|The Summerween came blowing een, from across the sea... (Photo source: Gravity Falls Wiki)|
Most family films put me to sleep, but How to Train Your Dragon didn't because it was so imaginatively directed and well-written, even during the "inflexible father learns to better understand his progressively minded son or daughter" trope that's present in so many family films. I'm a cold fish, so I don't get emotional during movies, but there's a quietly powerful moment involving that trope in How to Train Your Dragon that comes close to making me verklempt whenever I think back to it.
It takes place after Stoick the island chief lashes out at Hiccup because of his alliance with dragons and tells him he no longer considers him his son. Stoick walks away from Hiccup and has a moment to himself where, with just a pained and remorseful sigh from Gerard Butler and expressive facial animation by directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, we see how much it hurts Stoick to have said such dismissive words to his son. We've all experienced that shameful moment where we regretted saying or doing something so vicious and awful to a family member in the heat of an argument, and How to Train Your Dragon captured that pain so well without dialogue.
Except for a majestic flight sequence where Stoick is moved by his first aerial view of Berk, Dragons: Riders of Berk's lighthearted "How to Pick Your Dragon" episode doesn't contain a moment that's as dramatic as that non-verbal scene in the film where Stoick's hard-ass and macho authority figure demeanor briefly disappears, but it revisits in an equally effective manner Hiccup's difficulties in getting Stoick, who's so attached to "the Viking way," to better understand both him and "the dragon way." Hiccup is finally able to persuade Stoick that the dragon way simplifies and quickens arduous tasks and is relieved that his dad is now eager to take up dragon riding. However, he's not so pleased with Stoick using his dragon Toothless to practice his dragon riding, partly because carrying such a Chris Christie-sized Viking on his back for so long exhausts the undersized Night Fury (at one point, Toothless is so tired of dealing with Stoick that he hides away from him).
There's some great subdued character animation by "How to Pick Your Dragon" director Louie del Carmen during Toothless' scenes. Because Toothless' character design was based largely on cats, he's as emotionless as a feline, so del Carmen's ability to convey exasperated body language on a non-verbal and not-so-facially-expressive dragon is remarkable. He accomplishes it mostly through the animation of Toothless' eyes, which is fitting because as Hiccup attempts to point out to Stoick in this episode, eyes are one of the few tools in which humans and dragons can communicate with each other (is it me or does Hiccup sound like the world's first dating coach?).
|(Photo source: Berk's Grapevine)|
Halloween episodes are obligatory for both sitcoms and paranormal shows, so how would Gravity Falls, a cartoon that's both a comedy and a paranormal show, be able to do a Halloween story when the timeframe the show takes place in is limited to the summertime? Gravity Falls cleverly works around that obstacle by establishing that the town celebrates Halloween twice a year, first on "Summerween" and again on October 31.
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Complementing those gags is a surprisingly affecting story about how Dipper's wish to grow up quickly and leave behind childhood activities like trick-or-treating (mainly due to his crush on the older Wendy) clashes with Mabel's preference to embrace her childhood before it ends someday. "We're getting older. There's not that many Halloweens left," says Mabel to her twin brother in an honest moment where Kristen Schaal gets to express a quietly dramatic side we've seen once before in the former Flight of the Conchords star's voiceover work (in the "Spaghetti Western and Meatballs" episode of Bob's Burgers, when a sad Louise feels like her dad's ignoring her) but never in live-action, whether it's The Daily Show or 30 Rock.
|(Photo source: Gravity Falls Wiki)|
On Young Justice: Invasion, Wally begins to question Nightwing's elaborate plan to take down The Light and its still-unidentified partner in the approaching invasion, after Dick allows Kaldur, who's infiltrated his father Black Manta's criminal organization and assembled his own Young Justice-style team of villainous operatives, to blow up Mount Justice and abduct Blue Beetle, Beast Boy and Impulse to better sell his cover. The destruction of Mount Justice during the appropriately titled "Darkest" results in the team's homebase looking not too different from that bleak "Bloodlines" glimpse of Mount Justice as rubble in the future. The explosion also nearly kills Nightwing, Superboy, who's not in on the plan (and is bound to react calmly when he finds out about it), and Conner's pet Wolf.
Wally believes Kaldur is playing both sides for his own gain, and he's especially upset because his girlfriend Artemis is currently undercover in Kaldur's team as Tigress. He agreed to participate in Nightwing's ruse when he was assured that Artemis will be kept safe after faking her death, and now he doubts she'll be safe around Kaldur. The former Kid Flash has changed so much from the ineffectual joker we first encountered last season. He was so jaded by the dangerousness of Young Justice's missions that he retired, and it's clear that he doesn't want to experience the same kind of loss Kaldur had to go through when his love Aquagirl was killed while on duty--a loss that, if Wally is correct about his suspicions that Kaldur is a triple agent, sent the former Aqualad over the edge.
|(Photo source: The World's Finest)|
Finn, Jake and Princess Bubblegum must figure out how to stop Gunter, one of the Ice King's penguin servants (who are all named Gunter by the Ice King, by the way, because the king is mentally imbalanced), from conquering PB's Candy Kingdom in the sloppily resolved but still funny Adventure Time installment "Reign of Gunters." Like everybody else in Ooo, this particular Gunter hates the Ice King, so to get back at him, the penguin hides the king's demonic wishing eye from him. While the king goes off to Wizard City to buy a new wishing eye (and gets into a sorcery battle with the locals that I, um, wish wasn't kept off-screen), Gunter uses the eye's magic to create both giant and regular-sized clones of herself and invade other kingdoms.
|(Photo source: Adventure Time Wiki)|
Because of the influence of Mind Games, which Jake kept around the treehouse for a few laughs even though he views Dawgzone's advice as dangerous and unreliable (he must be speaking from pre-Lady Rainicorn experience), Finn keeps PB in the dark for a while about his strategy to defeat Gunter and her troops. It involves gathering all the glass bottles in the kingdom to distract Gunter, whose favorite thing is to break bottles (the plan leads to a nice little gag where Jake hums a Tetris-y theme while piecing a broken bottle back together Tetris-style). It's too bad Finn doesn't use future farming on Gunter, who's also a girl even though she's far from feminine in appearance (she gave birth to a kitten, which she's been raising behind the Ice King's back), because a callback to that effed-up Dawgzone book would have been a better ending to Gunter's attack on the kingdom than the rather abrupt and tepid one chosen by the writing staff.
|(Photo source: Adventure Time Wiki)|
"Starter Pack," the second episode of Regular Show's new season, feels like a rehash of the prank war episode "Prankless," which aired as recently as August and was part of the show's previous season. It's another Muscle-Man-goes-overboard-with-his-pranks story like "Prankless," but instead of feeling remorse after almost killing Pops, the park's resident prankster is anything but remorseful as he hazes Thomas (Roger Craig Smith), the new intern who was introduced in the extra-length season premiere. Even the twist ending is similar to the conclusion of "Prankless."
|(Photo source: Regular Show Wiki)|
Otherwise, this is a rather meh Regular Show installment, after the epic hijinks of "Exit 9B" and before what appears to be an equally epic and twisted Halloween special next Monday. In the Halloween special's promo, Pops is scared shitless about something again. And if he gets to help out in enacting revenge on whatever villains are terrorizing the park, is he going to scare them away by simply reciting old-timey (and pretty awful) poetry, which Pops, Mordo and Rigs (implausibly) defeated guest stars Tyler the Creator and Childish Gambino with in "Rap It Up"? Because that was frightening.