Thursday, July 14, 2016

#SaveWOY Blog Prelude - How I Got into Wander Over Yonder

So, before I actually get into the episode recaps, I figure I'd start out this series by going into how I first discovered Wander Over Yonder, as well as a general overview for potential newbies to the series.  I aim to be informative, since I can't help but go into extreme detail with stuff I really like.  Because of that, I should warn all of you that I tend to talk a LOT when it comes to stuff like this, so prepare for giant walls of text!  I'd also like to apologize for grammatical or syntax errors, or repeating myself, or stuff that doesn't flow right with what I say; I'm not a professional essayist, I just tend to talk in-depth with a lot of things.  I suggest you take some time out of your day if you're interested in what I have to say.

Also, while I want to be general with my overviews, I still can't help but talk about things from my own perspective, so you might find yourself disagreeing with what I have to say about this character or that episode or whatever.  That's fine, though; we don't all have to like the same thing, and differing opinions is what helps make great shows like this anyway.  I'd also like to add, I know SOME behind the scenes details for this show, but not all of it.  Truth be told, even when I was intensely following Wander Over Yonder back when it started, I could barely find anyone to talk to about it, let alone anyone to actually share behind-the-scenes stuff, unlike today, where the SaveWOY movement has brought the fandom and the staff closer than ever!  So keep in mind, I might bring up some things about the show's production, but I don't know all the facts.  I apologize in advance if I get any particular detail wrong.

Alright, with all that out of the way, the prologue for my Wander Over Yonder blogs begins after the break!

I first found out about Wander Over Yonder probably before the majority of the WOY fandom ever existed, back before Disney ever picked it up as a series!  I forget exactly when it happened, but I started following Craig McCracken on deviantART, mostly due to me following Lauren Faust, Craig's wife who wrote for The Powerpuff Girls, Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, and was the original showrunner of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, on deviantART as well, and seeing her tag her husband, giving him credit for helping her out with the character Discord's head.  It was there that I saw the first early sketches of Wander.  They're unfortunately not there anymore, but for those of you fellow WOY fans who are curious to know what they look like, just imagine Wander as less spoon-shaped, hairier, more scraggly, and with a walking stick.  Seemed a bit older than the Wander we've come to know, and more fitting for the "space-traveling hippie" than the more yokel-esque portrayal we got.

At that point, Wander Over Yonder was a pet project of Craig, similar to Lauren Faust's Milky Way and the Galaxy Girls (which, incidentally, you should support and help her out as much as you can; she tried pitching the show multiple times, including with Cartoon Network, but no go so far), and honestly I didn't think that much of it...  There wasn't that much to think of to begin with, at least that's how I felt.  Then about 4 years ago (according to when I shared this news on Facebook anyway), I found out that Wander Over Yonder got picked up by Disney and not only was Craig McCracken the showrunner, Lauren Faust would be a producer and story editor for the show!  I was absolutely ecstatic, but at the time, I had a hard time finding ANYONE interested or excited as I was.  I suppose it only made sense, seeing as we didn't know what the story was about, who any of the characters were, and didn't see any clips or stills from the show yet, but to ME, I could only be happy about this.  Craig McCracken is one of those cartoon-creators that I just have absolute faith in that he will make an excellent product (provided he's not going through hard times or exhausting himself), and along with Genndy Tartakovsky (creator of Dexter's Laboratory, Samurai Jack, co-creator of Sym-Bionic Titan, and director of the Hotel Transylvania movies), is a guy that helped shape an entire generation of animation fans and cartoonists!

My suspicions were confirmed when we caught out first glimpse at Comic-Con (I forget exactly when).  You can see the clip here, though it was recorded off-screen so... yeah, best I could find.

It's not much, but I could tell from this one minute of ToonBoom goodness (for the longest time, I assumed the show was done in Flash, silly me!) that THIS is Craig McCracken's work!  The comedic timing, the character designs, the way the characters move...  It's all so hard to describe, but I know it when I see it, and what I saw was another McCracken classic in the works!

It wouldn't be until August of 2013 that we'd see a sneak peek of the series in the form of the episode The Picnic on Disney Channel, with the actual series premiere with The Greatest being in September of that year, but before we talk about the individual episodes, let's get right down to it and talk about what the series is actually about.

