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Western Animation / Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea

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Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea is the title of the English language version of the French animated series Les Mondes Engloutis ("The Engulfed Worlds"), best known by American viewers as that trippy little series that ran on Nickelodeon for two years (1985-1987, rerun until 1990). You know, the one with the opening theme song sung by Menudo in Season 2.

The series concerns a lost city named Arkadia, whose ancient civilization escaped a great cataclysm by moving underground into the Hollow Earth. Today, most Arkadians don't even know that life continues on the surface (thanks to the machinations of the ancients), but life goes on, thanks to the heat and light of Arcadia's artificial sun, Tehra (Shagma in the French version). Unfortunately, Tehra is starting to lose power and fail, but the adults of Arkadia seem complacent that everything will be fine, despite a vocal group of children calling for the city to do something to prevent both the sun and the city dying.

Given no other choice, the children enter a forbidden archive, and discover the truth about the existence of life on the surface. Using the knowledge in the archive, they create a messenger named Arkana, and send her to the surface world for help. Together with the two talking pangolins Bic and Bac, she makes it to the surface in Tehrig, and finds two ordinary human children, Matt (Bob in the original) and Rebecca, willing to go back with her. Unfortunately, Tehrig (Shagshag in the original) is captured by the Pirates of the Seas before reaching the portal back. They are eventually freed with the help of the wandering warrior Spartakus, but by then they are hopelessly lost, and have to wander the various worlds beneath the sea to find a way to Arkadia before it's too late.

Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea provides examples of:

