Is Weird the New Brilliant?
September 6, 2016
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. Perhaps a lot of you saw a trailer for the movie...
(Cut to footage of the following movie...)
NC (vo): Sausage Party. No, of course you didn't. You just saw the title, the catchphrases, and started reading the YouTube comments like everyone else! I remember people sending me links declaring it the new Foodfight!. But much to the surprise of... yeah, every single person who ever lived, it was actually getting good reviews. No, not just good – great. Word of mouth spread as well, and soon the movie became a hit.
NC: Why? Because apparently the movie has...
NC (vo): ...clever satire, thought-provoking commentary, and a scenario that helps make its point. This movie!
NC: This got me thinking recently–
Audience: Why start now!
NC: I've taught you well. –that this isn't the first time this has happened.
NC (vo): There's been several movies and shows that have been popping up over the last few years that seem like mindless nonsense, but, either slowly or quickly, reveal themselves to be smarter than they look. With many of them doing well, more and more have been popping up out of the woodwork.
NC: So this begs the question: is weird the new brilliant?
(Cut to a promo image for Keeping Up With the Karadashians)
NC (vo): With so much media that seems like junk food for the brain...
(Cut to a clip of Sausage Party)
NC (vo): ...is there some junk food that's secretly slipping in some healthy stuff?
NC: I started thinking about movies and shows that were doing this, and, quite frankly, a lot of them seemed to be animated.
(Cut to alternating snippets of Adventure Time and Steven Universe)
NC (vo): Popular shows like Adventure Time or Steven Universe have been praised for years for their in-depth look at identity and how it relates to social norms...
(Cut to a long montage of clips of Adventure Time)
NC (vo): ...whether it be family, friendship, or how viewing oneself can affect others as well as you. But if you were to put that on the summary of the show, very few kids would probably watch it. Hell, probably not even any of the adults. Therefore, Adventure Time is about a teenage boy who wears fluffy white ears and his zany dog who can change into anything and their wacky shenanigans in the magical Land of Ooo.
NC: But since it's a magical land, you can do whatever you want.
NC (vo): So, maybe someone magically makes smaller versions of everyone that can be put under your control. Thus, we can explore how much a seemingly loving person can give or take when in complete power. Or maybe a magical crown that takes away your memory can be a heartbreaking allegory for Alzheimer's and the empathetic tragedy that people suffer from it.
NC: These are things that spiraled out of a show that started out like this...
(Cut to a clip of an early episode of the show)
Jake: (using a sandwich to mimic his mouth) Listen to Jake, Finn. He only wants what's best for–
(Jake gobbles down the sandwich, while pretending the sandwich is screaming "Help me!"; cut to footage of Steven Universe)
NC (vo): Steven Universe is the same way. It starts off with a little boy with a gem in his belly trying to show these three alien women how life on Earth works. And the first episode focuses on an ice cream treat called "Cookie Cat", while once in a while trying to stop an alien invasion and... singing a song.
NC: Doesn't sound that mentally complex.
NC (vo): But, again, as the show continues, we discover the gems can transform you both physically and mentally and combine with other people. The themes they explore here are an existentialist's wet dream: themes about intimacy, gender identification, puberty, sex, childhood becoming adulthood, the list goes on. Again, all beginning with an episode that focused on him [Steven] wanting a cookie cat ice cream; all seems kind of insane.
NC: It doesn't always have to be symbolic though; sometimes, it could just be very straight forward.
(Cut to a clip of two shows: Avatar: The Last Airbender and My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic)
NC (vo): Shows like Avatar and My Little Pony are very direct with what they are trying to teach.
(Cut to footage of Avatar)
NC (vo): Avatar takes place in a fantasy world where people have Captain Planet-like powers and want to stop an evil bad guy from taking over the world. Yeah, sounds kind of standard, in fact, almost boring. But, on top of having a great sense of humor and creative visuals, the show teaches kids, and arguably adults, about Eastern philosophies, religion, medicines, and even martial arts moves. All the poses shown are based on real styles of martial arts. They even hired martial arts masters for models.
NC: In the case of My Little Pony...
