When I reviewed the series premiere of The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, I declared that it really needed a weirdness infusion. The pilot episode was pleasant enough, but not as funny as I was hoping for. I would invoke the cliché of being careful what you wish for, but in this case, I don’t see the downside, because the results are hilarious and make me more than happy to declare I was almost totally wrong about the show. The first DVD of The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack is now available, and it doesn’t take long for the show to get delightfully, marvelously strange and off-beat. In fact, the show’s weirdness may occasionally come close to nightmare fuel for the younger or more impressionable viewers, but for those who can handle a strong shot of the bizarre, Flapjack is a wonderfully enjoyable series.
The show is mostly set in Stormalong Harbor, a ramshackle port city that’s home to the cheerful, innocent youth Flapjack (voiced by series creator Thruop Van Orman), who wants nothing more than a life of Adventure. His best friend in this endeavor is Captain K’nuckles (the perfectly cast Brian Doyle-Murray), a gnarled, scallywag of a sailor with a crusty, selfish veneer that hides a heart of gold underneath, which in turn he uses to hide the gnarled, crusty, selfish scallywag of a sailor under all that. The voice of reason is the sweet, motherly whale Bubbie (Roz Ryan), who also usually serves as their primary form of transportation. It may seem like Flapjack and Captain K’nuckles are on a quest to find the Great Rock Candy Island, but this turns out to be a lot less important than the theme song would make it out to be. Mostly, the show is an excuse for Flapjack and his friends to engage in crazy shenanigans, but as long as we’re laughing, who cares? They certainly don’t.
The animation (all done by hand, according to Van Orman in one of the featurettes) is a lot busier and more intricate than modern American TV audiences are generally used to, and it beautifully evokes woodblock prints and scrimshaw carvings of the age of tall ships. The show will also occasionally dip into stop-motion animation, especially for the opening credits and for Peppermint Larry’s Candy Wife (an exceptionally strange pair of supporting characters that I can’t even begin to explain). The variety of mixed media and unusual influences combine to make a unique aesthetic that has always been one of the most arresting things about the show. More than anything else, the animation suggests a tremendous richness of texture and a sense of depth, as well as an exceptionally hand-made quality that doesn’t tend to be seen as much in the colder renderings of CGI or Flash animation.
This first DVD of the show contains five episodes, each of which is split into two separate chapters. “Several Leagues Under the Sea/Eye See You” is still not quite as funny as it ought to be, although after getting more used to the show’s sense of humor and comic pacing, I found a few more laughs in it than I did initially. The show does much better almost immediately with “Kid Nickels/The Sweet Life,” especially in the latter as Flapjack and K’nuckles attempt to weasel their way into high society (or at least the ample candy it provides) with the help of the snooty and dim Lady Nickelbottoms, the richest lady in Stormalong. The chapter seems to take great pleasure in completely confounding expectations to hilarious effect. The first half of “Several Leagues Above the Sea/That’s a Wrap” has only a tenuous connection to the pilot episode of the show, but it is definitely much funnier, especially the bizarrely hilarious and barely in-tune song Flapjack sings near the end of it. “That’s a Wrap” doesn’t really make a lick of sense, but that’s probably one of the best things about it by the end.
“Cammie Island/Shave and a Haircut … Two Friends” is probably the high point of weirdness on this disc, with the first story sending Flapjack and K’nuckles to a lost island inhabited by a monster named Cammie, and the second story featuring the most sinister barbershop quartet in the world attempting to steal a map to Candy Island. “Cammie Island” turns out to have surprising emotional heft as Flapjack grows to know Cammie, and the ending is almost sweet, in a really weird sort of way. Finally, “Skooled/Snarked” sends Flapjack and K’nuckles to school, and then to save Bubbie from the clutches of the Snarks, quasi-Russian social pariahs of the seas. These last two episodes are where the show gets strange in a scary way, with images like a giant squid manipulating a crowd of puppets or the few moments where comedic threats of bodily harm can look almost indistinguishable from the real thing. This is only really a problem for the younger or more imaginative viewers, while the overwhelming majority of people will laugh along instead, if only because the imagery is so seriously, thoroughly weird.
The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack Vol. 1 presents all the episodes in anamorphic widescreen, and the image quality on the disc is superb. The unusual textured appearance of the animation is brilliantly reproduced throughout, and looks especially good on high-end computer monitors or upscaled on an HDTV. Sound is a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo with subtitles in English. There are sensible chapter stops in each episode to skip past the opening or closing credits or to the second episode of the half-hour. Unlike many other recent Cartoon Network DVDs, this one comes with four short but solid bonus featurettes. “Meet Thurop” is a quick introduction to series creator Thurop Van Orman, who discusses how he got into animation and how Flapjack went from a concept to a show. The hardcore fans will get a kick out of the earliest concept drawings of the title character. “Adventures in Voice Acting” is about recording the show, showing moments in the booth with Van Orman, Brian Doyle-Murray, show writer Steve Little, and veteran voice actor Jeff Bennett. “Adventures in Animation” follows the show from boarding to scripting to, uh, the horseplay among the animators that is used to make an episode, apparently. Finally, “Misadventures in Song” is a parody music video where Van Orman pokes fun at his unnervingly high voice. Each featurette is in full-frame video and runs about 3-4 minutes.
Between The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack and the sadly cancelled Chowder, Cartoon Network seems to have cornered the market on the animated mainstream-weird. It may be a bit much to take all at once—Flapjack may actually be best in smaller, half-hour doses than the giant consecutive chunk on this DVD—but The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack Vol. 1 is a terrific presentation of one of the best shows Cartoon Network is airing today.