Television review: ‘Wander Over Yonder’ is far out and has heart

Craig McCracken, who gave the world “The Powerpuff Girls” and “Foster’s House of Imaginary Friends,” is back with a new cartoon, “Wander Over Yonder,” about a happy alien who polices the universe with love. It premieres Friday on the Disney Channel.

This makes a change for McCracken, whose earlier shows were done for Cartoon Network, and for Disney Channel, whose earlier shows tended to be more identified with the corporate brand than with their individual creators, and (with some exceptions) have been less conceptually and visually extravagant or edgy — naturalism, within a TV budget, has always been the house style — than what airs on CN or Nickelodeon, the third big kids’ network.

And though McCracken’s cartoons are full of historical references, Disney is not prime among them. His work here more readily recalls the postwar biomorphism of UPA and the funhouse forms of 1930s Dave Fleischer and the power-in-stasis poses of anime. There are hints of Chuck Jones, as well — that big-eyed, long-eyelashed look — and Wander looks a little like Jay Ward’s moon men Gidney and Cloyd, if they were hairy like Bullwinkle.

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If “Wander” brings a different sort of rubbery energy to Disney, temperamentally the brand is a good fit for McCracken, whose work, even at its most violent, has always run on a bed of sweetness. (“Sugar and spice and Chemical X,” in the “Powerpuff” formulation.) Wander has a little bit of Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner in his DNA — he is quick and capable and hard to cow — but he is also all hugs and kisses and hearts and rainbows, to the extent that he tends to miss the awful thing happening in front of him. (Burning town, hungry monster.)


Lord Hater (Keith Ferguson, who was Bloo on “Foster’s”), the series’ Darth Vader, rides about in a skull-shaped spaceship, abetted by an army of walking eyeballs: “I have tempted forth torrential tides of tears; I have reduced the richest of republics to rubble and ruin.”

Wander: “Congratulations, that’s amazing! Have you ever done this?” (Dances crazily, with his tongue hanging out.)

He’s Candide, triumphant, with all the skepticism and irony offloaded onto his trusty extraterrestrial “steed,” Sylvia (April Winchell, daughter of Paul.) (It’s a bit of a Gumby and Pokey thing.) That Wander is voiced by Jack McBrayer, who played the similarly optimistic (though sometimes darker) Kenneth on “30 Rock,” is a felicitous pairing; the character feels founded on the voice as much as the voice captures the character.

There is something childlike, too, about McCracken’s art: However sophisticated and accomplished the execution, it feels homemade at its heart — a kid’s imaginings, never a corporation’s.

‘Wander Over Yonder’

Where: Disney

When: 9 p.m. Friday

Rating: TV-Y (suitable for young children)