Friday, May 25, 2012

Nostalgia Theater: De-Neuralizing Men in Black: The Series

This week's Nostalgia Theater really lives up to its title, as the third Men in Black flick this week got me reminiscing fondly about the late '90s MIB animated series. Unlike a lot of the 'toons I spend bandwidth ragging on about here, Men in Black has a concept that's perfectly suited to animation, and the show is a rare successful examples of the often-fumbled movie-to-cartoon switcheroo, following in the stylistic footsteps of home studio Columbia's Ghosbusters animated show.

Well before the first Men in Black movie's summer '97 premiere, Columbia/Sony put an animated spin-off into the development pipeline. So confident were they about the film's box office prospects that they wanted to be ready to immediately capitalize on the audience awareness it was likely to build up. Produced by animation vets Duane Capizzi, Jeff Kline, and Richard Raynis, Men in Black: The Series had a fairly distinct look that helped it stand out from the pack when it debuted on the Kids' WB in fall of '97, just a few short months after the movie's very successful release. Take a look at the intro:

As you can see just from that, the animated MIB didn't deviate drastically from the roadmap the first movie laid out, and stuck strenuously close to its template. Agent K is the "been there, seen that" elder statesman, and Agent J is the wiseacre rookie who's constantly in over his head. Together, the two protect the Earth from all manner of otherworldly menaces. While the first film ended with K (Tommy Lee Jones) retiring from his role, the animated show simply ignored that bit and soldiered on (the better for them, as the sequel in '02 had the task of cleaning up that bit of continuity to get Tommy Lee back on the force).

Above, I referred to the animated The Real Ghosbusters (a show I continue to hold a great deal of fondness for), and as points of comparison go, that's probably the most apt in this situation. Like Ghostbusters, MIB: The Series was based on a hit comedy-horror flick from Columbia Pictures, and like Ghostbusters, Men in Black did its best to play to both kiddie and adult audiences (and also like Ghostbusters, the MIB show's producers clearly didn't bother clearing through the legal hurdles necessary to get the movie actors' likeness rights...).

As an aside, I wonder if Men in Black creator Lowell Cunningham had any idea how long a shelf-life his idea would end up having when he first dreamed it up in a little-seen early '90s comic series published by Aircel Comics. Anyway, Men in Black: The Series ended up running four seasons and 53 episodes, ending its run in 2001, a year before the second MIB flick hit theaters. While no full DVD sets appear to be forthcoming, reruns are still shown occasionally, most recently on the Hasbro-owned Hub network. If you're still curious, you can check out the entire first ep below:

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