Upcomingdisc’s 31 Nights of Terror is a favorite of many here at the website. I have been through a few now and have always tried to bring something unique to the table. Whether it be Top 10 Lists, special movie essays, or games of a forgotten lore, I always want this time of the year to be different and wonderful. Well today, to start off my month of oddball terror off right, I am given a rare scary (well somewhat anyway) animation title. One of my favorites from the mid 90’s, Aaahh!! Real Monsters, Season 1 from our friends at Shout Factory.
In the mid nineties, there were a lot of animation delights to feast our eyes upon when it came to Nickelodeon. You had Rugrats, Doug, Hey Arnold, Rocko’s Modern Life, and a bunch of other shows that were staples of the network and known to kids everywhere. But Nickelodeon as a network was not afraid to explore new ideas, cartoons that were perhaps a little different. *caugh* Ren & Stimpy. There was also another show called Aaahh!! Real Monsters which explored the idea of monsters being trained to perform their jobs, scaring the pants off of humans. Long before Monsters Inc copied the concept.
Aaahh!! Real Monsters debuted in October 1994 right before Halloween (in fact they ran a Halloween themed episode right out of the gate). The show did so well that it ran for the next four seasons. It was also one of those cartoons that didn’t fly out thirty episodes every year. In fact, for over a 3 year run it only produced 52 episodes. Fans loved the old episodes and would always jump at the chance of a new one. To this day, the cartoon is still in syndication not only here in the United States but also at many networks around the world like Greece, New Zealand, and Brazil.
But enough about semantics and how well the show did, let’s explore the actual cartoon. As I mentioned before, Real Monsters (what most fans stuck to calling it) was about monsters (not adults, but probably in their teenage years) being taught by a head teacher named Gromble (voiced by Gregg Berger famous for Cornfed Pig in Duckman) who could only be described as a large green and gray monster with a beard, a tail and red pumps on his four feet. He would often give the teens assignments that would involve a specific scare.
Now, of course there were students. The stars of the show were three students in fact. There was Oblina (voiced by Christine Cavanaugh famous for Dexter in Dexter’s Labratory) who looked like a black and white upside down candy cane. Oblina has a knack for shape-shifting and is Gromble’s best student. There is also Krumm (voiced by David Eccles) is an interesting creature who has to carry his eyeballs in his hands above his head. He is also known for a strong armpit stench and can use his eyeballs in rather unique ways.
Then there is the student that Gromble likes to pick on most, Ickis (voiced by Charlie Adler, famous for Buster Bunny in Tiny Toon Adventures). Often confused as a bunny rabbit (a running gag in many of the first season episodes), he had often trouble living up to the image of his father, Slickis who was the academy’s most renowned student. This causes considerable trouble for young Ickis and is always putting the monster in some rather hairy situations. At the end of the day, he usually comes through but not without some great adventures (and hence our show).
A couple of typical episodes might have Ickis discover a whole closet full of toenails (the most respected form of currency for monsters) and seeing how he adapts to his newly found rich self in Cold Hard Toenails. Wealth can be quite fleeting. The Ickis Box explores what happens when Ickis finds out about television and becomes very addicted. Even Krumm would become the focus at times in the third episode where he went “Hollywood”. The episodes were fresh and delightful providing many laughs along the way.
The show was really fun for its time, it wasn’t all candy coated and syrupy. The animation was intricate yet rough as the monsters emerged from the dump to scare people and then get back home using the local toilet. That kind of scenery doesn’t really open yourself up to a wide array of color choices. But the cartoon was beautiful in its own way because it was so different. Voices were well acted and the environment was fun to come back to time after time.
If one had to knock the show for any purpose at all, it was the show’s lack to really find a villain. Sure, they had Simon, the Monster Hunter, but he was more of a bumbling fool. Gromble was more of a nurturing overbearing parental type than a true fodder. Most of the conflict came from the scare’s obstacles, things the three had to overcome to have a successful mission. I guess I could also knock Ickis’ voice which occasionally gyrated on your nerves (kinda like Buster Bunny did go figure) but that is a relatively minor complaint.
The video is framed in 1.33:1 fullscreen presentation. Wow, I am not sure if Shout Factory or Nickelodeon is to blame here but this cartoon is dark. I don’t mean in subject matter either. Really, really muddy. Some of the episodes it is hard to tell what the heck is going on. Ickis is probably the worst offender as he has a habit with his purplish skin to blend into the background in any night scene. The classroom and sewer scenes fare much better but the dump or any night scene are just hard to see any detail at all.
For the audio portion, we get a 2.0 English (and Spanish) Dolby Digital Track. Sound is thankfully much better. No crackles or pops here, all of the characters are easy to decipher (as long as Ickis keeps his voice at a normal octave). The theme song is still pretty groovy to listen to and while it doesn’t sport amazing sound effects, they are well placed as intentioned. This is a decent track which helps us to keep our minds on the cartoons. No subtitles could be found.
Aaahh!! Real Monsters had a following as I mentioned. They had action figures (wouldn’t mind snagging a couple), trading cards, flip books, video games (Super NES/Genesis) and even gum. It was really one of the out of the box series that put Nickelodeon on the forefront of animation during the nineties. It was funny, perhaps a little scary (depending on your age group) and gave us a solid story every time during its entire fifty plus episode run.
However, I feel as if the production here dropped the ball. The video is really muddy making some scenes to be a color palette mess as you play a game of “Where’s Ickis?” rather than enjoy the show. Audio fares much better but again there are simply no extras to be had in this set. I know Christine Cavanaugh left the business but there are plenty of people affiliated with the show still around to give us some commentary or share some stories. I do give this a recommendation overall since the cartoon is still a pleasure after all of these years. I just wish they would have put more effort into it. Enjoy.
The Switching Hour
Monsters, Get Read / Snorched If You Do, Snorched If You Don’t
Curse of the Krumm/Krumm Goes Hollywood
Monstrous Make-Over/A Wing and a Scare
Krumm’s Pimple/Monster Hunter
Monsters Don’t Dance/Gone Shopp’n
Old Monster/Mother, May I?
Don’t Just Do It/Joined at the Hip
Smile and Say Oblina/The Great Wave
Cold Hard Toenails/Attack of the Blobs
Chop Off the Old Beast/The War’s Over
Where Have All the Monsters Gone?
Simon Strikes Back/The Ickis Box