Cartoon Commentary! #16, Wait until you see what’s in the last screen shot…


By Shawn Robare



Well, here I go with my first episode of Galaxy High on Cartoon Commentary!, and I hope I don’’t blow my wad, commentary-wise, as I’ve mentioned that this show was harder for me to get into than Dungeons and Dragons. Who knows, I managed to take more notes than I thought I would, so it’s probably just worrying for worry’s sake.

This first episode was written by show creator and series consultant Chris Columbus and originally aired on September 13th, 1986 on CBS Saturday mornings. The episode, aptly titled Welcome to Galaxy High, was the only one that Columbus took full writing credit on, but I’m sure he had a hand in the tone of the rest of the series considering he stayed on as a consultant. As I’ve mentioned before, the show’s back story on how Doyle and Aimee come to be exchange students in space is more or less told through the ultra concentrated opening theme song and credits. On Earth Doyle was popular, athletic and not very good in his studies, while Aimee (who is very short changed in the song) was apparently the opposite.



Now, even though he’s portrayed as popular and sort of dumb, Doyle is far from a villainous character (I mean he is one of the points of view we’re supposed to follow into this strange space high school), but there is a tinge of ill will cast over him by a scene in the credits where he knocks Aimee down while playing Frisbee. From the moment the kids arrive at the school, almost every scene for the next twenty two minutes focuses on beating Doyle down and treating Aimee like a queen, to a point where I think the show becomes a little unbalanced.

Also, from the opening shot of the school onwards, the audience is treated to an almost uncomfortable amount of loud colors, sounds and non-stop zany antics. I mean you know you’re in for it when the school’s name is in flashing pink neon above the door…



In fact, the two main colors in the show’s palette are pink and yellow, not always the best combination.

In addition to the scene in the credits, there are also a couple of moments at the beginning where Doyle comes off as an ass, which sort of pit both Aimee and the audience against him, but I think this dynamic would have been a little easier to swallow had we seen some of this in a comfortable environment, like on Earth. In this fashion the show moves a little too fast (in fact, it moves a little too fast in most other fashions as well…)



Though the show doesn’t really break any new ground in terms of plot (there was a very similar premise in the cartoon the Partridge Family 2200 A.D.), I was surprised buy some instances where the show didn’t stoop to the level of making a million Star Trek references. The main mode of transportation throughout the school (and possibly to other locals) is by pneumatic tubes (ala Futurama) and not by transporter beams…



The first resident of Galaxy high that the kids run into is class president, Milo De Venus (whose name is a play on Venus De Milo, though instead of having no arms, he has six.)



For some reason this is when I started counting the number of fingers each character had. Apparently, all of the aliens have three fingers and a thumb, while Doyle and Aimee have the more normal four fingers and a thumb. It seems like you tend to see the three finger hand in more comedic cartoons (like the Simpson’s or Looney Tunes), whereas in more serious or action/adventure cartoons characters typically have four. I suppose that the reason there would be varying amount of fingers in Galaxy High could be to show the difference in Earth and otherworldly characters, but I wonder if it was also influenced by the comedy cartoon convention (if only because the character design would sort of call for it?)

Part of the reason that I was dreading the idea of deconstructing this show is that the cartoon itself was so loud in terms of color palette, action, and character design. I realize that the show is set in the future and in space, but man was this show wacky. Part of this insane wackiness is the fact that everything moves in this show, the characters, the backgrounds, everything. This is very distracting, unsettling almost, and one of the most extreme examples of this is that practically everything at Galaxy high is alive. For instance, Doyle and Aimee are introduced by Milo to their lockers, both of which are basically robots with extreme personalities…



We’ll end up seeing more, much more, of this later as well.

Another comedy convention that I noticed this show delving into is the practice of breaking the fourth wall, which was pretty big in the 80s (just watch Ferris Bueller to get enough to last you a lifetime.)



Seriously, everything is alive at Galaxy High, even the gymnasium…



At this point in the cartoon my head was reeling from things bopping all over the screen. If it was Columbus’ intention to throw the viewer off balance, mission accomplished. What’s funny is that this is, more or less, a common practice in cartoons, especially in the eighties. I’ve shown friends the Transformers movie (guys who never saw it the first time around) and they are completely lost in all the frantic action and quick plot movements. I guess I was weaned on it enough to be used to it, but I can certainly see (going back to GH) how it could be off putting.

Like I mentioned earlier, loyalty-wise, the show leans heavily towards Aimee as she’s portrayed as smarter and more of the underdog (even though the second she steps foot into the school she is instantly and for no reason amazingly popular.) Reinforcing this is the number of (more or less) main cast members who are both female and ‘on’ Aimee’s side. When I say main cast members, I’m sort of referring not only to the reoccurring characters, but also to the ones that are considered ‘good’, or at least the ones advancing the plot in a positive way. There are a couple of guys who would serve to balance out the cast if they weren’t basically the villains of the show.



When Doyle and Aimee are shown the gym, they meet Booey Bubblehead (literally an almost brainless girl with an apparently glass ‘bubble’ head), Gilda Gossip (voiced by Nancy Cartwright of the Simpson’s), and Wendy Garbo (who is possibly named after Greta Garbo.)

In these scenes we get some queues to the extent that the physical and visual comedy will go with some Looney Tunes conventions (e.g. the love inspired eyes turning into hearts gag.)



Did I mention that EVERTHING is alive at Galaxy High?