(Cut to two clips of two versions of MLP, one of Friendship Is Magic and the other of the original version from the 1980s)
NC (vo): ...a show that started off as a remake of what many considered a forced excuse to sell toys...
NC: And that's from the people who liked it!
NC (vo): ...have transformed it into practically a show about emotions and social interactions. The story takes place in a land of ponies and one is sent to study the benefits of friendship.
NC: Yeah, sounds like Care Bears greeting card fodder, right?
NC (vo): Well, in this show, they actually do analyze it, seriously looking at the benefits of kindness, the varying levels of it, and when to use each variation. It's easy just to say "be nice", and that's it, but this show actually looks at the different challenges that comes with it. It isn't just a blanket term, it's explored and analyzed. So much so that the majority of the fanbase are...
(Cut to a shot of a photo of a group of adult men standing next to a huge cutout of Pinkie Pie)
NC (vo): ...grown men, not girls.
(Cut to another shot of another photo, this one a group shot of various people at a cosplay convention where they are dressed as or otherwise representing this show)
NC (vo): This is a show that was doing its job so well that...
(Cut to an image of the cover for "Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony")
NC (vo): ...it hit on a fanbase that they weren't even aiming for originally and now it turns out to be most of them. And all from a show that just wanted to...
(Cut to a clip of both the old My Little Pony show and an appropriate commercial)
NC (vo): ...sell some toys in the '80s. Who the hell could have seen this coming?
NC: Kids' films nowadays are the same way.
(Cut to a still shot of...)
NC (vo): Kung Fu Panda is a Jack Black animated comedy teaching kids about dealing with suffering and how to turn it into something progressive.
(Cut next to a still shot of...)
NC (vo): The LEGO Movie is really a connection to a son's relationship with his father.
(Cut to a collage shot of various Pixar movies)
NC (vo): And good Lord, we could talk about the Pixar movies forever, giving us cute and silly ideas that sneak in emotional and psychological issues without kids even realizing it.
NC: But this idea of working commentary into nonsense isn't just for kids.
(Cut to footage of BoJack Horseman)
NC (vo): On top of examples like Sausage Party, BoJack Horseman might be the greatest TV show in years. And on the surface, you'd swear I was making that up. It's about a horse who had a cheesy sitcom in the '80s. Yeah, that's right, a horse; half the people are animals on this show. There's no reason for it. The whole series focuses on the impact that the show had on him, particularly depression and dozens of addictions, and how it also impacts the people around him. The show starts off almost... mockingly silly, relying on shock value jokes and classic little problems that are blown out of proportion. But as we get more comfortable with the characters, their more troubled sides are shown. And oftentimes, instead of punchlines, we're given harsh, harsh realities. Yeah, harsh realities in a show about a talking horse!
NC: It's like finding out (an image of the following appears in the corner...) Mr. Ed was bipolar!
NC (vo): What's so shocking about this show is not only does it do the dramatic side well, but it does it better than any show I've seen on television. The comedy is drawn surreal and clever, allowing us to enjoy these people. So when it really comes time to talk about the inhumane side all of them are capable of, it's really tough to get through, in a good way. It is disturbing, it does take you out of your comfort zone, and it does it a totally bizarre and intriguing way. Maybe the constant reminder that it's set in the false world of Hollywood is what helps us see past the gimmick of talking animals. Maybe because we're so aware that Hollywood is an illusion, but forget the people behind it are real feeling creatures, it helps us identify with such a strange and hostile environment. It takes you to places you didn't think you would go to, are afraid to go to, and then come out, having confronted something you never thought you would have confronted. All from BoJack "100% on Rotten Tomatoes" Horseman.
NC: Where did this all come from, that these childish and dumb ideas can lead to deep and complex issues?
(Cut to clips of South Park episodes)
NC (vo): It's hard to say for sure. I guess shows like South Park kind of paved the way, looking like the cheapest, lowest brow humor that, over time, surprisingly turned into one of the great commentators. Because there were so low expectations, there was a freedom to do whatever they wanted. And not only did the creators know how to get people's attention, but they knew how to say something funny and interesting while they had your attention.
NC: But, hell, you could go back further and point to The Simpsons.
