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It Does Death

By Twig Collins | TV | June 24, 2009 |

By Twig Collins | TV | June 24, 2009 |

I’m an adamant believer that there aren’t many stories that are mortally flawed in concept, and it’s more the execution where things go horribly wrong. Few movies exist, no matter how badly they tanked in the theatre, no matter how thin or ridiculous the setup, that can’t be rewritten effectively with a little more attention to detail, characterization and intent.

One of the reasons I believe this is because of a old kids’ show called “War Planets.” (Or “War Planets: Shadow Raiders,” because why use two words when four will do?) “War Planets” comes from Mainframe Entertainment (now Rainmaker Animation), who most of us who are hopeless dorks will remember as the company that created “ReBoot,” a show that really has no direct competition in terms of style, script or brilliance until you start thinking in terms of Pixar. Mainframe Studios was a powerhouse of a company during the 1990s, with “ReBoot” as its star attraction. Not only were the shows spectacular for their visuals, the stories and characters were dynamic and complex, the story arcs were all well developed and the only real challenger to their complete domination of the entire decade might be “Roughnecks: Starship Trooper Chronicles,” another show that had no business being as good as it was.

And then Mainframe made “War Planets,” and “War Planets” fucking rocked. No show based off a crappy, disposable children’s toy should ever be this well put together. I don’t even think the toy was on the shelves for more than the first few episodes of the show, and I have no idea how they kept the budget to pull off the entire series, but it is a testament to the idea that a little thought and a little determination can pull a good story out of practically anything.

“War Planets” concerns a small system of four worlds, each with their own abundant resource — Fire, Rock, Ice and Bone (no they never explain that last one, just go with it) — who are in a state of constant war, as they need to constantly pillage each other’s resources to survive. Across the universe, a planet of living computers — Planet Tek — is being devoured by the Beast Planet, an unstoppable Death Star — style giant planet that roams the universe eating other worlds whole. It’s a creepy opening, and they don’t bother dialing back much on the idea of total planetary genocide throughout the show.

Princess Tekla escapes the destruction of her homeworld and — pursued by the Beast — attempts to warn others of their oncoming annihilation. Meanwhile, a battle rages between the insect-like warriors of Planet Ice and the bulky invaders of Planet Rock. Graveheart (yes, the names aren’t terribly subtle), a soldier of Rock, attempts to negotiate with the King of Ice, just as Tekla crash-lands on the planet and the Beast show up.

So begins a nice firefight and a surprisingly expansive journey, as the different planets learn to overcome, ignore, or tolerate their differences in order to join up to fight the Beast. Throughout the series, we come to learn about many of the inhabitants of all the different worlds, most of whom seem quite happy to die rather than get along. So: It’s pretty much like real politics.

A lot of thought went into the different civilizations, each one with its own unique visual style and backstory, and the animation quality is pretty damn good for TV, especially considering its age. Neither the dialogue or pacing has the feel of a children’s show and stands up next to a lot of regular, grown-up storytelling as well. An example: After landing on Planet Ice, the commander of the Rock troops gives the order to move out. All of them look to Graveheart, ostensibly just another soldier, but it’s only after he nods that they move on. One simple, subtle gesture sums up a considerable amount of his backstory, and raises a lot of questions to be answered, in just a few seconds.

It’s a great hidden gem of a show, with good voice acting, creative ideas, good villains, warrior babes, a prison planet, Shakespeare quotes, creatures made of bits of universe with a helmet on top — if you have kids, if you liked “ReBoot,” if you dig well-developed sci-fi universes or if you’ve watched “Mansquito” one too many times and need a change, you could do way worse than “War Planets.”

Here’s the first part of the first episode:

Twig Collins is getting a Masters Degree in an attempt to balance out endorsing decade-old children’s shows.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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