STUDIO: Turner Home Entertainment
PRICE: $29.98
RUNNING TIME: 220 Minutes
• Deleted Scenes and Animatics
• Rough Cut and Final Cut Comparisons
• Sweet J Presents
• Bumps, Promos
• Photo Gallery
• Animation Meetings
• Commentaries
• Easter Egg

The Pitch

"It’s Family Guy with even less plot so nothing impedes the flow of the 80s pop culture references."

The Humans

Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, Douglas Goldstein, Tom Root, Chris Finnegan and celebrity guest stars

The Nutshell

Robot Chicken is a scatological combination of pop culture references. Short, stop motion animated bits usually no more than a couple of minutes long take popular (or just well-known) television shows, movies, what-have-you and parody them. The most common style they use is what the kids call a "mash-up". This is taking two seemingly unrelated properties and mixing them up. Like the movie Seven and The Smurfs. Now you have Brainy Smurf searching for the identity of a killer who’s offing other blue, pudgy pixie-like creatures in a fashion corresponding to the seven deadly sins as well as the Smurf’s own particular theme: Baker Smurf is stuffed with cream filling and baked, Vanity Smurf is fried underneath his hairdryer, Lazy Smurf is killed in his Barcalounger. Other very quick gags are tossed in as well, like a few seconds of a robot humping a washer on spin cycle. These are called "flips". Each episode clocks in just under 15 minutes so that it never wears out its welcome.

"This is the worst birthday ever!"

The Lowdown

It started in Toyfare Magazine, a periodical under the Wizard Entertainment Group banner focusing on toys, action figures, maquettes… dolls for boys. They called it "Twisted Mego Theater" after the company that produced eight inch tall action figures based on properties fans loved. Happy Days, The Greatest American Hero, Dukes of Hazzard, The Six Million Dollar Man and super heroes from both Marvel and DC and more were represented in the toy line. They took these action figures and posed them, photographed them and put word balloons over them in post-production (so to speak). They assembled this pictures in a comic book format for one-page gags. Most of the quick stories revolved around the Hulk being stupid or Spider-Man being a dick. Later, they renamed it "Twisted Toyfare Theater" and the feature became so popular that whole special issues were dedicated to the posed dolls.

Seth Green (the actor who first gained wide recognition as Scott Evil in the Austin Powers movies) is a big fan of pop culture, comics and toys. He was also a fan of "Twisted Toyfare Theater" and was contacted by editor Matt Senreich and creators Tom Root and Douglas Goldstein. Together, they created some stop motion promo materials for Sony under the moniker of Sweet J Presents (some of which is available on this set).

With their proven ability to create humor using stop motion with toys, they were picked up by the Cartoon Network for a full season of shows. Eight weeks after production started, the crew finally came up with a name and a framing device for the show. "Robot Chicken" was a dish at one of the Chinese restaurants found locally to the crew. From there, a title sequence was created. A mad scientist picks up a roadkill chicken, revives him through Frankensteinian means and forces him to watch many monitors a la A Clockwork Orange. Now, between skits and bits a quick half second of white noise is shown representing the flipping of channels. You kids with your digital televisions won’t recognize this effect as you’ve never had to adjust the station on your TVs utilizing a dial.

Add metallic endoskeleton to any meal …………………… 1.50

The mash-up comedy routine isn’t new with the technological era. Stand-up comedians who favored impersonations would do something similar in the 80s: "What would happen if Optimus Prime from The Transformers got prostrate cancer? I think it would look… something… like… this." Then he would turn away from the audience for a moment to get into character, then turn back around with his very best Optimus-with-a-urinary-malfunction imitation. What sets Robot Chicken above this easy style of humor is the production involved. These guys know their subjects in and out. A parody of Nickelodeon’s You Can’t Do That On Television has the easy joke of green slime on the man unfortunate enough to utter "I don’t know". But it also has the jokes in the locker gag. And the kids complaining about Barth’s food gag. And the torture victim chained to the wall bit. The mash-up of Jesus Christ in the Bride role of Kill Bill has Our Lord and Savior taking out the secular characters involved in Christian holidays, Santa and the Easter Bunny. Daryl Hannah (or the toy likeness thereof) has her bad eye healed by The Christ immediately before he severs her in twain.

