An Introduction to Wander Over Yonder
If you don’t know, Wander Over Yonder is Disney’s latest animated series that premiered officially on September 13. Created by Craig McCracken with his creative partner/wife Lauren Faust serving as story editor and co-producer, the show is broken up into 11 minute long episodes that follow an alien nomad named Wander (Jack McBrayer) as he travels around the galaxy with his faithful Zbornak Sylvia (April Winchell).
Now, I’ve been a fan of McCracken’s for a while. I pretty much owe half of my love for superpowered girls to him with the other half going towards Naoko Takeuchi for creating Sailor Moon. Plus, Lauren Faust is the woman who gave the excellence that is My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Super Best Friends Forever. I was a little curious to see how a move to Disney was going to affect their usual style.
The good news is that it really doesn’t! Wander Over Yonder is seriously one of the cutest things to come out of Disney in the past few years, and that’s saying a lot since the animation department at the Disney Channel has seriously stepped up its game. It mixes the very over the top style that ran rampant in Cartoon Network shows in the 90s with the heart that Faust infused into the My Little Pony franchise.
Not to mention the catchy as hell theme song created by Steampunk favorites The Two Man Gentleman Band. Seriously, try to listen to the theme song without humming it the rest of the day.
All right, enough chit chat about the show. Let’s talk about the episodes.
The Greatest (1x01a)
Synopsis: Lord Hater takes over the planet of the Dingledorps in his quest to become the Greatest In The Galaxy. However, his plans take a sudden upset when a traveller named Wander innocently challenges him to a series of contests to prove who is the greatest.
The innocent and loving Dingledorps are in the middle of a celebration when the nefarious Lord Hater takes over their planet with his Watchdog Army. Lord Hater’s name is extremely accurate. Not only does he have a design that looks like Aku’s long lost child, he’s a angry and short tempered villain that’s determined to have the ultimate power to take joy out of the universe and become the Greatest In The Galaxy. It even looks like he might succeed with the Dingledorps…
That is until Wander and Sylvia come along.
It’s right in this moment that we see the main character differences between Wander and Sylvia. Wander sees the fair that the Dingledorps had going before Hater took over and is dying to participate in the activities. However, Sylvia is not a fan of Lord Hater and his army and is ready to face them head on and beat some eyeballs in. Yep, true to her species name, Sylvia is a tough girl that you don’t want to mess with, she’s snarky as hell and she’s always raring for a fight. A fight that she usually ends up winning.
Wander, however, is loving and enthusiastic about EVERYTHING. He encourages the Watchdog Army to enjoy the fair and soon as he meets Lord Hater, he’s legitimately happy to meet him. He asks him a million questions about everything and even asks if he has a trophy for winning the Greatest in the Galaxy. This prompts Lord Hater and Wander to participate in various carnival style competitions that Wander wins by a landslide. Ever the sore loser, Hater begins to chase Wander and Sylvia down in his giant ship, determined to win the trophy. However, he’s quickly defeated with a little brains and cartoon violence and thanks to Wander, the Dingledorps have their planet again.
Of course, being the nice guy that he is, Wander still gives the trophy to Hater, saying he won the last race fair and square. What a guy!
Well, Hater just tries to throw the trophy at him and loses an arm in the process, being an angry skeleton and all.
While this was not the first episode broadcast, it was the first episode produced and it’s a great introduction to the series. It delivers a fun and speedy story while still giving us a chance to learn who Wander and Sylvia are. I’d definitely say start here if you’re looking to get started on Wander Over Yonder.
The Egg (1x01b)
Synopsis: Wander and Sylvia are being hunted by a dragon. While Sylvia is trying to defeat the monster, Wander notices a dragon’s egg and is determined to get it back to the nest. Sylvia reluctantly agrees, learning a thing or two about compassion along the way.
Geez, I really made this episode sound like a lost episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, didn’t I? Is it too late to blame that on Lauren Faust?
Anyway, like I said in the synopsis, Wander and Sylvia are being attacked by a giant black dragon while on their travels. Sylvia immediately gets in a fight with it and is determined to beat it even with Wander asking her to reconsider, but when Wander starts looking for a rock to give to Sylvia to help beat it, he finds a giant egg that’s rolled down from a mountain top nest. Determining that it’s the dragon’s egg, Wander stops Sylvia from using it as a bludgeon and says they need to take it to the top of the mountain in order to get the dragon to stop attacking them. Sylvia disagrees, but eventually helps Wander when he can’t get the egg up the mountain by himself.
The dragon is still pursuing them as they make their way up the mountain, but Wander is trying to get Sylvia to slow down and be a bit more caring for the egg. After seeing how positively the egg responds when Sylvia is more gentle and a near loss of the egg, Wander starts singing a song about how to be more nurturing as they make their way up the mountain with the dragon in pursuit. It’s an adorable little number composed by Andy Bean of The Two Man Gentleman Band that has a great juxtaposition with how unamused and annoyed Sylvia looks through the entire process. This Zbornak does not believe in gentle, to say the least.
After what seems like forever, the two finally make it to the top and Sylvia aggressively tosses the egg in the nest. When a crack forms, Sylvia freaks out and checks with the egg to make sure everything is okay. However, the sweet moment is halted when Sylvia refuses to succumb to the attachment she’s gained to the egg. She retreats back down the mountain, leaving Wander to watch the egg hatch alone.
