Very few video game characters get their own cartoon show. And even fewer get multiple shows based on their electronic adventures. I think only Mario, Sonic, and Mega Man have pulled that last feat off, maybe Street Fighter if you count the anime toons. And now, Pac-Man has done the very same thing. All through this summer, the classic arcade dot and ghost muncher is starring in a brand new computer animated cartoon series called Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures, airing on Disney XD. As a huge Pac-Man fan, you KNOW I’d be writing about it sooner or later. So here it is!
Old School Toonage
But this isn’t Pac-Man’s first cartoon. Did you know that in the early 80’s, when Pac-Man was huge and super popular, Hanna Barbara produced a Pac-Man cartoon about the light hearted adventures of Pac-Man, his wife, baby and two pets, as they thwarted the ghost monsters’ plans to steal the Power Pellet Forest and bring it back to their leader, Mezmeron. As most H-B cartoons of its time, the Pac-Man cartoon was very gag oriented. For a while, you could order both seasons of the old Pac-Man cartoon on DVD through the WB online store. And yes I have them. Not sure if you can get them there now anymore or not. Here is the intro song to the old cartoon:
The 80’s Pac-Man cartoon was a big hit. Chef Boy-Ar-Dee had Pac-Man canned pasta with a commercial based on the toon. Namco and Midway even made a 2-D platformer based on the toon characters and music called Pac-Land (which came out a full year before Super Mario Bros.). For a while, Six Flags Over Texas renamed their kiddie park Pac-Land, too! It’s true! I went there as a kid! Here’s the commercial for the Pac-Man pasta:
While I loved to watch the Pac-Man cartoon as a kid, I will admit that it was a pretty horrible cartoon. Awful writing, poor animation, and dopey plots abounded. But I liked the cartoon as a kid anyway because I didn’t know any better. Plus we didn’t have the Internet back then, so any way we could get our video game fix outside of arcades, we took! Of course, you really can’t blame H-B too much for the old Pac-Man cartoon’s quality issues. Like many other cartoons of the era, they were rushed for time to poop out so many episodes, and considering they had to make a cartoon out of a simple maze game, I think they did the best they could. And like many other H-B creations, while some of their cartoons may have been less than subpar, the voice work was fantastic. Especially in the second season when they introduced Super Pac-Man, voiced by the late Lorenzo Music, who is best known as the voice of Garfield.
Why a New Pac-Toon?
So why make a new Pac-Man cartoon? Pac-Man’s nowhere near as popular as he was in the early 80’s. Or is he? Even though kids today can’t play Pac-Man in arcades like they used to, Pac-Man is still a very accessible game. Like Angry Birds, you can find Pac-Man to download on any smartphone, tablet, computer, and all the game consoles, too. Sometimes even multiple times! And every kid I’ve talked to knows what Pac-Man is and likes playing the game. Plus, the kids who played Pac-Man in the arcade originally are now old enough to have cartoon-watching kids of their own.
The Pac-Plot Thickens
Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures has a totally different plot than the old 80’s cartoon, and Pac-Man as a character has been reworked, too. In the new toon, Pac-Man lives on a planet inhabited by other round Pac-People of all different colors. They have futuristic technology, including transport tubes, hovering cars, hologram newspapers, etc. Many years before Pac-Man was even born, the people of the Pac planet were in a great war. Betrayus was the leader of the group of bad guys who wanted to take over the planet (the people of the planet should’ve known better to trust someone named Betrayus anyway). After a great war, Betrayus was finally defeated, and as punishment, he and his army were stripped of their physical bodies and forced to live as ghosts in the underworld. So basically they were killed and sent to Hell. But before they were able to do this to Betrayus, he wiped out all the yellow Pac-People on the planet, including Pac-Man’s parents. But Pac-Man’s aunt hid and raised Pac-Man, the last of the yellow Pac-People.
Many years later, we find that Pac-Man is now a teen and goes to high school in kind of a boarding school setting (he lives in a dorm, for instance). Pac-Man has a couple of friends, but most ridicule him for his belief in ghosts. But one day, while getting lost in a rather familiar looking hedge maze, Pac-Man discovers a portal to the ghost world and accidentally opens it. Now Betrayus and his new ghost army are able to invade the Pac planet. But Pac-Man also discovers his special yellow power: he can eat the ghosts! He can also gain powers from eating special Power Berries (I guess they’re not calling them Power Pellets anymore, probably so parents don’t accuse Pac of being a pill popping drug addict, the sign of the times). These Power Berries can make Pac-Man fly, grow big, or get powers like Ice, Fire, Metal, or Lizard abilities. So basically Pac-Man is Kirby now. So Pac-Man must use his new powers and the help of his friends to defeat Betrayus’ ghost army, while learning teenage lessons along the way.
