Monday, February 3, 2014

Where On Earth Is Carmen Sandiego Part Two

We're now into our look at the first episode of Where On Earth Is Carmen Sandiego, a franchise that I honestly wouldn't mind becoming a live action series or even a series of movies.  I don't know who you could get to play Carmen Sandiego herself, but since the character doesn't really show up until the end, it would make casting rather interesting.

So let's get into the first episode, "The Stolen Smile."

We open in Holland, which you can tell because there are windmills everywhere.  At the Vincent Van Gogh museum, apparently, where Carmen Sandiego literally rips off part of the artist's 1889 self portrait.  Specifically, a rectangular strip containing the eyes.

The Holland police are pretty quick on the uptake, however, and there's almost immediately guards with attack dogs in the room with her, but fortunately she has her getaway vehicle, a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) one-person craft.  Unfortunately for her, Dutch security puts the Secret Service to shame, and there's almost immediately two helicopters and at least one ship on her tail.

Here's how hardcore the Dutch police are.  They declare that they know it's Carmen Sandiego, and force her to land her craft by slamming their helicopters down on top of it.  Mental note, don't litter in Holland.  They'd probably snipe me from a rooftop.

Carmen's craft lands, but instead of the master thief inside, they find a rag doll dressed like Carmen.  Apparently when the ship took off, she stayed on the rooftop, rappelled back down, and simply walked out of the museum after everyone else was gone.  Someone who's willing to sacrifice a VTOL aircraft (in 1993) ... they don't mess around when they're robbing places.

Here's what's neat about the game.  Once Carmen robs somewhere, it appears she actually knows she exists in The Matrix, because she personally taunts the kid playing the game.

That's somehow much more impressive than the Riddler always leaving hints for Batman lying around.  You immediately get the impression that it is all about the sport to Carmen, testing her skills against the best there is.

To further emphasize that this is, essentially, The Matrix, the player then logs into ACME (the detective agency) and speaks directly to the chief who appears to be the result of someone combining the DNA of Max Headroom and Egon Spengler.

The chief asks the player to "pick a detective" to put on the case, and he picks Ivy, a red-headed young super-agent voiced by Jennifer Hale an- ...wait, I've used that phrase before?  Was it for her role as the female Commander Shepherd in Mass Effect?

I'm pretty sure it was for Mass Effect.

She winds up getting paired up with her younger brother Zach, voiced by Scott Menville, who you might know as the voice of Robin from Teen Titans.

In fact, the Chief even refers to Zach (complete with oversize military jacket and skateboard) as "the boy wonder."

The two agents are beamed straight to Holland via something called the "C5 Tunnel" which both agents object to because it tends to "miss" the target sometimes.  However, it is full of 1990s CGI, so if you ever want to remember what things looked like after Reboot got smoothed out a bit and people forgot about The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest, I recommend checking it out.  It still holds up.

Zach and Ivy spot one of Carmen's henchmen, "Touriest Classe," and the two take off after him on scooters because I guess that's what people have in Holland.  However, they fail to take into account that Touriest's scooter happens to turn into a propeller-powered hang glider, and they plummet into a canal.  Zach at this point completely breaks the fourth wall by asking the player (which involves looking at the screen) to get them to the museum.

The show gets rather educational here, explaining the life and career of Vincent Van Gogh, but it manages to do it in a pretty entertaining way.  They even get into the business of the lopped off ear.

They find a doll which repeats the phrase "I had the biggest nose, but I might be lying" a few times before exploding.  This is where they start to consult with the player, asking for lists of things that might be connected to the clue.  We get a brief history of Mount Rushmore and Pinocchio before Zach figures out that Carmen's probably talking about the Sphinx and the word is "lion," not "lying."

The two beam in just to find that the whole deal was a trap set by Carmen, and we get a chase scene across the desert on flying jet bikes, making this the third time that Carmen Sandiego has technology that I'm pretty sure no military in the world has managed to invent yet.

The two get a notice from the Chief that Carmen just stole a nose from a Picasso painting, and the two quickly figure out that she's probably going after the Mona Lisa's mouth next.  They quickly get beamed over to Paris, France where they interrupt the heist in progress.  They almost get over on Touriest and Carmen's henchmen when suddenly Carmen herself makes an appearance.

For reasons I can't quite decipher, this leads to the two agents being captured and locked in a room while Carmen steals the smile and makes her escape.

Here's where Carmen does something that I think is purely awesome.  She steals all the television signals around the world to beam a message to everybody.  I don't know how she does it, I don't know how that's even possible, but it happens in every single huge blockbuster movie, so I can believe she can manage it.  It's all to give her a moment to gloat about how she's assembled the best of the best into the "perfect" painting.

Ivy and Zach figure out that Carmen must be broadcasting from the Lascaux Cave in France, and use a swarm of bats to distract Carmen and her goons so they can make a quick switch of the artwork.  Carmen escapes, but with a bit of respect for the detectives who got the art back, and she and the Player trade a few more verbal jabs at each other as the episode comes to an end.

The Good:

This is a pretty great introduction to the world this exists in, if the viewer has never played the games before (but trust me, by that year every kid knew who Carmen Sandiego was).  It's also a really interesting idea to have a "Player" guiding the two main characters, but having them be fully independent and able to make their own decisions.  The characters need to investigate (and survive fights), and the player has to transport them, so they do actually make an effective team.

I mean, as long as you don't over-think it and wonder why the player can't just "G5" Carmen into a jail cell, but I guess that isn't sporting.

I also love how they portray Carmen.  She isn't cruel, she isn't evil, she doesn't swear revenge like so many cartoon villains ("Next time, Gadget!  NEXT TIIIIIIME!"  <insert sound of cat yowling.mp3>), she simply shrugs, silently congratulates her worthy opponents, and moves on to plotting her next theft

The voice cast is also superb, with both "teen agents" providing youthful energy balanced with their training and control to the Chief's wacky hyperactivity but huge knowledge base.

Oh, and maybe it's because I was a nerd in school, but I also like that each commercial break has a quiz regarding something they said earlier in the episode.  In a "were you paying attention?" way it's pretty cool.

The Bad:

It is a kids' show, but some of the "cliffhanger" moments before commercial breaks need a bit of work.  Zach and Ivy are plummeting into a canal right before one break, making it look like they're in a lot of trouble...and when they get back, they just splash into the water, swim over to the side, and stand up.  It's rather anticlimactic.

The episode also has a few holes that need filling, such as how Carmen's goons managed to not only free themselves from Ivy and Zach's capture but then capture the two after Carmen showed off her (shapely) legs to the two agents.

I mean, unless they reveal that Carmen Sandiego is a master martial artist...which would mean that she's really the Anti-Batman.


It's a solid first episode, full of facts that I'm sure I soaked in when I was little and promptly forgot afterwards because some brain-rotting cartoon was on next.  It's not the most extravagant theft compared to other things Carmen has stolen, but considering that the animated opening actually shows her trying to steal the Statue of Liberty, I think we can expect great things later on.

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