16 January 2014

TV Series Review: "Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?"

Rated: TV-Y7
Starring: Rita Moreno, Jennifer Hale, Scott Menville, and Rodger Bumpass
Released: 1994-1999 (original TV premieres) / February 21, 2012 (DVD)
Synopsis: Carmen Sandiego (veteran actress Rita Moreno) is the world's greatest thief.  As the head of criminal agency V.I.L.E., she steals not only historical documents and artifacts, but even famous landmarks! It's up to Zack (veteran voice actor Scott Menville) and Ivy (veteran voice actress Jennifer Hale), two siblings who work for detective agency ACME, to stop Carmen and return the stolen items.  Together with the computerized, wisecracking Chief (Rodger Bumpass, SpongeBob SquarePants), they travel not only all over the world, but also through time and space in pursuit of that infamous red-coated robber.  Along the way, they learn all kinds of facts about historical events, legends, geographical locations, and various other topics…and you will, too!
Based on the computer game from Brøderbund Software.

Artistic Merit

Plot: 3.5/5
The plots can be a bit thin at times, but they're engaging enough to keep you interested.  However, Ivy comes off as a bit of a Mary Sue, which tends to be quite annoying.

Production Values: 3/5
The makers of this series probably had no idea that it would ever be released on DVD, and what we have here are likely the original broadcast versions, which, while unedited, likely not remastered either.  That makes some of the photos and animation sequences noticeably fuzzy.  The voice work is great; no problems there.  Probably the biggest problem is the C5 transportation sequence, which gets repeated a few too many times.

Educational Value: 5/5
The original Carmen Sandiego computer game is one of the earliest examples of edutainment, a genre which combines entertainment with educational value.  It's no surprise, then, that this cartoon adaptation discusses plenty of facts about not only history and geography, but world cultures, zoology, astronomy, and various other branches of science.  Compare that to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers or SpongeBob SquarePants, and you'll see that this show is in a completely different league.

Moral Content

Positive Elements: 5/5
Not only is the show quite educational--see above--but Ivy, Zack, and other ACME detectives use critical thinking skills to solve crimes, and also look out for one another.  Carmen may be the main antagonist, but even she looks out for the heroes, even teaming up with them to catch heinous criminals.

Sex: 4.5/5
Occasional kissing and flirting.

Nudity: 3.75/5
Ivy shows some cleavage at times, and she and other women are seen in bikini/sports bra tops and/or short shorts once or twice each.  A select few scenes have shirtless guys.  Some of the photos used for educational purposes have people dressed in similar fashion, but the pictures are so small and lo-fi, it's hard to see details.  One or two statues are in a sensual form.  Of particular note: The producers covered up some explicit parts of famous artwork, such as Michelangelo's statue of David.

Language: 4/5
Mild terms such as "gosh," "golly," and, "Blast!" are used every once in a while.  An unfinished "What the…?" is uttered once.

Violence: 2.5/5
The violence in each episode is akin to a "PG" action/adventure film, such as National Treasure.  Zack, Ivy, Carmen, and various other characters find themselves in dangerous situations left and right.  Ivy uses martial arts moves on the V.I.L.E. goons right many times. (Spoiler: Nobody dies.)  Though there's no blood or gore, I was slightly shocked at the amount of violence within this series.

Drugs: 5/5

Frightening/Intense Scenes: 1.5/5

Along with pretty much every main character ending up in countless perilous situations, an episode involving a haunted house has some visuals that may be too freaky for some kids.  Also, the two-parter that finishes the series features another villain who is a bit chilling.

Other: 3/5
Carmen is a thief who never gets caught, and she claims that she only steals "for the challenge."  Despite her actions being vilified, the fact that she never seems to face punishment for robbing others may influence others to do the same.
Though not exactly negative, this is also of note: Since Carmen, Zack, and Ivy travel all over the world, some people speak foreign languages in the show, and their dialogue is presented with subtitles, which might frustrate kids who struggle with reading.

Final Score: 3.25/5
Carmen Sandiego is pretty much the Mario of edutainment gaming.  Though other computer/video games that teach while entertaining have existed for years, few if any are as well known as the ones with that elusive, red-clad thief.  What started as a computer game from Brøderbund Software has spawned video games, board games, two game shows, and, yes, this cartoon series.  Though the series started out interestingly enough, by the end of the series, I became a bit tired of seeing the came C5 sequence again and again, Ivy was a little too perfect, and the Chief's goofiness got on my nerves.  Still, for being educational and relatively well-made, this series does deserve some kudos.

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