Naturally, the main focus of the show is Wander, the little orange thing with the big green hat you saw in the clip there.  He loves to travel the galaxy, see what wonders it holds, and more importantly he loves helping others.  Wander is basically a paragon off goodness, who can't let a potential good deed slide by; if someone needs help, he's there in a heartbeat!  He's infinitely curious and a perpetually optimistic, always looking the bright side of life and moreover, always seeing the good (or potential good) in everyone.  He's voiced by Jack McBrayer, who you might recognize as Kenneth Parcell from 30 Rock and Fix-It Felix Jr. from the movie Wreck-It Ralph.  Anyone who's familiar with those two characters and how impossibly nice they are will see that this is perfect casting at it's finest.  In fact, the series kind of kicked-off when Craig McCracken met Jack for dinner one night, and in talking to him he felt like he just met Wander himself!  From what I've seen, Jack likes to goof around in real life as much as Wander does. :P

So that's Wander for you, but you can't really have a show with just one character in it.  The core cast had to be extended, and new characters had to be there for Wander to bounce off of.  And really, what's a worldly traveler without a trusty stead for his companion!  Enter Sylvia, the blue dinosaur thing you saw in that clip.  Sylvia is meant to be kind of a foil to Wander; while Wander's always got his head in the clouds, Sylvia's a bit more down-to-Earth, so to speak.  She's not cynical or pessimistic so much as she is a realist, someone who acknowledges that bad things happen and sometimes there isn't much you can do about them.  That doesn't mean she doesn't want to help as much as Wander does, but more often then not she ends up having to hold Wander back from doing something too reckless, or rescuing him from trouble... usually by force.  Yeah, another defining trait of Sylvia is her love for rough-housing and action, and thus she does a lot of the grunt-work when it comes to either fighting this or that alien creature or doing something that requires a lot of physical strength (Wander's a straight-up pacifist and isn't exactly all that strong, you see).  Wander and Sylvia sometimes find themselves at odds when it comes to their conflicting world-views, but no matter what, they're always there for each other and care for each other deeply.  Sylvia is voiced by April Winchell, who you might recognize as the teacher Muriel Finster from Recess or as the current voice of Clarabelle Cow in the Mickey Mouse cartoons.  Fun fact: she's also the daughter of the late Paul Winchell, who was the voice of Tigger from the Winnie the Pooh franchise, up until his death.  Guess voice acting mus run in the family!

Now that we have two characters, that might be enough to base a series on; other shows have done as much, but Craig and his team took things a bit further.  After all, every show needs a conflict, and who better to instigate conflict than a villain!  But not just any villain, for this show, we have...  LORD HATER, NUMBER ONE SUPERSTAR!!!

*guitar riff*

The polar opposite of Wander, Lord Hater is a guy who just hates; he's mean, rude, nasty, and makes it a point to conquer every planet in the galaxy to prove how great he is.  He doesn't care about other people or their feelings, unless they involve praising him or telling him how awesome he is.  He subjugates every planet he conquers to doing manual labor, making monuments to his greatness, and just generally spreading as much hate as he can...  So of course, Wander puts a damper on these plans.  Wander's positive attitude has him trying to make friends with Hater, and discourage his mean behavior, which only drives Hater nuts as he tries to do away with Wander and Sylvia, who he views as the one thing in his way to galactic conquest!  He doesn't appear in the clip, but to imagine Mojo Jojo from The Powerpuff Girls and Skeletor from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe crossed together, with an attire that seems like an unholy mash-up of goth and heavy metal with a little bit of Electro from the Spider-Man franchise sprinkled in.  Lord Hater is voice by Keith Ferguson, who you might be surprised did a voice in McCracken's previous work, Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends...  as the character of Blooregard Q. Kazoo, aka Bloo!  Man, talk about a difference in voice quality...  He also did the voice of Deputy Durland from Gravity Falls which ALSO sounds completely different from either of these two characters!  Just goes to show, Mr. Ferguson has a talent for voicing of variety of characters with different personalities...  Although Bloo is a lot like Hater in that they're both selfish, self-centered, conceited, a jerk to literally EVERYONE around them (save perhaps one person), and just overall unpleasant to be around...  Though I'd much rather hang out with Hater than Bloo, Bloo can go... well, this is about Wander, not Foster's, so let's move on.

