The J-Squad centres around three animated kids whose stories and escapades link three different cartoons together to form an entire 44 minute (without ads) television show. Junior, Jane and Jaz are 3D modelled animations with one difference to most: they all retain their ‘black outlines’ when they move around. So, you have easily (and poorly, I gotta say) animated characters who look ‘hand-drawn’ (at least by outline) wherever you pause the shot. This is certainly a novel technique and it's well done, but the characters themselves don’t have much material to work with and the animators could use a little more time animating. The kids link three differing examples of kids’ animation in three individual short strips:
Poochini (a formerly rich dog who now lives with poorer folks), What About Mimi? (a regular kid with regular issues… yawn) and, by far the worst, Weird-Ohs. This is 3D yet again with a bunch of over-coloured, over-modeled, over-ACTED characters driving strange cars around and trying to best each other (saw it 20 years ago with Wacky Racers, guys, and it was way better then).
This disk contains two episodes of the ‘best-of’ the J-Squad. In my mind, just carrying the first two episodes of something does NOT qualify it to be the ‘best of.’ However, judging by the standard of most of the DVD I saw, it probably doesn’t matter too much.
The colours in this thing are deliberately aimed at the kid’s market. Bright, garish, glaring hues fill every scene. There are some cool 3D spots between excerpts and the opening titles (sans wording) are well put together to a funky backing beat. It’s when the show opens and the clunky animation begins that the wheels fall off. Details seem to have been omitted from the intros, preferring instead to limit action to one arena or background with limited, if any, ‘outside’ world. This means that the viewer tends to concentrate on the surrounds, looking for information, rather than at the (I’ll just say it) ugly characters. Did I mention the 3D characters in this part have no limbs? They have free-floating hands and feet, but their extremities are either non-existent or invisible or something. Freakish animation and hard to watch. Other than that, though, the Poochini and Mimi cartoons are quite nicely rendered, nicely coloured and have simply-designed characters with well coloured and well painted backgrounds in each. The only failing visually in these is the use of still frames in Poochini a la Ren and Stimpy, but not nearly so well crafted. Generally, though, both look great. A little pixelly in parts, but they can be forgiven this as it doesn’t appear too often due to the simplicity of the character design. Then there’s the Weird-Ohs. They should be called the Uh-Ohs. Too much colour, the characters themselves are visually unappealing and the backgrounds are too heavily detailed, detracting from the action. There is a certain level necessary in a good background, the other two shows have it, but this one does not in the least. The background should accentuate the action, not impede it and certainly not draw attention away from it. The irony of backgrounds is that if you don’t notice them, then they're doing their job correctly. Alas for the Weird-Ohs.
Audiowise, once you’re past the annoying ten-second repeater riff on the main menu, it's pretty good. There’s no noise or static carried through the shows which makes watching them a little easier. Perhaps the characters enunciate a little too well, which makes the watching seem less inviting and one character, Jaz, is conversely, barely decipherable.
Music is clean and well-recorded, and should appeal to its target audience of kids through early teens with just enough raucous kerrang to get ‘em fired up about watching cartoons. I couldn’t help noticing the Poochini jingle sounds ever so much like the theme from The Nanny. It’s even a similar storyline, though reversed: Rich dog lives with poor family. Accident or design? I ask you.
As for extras, there are three categories on the 'Bonus Features' menu...
#1 - J-Squad has character bios, the original Poochini pilot, a quiz about how well you’ve watched the episodes on this DVD (I failed with a resounding ‘No Way, Jose!’ from the smarmy 3D kids) and lastly, the now overdone by everyone animation outtakes. These are even worse and harder to watch than the regular 3D stuff. And poorly acted.
#2 - The Boarding Button is basically a four minute advertisement for SMP Clothing. It’s just snowboarding for four minutes and that’s it. Weak.
#3 - Moove to the Groove a ‘rockumentary’ featuring two of Britain’s hottest new kid acts, The S Club Juniors and the allSTARS. Here we see two film clips as well as bios on the band members which might well be interesting if you’ve heard of the band (I haven’t) or have a favourite character (I haven’t). These are sausage machine bands resembling other created groups like S Club 7, Bardot and Scandal’us, but made for kids. I’m all for kids feeling empowered by performers speaking to them like young adults and stuff like that, but isn’t there something creepy about 11 year olds singing their hopes of holding you ‘til dawn? Maybe it’s just me, I dunno.
Overall, this is a coupla hours of filler for the kids as there’s something in it for most ages and tastes. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to regularly re-watch this DVD, so I would recommend it as a rental for some dreary Saturday afternoon. It’s watchable by kid’s TV standards, and should keep them happy for an hour or two, but I would warn you about that repeater riff. It's deadly to one's sanity if left on too long.