Movies / Animé and Toons

Rocko's Modern Life: Season One

By Hervé St-Louis
July 20, 2011 - 23:04

It can be hard nowadays, we unprecedented amounts of cartoon animation to understand the value of a groundbreaking series like Rocko’s Modern Life whose first season was just released as a four-disc s set on DVD. Rocko’s Modern Life was created by cartoonist Joe Murray for Nickolodeon with new episodes airing between 1993 and 1996. Rocko’s Mordern Life was considered a risky venture creatively when it was launched and often compared to Ren and Stimpy.

Rocko was one of my favourite cartoon series back then just before I went to animation school. It’s pure 2D traditional animation, the likes of which feel rare these days where everything is often animated with Flash or in 3D. When watching Rocko’s unequal line weight, it off tone colouring and dated look, you know you are looking at real animation, with a minimum of digital manipulation. Nowadays, the character design on a series like Rocko’s Modern Life, would have thick black lines  clearly extracting the characters from the surrounding backgrounds. The animation would feel more mechanical, with anticipations and expressions timed cleanly and calming down before the next set of motion is introduced. Characters would always be posed and ready to jump, instead of being a pack of molasses like Rocko and his pals. Rocko was not 1980s animation, but is typical of what i would call 1990s animation. It’s not clean and it rather uneven.

The critics who compare unfavourably Rocko to Ren and Stimpy, calling the former a less inspired cartoon series, ignore the design of both series. Whereas Ren and Stimpy was about flash and getting away with as much as possible on screen and even disgusting the viewer with bare views of eyeballs, nerves and tears, Rocko, who did not skimp on the cartoon gore either was more about the elasticity of the characters and how much you could morph their bodies into other shapes and sometimes different types of elements like liquids or gases before being forced to put them back together for the next scene. Whereas Ren and Stimpy would lavish the cartoon gore for moments that seemed to never end and add shaded colouring to the composition as if to create a painted masterpiece, on Rocko, the monotone palette did not stylize the cartoon gore. Cartoon gore was always limited by the next gag, which invariably would come through some crazy jerking movement. Rocko, unlike Ren and Stimpy belonged to that school of animation where characters’ live are defined by their movements, not by their designs. If Rocko were to be reintroduced in a new series, much of the old cartoon animation charm of this series would change for something hipper, crispier, and more methodical. The old traditional animation qualities of Rocko with all its imperfections would cease to exist. Rocko’s Modern Life is a delight for an animator.

More to the winning Rocko formula are the stories which mirror the something one would expect on Seinfeld or Friends at the time, but in a cartoon form that spoke to adults and kids alike. There are subtle comments made about society and archtetypes that fly by fast enough that most will miss them. But unlike Family Guy where all the nuances and hidden messages are blasted and screamed on screen just to make sure no one misses them, in Rocko, the viewer has to be fast and observant in order to catch these hidden gags.

Rocko is a wallaby, a cousin of the kangaroo family who moves to the United States and befriends other animals. His best friend is Heffer Wolfe, a meat eating steer that should have been consumed by his family years ago or sent to an abattoir. Rocko would not exist without his pet dog, Spunky which cause the hero to scream a lot in fear for his pal. Rocko lives with Spunky in a house that’s as dirty as a frat house with socks and pizza boxes all over the place. He works in a comic book store for an evil toad and is often broke. Sometimes Rocko is the butt of jokes, sometimes, it’s another one of his supporting cast that is.

The set has 13 episodes containing two stories each. There are no DVD extras or commentaries on this set which is a real turn down. You’ll have to enjoy Rocko on his own without the benefit of background information on how the series came along.

Rating: 9.5 /10

Last Updated: August 31, 2023 - 08:12

    RSS       Mobile       Contact        Advertising       Terms of Service    ComicBookBin

© Copyright 2002-2023, Toon Doctor Inc. - All rights Reserved. All other texts, images, characters and trademarks are copyright their respective owners. Use of material in this document (including reproduction, modification, distribution, electronic transmission or republication) without prior written permission is strictly prohibited. Toon Doctor ® is registered trademarks of Toon Doctor Inc. Privacy Policy