Nothing clouds judgment like nostalgia.
Having enjoyed a piece of pop culture as a kid makes it so much easier to grade on a curve when you revisit it years down the line. There is, admittedly, an undeniable purity in the enthusiasm of a young audience. Kids approach pop culture devoid of pretense, but the divide between something as eternally resonant as Harry Potter and as cash-grabby as The Angry Birds Movie (which sadly made enough money to warrant a sequel) is vast. The unfortunate reality is that a great deal of entertainment that caters to young audiences does so lazily. Kids may be able to sniff out greatness, but they’re just as likely to watch something because it happens to be on.
With the launch of Disney+, the opportunity to revisit pop culture relics of generations past is available at the push of a button. Nostalgia trips are going to be in full swing in the coming weeks (might we recommend Gargoyles?) and at the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with that.
But don’t get it twisted: a lot of these shows are very bad, perhaps none moreso than X-Men: The Animated Series.
Look, let’s give some credit where it’s due: X-Men: The Animated Series played a huge part in getting an entire generation of kids hooked on the X-Men. It was a vital part of the X-Men boom in the 90s that led to the property becoming one of the biggest pop culture juggernauts of the era. We’re in no way saying it never should have happened or that it isn’t okay to let it hold a special place in your heart.
But the show has not aged well — in fact, it was never all that good to begin with.
Animation and voice acting
When you remove the Nostalgia Lenses from your eyes, it’s hard to not notice the shoddiness of this entire production. The animation looks cheap as hell, with its depiction of motion being especially lousy. The characters’ mouths never seem quite sync up with what they’re saying, and it’s just unsettling.
Sure, it was the nineties and it was TV. Not everything could be Miyazaki. But keep in mind that right around the same time Bruce Timm and his cohorts were putting out Batman: The Animated Series which to this day stands out as a landmark achievement in televisual storytelling.
There’s also the voice acting to consider. Iconic as some lines may be (I quote Jubilee’s “Do you know how much this game cost?!” “Yeah, a quarter” once a week), most of the voice acting only accentuates just how poorly written the dialogue is. There’s the good kind of cartoonish voiceover work and the bad kind. X-Men: The Animated Series has the latter.
Hokey, subpar writing
Credit where it’s due, the show clearly put effort into translating some of the more famous X-Men stories from the comic pages to the screen. There’s merit in that effort, and this show was likely many kids’ first exposure to stories like the “Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days of Future Past.” The only problem is that they almost always failed to do a good job at translating those stories.
Admittedly much of this is due to the constraints of children’s television at the time. Under FCC guidelines the show couldn’t depict real guns or the death of characters. This makes the ending to Dark Phoenix Saga a little tough to pull off, as it kinda sorta hinges on Jean Grey dying.
Half the time they were “adapting” prominent storylines they…really weren’t. “Days of Future Past” is a great example of this. It honestly bears hardly any resemblance to the comic, and the show’s take heavily features two characters who aren’t even present in the original story (Bishop and Gambit). Other botched adaptations include the Legacy Virus and Weapon X storylines, among others.
Look, they were clearly good enough to get kids hooked at the time. But with decades of comics, better TV shows, and a few movies that weren’t too bad either, it’s impossible to pretend that the show stands up as a bastion of X-Men storytelling in 2019.
That theme song
It rules. It slaps, as they say. It’s one of the all-time great opening themes to a cartoon, courtesy of Ron Wasserman, who also scored much of the original run of Power Rangers (yes, including the theme song).
It also might be a work of plagiarism.
Earlier this year a lawsuit was filed by the estate of Hungarian composer Gyorgy Vulkan who, in the 1980s, composed the theme song to a Hungarian show called Linda the Policewoman. The show was a huge hit domestically, but was largely isolated from the rest of the world. Still, the lawsuit notes that the composers behind the X-Men theme song were known to associate with Hungarian animators, which would have allowed them to be exposed to the theme song, which is admittedly nearly identical to the X-Men theme.
There you have it: arguably the single most iconic and lasting piece of media to stem from the show is likely a work of heavy borrowing if not outright plagiarism.
There are so many incredible cartoons from the ‘90s you can binge on Disney+, from Gargoyles to Duck Tales. There are also a whole bunch of killer Marvel cartoons available now and even more on the way. If you need to revisit X-Men: The Animated Series to satisfy your nostalgia, do your thing. But do so knowing that this show is, and has always been, pretty lousy.
X-Men: The Animated Series is available to stream now on Disney+.