Saturday, September 7, 2013

President Dog Takes On... Kim Possible: A Retrospective, Part 1

Hello again everyone and welcome back to another edition of President Dog Takes On... This time around, we're going to be taking a detour from the world of Japanese animation to take a look back at, in my opinion, one of the most well-crafted and fun series of western animation of the past decade: Disney Channel's iconic teen hero action/comedy, Kim Possible. Don't worry, I'll get back to the anime soon, but I just want to change up the pace. Anyway, I digress...

To really get some perspective on the whole history of this show and its significance, we need to go back farther than when our subject today premiered, all the way back to the middle of the 1980s. It was around this time that the Walt Disney Company set their sights on making their first animated series for network television, a realm only previously explored by the company with live-action fare, such as Zorro, The Mickey Mouse Club and the iconic anthology The Wonderful World of Disney. The risk was very high, as at the time the mindset towards television animation was that shows were rather disposable, thus not worth spending substantial amounts of money to produce, even for major networks and their Saturday morning children's blocks. Disney decided to defy the industry's conventional logic, establishing the Walt Disney Television Animation studio in 1984 and soon after creating their first pair of original animated series, Disney's Adventures of The Gummi Bears and The Wuzzles (Interestingly enough, the two shows premiered on the same day and time slot on competing networks, NBC and CBS respectively). The shows were small to moderate hits, nothing too spectacular, but it was incentive enough for Disney Television Animation to aim higher. Taking some of their established property, in this case the long-running comic book stories of Donald Duck, his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie, as well as Uncle Scrooge, creating original adventures for them and presenting it with their established high standard of animation quality, Disney gave the world DuckTales in 1987 and it was finally the hit the company was looking for on the television front. With the creation of DuckTales, and soon after Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, Disney created a base for a programming package of high quality animated series that quickly became a cornerstone of a generation of children throughout the 1990s. For nearly a decade, Disney had shows that were just as iconic as the big budget animated features they were renowned for (some of which eventually became shows of their own, such as Aladdin, Hercules, 101 Dalmatians and a spinoff from The Lion King starring Timon and Pumbaa) and even showed range from episodic comedy shows to full fledged serious action shows like Gargoyles.

Unfortunately, the syndication and network children's programming market began to bog down near the turn of the 21st century with government mandates on providing specific kinds of programming, such as shows required to be educational, thus leading to the reduction or overall elimination of most blocks of animated series on major television networks and their affiliates, The Disney Afternoon, its contemporaries and successors included. In the meantime, and probably just as big a factor in this shift in the programming landscape as what was previously mentioned, the boom of specialty cable networks such as Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and most specifically in this case, The Disney Channel were in their prime to pick up the slack. One major difference between the channels however was the fact that for much of its lifespan, The Disney Channel was a pay channel along the lines of HBO and Cinemax; cable subscribers either paid a premium for it or didn't have it. This changed in 1999 when in negotiating conditions with cable operators, Disney pressured to either have Disney Channel carried as a basic cable channel or not renew their carriage contracts. Eventually the cable operators relented and Disney Channel was no longer premium fare. Despite this switch, to this day, the channel does not run traditional commercial ads, rather filling in time gaps with other features about their programming and other Disney media mixed with small sponsorship bumps. Around the time of the basic cable transition, Disney Channel began to ramp up their original productions focused on the preteen and teenage demographics, starting first in live-action programming but premiering their first original animated series, The Proud Family, in 2001. However, like the previous initial foray into animation, the initial offering was a mild success at best. It wasn't until June 7, 2002, that Disney Channel would find its equivalent show in terms of breaking ground for the future to DuckTales. That show was Kim Possible.

 Our heroes.

