some material that would return in the opening credits, as the episode opens with Dexter finishing his latest invention, which looks like a remote control with only one red button. Of course, Dee Dee grabs the remote and it turns out it changes the other into an animal. Both children turn into a wide range of animals, one more outlandish than the other, in a fast sequence of events. However, highlight may be Dee Dee’s expressions upon entering her brother’s forbidden room.

With ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’ both Hanna-Barbera and Cartoon Network joined the American animation renaissance. The network contributed greatly to the revival, with beautifully stylized and idiosyncratic series like ‘Cow and Chicken’ (1997-1999), ‘The Powerpuff Girls’ (by Craig McCracken, who also worked on Dexter’s Laboratory, 1998-2005) and ‘Samurai Jack’ (again by Tartakovsky, 2001-2004), and to a lesser extent ‘Ed, Edd & Eddy’ (1999-2009) and ‘Courage the Cowardly Dog’ (1999-2001).

Watch ‘Changes’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Changes’ is available on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Release Date:
October 26, 2012
Rating:
 ★★★
Review:

This short is set in Hotel Transylvania from the film of the same name and features Bigfoot trying to sleep, while being hindered by a green witch, who in fact tries to keep him sleeping.

Surprisingly, Tartakovsky’s crew animated this cartoon in 2D, not 3D, and the short features Tartakovsky’s comedy style as we know it from his television series ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’. Thus we watch strong poses, outrageous takes and jumpy animation.

Unfortunately, the film is too short to build up some great comedy. The witch essentially wakes Bigfoot only twice. If you compare this to say Tex Avery’s ‘The Legend of Rockabye Point’ it’s easy to see where this film remains stuck in being a nice attempt, while Tex Avery’s is the pinnacle of comedy. Funny animation alone isn’t enough, a film needs gags, too.

Watch ‘Goodnight Mr. Foot’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Goodnight Mr. Foot is available on Blu-Ray and DVD ‘Hotel Transylvania’

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Release Date:
September 8, 2012
Rating:
 ★★★
Review:

2012 was the year of animated horror. No less than three American animated feature films of that year were horror themed: Laika’s ‘Paranorman’, Disney’s ‘Frankenweenie’ and Sony’s ‘Hotel Transylvania’. Of these three ‘Hotel Transylvania’ is the least scary (it isn’t scary at all), the least original and the least impressive.

‘Hotel Transylvania’ marked the feature direction debut of Genndy Tartakovsky, the Russian-American genius behind Cartoon Network hits Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack. Both series were impressive efforts of style and animation, being conceived in a strong idiosyncratic and very attractive style, making full use of limited animation in the best UPA sense, instead of the dull cheapstake sense of Saturday morning television television of the 1970s and 1980s.

In that respect, ‘Hotel Transylvania’ is quite a letdown. Neither the design nor the 3D computer animation shows anything betraying Tartakovsky’s style, and are, in fact, pretty generic. True, the animation style is very cartoony, with wild takes and jerky movements, and this undoubtedly at least partly betrays his influence, but Sony Pictures Animation already had adopted this style in ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ (2009). The most interesting piece of cartoony animation is the absurdly smooth way Count Dracula strides, which looks like a homage to Dora Standpipe’s moves in ‘The Dover Boys at Pimento University or The Rivals of Roquefort Hall’ (1942), but may also have been inspired by the Martian woman in ‘Mars Attacks!’ (1996) .

‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ (2009) also was a more stylized film than ‘Hotel Transylvania’, which struggles with the homogeneity of its design. Some characters retain some plastic cartoony appearance (Count Dracula, the Monster of Frankenstein), while others are over-textured, adding unnecessary realism to their appearance (Wayne the Werewolf, Murray the mummy).

There’s even an unsettling difference between the two love interests who form the heart of the film: the rather goofy youngster Johnny is designed and animated broadly, and hard to take seriously. During the first half of the film he comes across as incredibly stupid and empty, and his transition into a genuine love interest isn’t entirely convincing. Dracula’s daughter Mavis, on the other hand, shows some real depth, and she is the only character animated straight and sincerely between a multitude of cartoony monsters. In fact, Mavis is the only character one cares for, and it’s a shame we see so little of her.

This is because ‘Hotel Transylvania’ is not her story, but that of her father, count Dracula, and this tale of a single, overprotective father owes a little too much to ‘Finding Nemo’ (2003). Somehow this theme was in the air, because the next year Illumination would follow suit with ‘Despicable Me 2’. Count Dracula’s progress unfortunately is pretty formulaic, as are the themes of friendly monsters (done better by Dreamworks in ‘Monsters vs. Aliens’ from 2009) and ‘the ‘enemy is not as bad as he seems’ (done more successfully in ‘Paranorman’). And by 2012 the happy musical finale, so fresh as it had been in ‘Shrek’ (2001) already was an all too tried way to end things. Also, the premise of the hotel isn’t entirely convincing. Count Dracula may be convinced the outer world is a threat, but his guest flock from all over the globe – they surely should know better?

Don’t get me wrong. ‘Hotel Transylvania’ is not a bad movie. It’s even quite enjoyable. On the up side the voice cast is quite good. Adam Sandler actually does a good job as Count Dracula, Selena Gomez is excellent as Mavis, and Kevin James, Steve Buscemi and Cee-Lo Green fit their characters Frankenstein, Wayne and Murray very well. There are some fine gags, the film moves at a lively pace, and the story at least moves forward without any sidetracks.

But all the tropes, the almost obligatory fart joke, all the formulaic plot twists, the uninspired designs and stock characters and the generic music make that the film doesn’t stand out from the crowd. This film is just mediocre. Surely, Genndy Tartakovsky should be able to do better. At least it didn’t help that he was only the sixth (!) director involved in this film. At least we can enjoy some of his appealing 2D artwork during the titles, but that’s of course cold comfort after the real thing. Nevertheless, ‘Hotel Transylvania’ would sprout two sequels, with a third coming this way this year.

Watch the trailer for ‘Hotel Transylvania’ and tell me what you think:

‘Hotel Transylvania’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

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