So you got your protagonist, his sidekick, and a villain; sounds like this show is all set!  ...Well, ONE more character couldn't hurt, for good measure, you know?  So from that clip, you can see Lord Hater has an army of one-eyed creatures whose heads are literally eyeballs called "Watchdogs".  They make up the entirety of Lord Hater's army, and obey his every command.  There is one notable Watchdog who is second only to Lord Hater himself, and that is Commander Peepers!

*Commander Peepers fanfare*

He doesn't look any different than any other Watchdog but wears a different outfit and hat, and relays Hater's orders to the rest of the Watchdogs.  Peepers is just as capable of leading and conquering as Hater himself, yet just as helpless when it comes to doing anything about Wander or Sylvia.  He's loyal to Hater and has a vast amount of respect and admiration for him.  He wants to see Hater's dream of conquering the galaxy realized (with his help, of course).  He has his eye on the prize, though, so he often tries to get Hater to focus on just conquering planets rather than focusing on petty squabbles or, more often than not, trying to destroy Wander.  Peepers is voiced by veteran voice actor Tom Kenny, Craig McCracken's "good luck charm" who previously voiced the Mayor and the narrator in The Powerpuff Girls and Eduardo in Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends!  I almost get the impression that Peepers was created just to give Tom Kenny a major recurring role in this show, but that's neither here nor there. ;)

So that's our main cast, Wander, Sylvia, Lord Hater, and Commander Peepers.  They, and a host of other characters, help make up the universe that they all traverse, meeting new creatures, exploring new planets... conquering them, or attempting to conquer them in the case of Hater and Peepers...  Hell, the entire premise of the show can be summed up in it's opening sequence, all without saying a single word of exposition like most shows do!  Just take a look:

Note: this was the original opening to the show, it would be shortened later on, along with a little banjo riff at the end.

It seems no matter where Lord Hater goes, Wander isn't too far behind.  The conflict between the two, that is, Wander trying to be Hater's friend and Hater trying to get Wander out of his way, would be enough to base the entire series on that alone, but there's more to it than that.  Craig McCracken knows that a good show has good, memorable characters, and these four, while they would be fleshed out later, particularly in season 2, have enough stand-out qualities from the get-go that make them funny, unique, and relatable, so much so that they can carry the show just by putting them in a situation and having the story practically right itself, knowing how they'd deal with it.  There's also a clear message the series as a whole is trying to convey.  Each episode has it's own individual moral, but the overall message is that you can either be a "Hater", or you can be like Wander.  You can be mean, rude, and think only of yourself, or you can be kind, considerate, and help others.  While Craig McCracken's words try to make this sound neutral, the show itself kind of makes it clear that you should be more like Wander and less like Hater... all while having goofy slapstick and witty dialogue all the way through!

I cannot explain in words just how glad I was to see a show like this, in this day and age of television, and media overall.  All too much, you'll see shows, not just animated shows, but show in general, movies, comics, video games, what have you, where the normal is being inconsiderate, snide, passive-aggressive, and just overall emotionally abusive and draining to each other.  Characters we're supposed to relate to or at least LIKE casually insult and belittle their closest friends and family members, and we're not supposed to think anything of it.  It feels like more and more, being cruel is what's funny, and "Sadist Shows" are your go-to staple if you're trying to make a show, ESPECIALLY an animated show...  Maybe this is out of laziness, like it's easy to be a jerk, and some people say it's "fun" to be mean or to "corrupt the good character", but it's become so frequent that it makes me pine for the days of Superman being the ideal superhero (instead of angsty, dark, and gritty Batman, who's become increasingly overrated) and Captain America being the greatest human being BEFORE he took the Super-Soldier serum (in fact, it's BECAUSE of his good nature that the serum worked the way it was supposed to)...  Like, them being the norm, rather than the exception.

