The Good: Generally all of season 2's superior art and animation, spot on voice acting, faithful adaptations of the comic stories, thorough and gradual character development, insightful explorations into each character's personality and struggles.
The Bad: Season 1's low quality animation, constant off model art, generic background music, juvenile tone, corny humour, shallow narrative.
Ah! the corny chorus of the 1994 Fantastic Four Theme song. To the untrained ear of a five year old, it is a catchy upbeat little piece that brings a quaint smile. "Just call for four!. Fantastic Four! Don't Need No more. That's ungrammatical!". But listening to it years later, that smile is one of bemused disgust; an uncomfortable smile to hold back the disbelief that one ever considered this "cool" back in his younger days.
Debuting in 1994 as part of the "Marvel Action Hour" along side "IRON MAN", FANTASTIC FOUR boasted two seasons of wildly varying quality to the point where they were almost like two wholly different shows. Other than the voices, everything from the music to the art and animation changed drastically between seasons and thankfully for the better.
The first season of the 90s Fantastic Four animated series can only be described as dismal. First you had the low quality animation courtesy of a Taiwanese Animation studio Wang Film and the Manila based Kennedy Cartoons. Weird poses, clunky character motion and a mediocre frame rate; a few fluid shots here and there could not make up for the generally horrid quality. It looked like something 15 years behind the times! A relic from the worst days of Hanna Barbera!. Art-wise, the designs lacked detail, the colors used were bright and cheery and characters continually went "off model" ending up looking silly. Obvious compositing gaffes pop up occasionally leading me to question the quality control department.
On the bright side, the voice cast do an impeccable job of becoming their characters. Particularly noteworthy is Chuck McCann whose pitch perfect Brooklyn accent captures the spirit of the ever lovin blue eyed Thing, Ben Grim. For comic books fans, The stories within this season were faithful recreations of the classic 60s fantastic four comic tales by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The coming of Galactus, the Skrull invasion, adventures in the Negative Zone, and more.
However the execution of those great stories was nothing short of terrible. Silly dialog and Random humor was added particularly in the form of the FF4's new landlady who was continually trying to evict them. That, coupled with unforgettable (for all the wrong reasons) moments like a rapping Ben Grimm, The great Galactus hungrily licking his lips and Stan Lee himself pausing the show to break the fourth wall, all of it adds to the utter silliness of the first season.
>Season 2 in 1995 to 1996 saw a vast improvement in the overall quality. The most obvious change was in the animation. A higher level of detail, darker colors, actual shading and more consistent artwork complemented the smooth animation courtesy of a new Production studio "The Philippines Animation Studio". Surprisingly, this same studio that turned in some of the worst looking episodes of X-MEN THE ANIMATED SERIES have stepped up their game for FANTASTIC FOUR. The writing also takes a darker turn, adapting stories from the 1980s Fantastic 4 comic book run, particularly the work of John Byrne.
The humour is toned down, replaced now by more mature narratives and actual human drama. No matter what foes the FF4 must face, their greatest conflicts comes from within themselves and among each other. Reed's inner guilt over the ill fated experiment, Ben's ongoing quest for acceptance and coming to terms with his monstrous exterior, Sue's feelings of inadequacy being the only woman in the team, even Johnny's broken heart and repeated tragic romances, all of them very real themes that people can relate to. Themes that a family faces. These were the episodes where the FF truly shine and came together as a real family. Some did get a little angsty but no more angsty than those Japanese anime saturating the internet nowadays.
Guest stars abounded in season 2, building up the world of the Fantastic Four and giving shape to a shared cartoon universe where all the 90s Marvel Animated series characters co-existed.
Even the Incredible Hulk
Stories expanded in scope and scale leading up to titanic struggles against Ego the Living Planet, Psycho Man, and a new sinister Doctor Doom. A palpable sense of peril is prevalent in the many conflicts where our heroes just barely scrape by a victory for a bittersweet ending. Threads of continuity allow our characters to grow with each episode that by the end of season 2, the FF are fully fleshed out individuals who went through trials and tribulations together, a family that stayed together and emerged stronger.
Owing to the vast differences in quality in the respective seasons, the rating above reflects the averaged rating between the two. I would rate season one as a disappointing 2/10. But season two is the quintessential translation of the FF4 into animation so it gets at least an 8/10
Casual viewers should just sit through season two but long time fans of the comic books could check out both seasons and see their favorite stories faithfully translated into animation.
Art (season 1): D
Animation (season 1): D+
Voice Acting (English): B+
Replay value: D+
Art (season 2): B-
Animation (season 2): B
Voice Acting (English): B+
Replay value: B+