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Wander Over Yonder uses parodies to successfully showcase style over substance

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So yes, I read Craig McCracken’s post about continuity. It’s an informative piece for sure: cartoons tend to avoid continuity because, bottom line, it’s a hard sell to networks, which thrives on random repeats to keep eyeballs on the screen (although this may change crucially in the streaming era). I’m not at all interested in viewing Wonder Over Yonder through any lens of continuity–I’d like to think I made that point very clear in my previous reviews. I am concerned about consistency though: in which characters act like themselves no matter what they go up again or what “animation” or visual style they’re put through. Wander Over Yonder to its credit also does that very well, which makes it worth watching every week. The substance is top-notch too, but sometimes it tends to take a small backseat to the style, which isn’t a bad thing, but it is noticeable in a way that is beyond any continuity concerns.


Style is more important to these episodes of Wander Over Yonder than substance for a particular reason though, which is the distinct point of “The Legend.” A family aliens miss their escape ship while Dominator destroys their planet. Luckily Wander and Sylvia arrive to help them off their doomed homeworld, and in the process, the various aliens tell their individual stories about the so-called “hero of legend.” The stories reflect the personality of each person telling it, utilizing specific visual styles to add to the relative atmosphere of that story. None of the switched-up animation styles are evocative of a particular animator–although you can argue quite strongly that “Silver 7” is homaging Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy–but more about how certain animations evoke a certain aura, atmosphere, and aesthetic that helps each alien cope with their dilemma.

Wander Over Yonder, of course, has a heck of a lot of fun with itself when it switches up its look. It’s been doing this for a while now–the live-action toy commercial in “The New Toy,” the more exaggerated looks in “The Hole Lotta Nuthin’,” the more absurd wackiness in “The Gift 2: The Giftening”–but here, the creators are more concerned with the very act of storytelling, and how the “style” of the story gives this family hope and a certain level of peace. Sure, Wander and Sylvia struggle to understand how these people can lean so heavily on their visions, but Wander knows that the important thing is less about the truth and more about how they cope with such a tragic reality.


“The Legend” has a clear, richer point that is utilized through its use of multiple animation styles. “The Bad Neighbors” attempts to reach its point through the style of one particular genre–the sitcom. I enjoyed the heck out of this episode, to be clear, but it sort of feels like that creators of this episode couldn’t quite grasp the nuances of the sitcom format to reach its ultimate goal, not in the same way that “The Legend” did with the various forms of animation. The sitcom format, with its cheesy laugh-track and call-and-response comedic beats, never allows for Hater’s or Peeper’s basic conflicts to move past the basic premise. (And not that necessarily needs to, but you can do a lot by the breaking down of the sitcom format that Wander never quite manages to do. In the same way that live-action writers tend to struggle with the animated format, it feels like these masters of animation couldn’t quite get a hand on the sitcom.)


Hiding out on silly planet defined by a suburbia aesthetic (completely with a mailbox floating on a moon), Peepers desperately tries to come up with a plan to stop Dominator while Hater becomes obsessed with getting one-up on his awful neighbor, Emperor Awesome. Firstly, Awesome no longer in the clutches of Dominator is basically a cosmic joke, a count towards the show’s “commitment” to continuity. Secondly, and more importantly, Awesome is a tough character to work with: he’s funny on paper but is built around pretty much one joke. To be fair, it makes Hater’s obsession even funnier, especially when Peepers’ obvious solution–just do one thing better than Awesome (in this case, a slicker barbecue) instead of bothering to simply compete with him–allows him to get over his slump. Yet it never feels like the episode reaches a proper climax with either the characters or the sitcom-parody premise. There’s something warm about Peepers finding a new-found strength in helping Hater overcome yet another petty squabble–the two really need each other in an immensely silly way. But this could have been achieved without the sitcom structure around it: as funny as it is, it never feels particularly warranted.


Stray Observations

  • Going to be honest: I somewhat question the timing of that tumblr post. We’re a good ways through the second season, and, well… after a number of large scale promises about developing Dominator, we haven’t quite received that, did we? And we’re past the third half-hour episode. I mean, sure, the show could produce an episode that really gives the evil being context, but I feel like we’re a bit late for this, and I wonder if that tumblr post is a subtle way of covering their butts in the “failing to do Dominator justice” part.
  • Speaking of continuity, the “story” about Wander’s origin and the speculation about Hater being Wander’s father and Dominator being his sister is some great shade thrown out about fans and their obsession with rumors and overanalyzation. But that shade is the positive kind, as the show acknowledges that such fan-readings are perfectly fine to have, as long as it allows you to wonder and imagine.
  • The “late 80s/early 90s” version of Wander in “The Legend” was by far my favorite. “Poochism” will never not be funny.
  • Awesome’s psychopathic breakdowns thinking about Dominator’s sadism in “The Bad Neighbors” is a bit of nuance, I guess, but that’s really it.
  • There’s a small bit during the that episode, though, where you hear a tiny bit of, like, nervous audience laughter. It occurs before the paperboy appears, and I freaking lost it at that. If the episode could’ve pulled more small sitcom details like that I would have bumped it up a notch.
  • Also, in more disappointing news, Wander Over Yonder will not be renewed for a third season. I’ll have more thoughts about this in the next review, whenever that will be. (Sometime in June, apparently.)

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