The stop-motion effects are deceptively low tech looking. Paper cut-out mouths are pasted over the figures heads to give the illusion of lip-sync. The set builders spend hours making backgrounds look like they were made by children. Just last year it could have been said that stop motion was an effect that has its own endearing quality. Something that could never be achieved via the new CGI methods. Turns out computers can recreate that as well exemplified by the recent short film 9 that was nominated for an Oscar, albeit too smoothly, too perfectly. The jerky look of real stop motion has its charms and Robot Chicken takes advantage of these. The voice work is done primarily by Seth Green. Green also cannibalized most of the voice actors from Family Guy, the other animated show he works on. Seth MacFarlane, Alex Borstein and Mila Kunis all make "appearances". Additionally, celebrity guest stars show up as well. Virtually the entire cast of That 70s Show is there. The Don Knotts does some voicework. Joey Fatone formerly of N’Sync pokes fun at himself. Also, whenever possible, the actual voices of cartoon, television or film characters are used. The previously mentioned Brainy Smurf is voiced by Danny Goldman.

"If I understand my own position correctly, this completes my responsibility in this matter.
So… help yourself to my tire iron, children."

Ultimately, Robot Chicken is a collection of fast-paced, easy jokes. However, no one can deny that they’ve taken a toy or two as a child and laughed hysterically as they had them make out. Or pretended like they were peeing. Or made them fight so violently that a toy that came in the box as a single piece ended up looking pre-assembled. That’s what this show taps into. It’s a more sophisticated version of immature humor. It’s lowbrow held in place with hydraulics. If the image of Mr. Drummond giving Arnold a bare-ass spanking is inherently funny to you, then this is your set.

One last side note: if you recognize the music from the closing credits, the a cappella clucking ("buh-bawk bawk bawk, buh-bawk bawk bawk"), then you sir or madam are a horror fan. That song is a cover of the mall music from the original George Romero Dawn of the Dead. Don’t believe me? Bust out your Dawn of the Dead (1978) DVD and go to the closing credits. I was so proud of myself when I recognized this. My first response was to head to the Internet and check to see if anyone else had caught it. Of course they had. You can find this little bit of info on both the Robot Chicken and the Dawn of the Dead Wikipedia pages. What a fool I was to think I could be a step ahead of this vast network of geeks working in conjunction to document fan property minutia.

"In the wee hours, Fabfunk dreams of Brad taking his own advice."

The Package

This is the first and probably last time this will ever be said: the extras on this DVD set are better than the show itself. To begin with, almost every stage of the production of Robot Chicken is represented in its own feature. They show storyboards and in the same frame they have the final product represented. They have video of the recording sessions featuring some of the celebrity guest stars like Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, The Don Knotts, Phyllis Diller and Sarah Michelle Gellar. Two different stages in stop motion creation are shown with the final product shown for comparison. The best part, however, is the feature showing Seth Green "directing" episodes. Green acts out each part and explains what he’s doing as he’s doing it. These are hilarious and worth the price of this DVD set alone.

Unlike some season sets, this one has commentary on every episode. These were recorded out of order so you’ll find the participants will seem tired and bored for one episode, then miraculously refreshed for the next. These are really good. Here you get to learn which celebrities who are working toward their fifteenth minute refused to make fun of themselves. Rachael Leigh Cook pops in to talk about the voicework she did to parody the "this is your brain on heroin" commercials she starred in. Cook lets slip that she originally stopped watching her episode after her part was over. Also turns out that Peter Cullen, the original voice of Optimus Prime, refused to be on the show because he respected his Transformers character too much. Awesome.

"Take that, 30-somethings who can’t let go of your childhood!
I’m a two-fisted blast from your past here to exact revenge!"

The one Easter Egg this reviewer could find is on disk one. Go to the upper right hand corner and click on the gauge’s lowest setting. Fitting, as this gives the "Pee Reel". This is a montage of all the sequences in season one where characters take leaks. There’s a surprising amount of material in this vein.

Once again, Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim has released a DVD with a well produced case. The cover is a tight close-up of the titular character complete with Clockwork Orange eye-holder-openers. Inside are tens of monitors displaying scenes from the show. The disks have test patterns on them, completing the ancient television theme. Good stuff.

Note: Infinite Crisis spoiler warning on the next cap:

"D’ja hear Conner died?"
"You know. Superboy."
"No, no. The Superman clone with Lex Luthor’s DNA."
"Jeans and a T-shirt?"
"Yeah. That’s the guy."
"You know, that always pissed me off. There’s no Casual Friday in crimefighting."
"I know! It’s like he had no respect for the position!"
"It is a tragedy, though."
"Oh definitely, definitely. Very sad."

7.8 out of 10