I wouldn’t necessarily call “The Greater Hater” epic, but it had a grand scope and a clear purpose–namely, to re-introduce the main characters and their central personalities/traits, while setting up the big bad of the season. Our expectations of television have trained us so that, after premiere episodes like that one, we’d usually be in for a lot of table-setting, world-building, plot development, and so on. Cartoons are completely different. They’re not beholden to those kinds of expectations (it took a very long time for Adventure Time fans to realize this). Animated shows are prone to do whatever they want, and Wander is no exception. After the sheer scale of “The Greater Hater,” Wander doesn’t slow itself down so much as it shift gears to do its own thing.
“The Big Day” follows the events of “The Greater Hater,” but only in vague terms: Dominator is out there destroying planets, so Hater needs to get back in the game. Plot-wise, the episode doesn’t even need that information, since it returns to the classic give-and-take comic antics between Hater and Wander, in a different context: Wander’s final demise portrayed as a (gay) wedding. Overall, it’s hilarious, combining old-school timing with today’s current fan obsession in ’shipping (or in this case, slash). Portraying enemies as weirdly antagonistic romantic partners has been a staple in television for a while (yes, even in cartoons), but recently it has become a de facto approach to a lot of narratives; why shouldn’t Wander Over Yonder have fun with it?
And it does. “The Big Day” bounces back and forth tonally between the ferocious anger of Hater’s desire to execute Wander, and his egotistical glee in setting up a fabulous ceremony to execute it. Here, the specific use of edits and framing make every joke and gag, even the obvious ones, stand out. The opening montage, portrayed as a monster truck/badass rock concert commercial, is one perfect example. That intensity is then swiftly followed by a sudden downshift as Hater laments on his past obsessions over Wander, à la the confession of a sobriety speech. Then it jumps right back to intense, as he spies Wander and Sylvia outside his ship. This continues back and forth, utilizing tiny shifts in specific placements of the characters within the frame, plowing through gags rapidly and perfectly. I particularly love when Hater’s poetic monologue on Wander’s destruction cuts right to him writing it down with contained delight. His position—just off-center, two weapons sitting on the wall behind him—is remarkably simple but makes it twice as hilarious.
And so goes the episode, all while doubling down on the comic relationship between Wander and Hater. “The Big Day” puts in a lot of comical work establishing this love/loathe relationship, the two frenemies getting so lost inside the marriage/murder ceremony that they both literally forget “it’s a thing.” And Sylvia and Peepers have to take it upon themselves to snap the other two out of it. Sylvia has the easy job, jamming that massive cake onto the Disaster Blaster 5000, while Peepers indirectly reaches out to Hater, acting (being?) the scorned lover so Hater can utterly dismiss him with the typical egregious indifference that makes Hater Hater. Among other reasons, Peepers and Sylvia are there to make sure Hater and Wander don’t actually commit to their dangerously basic instincts.
Really, Wander and Hater are remarkable similar, and that’s exactly what “The Breakfast” is about. If “The Big Day” was the hilarious exploration of them together, then “The Breakfast” is about them apart, told through a novel use of a split screen. Wander Over Yonder’s forays into experimentation have been a lot of fun, and while some of them worked (“The Gift/The Gift 2: The Giftening”), and others less so (“The Day/The Night”), at the very least they’re interesting, and it keeps the creative team inspired. The crew is clearly up to the task, making the parallels between Wander and Hater a lot more distinct then their different worldviews would suggest.
There’s a lot of discussions and lessons out there about the use of exaggerated body language and sound to direct the viewer’s attention; if anything, “The Breakfast” is a masterclass in that. With two separate characters occupying two similar-but-different narratives on the screen at the same time, it’s paramount to ensure its young audience can follow along. It does so with near-perfection: keeping dialogue scenes separate from comic moments, matching movements on one side with the movements on the other, using colors that pop to call attention to what needs to be watched…keeping things muted and slow allows viewers to watch both sides at the same time. This basically allows for twice the number of gags within an 11-minute period. The only show to really top Wander in the “mic drop” versatile visual department is Gumball, and it’s giving that show a run for its money.
More importantly, it not only shows Wander’s sheer optimism against Hater’s pessimism, but that neither worldview is exactly viable 24/7. (You can see it on Sylvia’s/Peeper’s faces as they roll their eyes/eye). Each person gets into their own troubles as they try to go it alone, and while the show is clearly on Wander’s side, it takes care to give Hater his own victories–finding the kitchen, for example. (There’s even a weird sense of satisfaction when Hater stands up arrogantly to nature’s wrath, right before the animals attack him). Primarily, though, “The Breakfast” works to show that, even separate from each other, they’re still essentially the same—two sides of the same coin. Nothing represents this more when they finally get to make that juice: as they stare at the glass in front of them:
Wander: “Half full!”
Hater: “Half empty.”
- I need a gif of Hater’s head shake as he crosses the screen during that early scene in “The Big Day.”
- Part of Wander’s old-school flair is the occasional use of classic sound effects. The banjo-crash noise is heard when Hater throws Wander and Sylvia into his ship early in “The Big Day,” and it’s such a nice touch.
- Goofy songs are also Wander Over Yonder’s stock in trade, and I kind of want them to do a musical/music video episode. It would be nuts.
- “The Breakfast” really nails the feeling of a groggy, crappy morning with Hater. The long sigh in the shower is great, but him losing his jaw constantly while brushing his teeth… man, Hater, I feel you.
- I really love the animatic endings, they’re just cute asides that may or may not have been cut from the episode. I know the live-airings minimize the credits, but I’d really suggest watching them on the Disney XD app/website when you can.
- The screeners I have are watermarked, so I’ll post pictures if and when I can without it looking too bad, but I really wish I had a way to cull full shots to emphasize how well the show frames its scenes.