X-Men Animated Was Stupid

For some weird reason, some people consider the Fox X-Men series from the nineties to be a good cartoon. In fact, it is not. Not even a little bit. I actually enjoyed it when I first saw it, but they dusted it off when the first movie came out and I discovered really that it was terrible. Just to illustrate the point, I am going to make a list of ridiculous things from the first episode alone.

  1. The voice acting of the newscaster narrating Sabretooth’s rampage is bad.
  2. The opening scene, wherein Jubilee’s foster parents are talking about what to do with their mutant doctor, has pretty ham-fisted dialogue.
  3. The Sentinels are stupid. If you have these six ton robots, this is a really odd deployment of them. In residential zones? Shopping malls? The things break everything when they walk. They’e also so big and clumsy, they’re not even the best thing to try to bag mutants.
  4. There’s not a whole lot of reasons for the Sentinels to go after Jubilee unless they’re going after all mutants. To the extent that Jubilee in particular poses a danger, it’s because she destroys electronics. So you send a robot? Later explained as a test case using a random file, though maybe for the first outing you want to be a little less random?
  5. Jubilee leaves no thought unsaid aloud so that viewers can hear what she’s thinking, even if it should be pretty obvious from context. If being a mutant is a bad thing, that’s one thought in particular you wouldn’t be talking to yourself with in an arcade.
  6. Why is gambit wearing his costume/uniform at a shopping mall? How does Storm magically transform her clothes into the silver costume? (Maybe there’s an answer to the latter one.)
  7. As mentioned earlier, the Sentinels going after Jubilee is weird unless they’re going after every mutant. Except that, when threatened by Storm and Rogue, he identifies them as unidentified mutants and ignores them. (But then, later, when Gambit is on the floor and vulnerable, he identifies him as an identified mutant but for some reason decides is “expendable.”) The inconsistency itself is not the biggest issue here. The biggest issue is that he ignored Storm and Rogue when they were threats, and decided to eliminate Gambit when he wasn’t. If it uses judgment on such things, it should have gone the other way around.
  8. Hey Jubilee, if you’re hiding from a robot, stop talking to yourself. Saying “I hope he doesn’t see me, I hope he doesn’t see me” to anything you’re hiding from is unusually stupid even for a show like this.
  9. Cyclops dialogue is bad.
  10. Why are they wearing their costumes while lounging?
  11. This is a weird school. There appear to be no students other than Jubilee. Not for a lack of mutants being around, though.
  12. The Mutant Control Agency is said to be private. Where do they get their money (other than “sometimes supported by the government”?). The Sentinel identifies itself as being “law enforcement.” If it’s not, it seems to me they’re going to have to pay that mall a whole lot of money.
  13. “Someone at the Mutant Control Agency has a hidden agenda.” This appears to be the least hidden agenda ever. The “hidden agenda” could speak to why they are interested in Jubilee in particular, and the next scene suggests that maybe it’s because of her association with the X-Men. Except… until they went after her, no such association existed.
  14. I’ll actually let the “X-Men chatting while secretly approaching a place they’re about to raid” slide, though combine that with the mutants talking as though they’ve never really talked about how mutants came to be is a little over the top.
  15. Maybe if you’re a school that helps mutants, you take the mutant registration files with you?
  16. Beast’s method of deleting the files from the system probably wasn’t “poetry” but a better way of doing it than destroying the computer, as Storm did.

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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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31 thoughts on “X-Men Animated Was Stupid

  1. I watched the series with my kids on Saturday mornings in the 90s. The competition was things like Pokemon and Barney. It was way, way better than those.

    Most of your objections are things that, if the show was working, you’d laugh off. You’d still notice, but you wouldn’t care.

    I don’t think the first episode is the thing that made people think, “this is really good”. Most show weren’t doing season-long story arcs at the time, and certainly not a Saturday morning kids cartoon.

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  2. I always liked to joke about the teleporting powerless mutants. There were two mutants, a chicken headed one and another one and they’d somehow be occupying a mutant community center in whatever city the show was set in that day. Oh no, violent haters are gonna destroy the mutant community center, there’s chicken head and his pal. Same guys are in Rio.

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  3. I was always bothered by the animation, it seemed so clunky and poorly done.

    And the voice acting was horrible.

    ETA: The later X-Men: Evolution was much better.

