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DVD Review: Hot Wheels Battle Force 5 – Season 1, Volume 1

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Written by Fido

First off, this write-up is coming from a 40-year old guy who grew up on 2-D animation as the choice du jour. So, even though I like some 3-D computer animated shows, this one, Hot Wheels: Battle Force 5, just didn’t do it for me in the slightest. Let’s hit onto the obvious stuff before the high and mighty artistic rant to follow.

It’s a show about a team of racing kids (politically cobbled together: Asian kid into martial arts, an English kid into music and partying, a couple of brothers – one panicky and funny-ish and the other a jock, a sassy African-American chick and the team leader, Vert Wheeler, a Southern California-esque teen with a nose for speed and immense amount of hair-styling products) getting pulled into the Multiverse in a battle for Battle Keys – and subsequently the fate of Earth. They race through portals to find all the keys in order to save the Earth from the impending invasion of the Vandals (a far too Masters of the Universe feeling lot, with people bodies and animal heads) and the Sark (yes, the same name as the bad guy from Tron – and yes again, they drive cars that look eerily similar to light cycles). If one or both of those two groups get the keys first, they’ll have the power to open portals and invade Earth – somehow taking it over Battlefield Earth style with only a handful of baddies to handle the whole planet.

Anyhoo – each episode unfolds with the kids getting called into Battle Zones by Sage (yet again, another very Tron-ish looking character who even goes as far to transform into a Bit – and for people who know the movie, you understand) and trying to get the key before the aforementioned bad guys.

So there’s the plot, easy and simple to follow. Great for kids, nothing crazy complicated.

The action sequences, which this whole show is built around, come replete with a shaky-cam effect that is sure to induce some kind of nausea from all age groups and a directorial style similar to the dreaded Transformers movies. It’s a questionable but understandable move (I guess) considering the amount of money they made off of those movies with the same demographic probably watching these. But damn, it still is just aggravating to never get a clear vision of an action sequence. Those quaky camera moves throughout action cuts and jagged storytelling in those same scenes makes what should be the most exciting part of each episode into the most tedious. In fact, to further the Transformers parallel, the cars themselves transform when fighting the beast-headed Vandals and/or the “Space Paranoids”, err, Sark. Sequences are chopped up into barely comprehensible bites all while being way too close to camera to comprehend any kind of scope.

They’ve taken an obviously brash 22-minute advertisement for on-shelf or upcoming Hot Wheels toys (which is fine, no problem with promoting through cartoons, it’s an age-old practice) and made it vastly more obnoxious by transforming it (sorry, had to do it) into an animated version of a Michael Bey film – and, um, that’s not a good thing – at all.

There are limited swipes at humor, some hit, but most miss. The origin story is beyond rushed. Though it may be boring to the audience they’re looking for, showing some kind of training on the cars could’ve been a fun, action-filled, and most of all, character-building episode. More character equals more identifying with the characters or developing feelings about both good and bad guys and that in turn leads to a more devoted following of those same characters. That’s pretty basic stuff, completely thrown away here.

It has interesting enough “cel-look” feel to it, but as far as distinctive looks go, that’s about it. To give you an idea, it’s executed in the vein of the newest version of the animated Spider-Man and has been seen in swipes on several shows. It’s an initially cool look that wears thin once the animation begins to break down into stilted digital shadow puppet-like movement.

The episodes are the standard one-off episodes, all ending well and never really putting the heroes in any sort of peril. And that’s all fine and dandy, it’s expected. But that’s what this cartoon’s major problem is – it’s all very, very expected – in its stories, characters, and above all style.

Stylistic choices in animation based on what people think viewers will like rather than making a choice to make the cartoon stand out now and in the future is what has made so many modern cartoon series fall short. This one is absolutely no exception.

Series like Genndy Tartakovsky’s first Clone Wars (along with the previous and to this day still brilliant Samurai Jack) series went with a style that wasn’t already a safe bet and wound up setting a new pace and in turn a high-water mark for others to follow. Though I totally get why studios are reluctant to do it, they have to look at the fact that when it is done, it’s typically regarded as, at the very least, interesting to watch. That interesting often turns into more stable over time which can translate into long term sales of the attached merchandise (looking at it from Mattel’s point of view).

Unfortunately for series like the current Clone Wars and Hot Wheels: Battle Force 5, they’ve strategically sidestepped having the guts to go out on any creative limb in favor of being as vanilla as possible. And hey, I love me some good vanilla, but we’re talking blue stripe, plain wrap, and flavorless here.

I can appreciate this show/DVD for almost coming out and admitting through its rushed stories and hackneyed ideas that it knows it’s a flash in the pan. But when properties have a healthy wellspring of money behind them, along with some obviously talented people/artists lurking, as this one does, it would be great to see them go crazy and be, I don’t know, artistic about the art of animation.

I’m probably asking too much from a cartoon about a toy car line. It just seems sad that so much talent is wasted on easy bake shows like this. It would be like having Mario Batali and all the ingredients for an amazing meal available right in front of you, but hitting Taco Bell instead because you’re too lazy to walk to the table.

Perhaps the charm came from the sadly dwindling art of 2-D drawings instead of the almost instantly tired 3-D computer animated, do-it-because-we-can shows that get rolled out nowadays.

Writing this, I feel like a bitter jaded old guy accusing all new animation as unworthy. I don’t mean to come across that way, but when you find yourself sighing within five minutes of watching a mere five-episode DVD, something tells me it’s not hitting me in the good spot. It is possible for new cartoons/kids’ show's animation to be promotional in nature, creative, and fun to absorb. I refer back to that original Clone Wars run and Batman: The Brave And The Bold as two modern-day shows that showed (and still do to this day) that good style, original drawings, characters you care about and flat out fun can still be had in an action cartoon.

I feel like I’m bashing this poor show (double entendre there – sweet) to death, but I just can’t see anyone beyond an ADD-stricken kid latching onto this. Even then, it just doesn’t feel like a show built for the test of time. It feels like it’s made for the here and now, which saddens me to a degree or two. When all is said and done, that’s what bums me out about Hot Wheels: Battle Force 5 and many newer cartoons – substance replaced by flash.

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  • Barry

    A fair review coming from someone who grew up with a completely different type of cartoons. Being of an older (but not as old) age myself I remember the good old days of He-Man and Visionarries and so on, but remembering and then going back and watching are a different story.
    This new bread of cartoons is great for a generation brought up on a different bread of media.
    I have a 3 year old son who caught a few seconds of this while I was channel hopping and was hooked. He loves the show and even had to shell out for the toys to go with it – which on Christmas was a pleasure to see.

    Yes the opening and intro are a bit quick, but not so much you dont understand the basic premise
    As for the Tron references “Sark” is about as far as it goes – i mean how can you build a race of machines witout the looking something like any kind of computer character based film (TRON just being the obvious)…
    Not sure if you have seen the whole season but an arc is present and even more so in the second season with the introduction of a sentient “5” team to battle against.

    The action sequences are great and get you right in the middle of the action ( maybe liking the Transformers movies helped with that).

    If your kids are PS3/Xbox generation then this might just be the right series for you.