28 April 2001 | redneck-6
It just tries to be fun, and succeeds admirably
Still being a kid at heart, I'm a large fan of animation. I grew up in the eighties on Scooby Doo, Looney Tunes, and the original Tom and Jerry and can remember a time before so many cartoons were just toy advertisements or committee-designed slush meant for mass appeal or message preaching that wound up completely lacking in passion. Fortunately, I'm not alone. Artists with the same sense of nostalgia as I have seen to it that animation began a slow revival in the 1990's. The Simpsons really led the way for intelligent cartoons that can appeal to adults without forgetting that animation should be a playground for the imagination. Certainly, there's still plenty of slush out there, but the ratio of quality stuff to filler has grown considerably in recent years.
As a case in point there is Dexter's Laboratory. It's the best thing I've seen come out of Cartoon Network's originally produced efforts so far. Dexter is a red headed third grader with a super keen intelligence that allows him to build contraptions and devices quite fantastic by our 21st century standards, but all still firmly grounded in our science fiction culture that began in the 1950's (and this is sure to appeal to any fan of sci-fi who can appreciate humor). While being smart, he is still very much a child, and prone to all of the problems that would plague your average third grader. His normal attire is a white lab coat, large rubber gloves and boots, and he speaks in a quasi-German accent (it's never explained why, which makes it all the more fun). His dress and accent are no doubt an homage to the superintelligent "mad genius" character popularized by so many horror and b-films over the years, and fits his character perfectly. He has a gigantic laboratory filled with incredible technology that, while mostly being background scenery, looks the part perfectly (think Frankenstein's lab). All of this is hidden in and under his house, and he somehow manages to keep his fantastic playground hidden from his parents, who are replicas of the 1950's sitcom blissfully married perfect couple. They love their children, but are thankfully not beyond discplining lapses in good behavior (when they see them anyway). While he keeps his lab hidden from his parents, he can't seem to keep anything safe from his sister. Deedee is the free spirited spoil to Dexter's scientific rationalism with blond hair and gigantic blue eyes. She's not the least bit malicious, just terribly curious. She always seems to inadvertantly foil Dexter's latest grand invention or scheme with her propensity to press every button she sees or randomly dance about, crashing through the scenery. Together they form a sort of ying and yang, their differences in nature successfully driving many stories along. They're still very much brother and sister, however, and sibling rivalries are constant, but hilarious against the backdrop of sci-fi plots the two are thrown into. While the show does have plenty of action, adventures, and fantastic gadgets, it would still be pretty stale without such well fleshed out characters to enjoy. They are all caricaturistic enough to be funny, yet human enough (they all have theirs flaws and foibles) that you will want to see how they act and react to the latest crisis, typically brought on by Dexter's dabbling with science.
While Dexter may deeply resent his sister's propensity for unintentional destruction and her "older sibling" status, he still cares for her and never fails to bail her out of a tight spot. While the characters might occasionally display fondness through their actions (Dexter builds a robotic likeness of his mother, the father arm wrestles truckers to defend family honor), emotions are never handled in a sappy or overly sentimental manner. The ability to display heart so subtly without having to hit audiences over the head with it is difficult and rarely done so well. The show abounds with references to popular culture any child of the 80's will be familiar with. From giant monsters to fighting robots and even to an episode dedicated to spoofing Dungeons and Dragons which is quite funny.
And while there's the occasional brawling and fighting, nothing is ever graphically depicted (the reason I don't let my son watch the Powerpuff Girls). Slapstick abounds, certainly, but I've never seen anything here I wouldn't let my two year old watch. To sum it up, the series really just aims to entertain against a sci-fi backdrop. And in that respect it succeeds greatly. When an episode is done, you probably haven't learned any great lesson, you've just had a good time, much like watching an old Looney Tune or Tom and Jerry short. The episodes are apparently out of production, which is a shame. I sincerely hope that Dexter and Deedee get to make a comeback someday.