(Cut to various still shots of The Simpsons characters)
NC (vo): When they first came out, it was dismissed as crude shock humor. Yeah, The Simpsons were seen as shock humor. Years later, though, we still quote their ingenious comedy, and yet we still have no idea why they're yellow or how their hair somehow becomes their skin. We all just kind of accept something that silly.
NC: TV wise, you could even point to The Twilight Zone.
(The show's title and one still from it are shown)
NC (vo): A spooky show with scary twists that often has a dark satire on the human condition.
NC: I guess even comics can be thrown into that.
(Cut to images of various superhero comics)
NC (vo): Batman, Superman, and a ton of the Marvel stories are all being hailed now as the new Greek mythologies, with a lot of challenging ideas both psychologically and culturally.
NC: It's even been kind of a big thing in literature. (shrugs)
(Cut to a shot of an illustration from a Lord of the Rings novel)
NC (vo): Lord of the Rings and Narnia have religious connections for stories about wizards and magic.
(Cut to a shot of the cover of...)
NC (vo): Animal Farm is obviously telling the rise of Stalin and Communism, even though it's just about a bunch of barnyard animals.
(Cut to a shot of the cover of The Wizard of Oz, followed by an illustration from the story)
NC (vo): Even Wizard of Oz is technically an allegory on the populist movement. Yeah, no joke, there's actually a whole other layer that many of us miss.
NC: So, I guess the real question is: if it can be done so well, when is it done poorly?
(Cut to footage of various films that the NC uses to illustrate his point)
NC (vo): I've gotten a lot of hate for saying this, but for me, it's films like Signs, District 9 and The Matrix films. The reason being, if you took the very obvious allegory out, the stories don't make any sense. There's a ton of plot holes, focusing issues, and character choices that don't add up. They focus so hard on what they're trying to say with their symbolism that they're forgetting to give you characters you like, choices you understand, and a narrative that makes sense.
(Cut to footage of previous shows the NC mentioned in his video)
NC (vo): This is why the examples I listed before do work. They want you to like the characters first, they want you to feel like you could live in these worlds. They want to make you laugh, they want you to have fun. That way, when they slowly work their way to the more profound scenes, you're emotionally there with them. You give a crap, you're invested because they were given time to sink in.
(Cut to a clip of a Matrix film)
NC (vo): I don't care what happens to Neo, he's as dull as a plank of wood! If I don't get invested in the world or the characters first, I'm not gonna care what you're trying to say with them.
NC: Maybe that's why so many of these brilliant ideas are animated.
(Clips from Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs are shown briefly)
NC (vo): Because for so many of us, that's the first thing we see. We grew up with cartoons, they hold a certain place in our hearts.
(Clips from BoJack are briefly shown again)
NC (vo): So they'll immediately get an emotional reaction when something happens to them. Some people can't get into animation and only see it as kids' stuff. And that's a shame, because...
(Images of the posters for Batman/Superman: World's Finest and Batman v Superman are shown)
NC (vo): ...a lot of kids' stuff is acting more adult recently.
(Cut to images of the Looney Tunes characters and Rocky and Bullwinkle in that order)
NC (vo): Even the Looney Tunes and Rocky and Bullwinkle snuck in a lot of adult jokes.
(Cut to another image of the Looney Tunes characters)
NC (vo): And they did it because they knew they had a medium where they could.
(Clips of Sausage Party are shown again)
NC (vo): And with all the technology that's available to us now, we are seeing worlds that can exist much faster and much better looking than we ever imagined.
NC: Maybe that's why so many of these weird, but brilliant stories are happening right now.
(A montage of clips of animated shows that the NC mentioned previously (Sausage Party, BoJack Horseman, South Park, etc.) are shown)
NC (vo): We certainly had a couple here and there in the past, but now it seems like there's more than ever, and many of them are still going. They know now that they can do it, and that people will watch and continue to watch. Their minds are opened to being entertained, but also questioned. They want to see a horse get drunk and act like an ass, but they also want him to wonder if there's any hope for himself. I don't know if this is just a trend or if these kind of stories will keep going, but one thing is for sure: they got our attention now, and they're doing a pretty good job keeping it.
NC: I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to.
(He gets up and leaves; credits roll)