When is an animated kids show kind of a big deal? When said series marks the first collaboration between Disney and multibillion-dollar acquisition Marvel, while serving as a not-so-subtle calling card for their theatrical ambitions. Director Joss Whedon’s live-action Avengers extravaganza won’t arrive until 2012, but until then there’s “The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!” a slick but dizzyingly busy Disney XD animated program. If not the creative equal of Cartoon Network’s superhero team-up “Justice League” from rival DC Comics, the show unleashes enough action to be plenty mighty with boys, as well as middle-aged guys with comics in Kevlar bags.
The previewed two-parter written by Christopher Yost does a moderately clever job setting up the series, without pausing to explain who the Absorbing Man might be. (Non-geeks of all ages, in other words, should catch up as best they can — or alternately, hope that with enough explosions, kids won’t notice.)
Dozens of super-villains escape from a secret facility overseen by SHIELD (if you know what the acronym stands for, give yourself two points), with one of them, Graviton, laying waste to large sections of Manhattan. Enter a number of disparate heroes to save the day — including the movie-bound Thor (voiced by Rick Wasserman), the already-immortalized Iron Man(Eric Loomis) and the Hulk (Fred Tatasciore), and the more obscure Ant-Man (Wally Wingert) and the Wasp (Colleen O’Shaughnessy).
Much punching, grunting and wanton destruction of property ensues, before the inevitable realization that with all these bad guys on the loose, well, somebody has to corral them.
It’s pretty fun, although lacking the wit of “Justice League” or visual panache of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” Cartoon Network entries that possess big-time boy appeal. It’s also noteworthy that the animated series has internalized attributes of Marvel’s theatrical universe, so Iron Man is sort of an annoying smartass and Nick Fury looks (a little, anyway) like a cheaper version of Samuel L. Jackson.
Simply from a marketing standpoint, there’s ample logic in showcasing “The Avengers” to a young audience that Marvel hopes will clamor for their live-action exploits a few years from now.
Indeed, for a group with the rallying cry “Avengers Assemble” (which is woven into the goofy-yet-embarrassingly catchy theme song), assembling those pint-sized fans now — and turning the boy-oriented XD into Disney’s de facto lab for Marvel franchises — is a scheme one needn’t be an evil mastermind to concoct.