Two CGI-animated kid shows join Cartoon Network's lineup, but only one takes wing
Computer animation has added visual flair and dimension to made-for-TV kids shows without addressing age-old issues about story quality and the genre’s transparent push to sell toys. In that regard, there’s a clear compare-and-contrast schism between two Cartoon Network series that premiere within days of each other and vie for the hearts and money of boys. “Beware the Batman” represents a sleek version of the Caped Crusader, while “Legends of Chima” is a mindless, dizzying adaptation of Lego characters, steeped in sci-fi/adventure cliches. The look in each case reflects the growing stakes and competition, but only one show adds gusto to the kidvid form.
Highly stylized in a manner that somewhat resembles “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” “Batman” hews toward the recent Christopher Nolan features, finding a relatively young Bruce Wayne (voiced by Anthony Ruivivar) feeling his way into the job with help from a bald, tough Alfred (JB Blanc), who has a background in the British spy agency MI-5.
Continuing Warner Bros. Animation’s welcome strategy of aiming its DC-derived animation at comics-loving adults as well as tykes, the writing is crisp and even above-their-heads literate: Facing criminals who call themselves Pig and Toad, Batman mumbles, “How ‘Wind in the Willows’ of them.”
Batman’s long ears and flowing cape bring to mind artist Marshall Rogers’ late-’80s version from the comics, and the plentiful action includes nifty images of the character leaping in silhouette from a burning building. In short, just because you’re trying to keep the merchandising alive for a cinematically dormant superhero franchise doesn’t mean you have to do a slapdash job of it.
Then there’s “Legends of Chima,” another collection of anthropomorphic animals, only here with little squared-off Lego fingers. Devised by the creators of Ninjago, the series features feuding tribes in a magical kingdom where lions protect the ultimate life force, Chi, whose power they can harness.
At the center are two juvenile pals, Laval the Lion and Cragger the Crocodile, whose friendship is strained by events surrounding them and tensions between their tribes.
It is, in other words, an elaborate hodge-podge culled from a half-dozen familiar properties — including the Force-like powers Laval’s dad possesses and the hovering vehicles upon which characters zoom around — and appears to exist for no other reason than to sell brightly hued little action figures. (The title also sounds like a high-alcohol malt beverage, but maybe that just adds to the legend.)
Cartoon Network finds itself in the midst of its own battle against colorful warriors, with Disney now having access to the “Star Wars” and Marvel franchises. Yet for all the incarnations of “Batman” available (including the 1990s animated version, which would be this show’s closest kin), the character once again demonstrates there are few heroes better suited to the task than the Dark Knight.