Monday, July 23, 2012

Animated Short of the Day: "Plastic Man in Puddle Trouble" (Andy Suriano, 2006)

Animated Short of the Day is a series showcasing short cartoons from every possible genre, era, and format. For an archive of the films previously featured, click here. To suggest cartoons for future installments, email me or contact me on Twitter.

For the most part, this series will focus on cartoons that were released theatrically. In many cases, TV episodes don't stand alone as well as theatrical shorts do. I love Phineas and Ferb a lot, for example, but the show follows such a strict formula that it's hard to select one episode as a stand-out. Other shows do individual episodes very well, but including them would completely altar the tone of this series. I could easily write about a dozen different Hey Arnold! or Gargoyles episodes, but those shows bear so little resemblance to what we think of as "animated shorts" that such a post would require far more set-up and explanation than I have planned for this series.

But today I'm going to make an exception. Kind of.

"Plastic Man in Puddle Trouble" was commissioned by Cartoon Network in 2006 and never aired on TV, so its status as a "TV episode" is debatable. It was released online later that year, where it became a big hit among the nerds.

Whether one considers it to be a TV show or not, one thing that's clear is that it's very much in the spirit of Looney Tunes, its corporate sibling. The animation is loose and free (a stark contrast from the stiff 1970s Ruby-Spears series), with Suriano wisely pitting his hero against a villain just as pliable as himself - water-based criminal The Human Puddle, created just for this cartoon. The visual gags make good use of Plastic Man's powers, and there are plenty of solid verbal jokes as well (particularly a punny montage of other foes Plastic Man has defeated).

The designs and storyboards were done by Stephen DeStefano, a long-time comics artist who drew one of my all-time favorite Captain Marvel stories, among many other wonderful things. He doesn't stray too far from the original Jack Cole design (below). Instead he keeps what had been working for decades, simply streamlining the design to allow for more fluid animation.

Plastic Man is voiced by Tom Kenny, best known by his alias Tom "Spongebob" Kenny. His version of the character was so well-received that he went on to reprise the role in several episodes of Cartoon Network's Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

Even more recently, the team behind this cartoon has reunited to make several more Plastic Man shorts for that same network's DC Nation block. I haven't seen those shorts yet (I'm really hoping a DVD release of all of the DC Nation cartoons so I don't have to click around online for them), but if they're as much fun as this cartoon, that's good news indeed.

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