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  4. X-Men Animated aired on Fox and from what I understand Fox could get rather strict about what you could put in kid’s cartoons even by American standards. Whatever network aired Batman: The Animated Series was let DC push the envelope with content but Fox pulled in the reigns strictly. That’s probably why X-Men Animated and Spider-Man animated ended up really bad.

    Americans were never really willing to allow kid’s media to get away with the things that the Japanese were willing to let in their kid’s media. It takes a lot longer for Japanese parents to flip out en mass for whatever reason. That allows manga and anime to display a greater amount of violence, maturity, toilet humor, absurdity, and plot complexity than American cartoons. GI Joe had mooks jump out of helicopters at the last minute and lasers and villains with no real discernable motive while a Japanese version would have real bullets, people dying, and some more realistically motivated villains even if they still dressed in corny costumes. There would be more overt sexuality for better or worse.

    The early to mid-1990s were an interesting time because some shows were trying to push the limits with what you could get away with in kid’s cartoons. Batman, Gargoyles, the Pirates of Dark Water, Peter Pan and the Pirates, and even Conan the Adventurer had an edge and continuity that their 1980s precedents did not. Animaniacs was a comedy rather than an action show but it made the move to be completely irreverent without any moral, something that the earlier Tiny Toons felt it needed to include at times. Other cartoons like X-Men, Captain Planet, and Spiderman still were bound by the established precedents on what you could and could not get away with in American animation.

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    • I have only seen a few episodes of the animated Batman and Gargoyles, but they’re both so much better than the animated X-Men.

      The voice acting in both is substantially stronger. If I recall correctly, the writers took the time to ensure that the stories were actually internally consistent and reasonable in both those series. I’m unfamiliar with the other series you mention.

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  5. Thank you for this, Will!

    I’ve long been a fan of the X-Men. I read the comics this series was based on when I was a child. (Yes, this means I’m old.) My younger friends who are X-Men fans love the cartoon series, but I’m baffled by their adoration. The voice acting is terrible, really terrible. The action sequences are dumb. I know that children’s cartoon action sequences are almost always dumb in order to pretend violence isn’t dangerous, but still. The X-Men aren’t even clever or creative in how they use their powers. The characters’ actions don’t make much sense. Let me mention the awfulness of the voice acting again; it was painfully bad.

    I would get it if my friends talked about how great the show was when they were kids, but could recognize its limitations now that they are adults. This, after all, is my opinion of the Super Friends. But they don’t. They still think it’s wonderful! (Okay, the X-Men animated series is much better than Super Friends was. But more grating and less campy fun, too.)

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  6. During the 60’s we had the live-action Batman (high camp). During the 70’s we had the Superfriends (low camp). During the 80’s, we had Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends (lower camp).

    In 1992, we finally got Batman: The Animated Series. HOLY CRAP WAS THIS SHOW GOOD. It wasn’t even camp! It just sat down and said “let’s take the characters and the stories somewhat seriously and see what we can create” and, holy crap, did they come up with a wonderful show.

    So when Marvel said “WE CAN DO THAT!!!!”

    And they tried to attempt to take the X-Men seriously.

    You can’t compare the X-Men cartoon to the bounty we have today.

    You have to compare it to Alf: The Animated Series.

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  7. Jaybird:
    In 1992, we finally got Batman: The Animated Series. HOLY CRAP WAS THIS SHOW GOOD. It wasn’t even camp! It just sat down and said “let’s take the characters and the stories somewhat seriously and see what we can create” and, holy crap, did they come up with a wonderful show.

    Does it still hold up watching it as an adult? As I mention above, I’ve seen a few episodes, and they seemed pretty good, but I don’t know if it’d be worth watching the whole series.

    (This should have been nested under Jaybird’s reply, not sure what went wrong.)

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          • Keep in mind that the new Voltron has had twenty-odd years of expansion in What You Can Say On TV.

            Like, when “BTAS” was showing up, it was considered crazy envelope-pushing to have open homsexuals as characters, let alone recurring or supporting ones.

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            • DD,
              I’m pretty sure that had Kids existed back then, they could have managed the reference. It’s oblique.

              But, yeah, if they managed to put gay people on a kids show — wow, that is pretty revolutionary. “Here. This Exists. It is A Thing” is meaningful.

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      • Because of the hearty endorsement of Jaybird, LeeEsq, North, and Tod Kelly, I’ve now seen the first two episodes of Batman: the Animated Series and plan to watch more.

