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Danny Phantom

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Nickelodean Tries for a Super Hero and Doesn't Quite Get It Right

  • Aug 21, 2009
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When I was a kid, I enjoyed watching shows like The Amazing Spider Man and (best of all) Batman: The Animated Series.  What boy grows up and doesn't like watching Superheroes and whatnot?  I wasn't big on comic books actually until I was well into high school, but one thing I did admire were those particular television shows.  As a kid I also liked Nicktoons.  The Nicktoons I grew up with.  Not most of what you see now.  I come from what is often referred to as Nick's "golden era."  Where shows like Ren and Stimpy, Rocko's Modern Life, Rugrats, Doug and the like ruled the world.  Chances are, if you were a child in 90's you remember many of these shows quite well.  You're also probably disappointed that most of these shows you can't watch a whole lot anymore.  Not everything on Nickelodean was awesome, but most of it was.  

In my late teenage years, my Nickelodean changed.  Not for the better or the worst.  On one front I was still interested in Nicktoons.  Because it was my childhood.  On the other hand, I was having to deal with growing up.  Loved my Nicktoons, but I was also growing out of them.  Not because I was getting older, but because they didn't make me feel the same way.  Shows like Invader Zim had me quite amused.  But for shows like Invader Zim that could amuse me I also had to deal with shows like... Spongebob Squarepants which Nickelodean had for the sake of torturing me.  "Take THAT! Sean's Childhood!"  

There was another show that interested me.  It was called The Fairly Odd Parents.  It was crafted by a man named Butch Hartman, and it interested me because it was actually a show that made me laugh a few times.  It was kooky and stupid, but who cared?  The Fairly Odd Parents had a kind of humor about it that I liked.  The kind of humor I laughed at as a kid.  When you grow up on Nicktoons and shows like Dexter's Laboratory and the Powerpuff Girls, then yes, The Fairly Odd Parents doesn't seem so bad in many respects.  To this day those types of shows I still enjoy.  And much more than just for nostalgic reasons.  Not to mention that The Fairly Odd Parents was the kind of show that very much made sure we (the audience) knew it was crazy and dumb.  It's a kid who wishes for anything and learns lessons from his wishes.  

In 2004, Butch Hartman made another show.  This time he introduced us to Danny Phantom.  If The Fairly Odd Parents was his shot at over the top zaniness, then Danny Phantom is his shot at trying to be a bit more serious.  And in the process gives Nickelodean a show that can best be described as a super hero.  This isn't a show about a twelve year old imagining he's a super hero who simply puts a belt on his head and wears his underwear over his shorts (ala, Quail Man--and I don't care what anyone says: "Doug" was the BEST Nicktoon).  This was the real thing.  This was a super hero.  Unfortunately Nick made a superhero in 2004... not the 1930's or anything like that.  In that sense, watching Danny Phantom can be all too painful at times.

Every Hero needs an origin.  Danny's is a pretty simple one.  In this world, ghosts exist, and they're very much real.  Danny's parents are ghost hunters who have made a portal that can pretty much lead them to the ghost zone.  Things don't go as planned, however, when they realize it doesn't work entirely well.  So Danny steps in and takes a look and accidently activates it.  As a result his human DNA has now been infused with ghost DNA.  So he is half ghost and half human.  Able to phase in and out of ghost form at any time.  And, of course, his powers consist of him being able to fly, go through walls, turn invisible... as well as shoot a lot of ghost beams and whatnot.  By day, he's just a kid named Danny Fenton who attends Casper High (get it?  Casper?).  But when he needs to, he goes ghost and becomes Danny Phantom.

One of the jokes that all of us make about Superman is that Clark Kent and Superman look so much alike.  The only difference is the glasses.  And yet no one can guess that Clark Kent is Superman.  Butch Hartman made fun of this himself in an episode of the Fairly Odd Parents where one of Timmy's enemies is completely baffled by him wearing a tiara.  Well, in Danny Phantom the denizens here must be unusually stupid.  They all see the "ghost child" and all, but somehow nobody knows it's Danny. 

This is what Danny Fenton looks like:

Now this is what Danny Phantom looks like:

Nothing really changes except the color of his hair and his eyes, and his suit.  But aside from that, they look completely indistinguishable.  But all the characters in this show are too unreasonably stupid to see that (they have the same goddamn first name for heaven's sake! and their last names have just a sound of a difference!).  What's worse is that the creators want us to really believe it.  It seems nitpicky at first, it gets worse.  Whenever a ghost shows up and Danny Fenton suddenly has to disappear and then Danny Phantom shows up?  Nope, doesn't mean anything to much of anybody. 

