Before I go into this review, I have good news on the father-in-law front. Wendell was released from ICU late last week and has made a good recovery... so good, the hospital released him and he and Judy made their way home to Lincoln. He's home now, probably sleeping, but among familiar surroundings and is continuing to get better.
Parents looking for a Saturday morning cartoon their kids can comfortably watch while not insulting their intelligence could do a lot worse than tuning in to ABCDisney's Kim Possible. This half hour cartoon program is smart and savvy, with plenty of action and jokes to entertain kids (and some adults), and a surprising depth of characterization.
There is no shame in adults watching cartoons, as witnessed by the popularity of The Simpsons and Futurama. However, I am speaking about more than just the cartoons which are written specifically to appeal to adults. Kim Possible is more in the vein of The Animaniacs and Tiny Toon Adventures, who have kids as their primary focus, but for whom adults are welcome to come along for the ride. Better still, Kim Possible isn't loaded with the in-jokes that makes The Animaniacs work; its episodes manage to appeal to kids and adults alike on the same terms, and that's quite an accomplishment.
Kim Possible could best be described as a teenage superhero cartoon that thrives by playing up to and then defying expectations. Kim Possible, the title character, is a young athletic superhero, with a rocket scientist father and a brain surgeon mother, called in regularly to foil the nefarious plans of suburban Middleton's many villains. Despite this, she is your typical (though popular and charismatic) teenager; a member of the high school's cheerleading team who is not above fretting about such things as passing drivers-ed, preventing her rambuncious younger brothers from driving her crazy, and dating.
Kim: You make my life sound like cake.
Ron: Let's see. You're smart, athletic, pretty and popular. Sounds pretty cakey to me.
Her best friend and sidekick, Ron Stoppable, is a lovable loser, whose experience in high school probably corresponds more closely with the majority of the audience. Awkward, woefully tongue-tied around girls, he's the one who tends to scream in terror as the action kicks up, who tends to get captured by the villains and requires rescue by Kim Possible. Despite this, he's cool and somewhat hip. It's Rufus, his talking mole rat that provides most of the show's comic relief. Ron himself can hold his own in fights and, though he is occasionally inept, Kim still counts on him as an (almost) equal partner.
Kim and Ron are called to their missions by Wade, a young genius who graduated University at the tender age of ten. He supplies Kim with her many techno-toys that beam her information and fight off baddies a la James Bond. Add to this her loving (though bemused) parents and a large stable of returning villains, and you have a recipie for fun.
Okay, so Kim isn't your typical teenager (the friendly relationship she maintains with her parents puts paid to that), but this fusion of high school angst with superhero action provides the off-kilter feel that powers this show, in a similar way that :Buffy: works by turning Sunnydale High into a literal hell.
Kim Possible has been called the animated version of Alias (doubtful; there's no sex, although there is a sense that Kim and Ron may be dancing about a deepening of their relationship). It has also been cited for possible Wrinkle in Time parallels in a Madeleine L'Engle discussion group. If you take Meg Murry and Calvin O'Keefe, switch their roles (Calvin and Kim both have red hair), and add some high kicks, you do get something approaching that of Kim and Ron, although a fair chunk of this is Kim's scientist parents mirroring the scientist parents of Meg Murry. Kim Possible does feel somewhat like an updating of a more action-adventure A Wrinkle in Time, however. Its slighly irreverent approach while still having its heart in the right place is something Madeleine might do if she were writing Wrinkle today.
Kim Possible is far more tongue-in-cheek than :Buffy:, Alias or A Wrinkle in Time, and is not above using sight gags. One memorable scene that is typical of the show comes early in an episode where Kim's father calls her to investigate a theft in the robotics division of the high-tech compound in which he works. The fact that the project involved is "top secret" doesn't stop him from walking Kim and Ron through the various security gates of his facility. At one point Mr. Possible peers into a visor in order to pass a retinal scan. A computerized voice says "retinal scan complete! Identification: verified", and a door opens and Mr. Possible walks through, Kim in tow. Ron, impressed by the technological gizmos that he's practically frolicking from display to display, peers into the same visor and gets scanned. The computerized voice says, "retinal scan complete! Who are you?" before Kim grabs Ron and hauls him through the door.
The program plays up a number of clichTs and then gives them a little twist at the end. Witness this scene which specifically tackles a well-worn action movie chestnut:
[Kim and Ron are tied above a pool of electric eels]
Kim: Aren't you going to leave now?
Falsetto Jones: Leave? What do you mean?
Ron: Well, usually the villain says his lame pun and leaves, you know, "leaving us to our doom".
Falsetto Jones: But then I'd miss the whole show. Where's the fun in that? I'm not going anywhere.
Kim: OK, but I feel I must warn you, you are really breaking a supervillain tradition here.