It looks like his mother and child fantasy is about to come true when the dragon turns and looks determined to eat the hatchling. Wander yells for Sylvia, and she comes running to face the dragon and protect the innocent little hatchling…
…As its actual mother, a giant bug, comes back and scares the dragon away.
With mother and child reunited and the little hatchling loving up on Sylvia, she admits that the little guy took “the buck out of the bronco” and brings everyone for a group hug. Aww on three, everyone!
The Picnic (1x02a)
Synopsis: As Lord Hater and Emperor Awesome battle for grand cosmic power while the planets align, Wander gets ready to have a picnic and tries to invite his new friends along.
This was actually the first episode broadcast by the Disney Channel and while it’s a perfectly solid episode, I kind of wish it hadn’t been my first introduction to Wander Over Yonder when ‘The Greatest’ exists. Sylvia is barely seen and the interactions between Hater and Wander don’t make a whole lot of sense unless you know how they’ve previously met.
But they were looking for an episode to at least intrigue people to watch the show, this is a pretty decent one.
Anyway, Hater is locked in a battle with Emperor Awesome, who is a shark with beefy arms riding a dinosaur and an army made up of fists. No, really.
Hater is determined to have his wish of ultimate power granted when the planets align and Awesome and his army are determined to beat him. However, Awesome is the least of Hater’s worries with Wander around! Wander has arrived to watch the alignment and is being his usual friendly self to Hater, which ends up overstepping several boundaries and distracting Hater thoroughly to the Daffy Dunk point of anger.
This episode is ridiculous and fun. If you’re not laughing over the ridiculous imagery of an army of fists fighting an army of eyes and Emperor Awesome’s theme song, you’re laughing over how earnest Wander is to have Hater be a part of his experience (he even shares a sandwich with him!) and how genuinely angry Hater gets to the point he blows his lid and his wish simultaneously. And after he has the world’s greatest “NO!” moment too!
‘The Picnic’ is a fun episode and full of classic cartoon humor, but make it the third episode you watch. It makes more sense that way. Well, as much sense as an episode with a shark locked in battle with a skeleton can make.
The Fugitives (1x02b)
Synopsis: Wander and Sylvia are wanted fugitives on a planet under Hater’s control. While Sylvia tries to determine an escape plan, Wander ends up putting them in more danger with his determination to help everyone around him.
If there’s any episode that combines my favorite aspects of McCracken and Faust, this is it! On a planet ruled by Lord Hater, Wander and Sylvia are wanted fugitives. Sylvia is trying her best to keep low and formulate an escape. However, each escape attempt is thwarted by Wander’s overwhelming need to help people. Which includes things like helping a giant rock creature save one of her babies and ending a centuries long war two ant armies had over a peanut. That last moment in particular was pure McCracken, I felt like I needed to be back in my childhood home and watching the show while sitting on the floor eating cookies and milk.
Sylvia, however, is not enjoying getting into fights with the Watchdog Army and having her escape plans foiled. She constantly asks Wander to stop trying to help people so they can get away and it even looks like she abandons him when his compulsion gets him caught by the Watchdogs. However, despite smelling like sewage, Sylvia comes back for her friend, realizing she’d rather help him out than leave him behind.
This episode in particular really shows why the characters are so great. You have two main characters on this show. You have Wander, who is a big softy with a glass half full outlook on life so positive, that glass might as well be brimming. He loves to help people and will show affection to his friends and his enemies without any hesitation. The amount of hugs that little hippie gives throughout the first set of episodes is kind of ridiculously awesome.
Meanwhile, Sylvia is an unabashed tough girl. She’s not afraid to get into fights and is there to keep Wander in check. She doesn’t like to show affection most of the time, but she’s super loyal to Wander and never hesitates to give him a hug when he needs it.
It’s rare for TV shows to have platonic friendships between male and female characters without any romantic hints and even rarer for shows aimed at kids. Adventure Time manages to pull it off with Finn’s friendships with Marceline and Princess Bubblegum (well, in the later seasons for PB), but the girls are characters that aren’t seen in every episode. In Wander Over Yonder, you see Wander and Sylvia together everywhere they go. They argue and disagree, but they’re still shown to care about and take care of each other despite that. And they’re not a couple! They’re just best friends!
Plus, the only times they get criticized for their behavior is when it’s putting lives in danger. Wander accepts that Sylvia is tough and likes to fight. He just needs her to be gentle with the baby! Likewise, Sylvia accepts that Wander cares about people. She just needs him to stop so they can escape!
That’s another lesson the show teaches: what goes around, comes around. When it looks like Wander and Sylvia are finally caught, everyone that Wander helped throughout the episode comes back and helps the two escape. It’s a really cute animated sequence that reminds the viewer that while you should never go into helping someone with the expectation of payback, people will always surprise you at what they can do for you.
The episode ‘The Good Deed’ is already out, but I’m going to refrain from reviewing it until 3b and 4 are out as well. Still, Wander Over Yonder is off to a great start and gives me a lot of hope for the direction Disney Channel animation is going if they’re putting this show in the ranks with Gravity Falls and Phineas and Ferb.