With each passing year, the lines separating comic books, children’s books, and the various kinds of animation are dissolving, and it’s becoming common to see action cartoons that look as good as superhero comics, and kiddie cartoons that have the brightness and whimsy of a classic picture-book. And then there’s The Amazing World Of Gumball, which seems determined to throw every kind of youth-friendly visual entertainment into a whirlwind, not caring especially whether the scattered pieces fit together. Ostensibly an animated domestic sitcom, The Amazing World Of Gumball is about a teenager dealing with school, friends, videogames, lack of money—the usual. But Gumball has become of the most popular shows on Cartoon Network because of its look and tone. The characters are a mix of animals and objects: Gumball’s a cat, his dad’s a bunny, Gumball’s adopted brother Darwin used to be his pet goldfish, the clerk down at the video store is a cardboard polyhedron, and Gumball’s classmates run the gamut from an enormous dinosaur to a floating balloon. (And that’s not even taking into account Penny, the antlered peanut that Gumball has a crush on.)
As for the tone, The Amazing World Of Gumball falls somewhere between the whizzbang optimism of Phineas And Ferb, the flat absurdity of Spongebob Squarepants, and the trippiness of Adventure Time. A typical episode finds Gumball and Darwin coming up with a convoluted plan to get out of some trouble that they’ve usually brought on themselves, often while trying to shake up their humdrum lives. The 12 episodes on The Amazing World Of Gumball: The DVD include the title episode, in which Gumball and Darwin make their own version of the movie Alligators On A Train when they accidentally destroy the one they rented from the video store. (The clerk quickly figures out the fakery because their movie is “five seconds long, and every name in the credits is one of you two.”) It also contains an episode where Gumball and Darwin refuse to take off their martial-arts robes, even after their classmates upload videos of them entitled “Tae Kwon Dorks,” and one where they wish themselves into being grown-ups, enticed by their lifelong dream of having a secretary and voting in an election.
What sets Ben Bocquelet’s creation apart from the many other super-silly, semi-anarchic cartoons on cable these days is that it features such a well-developed world, where even with the eclectic character designs, there are recognizable traits and tendencies. All the kids have parents who look a lot like them, for example, and there’s a consistency to the behavior: Banana Joe is wacky; Bobert the robot is devoid of human feeling; Alan the balloon is useless because he has no hands; and so on. And even though there’s an acidic tinge to some The Amazing World Of Gumball episodes—as in the tae kwon do episode, where Gumball and Darwin finally take off their outfits while singing, “Life’s about abandoning dream after dream”—this is a place where sugar-rushes are indicated by sugar cubes dancing around inside a character’s body, and where the sun up above has a big happy face. The title does not lie; Gumball’s world is pretty amazing.
Key features: Nothing but a few pages of character descriptions.