Reviews: Danny Phantom

It Sucks.

Danny Phantom is one of Nickelodeon's most obnoxious cartoons. It's a cliche storm of stale, unfunny humor, by-the-numbers fighting, and condescending caricatures of the way adults (of the unhip, totally not down with it variety the show delights in mocking) think children and young teenagers see the world. It has some interesting ideas working for it, but most of them are executed poorly, and many others are left hanging in the ether, without an adequate explanation in a show that very badly needs one.

Its first big problem is the art style. It may seem like I'm judging a book by its cover, but I doubt the person who coined that phrase had conceived of a book with a cover that actually affected its content. Danny Phantom is a show that, like its young protagonist, desperately wants to be taken seriously, but can only ever fail. For the character, this is because he's a little goofy and bad around girls. For the cartoon, it's because it looks like The Fairly Odd Parents, yet still expects us to believe that the predicaments it thrusts onto its characters will have serious consequences. I can't help but roll my eyes at the fact that someone in the design department thought they could circumvent this problem by giving the characters the correct finger-to-hand ratio. "TFOP was the silly show, yes," they seem to say, "but here, they have five fingers! Realistic!"

Danny, Sam, Tucker, and entourage have little personality to speak of. If I were feeling cruel, I could say that they have no personality at all, just a series of traits. Stimulus-and-response, but no soul. The romance between Danny and Sam, for instance, is the most transparently scripted thing since Padmé and Anakin, and it's handled with all the subtlety and finesse of Edward Scissorhands trying to send a text message. To say nothing of that dreadful habit all bad cartoons have, if they think their young (or not-so-young) audience is stupid: at the end of each episode, everyone will just burst into spontaneous laughter, even if there's nothing funny going on. Like a laugh track, basically, but extra condescending.

This show has gathered quite a fan base, so if you like it, good for you. But I was personally very disappointed.

So much potential...

So Danny Phantom is a series about a kid with ghost powers. His parents are ghost hunters, determined to murder him. His arch nemesis is his fathers old college buddy who is obsessed with having his Mom. His friends are good, his Sister is wise and the ghosts he fights are significantly more dangerous than the villains of other shows (I'm thinking of a Ghost from the future in particular).

Some episodes are the stuff of Nightmares and it's a testimony to the characters fortitude that he's able to keep his head together. Were this all, I would reccommend the series to anyone. But it's not all and it's got quite a few drawbacks.

First and foremost is this series sense of humor, while some of the jokes are spot on, most of them lack subtlety and finess to even come close to humor and that's because of it's horrible timing (I imagine that the Nostalgia Critic and Casper would spend a lot of time together when reviewing an episode due to his Running Gag). Butch Hartman inserts a joke at the worst times, and most of the time it's Fairly Odd Parents-esque jokes which ruin the pacing and the tone of the episode.

Second is the inconsistant characterization. Now, I'm NOT saying that there is not character development. There is, and it's almost famous for how subtle it is (point in the shows favor), but I am saying that they sacrifice characters for the sake of the shows 'humor'. Jack Fenton is a nominal example of this, him being the butt end of jokes so often that his genius comes very close to being an Informed Attribute. Almost. The sad part is we never really get an explanation for this and this happens to other characters as well (Tucker being the most famous, due to having more episodes as the villain than any other protagonist).

Now, if those don't sound like enough to dissuade from the series, don't let it. I personally love the series and everything it shows, but I would be delusional to declare it the perfect show. However, if you find episodes are lacking, watch the good ones (My Brothers Keeper and The Ultimate Enemy in particular) and then make a bee line to the fanfic recommendation section of his page and enjoy. You'll find it flooded with many stories which are arguably better than the actual show and I don't think you'll be dissapointed.

Judge the inside, not the out...

Teen SuperHero who struggles to maintain his Secret Identity while living a normal life. Yeah, yeah, pretty standard since the 1960's. But look past the cliche format and you're left with an engrossing series.

Danny Phantom surprised me. Despite its childish appearance, the show is deeply rooted with complex plots and Character Development. Watch and marvel as young Danny turns from a naive and shy boy into a fully competent, mature, and responsible hero. Or witness uptight Jazz who learns to embrace her family heritage and realize the brother she's been overprotecting can stand on his own two feet. Then there's Big Bad Vlad struggling to find love, only to constantly get rejected that leads to a tragic Villainous Breakdown. Or how Rich Bitch Valerie turns from a shallow, popular jerk to an Action Girl who realizes there's a world beyond her own myopic view. Anyone else who doesn't get a character boost usually has their own idiosyncrasies and personalities to charm you. I dare you to not feel sorry for The Box Ghost who tries.

Mimicking the best of Teen Hero series, Danny undergoes and struggles through an Untrusting Community, Rogues Gallery, And Triple Shifter. The beauty lies in how the series does a fantastic job acknowledging said continuities, with items and story elements that play key roles later in the show. Most importantly, Danny's growth in the story also extends to the series; early plots dealt with Danny trying to obtain popularity or babysit a flour sack for his school. By the end, Danny is fighting his evil future self, protecting his town while admired by the general public, and fighting God-like ghosts.

Season Three is the problematic one; Executive Meddling caused the series to rush. The old writers left, leaving new ones to fill in resulting in Character Derailment and Aborted Arc, even if the last few episodes improved a bit (still not up to Season One/Two standards). It also has a bad habit of putting in humorous jokes during dramatic moments; not good. Despite it, Danny Phantom is a worthy cartoon, complex in plot and character despite its kiddy feel.

A hymn to heroic teens

Danny Phantom is often compared to Spiderman and Buffy, each at their best... and it's mostly deserved. Third season aside, DP is a shaky masterpiece that's smart and funny at most times. Few episodes drag in terms of pacing or storytelling and in the arena where Negative Continuity is to be expected, this is a breath of fresh air. In many ways, Nick/Viacom did this series a disservice. Danny Phantom is not as great or as edgy as some of the shows its been compared to (Gargoyles among them for more than one reason) nor, sadly, will it be remembered for its greatness, but for the great things that could have been. Given more time, could the mood continuity problems been fixed? If Marmel had been chosen as the new series head, would it have grown even more mature? What is there is still worth seeing as-not a kid's show ala cousin series Fairly Odd Parents, or an adult's show ala Drawn Together, but as one of the growing number of teen-friendly animations. To be sure, there were issues. Danny mysteriously knowing Plasmius's name in Bitter Reunions. The deus ex machina ending to a small number of episodes. Small continuity hiccups in The Ultimate Enemy. Constant broadcasting Out Of Order episodes. The Shipping wars (Though as a Tenchi Muyo fan, I have seen far, far worst). The thing is, that's part of the charm of this show. The points where you are reminded that hey, Danny is fourteen. The sad things I wish I'd seen was Sam's family situation dealt with more, the return of future Danny among other things. Although season 3 was... average... compared to the rest of the series, with few exceptions, it was total crap compared to the other two seasons. Part of that I blame on character derailment and the treatment of Vlad, the Big Bad. There are standout episodes: Forever Phantom, Frightmare, D-Stabilized and Urban Jungle come to mind. The most tragic is Phantom Planet. It could have been one of those good ones, but poor execution plagues it as it does the rest of the season. The other tragedy is Vlad's end, which is heartbreaking... until he gets smacked by an asteroid.

Complaints aside, Danny Phantom is an excellent example of action-comedy done right and consistantly executed. It just couldn't compare to the bright popularity of Spongebob or Fairly Odd Parents, especially when it wasn't given half a chance.