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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Fanboy and Chum Chum'

In their world, they are superheroes

November 06, 2009|ROBERT LLOYD | TELEVISION CRITIC

"Fanboy and Chum Chum," which premieres tonight on Nickelodeon before taking up its regular post Saturday morning, is a cartoon about two kids who live in a permanent state of playing. They dress as superheroes, wearing their underwear on the outside for that Superman look. (They have no out-of-costume alter egos.) Their collective mental landscape is littered with the detritus of sci-fi and fantasy, with the stuff of comics and movies, toys and TV shows. But we don't see the world as they imagine it, Walter Mitty-style; we just see them in their world, imagining.

That world is strange enough. These are cartoon characters in an askew, cartoon place. Fanboy is shaped sort of like a French fry, with a perfectly flat head that suggests the top of his skull is missing; Chum Chum is a small conglomeration of circles and ovals. Fanboy's purple cowl and Chum Chum's mask and tunic recall Batman and Robin; proportionately, they are in the tradition of Quick Draw and Baba Looey, Yogi and Boo Boo. They have pipe-cleaner limbs and flat, floppy fingers, and are pop-eyed as in the works of Ed Roth and Matt Groening, which is a little disturbing in 3-D. By 3-D, I, of course, mean 2-D with the computer-generated illusion of an extra dimension -- your standard CGI universe.

I'm no particular fan of computer animation -- the drawing often gets lost in technological sameness -- but the pointedly nonnaturalistic look of these characters fights those tendencies. And there are particular advantages to it in this context -- the special effects seem more special, and the characters' three-dimensionality separates them existentially from some of the objects of their affection: When they watch television, for example, it looks like a standard hand-drawn cartoon. Still, the line between reality and fantasy is not strictly observed; impossible things happen here. When our heroes meet new student Kyle, who actually is a wizard, expelled from a Hogwarts-like academy "for turning one of my professors into raspberry flan -- delicious old fool," they assume his powers are just elaborate illusions they can equal or top. They love him because they think he likes to play, and he hates them because they think he's playing.

Created by Eric Robles, with Steve Tompkins (of "The Simpsons," "The Bernie Mac Show" and Eddie Murphy's underappreciated puppet-animated "The PJs"), the show -- on the evidence of the premiere episode -- promises to be sweet-tempered and funny in a way that kids will find funny and adults should enjoy (or at least not mind), though there is not, as sometimes happens in these things, an extra layer of sophistication slipped in for the grown-ups. It is a Saturday morning cartoon, after all: Little here will go over the head of a reasonably aware 10-year-old.

The current eminence of all things Comic-Con makes "Fanboy" quite timely, but though the subject is ripe for satire, the show is animated, as it were, by affection. Ultimately, it's a show about friendship: Having traded Chum Chum away for a day for the chance to play with a hot new toy, Fanboy realizes what he's given up: "He's a snow day when you've got a spelling test. He's the marshmallows in your hot chocolate and the sludge that forms on the bottom. He's the smell of ham right after you've taken it out of the dryer."

They are not the superheroes of their imagination, but they are the heroes of their cartoon.

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robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'Fanboy and Chum Chum'

Where: Nickelodeon

When: 9 and 9:15 tonight

Rating: TV-Y (suitable for young children)

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