Wander Over Yonder felt like a breath of fresh air in a smog of toxic gas, a shining island in a sea of cynicism, a show that shows that you CAN be funny and be nice, that comedy isn't always based on the suffering of others, or failing that, have the suffering be at the hands of the obvious villain or bad guys.  Wander might not be my favorite character of the show (that would be Lord Hater, I know, irony), but his existence in this medium felt necessary, that there can be a protagonist that doesn't fight, that isn't an anti-hero (well, he might qualify as a "traditional" anti-hero, as it were, but still), is unambiguously good and wants to help others and do the best he can, and can still be funny in what's ultimately a comedy show!  ...And yet, when the show finally premiered, I struggled to find anyone to talk about this with.  I showed some of my friends, but only one of them watched it regularly.  Heck, I was part of a Brony group back in 2013, and I wanted to host a meet-up for the ground for the premiere of Wander Over Yonder, because hey, Lauren Faust is working on it, I figured that would interest people!  ...But no, only one guy came, the aforementioned regular watcher.  I guess it doesn't matter what Lauren Faust or anyone on MLP does now, unless it directly involves ponies, Bronies aren't interested. :/

My luck online didn't help any.  I used to be a regular forum/message board-goer, and I had to keep the threads I posted alive myself more often then not.  Some people might have shown interest, but it felt like I was the only one who gave a crap about this show!  Some people weren't that impressed, which is fair, not everything is for everyone, but one guy actually went on a rant about how Wander was a Spongebob knock-off and how he thought the premise was stupid because real life can't all be happy-go-lucky good times and trying to preach such is foolhardy.  Even though the "rant" part of his post was mostly joking around, I fired back at him with a tirade of my own, saying that yeah, it's not real life, but you know what, the fact that real life sucks is WHY things like this should exist, to add levity to our existence and show that there CAN be good with the bad, not to mention I found the Spongebob comment to be INCREDIBLY insulting given how far off the deep-end Spongebob and his so-called "good nature" have gotten over the seasons!  I think he was shocked to see that I got that legitimately upset about his comment and apologized, but it's been so long since I last talked to him... or been to that forum or any forum in general...

Indeed it seems that only recently I've been able to talk with Wander fans, and ironically it's because the series ended prematurely, after Craig and his team had an entire season's worth of ideas brushed aside because Disney thought that moving the show to a channel that not everyone gets, would be unlikely to get just because of that show, was a good idea (Gravity Falls managed to survive because of the massive following it had) and decided to cancel because it wasn't getting enough Neilsen ratings, which are outdated these days anyway... all while giving Star Vs. The Forces of Evil a second season before the first one even aired, and a third season before the second one aired!  Like, Star Vs. The Forces of Evil looks like a great show, and I've heard a LOT of good things about it, but come ON!  Oh, and the fact that Disney keeps pushing Pickle and Peanut doesn't help matters...

...So yeah, that's how I got my start with Wander Over Yonder, what the show's about, and why I stand by the show these days.  Again, I hope these blogs will help get people into the show and help support the show enough for Disney to reconsider their stance on WOY and hopefully give it one more season...  I hope you've enjoyed reading this, because it certainly took a while to write...  I did enjoy writing it, though; these kinds of things are my bread and butter, and while the prospect of writing a recap for every episode of the series like this is daunting, I'm more than game for doing this in my spare time, especially if it'll help open people up to the show and spread the word on SaveWOY!  Speaking of which, there's no schedule for these things.  Truth be told I have a full-time job and coming home afterward leaves me drained.  Depending on my mood and if I feel motivated, it could be a daily thing, but it could be a while in-between recaps, so please stay tuned and be patient.  Once again, thanks for reading, and I hope you look forward to my first SaveWOY recap blog!

1 comment:

  1. It hurts my heart too that it's so hard to find fans of this show, and even harder to MAKE fans...I've only been able to get one of my friends remotely interested in watching episodes. This show was so unique and uplifting and beautiful, unlike more than half of the crap that is airing nowadays. Other than MLP, Crystal Gems, and Star Vs The Forces of Evil, there aren't many good shows out anymore, and of those shows, I prefer Wander Over Yonder over them all - it's just that good. It's nice to know that someone who thinks similar to me and isn't under the age of twelve can appreciate this show as much as I do. :)