You know why the whole Batman/Bruce Wayne thing works so well?  Because we don't see the two as being the same guy.  Even though they're one in the same, Bruce Wayne makes sure that no one can tell that he's Batman.  He changes his voice, puts on a mask and even adopts a different personality.  We as the audience can look at Bruce Wayne and say he's a totally different guy when he puts on the suit.  Danny Phantom doesn't do that.  The idea that no one does see the resemblence probably explains the over the top stupidity of the other characters.

Every teenage super hero, however, needs an entourage.  Actually, no.  Most of superheroes don't have an entourage at all.  But Danny Phantom does.  There is first is friends Sam and Tucker who both know who he is and help him fight all the ghost that come through the ghosts zone.  In later episodes, his sister Jazz also becomes part of the entourage.  Tucker provides the brains of any situation and Sam is mostly there for support.  Obviously Sam is supposed to be the love interest.  The show teases us with it so many times but nothing ever really comes of it.  The show also makes sure to poke at it from time to time. 

Along with an entourage, Danny's parents are also ghost hunters.  His father Jack and his mother Manny take pride in what they do.  And what could be worse than being half ghost and having your parents being ghost hunters?  Does this mean they'll want to kill Danny if they were to find out?  So you think Danny has a lot of problems don't you?  And even worse than that... at school Danny, Sam and Tucker are all losers.

If there's one thing I do get a little tired of seeing in shows like Danny Phantom it is this idea that each time you put characters in high school there always has to be this established loser and popularity thing going on.  It used to be interesting to look at and watch, but nowadays every show with a teenage protagonist does it.  Sure, it's a big part of high school.  Being with the "in" crowd, but Danny Phantom isn't a show that's very well suited for that sort of thing.  He's got bullies and whatnot and for whatever reason, the show insist on making Danny's bully problems an integral part of the series.  We're often reminded that Danny is a loser.  So are his friends.  So... even though Danny has ghost powers and has to deal with a bunch of ghost trying to kill him all the time... we're still supposed to be concerned about Dash and what he and his cohorts do to Danny?  Granted, it's important to make sure that your main protagonist has some kind of life outside the super hero business, but doing the stereotypical and tired: "Our main hero is a loser," kind of spiel is getting really old.  Especially for something like Danny Phantom.  

The stereotypes get a little worse. Danny is supposed to be this fourteen or fifteen year old and the main cast are mostly a bunch of teenagers who often know more than any adult in the series (yeah, because when the world is in peril you're totally going to send a fourteen year old to save it), but the show seems aimed at people younger than the age of ten.  When a fifteen year old is insinuating that anyone over the age of 30 is old... what exactly are you thinking of your audience.  I thought that when I was like... seven.  But by fifteen?  No, not at all.  And when going through high school I didn't know anyone who DID think 30 was old (to give you an idea of the attitude our high school had, 40 was considered to still be very young).  A lot of shows like to play on this, "Kids are smarter than we think," but usually not at the expense of making the adults look dumber than blind, stupid, deaf monkeys.  What I'm saying is that much of the supporting cast and the denizens of the town in which Danny Phantom takes place are unbelievable.  This wouldn't be so bad if the creators weren't begging for us to take the show more seriously.

Every hero needs an arch nemesis.  And Danny's arch nemesis is simple.  His name is Vlad.  A college buddy of his mother and father who got involved in an accident that gave him the same ghost powers as Danny.  Only he's had them longer so he knows how to use them far better than Danny.  We're not entirely sure what Vlad's motivations are, though.  One of them is to get Manny to leave Jack Fenton, but the other is something we don't entirely know.  Is it world domination?  We don't quite fully know.  He's just there to cause trouble.

Many of the villains in Danny Phantom aren't much to scream about.  When the first villain in a series we're introduced is a villain who's only power is the ability to control meat and fling it at people... that's bad.  Even worse?  When she goes crazy because the school luch menu isn't serving said meat.  This is the plot of the very first episode.  Yeah, that's right, a ghost who throws meat and can control it.  If Danny were a vegetarian it might work out.  We might be able to say, "Oh no, meat!  Danny's one weakness!"  Many of the shows antagonist just aren't that fun.  The first is because many of them just don't have any motivation for what it is they do.  And if they've got one... we don't know it.  Other villains like Technus and Desiree are really just there to ensure Danny has someone to fight from episode to the next. 

