Harvey Beaks Review; ‘The Spitting Tree’ & ‘Pe-Choo!’
Behold, one of the few things Nickelodeon might have going for it.
Last week, Nickelodeon premiered a sneak peek of upcoming cartoon “Harvey Beaks”. For the past could of years now, Nickelodeon has been on my hit-list as the only cartoon-oriented network that I don’t watch with any regularity. Recently, they’ve only had two show (animated or otherwise) that I have any honest affection for: one of which was so mistreated by the network that it’s final season was online exclusive, and the other having a schedule so erratic that I end up watching it exclusively online anyway. Having read their upfront of programs for the year, I’m not exactly excited about a drastic improvement any time soon.
So needless to say, stumbling onto this enjoyable little thing was a happy accident.
The show as a whole follows a young bird named Harvey as he adventures with his troublemaking friends Fee and Foo. This is the first episode I’ve looked at of the “two 11-minute plots” I’ve looked at. ‘The Spitting Tree’ involves Harvey facing his fear of heights when he and all of his friends end up stuck in a giant tree with no adults to help, while ‘Pe-Choo!” has Harvey attempting to emulate his friends bad behavior so he can experience the joys of being banned from the lake. It makes sense in context, trust me.
Unlike some other cartoons on today, this one is certainly not the type with an intensive plot woven through it. It’s to the point that certain scenes ( like the cold opening of ‘Pe-Choo!’) are complete padding. Honestly however, I didn’t think of it as a problem in this case. It’s reminiscent of ‘Clarence’, another recent cartoon where the goal is less to tell an engaging plot and more to capture a general mood that comes with being a kid. Both shows accomplish this pretty greatly in my eyes, and if anything goofy little tangents like that are more of a benefit then a detriment. Sometimes it’s more entertaining just to watch characters shoot the breeze, to the point that it makes even an over-done plotline entertaining.
The moral of each episode is likewise pretty predictable, but I appreciate them for the way they’re handled. There’s no big soliloquizing about learning to “face your fears” or “standing by your convictions even if it’s not the most fun”, but the message is gotten across in a more subtle way that kids should still be able to grasp. They, along with the message of being able to depend on your friends, feel natural to the point that although the episodes clearly are built around them, they don’t really feel like it.
I laughed at quite a huge chunk of the jokes, but I also found that some of the more crude humor (particularly that which involved bodily fluids) fell flat. That fact had me convinced for the longest while that I wouldn’t end up liking ‘The Spitting Tree’ in particular. Honestly, a lot of my laughter came from just the delivery from some of these kids.
The cast here is an example of derivative but likable. Harvey himself is a goody-two shoes who wouldn’t harm a fly, and would likely end up failing miserably even if he tried. Foo is base and animalistic, while Fee is more authoritative but likewise impulsive and wild. Fee and Foo are more readily likable than their archetype usually is, as their kookiness doesn’t seem mean spirited and they clearly have Harvey’s best interest at heart in both stories.
As I said earlier, the voices provided really help with humor, and it’s always good to have decent child actors used to voice child characters.
The supporting characters like the other kids and their parents have a decent presence in both episodes and get bits of characterization. It’s nothing special, but they seem interesting enough. There is one character who I think is almost rip-off levels of similar to Lumpy Space Princess from ‘Adventure Time’.
The real reason I wanted to talk about this premiere is how striking I find the technical aspects. The character designs are definitely reminiscent of Greenblatt’s previous show ‘Chowder’ (to the point that they could’ve been ripped right out of it), but the backgrounds and the actual animation quality are both distinct from and markedly better than that show. The former element, along with the photographic title cards for each episode, really contributes to the naturalistic outdoors-y tone of things.
I particularly appreciate the shading and the fluidity, in ‘Pe-Choo!’ in particular. I’ll honestly be very impressed if the whole show can maintain that level of smoothness.
And then there’s the music. I honestly can’t think of an animated show from recent memory that sounds like this one does. It might be a tad too repetitive to dethrone ‘Steven Universe’ as my favorite background score for a cartoon, but in some moments it almost sounds like feature-film quality. It actually almost took me out of some scenes because it’s just so different from what I’m used to hearing in a show like this.
‘Harvey Beaks’ has a lot of promise as something kids and hopefully older folks should enjoy. There’s nothing challenging about it, but there’s nothing about it to dislike either and it doesn’t insult your intelligence. The way I’d describe it is that it carries a feeling of pleasantness throughout the whole thing, particularly in the tone and the artistry. It’s not at all a must watch like ‘Steven Universe’ or ‘Gravity Falls’, but those who do give it a look shouldn’t be disappointed, especially it the increasing depth and arc-heavyness of those shows isn’t what they’re looking for.