In the wake of the modest success of Undercover Brother, it's been quietly noted that it found its source material not out of comics or an SNL sketch, but on the web. Specifically, it's the first web cartoon to make its way to the big screen.

It would then not be surprising to find studios tripping all over themselves to buy up the rights to other web cartoons. Coincidentally, a website/animation studio, Mukpuddy, contacted us just a few weeks ago, asking if we'd take a look at their product.

Perhaps it was the politeness of their request, or maybe simply that they said they read Fanboy Planet and enjoy it, but we were moved by their entreaty. (Let that be a lesson: flatter us even slightly, and we'll check your stuff out. And by stuff we mean product. And by product we mean…oh, never mind.)

Tim Evans, Ryan Cooper and Alex Leighton are three animators out of New Zealand who started working in "classical" (re: ink and paint) animation before turning to Flash animation. All three cite people like Genndy Tarkovsky (Samurai Jack) and John Kricfalusi (Ren and Stimpy, Ripping Friends) as influences, and it shows in their work. (That's a good thing in my book.)

Let me restate for any Hollywood guys reading this: New Zealand. It's trendy. Peter Jackson is so totally hot right now, and he's from New Zealand. Xena? New Zealand. Yahoo Serious? Australia. See? New Zealand is good.

Back to the review. (Hope that worked, guys.) itself has a slick, easy to navigate set-up. From the main entrance you enter an arcade, which offers you three directions. You can check out the studio itself, which offers up the three animators' bios and a Mukpuddy poster. (They swear this isn't some sort of dirty slang that this American reviewer just doesn't understand. Most likely, they're giggling like drunken cheerleaders over having pulled the wool over my eyes. I understand New Zealand has a lot of wool.) If you prefer your creators anonymous, you can head right to the cartoons, and choose between their (so far) two main creations. Or, because marketing is the name of the game, you can go to the Mukpuddy store. They've already got a variety of products to buy, even for children. But first, you really ought to watch the cartoons.

Put a quarter (or whatever - use Canadian money for all I care) in the claw machine, and watch either Dirk Banzai, Secret Agent Lemur or Skid & Hokey. Both offer introductory episodes, with more on the way. Both have potential, though the secret agent lemur (he hates to be called a cat) seems to be a more developed concept at this point.

Skid & Hokey are, according to the site, basically a four-legged orange and a giant one-eyed marshmallow, aliens from a far off world. In the first episode, "Naughtiesville A Hoi Hoi," the duo gets banished from their perfect alien society for, among other things, impersonating a mule. (A crime for which we, too, were banished. At least for a couple of nights.)

Despite some elaborate design work, Skid & Hokey feels a bit lacking in context. Other than their crime (shown in a newspaper headline), we get little sense of who they are, other than a classic big guy/little guy comedy duo. As of yet, there's not much of a feel for their individuality. Once they make it to Earth (assuming that's where they're banished for all eternity), they may stand out a little more. Right now, the cartoon seems little more than weirdness for its own sake.

It's hampered a bit also by the general slowness of the dialogue. That problem seems inherent in flash animation; I've never seen a web cartoon that didn't have a slight delay that ruined a lot of timing for me. Even though the characters don't speak much, this initial episode relies too much on verbal humor. I'd like to believe that Skid & Hokey is just too ambitious a concept for the limited amount of time one episode could afford

Where the alien concept falters, Dirk Banzai, Secret Agent Lemur gets it all right. Though the creators provide part of the lemur's origin in comic strip form (certainly more in one page than Wolverine gets in six issues), the title really tells you all you need to know. He's a lemur who at least thinks he's a secret agent. The introductory episode, "Hurdles, Robots & Lasers, Oh My!" shows us a typical day in the life in under two minutes. As co-editor Michael Goodson put it, "(he'd) watch more." From Goodson, that's high praise.

The cartoon works strictly as visual humor, well laid-out, with gags that would work just as well as still panels. It proves that these three kiwis have what it takes as storytellers and joke tellers. Indeed, it looks like they have the intention of producing a Dirk Banzai comic book (with a Skid & Hokey back-up strip>?), which, if it makes it to the States, I'd pick up. Despite the cuteness of design, the character also has a hint of an edge that I look forward to seeing develop.

Both titles also offer a look behind the scenes at character designs, with wallpapers for downloading. Skid & Hokey also has voice outtakes, which seem to be mostly tests to see what voices would work. From these .wav files, it's clear they're having fun. Good thing most of it translates.

Right now, a visit to Mukpuddy won't take you too long. But as their episode selection increases, it promises to be a site worth visiting again. They're fun, and should be getting some attention. Anybody who can get Goodson wanting more has to be doing something right.

Derek McCaw

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