As a result many of the episodes are centered on unusual circumstances.  And each episode plays out the same.  Ghost does something unusual, Danny fights said ghost.  Ghost temporarily gets away (or Danny gets beaten in the first round) and then one of the supporting characters will slowly piece things together or some plot device is introduced early on (but that's not bad, a lot more shows rely on Deus Ex Machina) because Danny is too stupid to figure out well, anything on his own.  In the end it always comes down to a fistfight which the animators use the same animations for time and time again to show Danny defeat the evil ghost and trap him in the Fenton Thermos.  We shouldn't expect complexity from Danny Phantom.  And indeed, I don't, but it does kind of suck to watch a show where every episode essentially has the same climax.  And with each character there's hardly any struggle or anything like that.  

Danny Phantom has some humor, but not a lot of it is funny.  It's a show we need to take seriously but isn't afraid to joke around.  Most of the jokes, however, just aren't that funny.  And many of them feel like stereotypical jokes.  From Tucker being the nerd who can't get a girl, to Sam being the independent gothic emo kid who needs to be a non-conformist in everything to the preppy kids remarking about how Danny and company are just losers all the time.  You might get a chuckle or two out of Danny Phantom, but nothing that's memorable.  And we know that innocent humor can be very funny.  Disney and Pixar do it in every movie they've ever made.  Nickelodean used to do it in most of their shows.  Danny Phantom on the other hand seems humorless.  The only character who seems to provide any laughs at all his Jack Fenton and only because he's there to play the role of the "dumb parent" who doesn't understand his child, while Danny plays the role of the son who is embarassed by everything he does.  Jack can provide humor, but most of the other characters don't.

In most of Nick's other shows we really don't care about characters becoming more.  But Danny Phantom isn't like those other shows.  Danny Phantom does want its characters to become more.  Because he begins to try and develop them.  One of the characters, Valerie ends up becoming a ghost hunter and also Danny's love interest.  And while the show tries, it often meets with bad results.  It's perhaps the first and only Nicktoons show that was actually linear from one episode to the next.  Characters always make references to other episodes.  The characters actually grow.  Most of them never grow a brain to figure out that Danny Fenton and Danny Phantom are the same guy, but at least Nick is trying with this.  Danny even discovers he has new powers as the show presses on and meets more charaters.  Some who are friends and some who are not.  You have to give them credit for trying.  Even though they do not always succeed.  Part of that comes from the show not getting a long run (but this is Nickelodean and most of their shows don't run that long). 

When I first began watching the show, most of its problems were simple mishaps that I could ignore.  But as the show went on it never really fixed most of them.  No one episode is compelling enough or sensible enough to remember.  There's humor, but having humor doesn't always make a show funny.  Nickelodean tried to go the super hero route but it didn't quite work.  We're supposed to believe in these characters and believe them, but it doesn't pan out. 

It would be easy to say, "But it's a kids show!"  Since when has being for a younger audience stopped a show from reaching new heights?  Or even just from reaching period?  Most shows for a younger audience don't typically drop the ball just because that audience is younger.  So we can keep saying, "It's a kids show," but that's not an excuse for the show not to make much sense or for the animators to get lazy.  I know what some of you are thinking, "Kids don't care about what the bad guys motivations are!  They don't care about repeat animations!  They don't care about character development!  They don't care if the show makes sense!"  Well, I disagree.  I think some do care about those things.  The problem with Danny Phantom isn't that it doesn't do these things or that it doesn't try.  The biggest problem with Danny Phantom is mostly poor execution in trying to do these things, and that it underestimates its audience in the process.

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Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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About this tv show


From Fairly OddParents creator Butch Hartman, the half-hour animated series Danny Phantom was all about Danny Fenton, a shy, geekish freshman who attended Casper High. Thanks to an accident in the laboratory of his paranormal-expert father Jack, Danny was transformed into a half-human, half-phantom, endowed with ghostly superpowers. As "Danny Phantom", our hero periodically skipped out of school to save the world from a vast array of evil (and sidesplittingly funny) ghosts, spooks and phantoms. Meanwhile, Casper High's vice-principal and English teacher Mr. Lancer, in the anal-retentive tradition of all animated adult authority figures, imposed harsh punishments on Danny for his frequent absences--or at least, he tried to. Other characters included Danny's level-headed mom Maddie, his ultra-perfectionist sister Jazz, and his best friends, talkative techno-nerd Tucker Foley (whose various inventions were designed for maximum efficiency in the Ghost World where Danny spent of his time), and freewheeling Goth Girl and vegetarian Samantha "Sam" Manson. The bane of Danny's existence was bullying high school football star Dash Baxter, who often as not ended up embarrassed or humiliated thanks to Danny's spectral skills. Danny Phantom joined the Nickelodeon lineup on April 3, 2004, and later was seen as part of the weekend-morning schedule of Nickelodeon's sister network CBS. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide Close
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Genre: Cartoons
Studio: Billionfold See

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