It’s at about this point in the episode where Columbus really starts sticking it to Doyle, who has just watched Aimee be rewarded with a full scholarship and a brand new car (not to mention plenty of confetti dropping, when taken into context with the opening credits you have to wonder who on this production had such a hard on for confetti as a means of celebration…) Doyle, who as far as the audience is concerned, seems to be just as qualified to be at Galaxy High (I mean he is there and all) is told that not only will he not be getting any sort of scholarship, but that he also has to get a job and is only shown a little bit of the happy with the revelation that he’s now the proud owner of a used intergalactic scooter. At this point Doyle even wants to go home, but is refused with the knowledge that (and I’m paraphrasing here) Galaxy High is his last chance at graduating.  Not to look too deeply into a cartoon plot, a comedy plot at that, but this isn’t the story I was set up with in the credits. As far as I knew, Doyle, though a little inconsiderate and dumb, was the king of his high school, and could easily have breezed by on his athletic merits alone. So why is this all of a sudden such a dire situation for him? I think this should have been covered in the credits…



Pretty much (with one exception we’ll get to in a minute) the rest of the episode is a beat down on Mr. Doyle Cleverlobe, starting with his introduction to the school janitor, Sludge, an unassuming little pink puppy who can change into a lumbering monster at the drop of a hat (or a pat on the head)…



Sludge chases Doyle through the school, corners him, and is about to do God knows what, when Milo happens by and stops him. To complete the zany atmosphere, Milo explains who Sludge is, and then in an attempt to illustrate his capabilities, Sludge mistakenly causes a tide wave inducing plumbing snafu that whisks the three (and eventually Aimee) away into a garbage dump…



This is sort of a tone in cartoons that was kind of missing in the 80s, hearkening back to the Hanna Barbera cartoons of the 60s and 70s, and the Loony Tunes shorts as well. Sure, there were plenty of Gummi Bears, Smurfs, and Get-Along Gangs to cause silly havoc in their towns, villages and hollows, but it was never quite as zany as it was in the HB and Looney Tunes cartoons, and in turn in Galaxy High. Though I doubt he had a hand in setting up the gags in the show, John Kricfalusi did work on the project, and he is a big fan of this style of animation.

Of course weird space food equals antennae, holes, and negative colors…



So rounding out the cast of male characters you have Beef Bonk (the odd red chicken-looking guy with the Earth Stinks shirt), Rotten Roland (the weird blue egg-centric guy in the overalls), Earl Eccchhh (the anthropomorphic pile of slime), and the Creep (the flying yellow guy who almost literally attaches himself to Aimee.) All of which fall into the seriously annoying or basically villainous category, so they don’t seem like main characters as much…



Just to illustrate that the show throws all conventions about physics out the window, in space humans can be turned into French fries, and then reformulated into many creatures before being reconstructed to a (temporarily silly-putty-esque) human…



As far as the geography of the show, everything is basically just floating in space, ala some sort of high school themed space station. There’s at least a mall and a pizza joint connected by the afore-mentioned pneumatic tubes to the school. Also, you can really see the Jetson’s as an influence in these scenes as all of the vehicles make the patented Jetson’s space sputter.



Like the Ferris Bueller moment when Doyle broke the fourth wall, there’s another huge 80s cinematic convention in the form of a montage as the girls take Aimee ‘Style’ shopping at the galleria. It’s really weird to see a montage in the middle of a cartoon, but then again it was the 80s, even commercials had montages.



It’s interesting to note that by the end of the style-shopping Aimee has changed in appearance enough to almost push her away from human and into alien territory. Add to this the fact that she’s getting attention and praise heaped on her at every turn, her character seems close to losing the audience as far as following her through the series. Because of this Doyle pretty much becomes the defacto main character, which is weird as he was painted the schmuck at the beginning of the episode. This is another bit that alienates the viewer…

Even in space there are amazingly silly stereotypes as in Luigi, Doyle’s boss at the pizza joint (who-a talks-a like-a this-a.)



Towards the end of this episode Columbus shoves a second plot into the mix as Doyle tries to befriend Beef Bonk and his cronies, only to piss him off to the point of getting, um, blue with anger. By this point I’m getting pretty comfortable with not being comfortable with the odd visuals and stuff, but having a character turning blue with anger illustrates a pet peeve I have with design. I am not a fan of using cool or dark colors as a means of highlighting or illustrating anger as it’s ironic, but not in the good way. (As an aside, I also hate it in DVD menus when there is a choice between options and the the highlighted option is dark or of a cool color and the rest of the options are like yellow or bright colors. It messes with my head.)



Also, as far as Rotten Roland is concerned, I think it’s really disturbing that he has a tendency to throw ‘rotten’ eggs at people, eggs that look so much like they came from him that it’s a little bit more than weird.

So have I mentioned that everything is alive…oh you get the picture…



It was kind of fun to see the ‘puck’ written and animated as a masochist. Not only is it fitting, but it’s funny.

Another odd aspect to the show is the amazing amount of background characters in all of the scenes. In fact there’s so many of them that the animation almost becomes claustrophobic at times, but I have to give the designers a hand in putting so much thought into the background. Of course having this much leeway can only lead to insanity mixed with a little bit of stereotypical character design, and a pinch of salacious design. Let’s take these in turn. In the screen shots below you can get a feel of the mass amount of BG characters as well as the claustrophobia (in particular in the top two shots on the left.) In the shot on the bottom left you can get an idea of the insanity that comes out in crazy space crowd shots (I’m more or less referring to the flowery pig creature.) There’s also the muted craziness of the little brown Droopy looking dog in the shot on the top right. Now, in the middle shot on the right, there’s a very stereotypical Asian caricature that’s actually fun to watch as it’s in a looped bit of animation that has him dancing. Finally, in the bottom right shot we have, well, we have a giant penis. Man, I thought I was going to be leaving the odd sexual imagery behind when I took a hiatus from writing about D&D…



Lo and behold, Giant Penis Man in the crowd. Penis man.  That is just wrong on so many levels…

Okay folks, I think that does it for this episode of Galaxy High. Hope there’s still stuff left to talk about in the next episode…