G.I. Joe: Renegades – Season 1, Volume 1
Starring: voices of Jason Marsden, Charlie Adler, Lee Majors, Clancy Brown, Johnny Messner, Kevin Michael Richardson
Running Time: 2 discs: 300 minutes (No Special Features)
DVD Release Date: June 5, 2012 (Amazon.com)
When a spy mission against Cobra Industries goes awry, a group of young G.I. JOE team members is forced to hit the road as fugitives. Now the team members – DUKE, SCARLETT, ROADBLOCK, TUNNEL RAT, RIPCORD, BREAKER and SNAKE EYES – must use their wits and elite training to prove their innocence to the world before being caught by the authorities, the COBRA organization or, worse yet, another elite military team called the Falcons.
With exciting, action-packed storytelling, spectacular animation, G.I. JOE Renegades, produced by Hasbro Studios, boasts an incredible voice cast, including Charlie Adler (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), Lee Majors (Six Million Dollar Man), Clancy Brown (Shawshank Redemption), Jason Marsden (Batman: The Brave and the Bold), Johnny Messner (Tears of the Sun) and Kevin Michael Richardson (The Batman).
(from Click Communications)
In 1985, the action figure line G.I. Joe became a hit animated series, spanning over eighty episodes over two seasons and a feature-length animated movie. The series went on to be rebooted several times over the next couple decades and, in 2009, we saw the series make its live action feature-film debut, so it was no surprise that the series would once again find a home on TV as an animated show. G.I. Joe: Renegades served as a prequel of sorts to the Joes becoming Joes as fans know them. Cobra begins as a super power company with a growing presence of evil in the underground. The world believes Cobra to be something pure and good, a company that exists for the people. However, a military agent named Scarlett believes differently, and she leads a team of soldiers–Duke, Roadblock, Tunnel Rat, Ripcord, and a ninja friend named Snake Eyes–to investigate. What they find is disturbing, and their confrontation with Cobra leaves a factory leveled to the ground and one of the Joes apparently dead in the process. Now Scarlett and her team are accused of murder and destroying Cobra property, so the group heads out on the road, all the while being pursued by their commander, Flint and his assistant Lady Jaye.
Does this at all sound familiar? It should. The concept for the show undoubtedly sounds inspired by The A-Team, as a group of rag-tag soldiers on the run from the government who believe they committed a crime that they did not. Flint stands in for General Lynch, and especially the first few episodes of this series feel nothing more than animated A-Team episodes. This feeling is only supported more heavily when one of the episodes borrows the plot completely from an early A-Team episode (the Joes find themselves in a small town that is being harassed by a biker gang–in this case, the Dreadnoks–and they teach the town to fight back and resist their bullying. The A-Team found themselves in the exact situation before. Coincidentally, Brian Bloom voices Zartan, the leader of the Dreadnoks, and also appeared as a villain in the 2010 feature film The A-Team). But while the 1980’s G.I. Joe series featured episodes that did not usually relate too much to each other as far as story goes, Renegades is the continuing saga of these Joes on the run. Along the way, we see the Cobra organization slowly begin to rear its ugly head, picking up familiar characters along the way, while the Joes continuously bump into characters who fans of the lore will recognize as future Joe team members. It’s a bittersweet way to tell the tale of the Joes, because, for one, Flint has always been a hero alongside Duke, and it’s strange to see him as a sort of villain here (trying to capture the wrongfully accused Joes while refusing to listen to their attempts to explain themselves). Also, the Joe team isn’t this massive collection of unique heroes… yet. Since this show serves a prequel, we’re seeing the pretty humble beginnings of these characters, which places most of them in the early stages of their lives. Many of these characters are probably barely out of their teen years, which may make them more relatable to younger viewers, but that never seemed to be a problem for me or my generation with the original series.
The other problem I had with this series is some major changes in who the characters are. For example, in the 1985 series, Dr. Mindbender was a bald, monacle-wearing scientist with a pretty cool accent. In Renegades, he is quite literally a whiny, arrogant, clean-cut teenager in a boring white labcoat who tries too hard to speak trendy language. He’s never not irritating, and that’s a sad thing to see the character reduced to. Storm Shadow is almost as tragically represented. Here, Storm Shadow looks like a teenager who is too small for the pajamas he’s using to masquerade around as a ninja in. Snake Eyes still looks cool, and like his original self, so it seems even more unusual for Storm Shadow to be so sloppily re-imagined. Finally, Zartan simply looks like a dude in a bandana instead of the signature black mask and hood, which cheapens his appearance a bit, making him seem a lot less menacing and a lot more normal. And, it’s a little tempting to nitpick the choices for voice duties, but for the most part, the show has taken care in delivering quality vocal performances. TV actor Jason Marsden (who recently had a short appearance in Steve Taylor’s Blue Like Jazz) does a respectable job as a younger Duke. At times, he sounds nothing like the 1980’s version of Duke, while other times, he sounds exactly like him. In one of the episodes on the Volume 1 DVD set, original Duke voice actor Michael Bell makes a cameo appearance as the voice for Duke’s dad, Max. I really appreciated this nod to the 80s character. Bell has a fantastic voice, and he still sounds good enough to possibly have voiced Duke, but I can understand their choice to go with someone younger.
The animation is a lot more stylized in Renegades, sitting somewhere between a U.S. and anime approach. Also, it’s clear that there’s a mix of hand-drawn and CG animation (unless all of it is CG but made to look like it’s hand-drawn). The CG effects bring to life some of the vehicles and action in ways that conventional hand-drawn animation cannot, so it works pretty well in the series. The music is also pretty modern, forsaking any kind of lyrical theme song like the original, but I admit I do miss the cheesy and patriotic 80s theme.
It took several episodes of Renegades to rope me in, but by the end of the set, I was interested in seeing the rest of the show. It’s a bit curious why only 13 of the 26 episodes are being released at one time, especially when 26 would not be difficult to release in one complete Season One set, but if viewers aren’t quite sure they’re ready to commit to a full season, the 13 episode Volume 1 is a good sampler. I can’t help but be eager to see things continue to fall into place as the Joe and Cobra teams start to form more solid identities, but with the premise of the show being about the core Joe team being “renegades”–which is even the show’s title–I have to wonder if they wouldn’t resolve it until the series’ end.
The content of the show is certainly more modern than what I grew up with. Bullets had to be replaced with lasers in the original series as to tone down the violence, and no one ever died in the firefight. In Renegades, the violence is a bit more defined, and it’s implied that characters can and do die. With that said, the show is probably intended for pre-teens and young teens, and therefore best suitable for that age group. Otherwise, there is no profanity or sensual content included that parents need to worry about.
For viewers like myself who grew up with the original TV show and likely now have kids themselves these days, G.I. Joe: Renegades is a sign of the times and the changes that come with it. But with the uncanny similarities to The A-Team and the modernizing of beloved characters, it may be a hard pill for original fans to swallow. However, G.I. Joe: Renegades is not really for the original fans (although there is plenty about it that references the the 1980s series), and as-is, it’s a pretty decent good versus evil action/adventure show for growing viewers. If you find yourself enjoying Volume 1, you’ll likely want to tune in to Volume 2 when that hits streets. It’s unknown whether or not the show will continue on (it doesn’t look like it is since there haven’t been any new episodes in the past year), but if it were to continue in some form, it could be a pretty good fresh new take on an old favorite. (Note: Unfortunately, there isn’t a single special feature to be found on the two discs, but sadly that’s pretty commond today for most TV show DVD sets, especially cartoons.)
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 5/31/12)