Kim's mom and dad echo the old standby of television parents who are both overprotective but emotionally distant. Kim's father calls Kim in for a number of missions, but lives in terror of his daughter ever discovering boys (something that's already happened). Kim's mother, while a busy career woman, knows her daughter well enough to turn the tables on her. Witness this scene from the episode Mother's Day, where Kim's mother tries to get a little mother-daughter bonding time:
Mrs. Possible: Uh Kimmie, we need to talk.
Kim: About what Mom? (Raising Eyebrow inquisitively.) And don’t call me Kimmie; Call me Kim! I’m a big girl now!
Mrs. Possible: oh sorry about that Kimmie, er Kim.
Kim: But anyway Mom, what’s on your mind?
Mrs. Possible: Well How Come every year you and the boys give me the usual Mother’s Day Stuff? You know... Flowers, Cards, Breakfast in bed?
Kim: Mom, everyone gets his or her mother cards, flowers, and breakfast in bed, on Mother's Day, because it's tradition.
Mrs. Possible: I know, but that’s so... Normal. I really want this year to be really special for me.
Kim: So what are you suggesting Mom?
Mrs. Possible: Well, I was thinking of going on a Mission with you.
Kim (eek!): MOM! You can’t be serious!
Mrs. Possible: Sure Kimmie, why not? It'll be fun!
Kim (eek!): MOM! You really can’t be serious!
Mrs. Possible: But I am. (Puppy Dog Pouts.)
Kim: Not THE PUPPY DOG POUT! That’s MINE!
(Mrs. Possible continues her puppy dog pout.)
Kim (rolls eyes): Oh great... this can’t get any worse!
Despite the fact that the show doesn't take itself seriously, there is a surprising amount of depth here. Kim, her parents, Ron and even a number of villains are real characters who remain consistent, and grow (however slightly) from episode to episode. In one episode villanous Dr. Drakken (voiced by John DiMaggio, who you might know as the voice of Bender from Futurama) tries to succeed by wooing genetic scientist villian D.N.Amy, hoping to steal her secrets. She ends up stealing his heart, however, before getting away. A few episodes later, when sorting through some photographs of potential sidekick replacements, Dr. Drakken comes upon Amy's photograph, stops, shudders and says "never again".
Kim Possible is animated by Rough Draft Korea, the same folks who worked on Futurama. The style of the cartoon is somewhat more childish in its caricatures, but is still effective. Like Futurama, characters' lips move in sync with the dialogue, and the facial expressions adequately convey emotions. The vocal talents also make Kim Possible work. Christy Carlson Romano provides Kim's voice and she's very believable as a confident, charismatic teenager. Will Friedle plays Ron Stoppable with considerable energy; his sardonic tones help make Ron an interesting and fun-to-watch character, especially when Ron is called upon to scream. Beyond this, you start to see the usual suspects when it comes to the vocal talents of American animation, such as John DiMaggio as Dr. Draaken and "other voices" and Nancy Cartwright (Bart Simpson) as Rufus, Ron's mole rat.
As well as being appealingly intelligent and sly, Kim Possible will appeal to parents for having its heart in its right place. The relationship between Kim and her parents is a relationship of (almost) equals, and while Kim is regularly infuriated, the bond of love within the family is strong and real. Kim may have superpowers and she may have all of the ambitions and the grudges that come from attending high school and playing the cliques, but she remains steadfast in her friendship to Ron, who is definitely several steps down on the social pecking order. Kim also never cheats, even when she passes a driver's test with the help of an intelligent car, she later retakes the test herself to give herself a lower (but real) score.
Kim Possible doesn't have the irreverence of The Simpsons or the late night offerings of the Cartoon Network, but that's to be expected from this family show. And it is a family show in the truest sense of the word: children are not only safe here, but their parents are very much welcome to come along for the ride.
Kim Possible has run for two seasons thus far and now has over 50 episodes under its belt. With luck, it should continue for many years and many episodes to come.
Other Kim Possible Quotes
Dr. Drakken: Why did she have to be a cheerleader? If she were on the debate team I'd have vaporized her by now!
Drakken: Behind this door is the most secret substance on the planet!
Shego: Wait, if it's so secret, how do you hear about it?
Drakken: Online chatroom. You should really spend more time on the internet, Shego.
Shego: No thanks, I have a life.
Kim: Wade, Ron's missing. Can you find him?
Wade: Do you think I have him micro-chipped or something?
Kim: Well, do you?
Wade: [Beat] Yes.
Ron: Oh this place just screams lair. Look at all the chrome. And you've got doors that go "whoosh".
Senor Senior, Jr.: I have been curious about the "whoosh"
Senor Senior, Sr. (voiced by Ricardo Montalban): I like the "whoosh." It's the door saying, "I am closed."