One thing I will say about the plot is they don’t give it all away right at the start. You have to watch episodes to uncover all of that, so they kind of take an anime style of storytelling. Which I can appreciate since they don’t assume the viewers are stupid and won’t get it. Another thing to note is the storyline isn’t near as dark as I’m making it out to be. They use clever wording and omissions to make it sound more kid-friendly. But the basic idea is there. Here’s the intro to the new Pac-Man cartoon:
What I DON’T Like About the New Pac-Toon
Well there are a lot of thing not to like about this cartoon. It’s worse than the original, but that could just be nostalgia taking over. But the thing that annoys me most is how they made Pac-Man be an annoying teenager. There are WAY too many teenage heroes in video games and other fiction. One of the reasons why I liked Pac-Man’s original character is that he was a family man, with a wife and kids. Most video game characters are lone warriors. What’s wrong with having a hero be a grown up and a dad, too? I imagine the creators of the show thought kids could relate better to teen Pac. Namco Bandai may have also influenced the character change as well. It’s well known that Namco kind of ‘hides’ the Pac-Man sequels that Midway made for arcades in the 80’s, like Jr. Pac-Man and Baby Pac-Man, which feature Pac’s family. Only one they really recognize is Ms. Pac-Man, because it’s made so much money over the years. So that could explain how things turned out with the new cartoon, too.
There are lots of other little things I don’t like about the cartoon. The intro theme song is horrible, the squeaky, scratchy voices are grating, and they rely way too much on gross out humor. Now, I’m not snobby enough that I won’t laugh at a good fart or burp joke every now and then, but they aren’t even funny here. For instance, in one episode, Pac-Man has to deal with a zit problem, and at one point his face gets stuck in a ghost portal, and when they pull him out, it squeezes all his zits and the pus seals the ghost portal up. Ew, gross! And they say ‘The Pac is Back’ way too many times. I feel bad now that I used that as my title line for my Pac-Man World review back for the Dallas Morning News. It’s even worse than how many times they say “Sizzling Circuits” on the old Mega Man cartoon.
What I DO Like About the New Cartoon
While most of the new cartoon is deplorable, there are a few things I do like about it, believe it or not. Most may disagree with the main thing I like about it, though. In this new toon, the four ghost monsters, Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde, are Pac-Man’s friends. What? How can that be good? They are enemies in the game! Well, I like the ghost monsters just as much, if not more than, Pac-Man himself. Always have. In the new cartoon, Pac-Man takes pity on the four ghosts and doesn’t eat them and burp out their eyeballs, and they become friends early on. This allows for some interesting plot points, as the ghosts still report to their Lord Betrayus, and must figure out how to follow his orders and not hurt Pac-Man in the process. Or they may have to decide whether to take actions for personal gain, or make sacrifices to help Pac-Man. Plus I like the four ghosts’ new designs. They all look different. Pinky and Clyde have different personalities, but it’s hard to tell the difference between Inky and Blinky’s personality traits, unfortunately. And even though I hate the main title theme song, the background music during the actual cartoon is pretty good. They even use some themes from other Pac games like Pac-Mania. I even heard the tune from Super Pac-Man’s museum room in Namco Museum vol. 2. Now that’s hardcore!
Pac-Man’s Toon Future?
You can watch the new Pac-Man cartoon on the Disney XD cable channel, but the air times are less than desirable. They show it weekdays at 10 am, 3 pm, and at 1 am. So I am either sleeping or working when it’s on. I guess they’d rather show four hour blocks of crap like Lab Rats or ANT Farm or Kickin’ It. I’m sure Disney’s lack of confidence ticks off Namco Bandai, too. They’re counting on it doing well so their games will be more recognized. Namco already has an iOS game called Pac-Man Dash that I recently reviewed, and they’re making a 3-D platformer based on the new cartoon as well. I’m sure the 3-D platformer game won’t be very good, but we don’t see too many cute and colorful 3-D platformers like what we used to, so I’m still going to have a positive attitude about it. I bet the Bandai side of Namco Bandai wants the cartoon to succeed, too, because they’re making toys based on the show. Bandai is like the Mattel of Japan. I’ve never seen the toys in stores, but I’m curious about them all the same, since I like to collect Pac-Man merchandise. So for better or for worse, I don’t see the new Pac-Man cartoon succeeding.
My Vision for a Pac-Man Cartoon
I hate to be too negative about the Pac-Man cartoon and say that I could write a better one. The new cartoon was written by someone who worked for Marvel, so they definitely earned their writer’s chops. But as a Pac-Man fan, I still think I could make a better Pac-Man cartoon. It would be a mix of the old cartoon, a little bit of the new, and some Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures thrown in for good measure. In my vision, Pac-Man would still be a family man like in the old cartoon, with Ms. Pac-Man and his two kids. And it would be more light-hearted and gag oriented like the old cartoon as well. But like the new cartoon, I think it would be fun to have the four ghosts be Pac-Man’s friends instead. Or maybe like friendly yet aggressive rivals. Maybe they could compete with each other, but in the end, they would help out if needed. I’d also put in a little bit from a 16-bit Pac game called Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures (called Hello Pac-Man in Japan). This was a really creative point and click adventure game where you didn’t control Pac-Man directly, but shot a slingshot to get his attention. In this game, Pac-Man wasn’t very smart and his obsession with food got him into all sorts of crazy situations. I think that would be fun to have in my cartoon, too. What do you think? Let me know in the comments section. And tell me your favorite memories of the old Pac-Toon, and what you think of the new one. Later! –Cary