The brainchild of co-creators Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle, who previously worked on shows such as the Buzz Lightyear of Star Command spinoff from Toy Story and wrote for several of Disney's direct-to-video sequels, Kim Possible centers around the titular teen hero battling evil, righting wrongs and spanning the globe, all while managing a typical high school life. Well, as typical a life as you can have while having the responsibility of saving the world. Luckily, Kim's not alone in her fight against the forces of evil; Always at her side is her sidekick and best friend (and eventual boyfriend) Ron Stoppable (yes, both Kim and Ron's name are puns and completely intentional), his pet naked mole rat/deus ex machina Rufus and the gadget-building supergenius prodigy Wade. With their help, Kim frequently thwarts the villainous efforts of mad scientists, corrupt billionaires, killer robots, mutated swamp monsters, twisted famemongering debutantes and much, much more, all in time to make it to cheerleading practice. So now that we've established what the show's all about, let's get down to the big burning question: why is this show so much fun? The answers are both simple and complex, so let's break it down.

  1. The characters are well constructed, with strengths and weaknesses, and are able to grow and change over the course of the four seasons of the show. In the case of the main teenage characters of the show, it falls right in line with the four year structure of a typical high school, going from freshmen in season 1 to fully acknowledged seniors in season 4. Breaking it down even further, several episodes give ample character development to our main cast, from Kim knowing her limits in world-saving and in normal life to Ron learning not rely on people and being capable in his own right outside of being a distraction of simply a sidekick on Kim's missions. By season 4 he even uses his skills at running and dodging villainous attacks to become their high school's star running back in football.
  2. The writing compliments the degree of detail the characters receive, while still providing lots of action and comedic moments throughout. It's rare when an action show has a rogue's gallery as entertaining as the main heroes, if not moreso. Case in point is Kim's arch enemy Dr. Drakken and his main henchwoman Shego, who have a dynamic together that's possibly even more enjoyable than Kim and Ron with their over-the-top ideas to take over the world coupled with ample snark and deconstruction of the hero/villain relationship over time. Also, I'm a big fan of a lot of the normal dialogue Ron gets, as they can swing him from simply thinking on a different odd wavelength at teenage life to being a total conspiracy nut at times. He is really the comedic base of the show and gives a lot of the show balance from both the civilian and world-saving angles.
  3. The animation and overall style of the show, while hit or miss in the first season due to using different animation studios, is very flowing and unique. It works well both capturing the grandiose action moments and the more low-key everyday life scenes as well. A lot of that credit goes to character designer Stephen Silver, who also designed the characters for the Clerks animated series and another favorite show of mine form the same time period, Danny Phantom (but that's for another time).

In the end it shows that a lot of love was put into the show from all aspects and the fans returned the love in spades. From its initial premiere on Disney Channel in 2002, it was the highest-rated and most-watched new show in the channel's history, the first episode, “Crush,” was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award, and the show as a whole was nominated multiple times for Daytime Emmys, winning once for Outstanding Sound Mixing in 2005. However in February of 2005, after wrapping up its third season and 65 total episodes, it would end production and wrap up with the television movie “So The Drama.” Now I'm sure many of you are wondering about the three season thing when I just spoke about a season 4 not too much earlier. Well, due in large part to a major fan campaign and petition and the overall popularity of the show, Disney Channel decided to bring back Kim Possible for a fourth and final season in 2007, capping the final year of high school for Kim and Ron, ending in their graduation in the two-part finale, also named “Graduation.” Overall, the series ran a total of 87 episodes, including two made-for-TV movies, “A Sitch in Time” and the aforementioned “So the Drama.” That run gave it the honor of the longest running ongoing series on Disney Channel up until very recently when Phineas and Ferb surpassed it. Not a bad legacy for your basic average girl who can do anything.

So with that many episodes making up this series, it may be hard to figure out where to start checking out the show, especially with its overall episodic nature with ongoing parts sprinkled in here and there. For new viewers, I'd suggest starting at the beginning with “Crush” and go on in order from there. Conveniently, Disney has nearly every episode of the series posted on a YouTube channel for everyone's enjoyment here: (EDIT 6/27/14: Sorry folks, link doesn't work anymore, Disney made the playlist private.)

For others who may just want to cut to the chase and see the best and avoid the worst episodes the show has to offer, join me in the next part of this retrospective when President Dog Takes On... The Top 10 and Bottom 10 Kim Possible Episodes.