  • Aardvark Trunks: Bic and Bac, both pangolins, have mouths underneath their snouts that look like noses. They also have no scales or claws, unlike real life pangolins.
  • Adults Are Useless: In the beginning, when the adults of Arkadia are unwilling or unable to do anything about the upcoming apocalypse, forcing the children to act.
    • Later on in the first episode, Rebecca invokes and Lampshades this trope when talking Matt into going with Arkana instead of taking her to the authorities — claiming that the adults would take Arkana and do experiments on her, trying to figure out her history, and by the time they got around to maybe send help to Arkadia, it would be too late.
  • Aerith and Bob: The protagonist quartet is Arkana, Spartakus... and Rebecca and Matt (Bob in the original French). Justified in that Arkana was named by her Arcadian creators, Spartakus is from one of the interior strata worlds, and the two kids are from the surface world.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Rebecca is occasionally this to Matt.
  • Apocalypse How: Arcadia escaped one cataclysm by moving underground. Now they're on the verge of another one.
  • Armless Biped: Inverted by the Arkadians, who have no legs and a rounded bottom.
  • Artificial Human: Arkana.
  • Atlantis: The Arkadians are hinted to be the last survivors from here.
  • Beneath the Earth: Arkadia and its inhabitants.
  • Bookends: In the first episode when Matt and Rebecca join, they mention they need to be back in time for dinner. At the end of the last episode, when Tehrig drops them off home, their mother is calling them to dinner.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The lyrics of the original French theme song speak directly to the kids watching the show, inviting them to join the heroes' journey.
  • Cain and Abel: Spartakus has a younger brother named, I kid you not, Rainbow. However, there's no sunshine where he's involved, as he's the evil ruler of a kingdom and a slaver. And he wants nothing more than to see his older brother in chains.
  • Cartoonish Companions: The Pirates have a much more rotund, cartoonish and caricatured style, standing out sharply in comparison with all the other, more realistic characters.
  • Cheerful Child: Rebecca, with an extra side-order of Plucky Girl.
  • Clip Show: Two of them; one involves a Mad Scientist sending Tehrig back in time through the group's previous adventures; the other has Tehrig lose his memory and think he's the Pirate ship, upon which the others recount some of their encounters with the Pirates, in the hope of getting him to snap out of it.
  • Demoted to Extra: Shangor, one of the children of Arkadia. note  He had a pretty big part in the first episode, but after that, he was usually only seen in clips of the first episode whenever Arkana was explaining her mission, or in the background.
  • The Dividual: Bic and Bac, of the Twindividual variety.
  • Dub Name Change: The English dub has a number of name changes.
    • Easy enough to understand why they changed "Shagma" and "Shagshag" to "Tehra" and "Tehrig."
    • The main quartet of pirates have names that are punny in French, but don't really translate well, save for Massmedia, which actually means the same thing in both languages. So Mattymatte became Mighty Matt, Maxagaze became Nasty Max, and Seskapil (which sounds like and translates to "sex appeal", a bit problematic for a kids show) became Sleazeappeal.
    • And then there's Bob, who was renamed Matt in the English dub, despite Bob being a perfectly normal name in English (though probably not necessarily one geared towards a child character). It also breaks the One-Steve Limit with Mighty Matt.
    • An odd one with Bic and Bac, who have swapped names in the English dub. In the original, Bic is the one with the long ears and Bac the one with the short, round ears, but in the English dub it's the other way around.
    • The Hungarian dub changed the pirate names as follows: Maxagaze to Maxigáz (Maxi-Gas or Maxi-Bad), Mattymatte to Agyalap (Brain-Base or Pituitary), Seskapil to Zsebpiszok (Pocket Dirt), Massmedia to Popócici (Butt-Boobs) and their rival Ringnar to Popfej (Pop-Head, also a possible nod to Popeye).
  • Ensemble Cast: Despite what the English title would have you think, all the major characters had roughly the same amount of screen-time and equal importance to the plot.
  • Eternal French: The civilizations of the surface have been out of contact with the civilizations of the strata for millennia. So naturally, everyone understands each other just fine.
  • Expository Theme Tune
  • Funny Animal: Bic and Bac, again. They're mostly there for comedy relief, but do get to play important parts in the plot from time to time.
  • Gladiator Revolt: Spartakus (as might be guessed from his name) is an ex-gladiator who escaped slavery following a revolt.
  • Hollow World: The various "worlds of the strata" are just that. Entire worlds with skies, rivers, cities and people existing below the surface of the earth itself. What's more disturbing is that historical figures from our past actually live here as well (it is noted at the end of season one that time in the strata passes differently then on the surface).
  • Honor Before Reason: Arkana got it bad sometimes.
  • Human Sacrifice: In one strata they find a mostly-empty Inca-styled temple and a high priest who insists that Arkana is actually the long-lost Princess Gold Cloud, who must be sacrificed to the sun god. Out of her innocent desire to help, she goes along with it.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villains: The Pirates border on this trope, being comical bumblers who are played for laughs more often than not, but they have a few too many moments where they're being genuine threats to perfectly fit the trope.
  • Knight of Cerebus: Arkshag. Unlike the pirates, his villainy is played straight and his role in the story ties into saving the Tehra.
    • Also, Gog/Magog/The Hydra is the most dangerous monster(s) in the setting. Its first appearance was arguably one of the scariest episodes of the series and its subsequent appearances are treated very seriously.
  • Large Ham: The pirates, and how. Specially Meedios, who, whenever something was about to happen to the group, would start shouting "ALAAAAARRRRRMMMM! ALAAAAAAARRRRMMMM!!" into the nearest microphone.
  • Leitmotif: Several, though of course the pirates' song and "Flashbic" are the most notable, functioning as character songs for the pirates and Bic and Bac, respectively.
  • Lost Technology: None of the Arkadians know how all their whiz-bang stuff works anymore, beyond "push this button to make the machine do something useful."
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Spartakus is an orphan and a major character. This was bound to happen.
  • Mind over Matter: When Arkana presses her shoulder-button, she can manifest various powers such as telekinesis.
  • Nonstandard Character Design: The Pirates, who are much more toony-looking than the rest of the cast.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: Spartakus' trick gauntlet.
  • Pirate Song: "The Pirate Dance" is sung every time the Pirates appear in a scene.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything:
    • Semi-averted with The Pirates of the Seas. They will jump on you and loot your stuff... just as soon as they finish singing in their music video. The pirates also have a rival group of ruffians (who do not have their own song), lead by Ringnar, who also occasionally try to do something but fail.
    • Much is made about Spartakus being the finest gladiator ever to roam the strata, but his combat skills are almost never used to solve a problem. Justified in that Spartakus fled his world to escape being a gladiator, and put violence behind him.
  • Playing with Fire: Bic and Bac have the ability to, among other things, create fire by rubbing their noses together.
  • Solar CPR: the reason for Arkana's journey is that Arkadia's personal sun is either going to fizzle out or explode and she has to try to recover the knowledge of how to fix it.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Bic and Bac, happy little critters resembling pangolins, who might be the oldest living things in Arkadia.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Surprisingly, Nasty Max/Maxagaze the Captain of the pirates turns out to be one. During the Pirates' A Day in the Limelight episode Rebecca and Matt, after being captured, instigate a mutiny by pointing out how unfair it is for the captain to keep most of the loot (merely by virtue of being the captain) while the rest of the crew get scraps. When Nasty Max eventually wins back the trust of his crew he establishes a meritocratic system of distribution by promising that whoever catches Rebecca and Matt will get the lion's share of the loot.
  • The Rival: Ringmar heads a pirate faction that competes with Nasty Max's. He's also Nasty Max's main competition for overall leadership of the pirates.
  • She's a Man in Japan: As if swapping Bic and Bac's names for the English dub wasn't confusing enough, they also decided to make one of them a girl — The English Bic (the one with the round ears, who is named "Bac" in the original) is voiced by a woman and appears to be female, whereas both pangolins were voiced by men and clearly male in the French original.
  • Schizo Tech: Different stratas have wildly varying levels of technology. The pirates also bring their advanced technology into strats with medieval levels of technology, such that they ride their flying scooters in a strata reminiscent of ancient China.
  • Shout-Out
  • Sidekick Song: "Flashbic," the happy-go-lucky theme song of Bic and Bac.
  • Taken for Granite: The Temple of the Condor features a large number of odd statues... with heartbeats. At the end of the episode, all the petrification effects are reversed and all the statues wake up.
  • Take That!: The pirates' Punny Names in the original French version, as well as a lot of the scenery in their lairs, seem to harshly criticize crass, lowbrow mass media that focuses on sex and consumerism.
  • Terrible Trio: The three main pirates from the gang of Pirates of the Seas — Nasty Max (the leader), Mighty Matt and Sleazeappeal. They spend about all the episodes pursuing the heroes, to no avail, though at least they always get an opportunity to sing their Villain Song. (Massmedia is another important pirate, but she's usually too busy with her radio show to join their antics.)
  • Villain Song: See Pirate Song above. The Pirates have an especially catchy one, which they sing in pretty much all the episodes featuring them... which is to say most of the episodes.
  • Verbal Tic: Spartakus has a mild one — he avoids the use of contractions.
  • Villains Out Shopping: When Nasty Max has to face his rival Ringmar in an election for leadership of the pirates, he kidnaps Demosthenes to help him with his speeches. Demosthenes refuses to help unless he's paid, so Nasty Max immediately hires him.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: They're Greek. They can have all the K's they want in their names.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: Time in the underground strata moves differently from time on the surface, so though the journey through the strata is long, Matt and Rebecca will still be able to get back home in time for dinner.