I enjoy the episodes that bring a little more situational context to Wander’s passion for helping people. It’s easy and pat to create a happy-go-lucky character who just helps random people–basically, a mascot that exists to teach kids various lessons. Helping others, or generally being nice to people, is definitely how you should be, but Wander Over Yonder often showcases how a purely positive attitude in every situation towards every single person is most assuredly not a good thing. This has hampered Wander Over Yonder at times (see the very tedious, go-nowhere attempt to force Hater and Dominator to fall in love), but it also makes it a point to show that in certain contexts, that being overbearingly supportive can be costly and/or detrimental. I’ve spoken about “The Void’s” problems before, but it did make it very clear that Wander’s behavior was out of control. “The Sick Day” and “The Sky Guy” both exemplify the limits of Wander’s altruism, with the former episode having a better handle on its theme than the latter.
“The Sick Day” leans more into the absurdity of the world of Wander Over Yonder, and specifically, Wander. After he wakes up deathly ill, Sylvia takes on the tasks that Wander does before she wakes up–and they are many. Setting Hater’s snooze alarms, teaching the Black Cube how to play the banjo, feed Emperor Awesome’s giant cats–just to name a few. It’s a cute, comic romp through various snippets of characters and situations Wander and Sylvia have dealt with before, creating some delightfully funny moments and visuals that are the show’s forte. I got a kick out of increasing Peeper’s shoes so he thinks he’s getting taller (which seems meaner in the long run, but it’s perfect fine for cartoon logic), and the “comedy of threes” are perfectly implemented when Sylvia is talked into feeding all the local creatures, including the citizens, the two-headed chickens, and then a bunch of flowers. As silly and wacky Wander can be, it certainly knows how to nail basic gags.
The hidden strength of this episode is in how it subtly explores two new angles to Wander and Sylvia. The zbornak has always been the more practical one. Even though she’s a much nicer, helpful person than she once was, she still knows that some people aren’t worth the help and knows to cut her loses. Still, she toughs it up and goes through the ringer to help Wander out, not because she wants to, but because she’s doing it for her friend, all while trying desperately to keep Wander in bed. That latter point is more significant mainly because Wander’s need to help at the expense of his own health and well-being causes more problems than not (his completely blanking on whether he put a cactus in Dominator’s bathroom puts them both in needless danger). He has to learn from an intergalactic, all-powerful space turtle the importance of helping yourself before helping others. Wander’s tunnel-vision focus on altruistic actions above his well-being needed to be addressed, and it’s good to see the show tell Wander (and its audience) to make sure that you yourself is okay before assisting anyone else. It never hurts to help yourself.
In some ways, though, the implications of the lesson Wander learns in “The Sick Guy” doesn’t translate to “The Sky Guy.” There’s a lot going on in this episode, and I wonder if the writers got a little overwhelmed by the full extent of it and was sort of forced to squeeze it together. There’s the Pikmin-inspired world that exists inside the glass-ball, and then there’s the “Horton Hears a Who” inspired story, with Wander as Horton. There’s the idea of Wander being mistaken for a god, inadvertently causing a (religious?) war between worshippers. There’s the idea of Wander, quite wrongly, interfering with someone else’s stuff–and as a result, interfering with an ecosystem that was functioning fine. I’m on board with opening up one’s experiences to learn and encounter new, wondrous things, but I seriously question how throwing this Pikmin-world straight into a “safe from Dominator” end-of-universe location, particularly without the bitties’ knowledge of what’s even happening, is for their benefit. And then there’s the pretty straight-forward plot of Sylvia trying to deal with, and appease, the Wizard Neckbeard character so he can grab some great item to stop, er, get rid of, Dominator.
So why a B-plus? “The Sky Guy” passes because it’s visuals/pacing is top-notch, surpassing the scattered, overwhelming, and morally-questionable plot. This is on par for the course for Wander, but something about this episode really stood out. Props should be given to the background artists, who designed Neckbeard’s magic shop to mimic an M.C. Escher painting, with such a brilliant use of colors and details, yet doing it in a way that somehow doesn’t manages to overtake the foreground characters. And even if his existence is an easy shot, I was surprised how much I enjoyed (to hate) Neckbeard. His nerdy particulars were hilarious, and he was indeed all flash and little substance (his stick, er, bo staff skills aside)–although he did make a credible threat with his magic lighting bolts. It’s an episode where its aesthetics and the energy greatly outweigh the content and story, something that only Wander Over Yonder could get away with.
- The animators really go all out in showcasing Wander’s deteriorating health: droopy face, red eyes, multiple spots/splotches, color changes. It’s a great visual that emphasizes how Wander’s inability to just rest is making him worse without spelling it out.
- Sylvia meets with a number of past characters while doing Wander’s tasks. Since we’re close to the final episode, it could be seen as a montage of past events–a greatest hits of kindness collection, if you will.
- I’m not too familiar with Pikmin, but considering that Wander is a space traveler, he does make a loose-but-distinctive parallel to Captain Olimar.
- Even though I like the Neckbeard character as an antagonist, I do think the show tends to get too cute with easy “internet” targets sometimes. “The Troll” from season one made me roll my eyes, but its most egregious failing was having Wander not actively helping everyone around him.