When I was a kid — that's bound to turn everyone off, I know, but bear with me — cartoons were The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour. Like the title said, it was an hour long show featuring the entire stable of Warner Brothers cartoon characters from the day. There were the two title characters, Bugs and that horrible bird (who wasn't secretly cheering for the coyote?), Foghorn Leghorn, Daffy Duck, Pepe Le Pew, Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig, Tweety and Sylvester, and the rest of the menagerie.
The animation was definitely low tech, with each frame being hand drawn by a human artist. The same went for all cartoons in those days, from the Walt Disney Studio creations through to Loony Tunes. Every move that you saw a character make on the screen had to be drawn out step by step by an animator. It was probably the most mind-numbing, tedious work that an artist could do. The introduction of computers into animation is probably the best thing that could have happened in terms of making people's lives easier when it came to doing the nuts and bolts of making cartoons.
The trouble is it seems that when they automated the drawing part of cartooning, they seemed to do the same thing with the scripts and the characterizations. Now I know that nostalgia is dangerous, and can create a skewed vision of the past, but it doesn't mean that some things weren't better than they are now. I still get pleasure from watching Bugs Bunny outwitting Elmer Fudd, so I know it's not just my memories playing me false when I say cartoons ain't what they used to be.
Take the DVD box set Stargate Infinity: The Complete Series, distributed by Shout Factory, for example. Originally Stargate was a movie that starred Kurt Russell and James Spader released back in 1994. The premise was that aliens had disguised themselves as a race of gods in the time of the Pharaohs and had left behind the means they had used to travel between the worlds, something called a Stargate. You can see the potential in this for a major amount of spin-off and so it's no surprise that following the movie were two television series, and from them was spawned Stargate Infinity, an animated version for a younger audience.
The premise for the series is that humanity has cracked the code of the Stargate and is now able to travel to distant galaxies in the blink of the eye simply by going through the gate. The gate is controlled by an arm of the military called Stargate Command, and they have their own elite force. In Stargate Infinity our heroes are four cadets and the officer in charge of their training. In the first episode the officer, Major Bonner, is set up as a traitor by an alien shape-shifting life form, and this sets in motion the events that will have him and his plucky cadets going world hopping for the rest of the series as they attempt to clear his name.
The creators of the series have also thrown into the mix an ancient sarcophagus that just so happens to contain an embryonic version of what might be one of race of ancients who created the Stargate in the first place. Naturally the bad guys, a race of lizard-like aliens, want to get their hands on this being, and when Bonner and his crew take the embryo through the Stargate with them, they give chase. So the series is spent trying to clear the major's good name, finding out about the ancient one, and exploring the new worlds.
Unfortunately it sounds more interesting than it is. Even making allowances for the fact that the series is geared toward a younger audience, both the story lines and the characterizations are awfully simplistic. While there are attempts to include little morality lessons in some of the episodes, it usually comes down to the black and white world of good versus evil. The bad guys want to kill the good guys and steal the ancient one so they can rule the universe, while the good guys just want everyone to get along. It's never explained why the bad guys so desperately want to rule the universe, it's just one of those bad guys things no matter if they're from earth or from another planet.
The team of four cadets is made up of the cocksure guy who's full of himself, the tomboy, the sensitive ethnic female (I think she was supposed to be a native American because she's dark-skinned and named Seattle), and the alien who spouts ancient wisdom. Unfortunately their characterization isn't helped any by the lack of expression on their faces and in their body language due to the poor quality of the animation. The old hand drawn, frame by frame animation was able to provide Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck with an amazing range of facial expressions and body movements that made their characters much more effective and real to the viewers.
The characters in Stargate Infinity, on the other hand, only seem to be able to show happy, sad, angry, and blank faces while their bodies move like robotic sticks. Even when the actors supplying the voices for the animations are doing their best to try and convey some emotions, the contrast between what you hear and what you see on the screen is so wide that it just doesn't work. You'd think that with the technological advances that have been made, and the quality of animation that's possible, the creators of this series could have at least made an effort so it wouldn't have looked so cheap.
Stargate Infinity has the look and feel of something that was done as quickly and cheaply as possible. The animation is poor, the stories simplistic, and the characters are types. The four-DVD set Stargate Infinity: The Complete Series comes with a few special features, but since they are just test drawings for the characters, and an effects test, it's nothing you don't see in the show itself. I'd recommend finding your child some old Bugs Bunny cartoons instead; you won't feel ashamed buying those.