        It’s pretty fantastic. It has a very specific and appealing look. I love the art deco touches, though that Batmobile would have a terrible turn radius. The voice acting is phenomenal. It feels like a bit of a hot drop into Batman’s story (the second episode has Robin suddenly, where was he the first episode?), but it’s great.

        Doctor Jay said this about the X-Men cartoon:

        Most of your objections are things that, if the show was working, you’d laugh off. You’d still notice, but you wouldn’t care.

        This is quite true. The 2nd episode of BtAS involves the Joker escaping prison on a rocket powered Christmas tree and then immediately unleashing a plot involving (among other things) giant animated killer robots and a remote controlled cannon installed into an observatory. Where did he get the money and the technological know-how? And the time for construction? Did the astronomers not notice the cannon being installed?

        But that’s all okay, because the show is strong enough I’m willing to overlook it (mostly).

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        • It feels like a bit of a hot drop into Batman’s story (the second episode has Robin suddenly, where was he the first episode?), but it’s great.

          Dick is in college, so he’s part time and kind of comes and goes. If I recall, they put him in college because the censors had issues with having a child get beat up but an older Robin was okay.

          They did add Tim Drake later on, as a kid. At that point they were on The WB and not Fox, so that may have allowed them to. Though I remember them saying they were kind of hobbled in what they could do with Tim.

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        • The box sets are all strong and they’re all worthwhile (and are even worth watching in order).

          On top of that, the Batman Animated movie “Mask of the Phantasm” was the best Batman movie that we had until Nolan gave us one that was worth arguing over. (Prior to the Nolan movies, it was Mask of the Phantasm in a walk.)

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  8. I remember it being interesting at the time because of watching the sides form. New characters weren’t guaranteed to turn all good or bad. Also, it was my first encounter with the Kitty Pryde character, who won my heart.

    I saw a few episodes of it recently. It does not hold up well. Maybe now I’ve got so many more superheroes and supervillains series under my belt that its low quality stands out more. The X Men cartoons focused on the discovery of powers and the choosing of sides, which also happens to be the aspects of the superhero story that Heroes hit out of the park. I know, Heroes bashing is big these days, but if you look at the first season, there’s some amazing work.

    The Batman and Superman shows (collectively referred to as the DCAU) were really good. I saw them as an adult. A lot of animation focuses on the things you can’t do in live action work without an enormous CGI budget. The DCAU was more drama than action. It felt more like Law and Order than X Men.

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      • I liked it a lot. And it focused on a certain kind of origin story, one that doesn’t involve a lab or an incantation. It was normal people with normal problems realizing they had powers. They also got into Primatech and choosing good or evil. When they stuck with those elements, the show was gold, even in later seasons.

        Origin stories are the easiest to tell. Most first superhero movies are the origin stories of the good guy and his top rival. Ordinary people mutating for unknown reasons, that’s a bit of a challenge to tell compellingly. Of course Heroes was able to do a better job of it than X Men – is was a live-action hour-long drama about adults versus a half-hour cartoon about teens.

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        • They had twenty-some episodes worth of good ideas in the first season, and maybe three episodes worth in later seasons. There was some stuff I’m glad I watched, but man it was a let-down. Still, better than the X-Men cartoons. (OK, not Maya and her brother. They were terrible.)

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          • That only explains the second season. If they’d turned it around, the strike would be a good excuse. They actually turned it around some, but not enough.

            The show’s creators wanted to start fresh every season with new characters and story lines. The network considered that, then considered playing it safe with proven characters, then (being network executives) thought about barely legal white girls kissing each other, and they went with their gut.

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    • The X Men cartoons focused on the discovery of powers and the choosing of sides, which also happens to be the aspects of the superhero story that Heroes hit out of the park. I know, Heroes bashing is big these days, but if you look at the first season, there’s some amazing work.

      Amazing? Ha. Yes, they actually sat down and worked out some character arcs the first season, with reasonable reactions to powers and how to behave with them, including some mysterious organization keeping tabs on people.

      That’s…not amazing work to do that. That’s, like, the premise of the series!

      ‘Didn’t completely fuck up their premise in the *first* season.’ is not a stunning endorsement of the series. ;)

      And none of Heroes was amazing in my book. The first season was *moderately interesting*, with the way it threaded the needle of the ‘realistic superhero’ everyone pretended they wanted at the time (Before we realized, wait, that’s stupid, if you’re going to give us superheros, just give us the ones from the comic books.) with far-out randomly-distributed superpowers.

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