What I wanted this year was one of the greatest animated series ever created — by one of the greatest animators ever — to blessedly return for a second chance at changing programming as usual.
And that’s what I got, when Genndy Tartakovksy’s obviously brilliant but surreptitiously canceled Sym-Bionic Titan somehow showed up unannounced on Netflix in December.
The significance and serendipity of this happening a decade after Tartakovsky’s mecha-comedy was tragically pulled without warning from Cartoon Network is not lost on anyone paying attention to the art form or its industry. Netflix has enough money to buy almost anything from Cartoon Network, a mostly legendary institution with nevertheless next to nothing actually on Netflix. But as Tartakovsky’s stature has (predictably) grown in concurrence with his timeless shows like Samurai Jack, The Powerpuff Girls, and the greatest Star Wars series ever made, Clone Wars, it was only a matter of time before his deep cuts were brought back out into the spotlight.
Sym-Bionic Titan’s return certainly came as no surprise to me. I had been following Tartakovsky’s stunning work since before Titan, when I began covering it heavily as it arrived in 2010. I was one of the first journalists that Cartoon Network called to soothe, and smooth over, when they dumbly yanked it off of the air; trust me, they got an earful. And I was standing next to Tartakovsky himself, with my daughter on my shoulders, when he figuratively stabbed himself in the heart, trying to describe how terrible he felt after Cartoon Network killed his baby and sent him scrambling off to Sony — where he continues to generate about a billion dollars mashing his signature cartoon physics with Adam Sandler’s otherwise underwhelming high-concept monster franchise, Hotel Transylvania.
“Titan was probably the biggest heartbreaker I’ve ever had,” Tartakovsky told me later, as Hotel Transylvania started racking up the hundreds of millions.
“Titan was a cancellation, which was rough,” he said. “We had written ten more scripts, which were ten times better than the first batch. The story was progressing to a great place; we were just starting to get a feel for what the show was. And that’s the thing about television: very rarely is a show a home run right off the plate. It usually takes a season or two to warm up and get into the magic. Even Seinfeld didn’t really hit its stride until several episodes in. With Titan, I felt like I had just started to say something, and then I got cut off.”
When I asked Tartakovsky if all of his Hollywood success would eventually help bring Titan back to life, he was doubtful. But it wasn’t too much long after that his astounding Samurai Jack sequel inevitably arrived, which animation fans and scholars also once thought would never happen.
“I guess the answer is the more successful I am, the more of a chance it has of getting made, because then I have more power to say, ‘I’d really like to finish this,’” Tartakovsky told me. “I’ll never give up on it.”
Ten years after Sym-Bionic Titan’s premature demise, it’s an entirely different entertainment marketplace. With deep-pocketed streamers like Netflix (and Apple, and Google, and…), truly anything goes. So scholars and fans of animation should probably look at Sym-Bionic Titan’s return as more than Tartakovsky‘s record being set straight.
They should regard Titan’s return as an indicator that there is more to come, probably sooner rather than later. Check out my coverage of Tartakovsky and Titan below, and stay tuned.