Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Critical Frog: SOAC Act 5: BugCarpolypse

As I'm currently in Colorado, it's time for another Smile of a Child TV network review! It seems like the network has made some changes since the last time around- not only is it sporting a new logo, but it seems to have slowed down or even ceased airing some shows: it looks like some of the bad shows that I discussed in my past reviews are either being shown less or not at all ("Ewe Know" has been completely scrapped in favor of public domain with "Lassie" reruns). It looks like the network may start to be improving over time- but there are still a few themes to cover before we can leave the channel alone for a while.

Hermie and Friends/Carlos Caterpillar/Bugtime Adventures
One of the main themes of the cartoons I see on this network (aside from freaking rocks- seriously, what was up with RocKids TV?) happen to be bug-related cartoons. There's about three on the small network that has few shows already. What is peculiar about each of these shows isn't their themes- all of which generally deal with being a good person-but the differing styles of animation. While both Hermie and Friends and The Adventures of Carlos Caterpillar are made with 3D Rendering, the best of the three (Bugtime Adventures) is animated in typical 2-d style like an old Winnie the Pooh cartoon. While these shows are very similar in tone and theme (with insects learning lessons about life and at times facing problems), it's the design choices and voice acting that sets Hermie and Friends above Carlos: the cast includes voices such as Tim Conway and Don Knotts, but the animation is so stilted that it ends up delving into the uncanny valley. There isn't really much to talk about with these three, though- they're all generally the same with mild differences in the animation and tone. If I had to pick one, I'd say that Bugtime is the best of the three as its designs work well and it's characters are strong- but otherwise, they're run-of-the-mill time fillers.

Bugtime Adventures- 4/5, Hermie and Friends/Carlos Caterpillar- 3/5


Auto B. Good/Monster Truck Adventures/The Big Garage
Here's another trend with some of the shows on the Smile network: anthropomorphic cars. Much like the insect shows, these three are relatively the same as well- little cars learning lessons about life, racing and being a good sport. While the likes of Auto B. Good and Monster Truck Adventures aren't anything to write home about, The Big Garage has one thing that sets it apart: it's claymation-style animation. This would be nice if the cars didn't look like horrific human/car monstrosities, but hey, take what you can get. They're definitely time slot fillers, but they're not awful, at least not by the network's standards.

3/5 Each

The Story Keepers Revisited
When I first talked about this show, I didn't go into too many details as I hadn't seen much of it. But seeing the surprisingly good ratings of the show, I decided to give it another shot. And, to be fair, my opinions on a show change the more I watch it (except Little Buds, that still needs to burn), for better or worse. Looking back on Story Keepers, It definitely doesn't have the humor and charm of Veggietales, but does provide an interesting contrast to the rest of the shows on the network in its sense of danger and  history.

The story goes that three children have fled from their city after Emperor Nero's holy war on Christians, where they are taken into hiding by a kind baker named Ben and his wife. From there it is revealed that they are part of the Story Keepers, a hidden underground network of people ranging from commoners to one of Nero's most trusted advisors, who are tasked with helping Christians escape persecution at the hands of Nero and ensure them safe passage to better lives. While doing this they tell stories from the New Testament in order to inspire and encourage their fellow believers with the stories of Jesus and the messages behind them. Unfortunately this puts them in the path of Nero's chief general Nihilus, who schemes to bring them to Nero for execution.

While the premise is interesting (sort of like an Underground Railroad story for kids) and the characters are fun to watch (Ben never gives up despite horrid circumstances, and it's great to watch him come out on top), i will say that the seriousness of the situation can lead to some legitimately dark moments, which even for these Bible shows are rare. Even though there's no blood, characters will be stabbed or harmed on screen, and some end up dying (again on screen). The show pulls no punches in showing what happened in those times: there is discussion of feeding Christians to lions, trapping them in caged holes in the ground to wait until execution, and poor Ben even nearly gets CRUCIFIED in the finale (it also shows JC's crucifixion, only blocking out the driving of the nails).

While this is of course mortifying to an older audience that such things would be in a cartoon, the writers of this series understand that if you're going to talk about the Bible, you need to talk about all of it. The good is mixed in with the bad, and to find out why some of these stories are the way they are, you have to understand both the dark parts and the light parts to get why the stories are still told, and how the tales of Jesus overcoming adversity give hope to the refugees. I'd be lying if I said I didn't learn a few bible stories from this show. It's nice to see a Bible cartoon discuss both the good and bad things done by the religion, and it's a refreshing change of pace from the typical overly happy attitude of the network. Definitely give Story Keepers a watch if you're into religious cartoons.



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