One of the reason why cartoons tend to embrace music so often (besides the fact that they make decent time-wasters), is because music can often be used in tandem with the animation to create some fascinating, almost-experimental visuals. Cartoons, even the wackiest ones, can push some of the aesthetics to some fascinating places through song: use of montages and quick cuts; exaggerations of proportions and nifty, artistic transitions; overt distortions of facial expressions and unique applications of background variations. I’ve only named a few of the many, many things that cartoons have used music cues for, and while it’s easy to get caught up in simplistic takeaways from cartoon-songs (which tends to be focused on whether the song(s) is/are good, and whether the show “looks good” performing them), it’s always important to take a moment to look at how animation really sells a music cue through its aesthetic choices–even for kids songs (“Stronger Than You” from Steven Universe, anyone?).
So the idea of an all-musical episode of Wander Over Yonder got me really excited, because not only could the show utilize its understated (and underrated) score to full, auditory effect, but it could also, perhaps, really push its characters in new, endearing directions through song. “My Fair Hatey” certainly has artistic and aesthetic ambition for sure, and for that alone–its Broadway-esque aspiration, defined by rock, aggressive jazz, and showtoons–it should be praised and enjoyed by everyone. But, to be deeply honest, there’s a tinge of disappointment in the actual overall narrative here, primarily because… well, nothing really new, unexpected, or revelatory happens (except for the fact that Dominator has ice powers along with her fire powers now).
It’s tricky to explain why. I mean, I definitely enjoyed the journey. There’s a certain over-the-top, freeballing elasticity to the animation here that has only sporadically been used before–as if the frame rate of specific movements and animation were increased. From a musical perspective, “I’m the Greatest,” “That’s How I’ll Get Her” and “I’m the Bad Guy” are catchy, enjoyable songs, the latter being an important, game-changing one that I’ll get into more in a bit. We’ve also seen Sylvia and Peepers semi-team up in the past, so watching them definitively team up to beat up bots and drop a freeze ray into the core of Dominator’s ship is just awesome, no matter how you slice it.
But, I don’t know… the actual story is fine, but it’s–I don’t want to use the word “predictable,” but more like, “unremarkable”. The characters, broadly speaking, are who they are, and their exaggerated, worst tendencies are never really challenged or provided consequences. And then there’s Dominator, who is finally provided a certain clarification of her character–and it amounts to being unrepentantly, insidiously evil. As in she gets pleasure from it. And for silly kids cartoon, “pure evil” villains are fine, and funny, and great! But we still don’t know who Dominator is, personality-wise (well, kind of: we know her evilness doesn’t distract her from showers, coffee, or cleaning, if you managed to watch the storyboarded endings.) But there’s a certain narrative weight to it all that’s never given its due.
Let’s take this step-by-step. Hater captures Wander, and before he finally finishes him, he asks him how to talk to Dominator. Enamored, Wander breaks free and coaches Hater through “A Question” and, um, electric torture. Meanwhile, Sylvia and Peepers back-and-forth on “That’s How I’ll Get Her” is sharp and delightful, probably the strongest moment in the episode. Hater sings his feelings and his new-found ability to ask questions about Dominator in the episode’s most overt Broadway-esque moment (dovetailing to an epic prog-rock fantasy sequence, a la Heavy Metal), only to be singing to her suit. The real Dominator arrives and jazzes her way through her number, “I’m the Bad Guy” showcasing all the other villains she’s captured and her goal, which is to ultimately just destroy everything. And this is where the episode falters, because this reveal only makes Hater and Wander… sad.
The kind of stakes that Dominator now represent are markedly-different than what we’ve known of her. She has no interest in that Intergalactic Villain Leader Board or hostile takeover, but intergalactic destruction. The result of this is… being upset that Hater has no chance and Wander’s marriage idea is kaput. And that’s it. I mean, this was a glaringly obvious result, right? And Hater’s overall neglect of his Watchdogs and villainous duties, and Wander’s nonsensical marriage desire–and the consequences of all of that–are never addressed (despite the sentiment being there). I mean, it’s nice when Wander banjo-sings ”Buddies” to a depressed Hater, causing him to go crazy and break out the prison, chasing after the orange dude (classic Wander). But it’s telling that after everything that happens, no one bothers to try and save the other villains.
And that’s sort of representative of the episode’s weird priorities. It’s great to hear “I’m the Greatest,” as a final declaration of the characters’ new worldviews (Hater reaffirming his self-worth, Sylvia and Wander asserting their friendship, Dominator casually confirming her abject villainy), but these are just delightfully belted-out tunes of ideas we already know. Now that both Wander/Sylvia and Hater/Peepers are both out to stop Dominator and save the universe (for different purposes, an idea that this episode never really delves into), it’ll be interesting to see the show take new, exciting approaches outside of Hater’s pining and Wander’s awkward romanticism. But that the show never acknowledged how terrible those two concepts were, outside of Dominator’s dismissal of them, displays a lost opportunity that the creators seem to feel wasn’t really all that bad. That really would have been worth singing about.
- I don’t think we really need to know why Dominator is evil and wants to destroy the universe. I do think we need to know to what extent we have to take her seriously though. Is she a genuine, bona-fide threat? Or a goofy, comedy-inducing threat, like Bowser from Super Mario Brothers (basically every iteration)?
- If you want to see a really good musical episode, watch The Fairly Oddparents “School’s Out!: The Musical” episode, that really plays around with musical styles while giving Timmy and his fairies their due.
- The songs, overall, were fine, and the visuals that they were played up against were great and fairly amusing, but if you were to compare this episode to, let’s say, “The Time Bomb,” or even “The Battle Royale,” it’s a minor step down, I think. Still, there are some small, delightful animations here, especially the movements they provide Dominator during “I’m the Bad Guy.”