In the same way that you’re not meant to judge a book by its cover, it’s probably best to not judge a TV show by its opening credits. If you were going to judge The Amazing World Of Gumball by its opening credits, though, it’d probably get full marks. The theme song is ridiculously catchy and the busy animation perfectly prepares you for the look of the show.
The Amazing World Of Gumball is an animated TV series from the Cartoon Network. Airing alongside the likes of Adventure Time and Regular Show in the UK, it’s produced in Europe by a team led by series creator Ben Bocquelet. The show, which has just been released on DVD in the UK (prompting this article, which is based on what the DVD dubs the first season – the first 12 10-minute episodes), focuses on Gumball, a young cat, and his adoptive goldfish brother Darwin. The stories tend to focus on the escapades of the two boys, who unintentionally wreak havoc wherever they go (which is usually home or school).
The thing that stands The Amazing World Of Gumball apart from other cartoons is the mix of animation. Gumball and his family are traditionally animated in 2D. The backgrounds are typically real-life environments. Then, the supporting cast can be anything. There’s a puppet character, CG animations and even an upside-down human mouth/chin. The mixed animation works really well. Tonally, the show is light and playful, so the mixed up visual style really fits in with that. It’s a lot of fun to watch. The Amazing World Of Gumball is colourful, inventive and busy.
The stories told in the show are deceptively simple. Because it has so much going on visually it’s sometimes easy to miss that, at least these first twelve episodes, are based on quite conventional ideas. We have an episode where the boys are sent off on a silly task by their Dad to keep them busy, another where Gumball doesn’t want to get kissed on the cheek by his Aunt, and another is a typical whodunit. The show finds an interesting way to tell all of these stories, and anything more complicated might be a bit much when matched with the rainbow assault on your eyes.
I also think the show is able to carry off the simpler storylines because, particularly when compared to Regular Show and Adventure Time, it feels more aimed towards kids. Gumball, the shows main character, is very much a child and the episodes play out like typical childhood experiences (like babysitting a sibling or having to wear embarrassing clothes) filtered through the hyperactive imagination of a kid. Having one of the students in class as a giant CG Tyrannosaurus Rex, for example, feels like something a child would come up with, and that’s because The Amazing World Of Gumball is essentially a child telling you about their day.
Another way this show varies from Cartoon Network’s crossover programming is that The Amazing World Of Gumball rarely deals with consequences. The Laziest, in which Gumball and Darwin have to find someone lazier than their Dad, is a great example of this. They convince Lazy Larry to help them, and he features to a point (Gumball and Darwin essentially ruin his life), but then they’re done with him. I expected him to play a part in the episode’s conclusion, to pop back up, but he doesn’t. That’s not so much a criticism as an observation of how they construct episodes. I wonder if this might be a nod to a childish way of telling stories.
What I would criticise the show for, and I should again highlight that I’m only reflecting on the 12 episodes included in the DVD release here, is some of the supporting characters. Gumball’s Dad is intended as a big, silly Homer Simpson presence, but it doesn’t always work. In The Laziest, for example, the story is soured because the episode starts with his two sons wanting to play with him and he refuses to spend time with them. The idea is that he’s being lazy, but it just plays as him being cruel and disinterested, and it’s never paid off with a punchline or story resolution.
Still, few TV shows are without their faults, and most need a period of time to find their feet, and it’s hard to argue that The Amazing World Of Gumball didn’t at least get off to a strong start. The episode The Gi is my favourite. In it, the boys rightly become obsessed with karate and decide that sort of trying to just do it is way more fun than learning it. I was also really taken aback and utterly delighted in what I think was, and I absolutely don’t want to know if I’m incorrect, a parody/homage of the hyper-controversial 90s Prodigy music video to the song Smack My Bitch Up in another episode.
The whodunit episode is a highlight, too, with Gumball’s silliness repeatedly paying off as he chases his bizarre theories to reveal a series of ridiculous truths.
Again, though, I find myself disappointed with a DVD release from the Cartoon Network. The set is dubbed ‘the first season’, although I can’t find anything online that would suggest the first season was anything other than 36 episodes long. There are no bonus features at all. It’s baffling, because a DVD set like this should be a jumping on point for people like me, who are familiar with the show’s reputation and want to try it out. There’s no way of catching up with Gumball in the UK (only a small selection of episodes are available on iTunes) other than watching repeats on Cartoon Network and blindly hoping they eventually cover them all. It’s odd to see a company creating barriers like this between the consumer and their product.
Overall, The Amazing World Of Gumball is a really fun TV show. I think there’s probably more in it for children than there is for adults, although I’m not sure that ‘it’s more for children than adults’ is a fair complaint to make about a show that airs on the Cartoon Network. Even if you are an adult, if you’re into these kind of shows this one is well worth checking out.
The Amazing World Of Gumball season 1 is out on DVD in the UK now.
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