Harry Situation Reviews: Danny Phantom
He’s a phantom... Danny Phantom...
Danny Phantom was Butch Hartman’s second animated series made for Nickelodeon, and arguably the best of four series he’s made. Unlike The Fairly OddParents and other Nicktoons, Danny Phantom was a superhero action show, released back in 2004. The centered around Danny Fenton, an average fourteen-year-old high school student, whose parents, a couple of professional ghost hunters, built a very strange machince called the Ghost Portal. This device was to open a gateway between Earth and a phantasmal realm known as the Ghost Zone, where all ghosts are said to reside. When the machine would work young Danny took a look inside but also accidentally activated the portal. In doing so the portal rearrange his DNA and mixed it with that of a ghost. Danny realizes that he now has ghost powers such as phasing through walls, invisibility, flight, possession, and firing energy blasts. Knowing that ghosts from the Ghost Zone will use this portal as a means to take over his world, Danny Fenton becomes his hometown’s sole protector as the ghost-busting specter Danny Phantom.
I can definitely attest that this show is Butch’s best work and one of the best animated shows from Nick. It’s a major contrast to his first cartoon The Fairly OddParents. This was more of an episodic, action-orientated series, which was a big first for Nickelodeon at the time. The animation is probably the best that Butch has done. There’s much more attention to shadows and dark colors, and it has a very unique comic book style going for it too.
The characters and voice cast are perfect too. Voice actor David Kaufman voices titular character Danny Fenton/Danny Phantom, and he’s perfect. I honestly can’t think of anyone else who could voice this character. It’s like Kevin Conroy voicing Batman, there’s just no one better.
And what would a superhero be without his supporting cast. We got Danny’s female best friend/love interest Sam Manson (voiced by the ever talented Grey Griffin). Some people have a problem with her character, as being a super-eco friendly, gothic, vegetarian, and there are a couple episodes where she pushes her views into people’s faces. Aside from those, she’s still a great supporting character but I can understand why ones aren’t that fond of her. We also have Danny’s techno-geek other best friend Tucker Foley (voiced by Ricky D’Shon Collins); his older, know-it-all, protective sister Jasmine “Jazz” Fenton (voiced by Collen O’Shaughnessey); Danny’s ghost obsessed parents Jack and Maddie Fenton (voiced by Rob Paulsen and Kath Soucie); and Mr. Lancer, Danny’s stern teacher (voiced by Ron Perlman). I loved this guy, especially when is exclamations were all references to book titles.
“Lord of the Flies!”
“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Repairs!”
But a hero is only as good as its villain, and like any superhero show, this show has a villain roster that could almost rival Spider-Man and Superman. There’s Technus (also voiced by Rob Paulsen), a ghost that’s able to control electronic devices; Skulker (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson), a professional hunter ghost that hunts other ghosts; and my personal favorite Ember (voiced by the gorgeous Tara Strong), a rockstar ghost whose power increases when people chant her name. But we can’t forget the most fearsome opponent from Danny Phantom’s rogues gallery, his archnemesis: the Box Ghost!
Box Ghost: “I am the Box Ghost! Beware!”
Nah, I’m just kidding. His greatest enemy is actually Vlad Masters/Vlad Plasmius (voiced by Martin Mull). This guy was a great villain and all you could as for in an archnemesis. Like Danny, he’s half ghost too after a failed experiment that Danny’s father caused. And like Danny, he gained ghost abilities too but learned how to harness his powers over time and uses them for his own selfish gain.
This show also had some pretty good writing (at least in the first two seasons). Part of that was thanks to co-writer and co-developer Steve Marmel, who had a hand in writing some of the best episodes of the series. There were some good stories and few of them actually explored some major subjects, like one episode where Danny fears his parents might get a divorce. And there was another episode had Sam participate in a beauty pageant but unlike following the simple mind set of conformity like the other girls she stands out, sending a pretty good message about being yourself. Personally, my favorite episode was “My Brother’s Keeper”, where Jazz learns about Danny’s alter ego. It’s the first time in the series we get to explore their relationship together and Jazz proves herself to be a strong supporting character rather than a temperal annoyance.
Arguably the best episode of the whole series is the hour long special “Ultimate Enemy”, where Danny Phantom must battle against an evil version of himself from the future. Long story short after an incident that takes the lives of both Danny’s family and friends, Danny sought out his nemesis Vlad to help take away his pain. This would involve Vlad removing his ghost half from Danny but the ghost half breaks free and molds with Vlad’s ghost half, becoming something entirely new and evil. And for some fun facts, the future Danny Phantom was voiced by Eric Roberts. It was a great episode for its superb story and writing, Danny battling against his future self, and it has a good lesson how doing something a little selfish can have some major consequences in the future. And we have Danny acknowledging that Jazz knows his secret too and accepts her as part of Team Phantom. It was an awesome episode.
But that’s not to say that every episode or the writing for the first two seasons were always good. There of course were a couple duds, like the episode where Danny split himself into two different Dannys so he can stop Technus and spend a weekend with his friends. However in doing so it split them into two different personalities: one that is the heroic Danny Phantom and the other being a lazy bum version of Danny Fenton. I just didn’t get it at the time and it really made no sense when I rewatched it recently. Why would their personalities be split too? There would only be two Dannys of the same mind.
Sadly all good things must come to an end. And by end I mean take a downward spiral ranging from mediorce to bad. What happened? According to Butch Hartman himself, the series was actually cancelled in the middle of their second season. This led the production team having to rush making the third and final season. So basically all the problems with Season 3 could be summed up with Nick once again dicking around one of their popular shows. And and this isn’t the first time Nick has done something like this, a discussion that’s well worth its own post. But there was more to it than that. Season 3 also marked the depature of writer Steve Marmel, who left Danny Phantom for unknown reasons. I tried looking up an explanation for his depature from the series but couldn’t find much. From what little I did find apparently Marmel had his own ideas for Season 3, like having the show go a darker route. I would have freaking loved it that had happened. I’m all about that dark shit in my children’s animation. But a rumor was that Butch was against the idea and had him fired. Again this is only rumor but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the case, and their may be some evidence of this. In a reported interview, Marmel did state that he did have some different ideas for Season 3 but studio meddling prevented him from doing so, and then he left. He’s also stated that he wishes to remain silent about his ideas for Season 3 out of respect of all the talented people behind the series.
So what happened next? Well Butch Hartman happened next as he took over for much of the season’s writing and stories, and there lies the overall problem. Kinda like George Lucas, Butch has some good ideas but they aren’t well executed. Not to mention his writing style is very cliched with childish humor and the constant “and then the opposite happens” tropes. The show went from a super-powered teenager balancing his personal and heroic life to being a monster-of-the-week troped show. All the characters in the show then suffered from flanderization, such as taking the complex nature of Vlad Plasmius and turning him into a regular cartoon villain with no real motivations; not to mention all the characters dropping in IQ levels, including Danny himself. And for some odd reason Butch Hartman retconned the ghosts from not being the spectral essence of a living person (which is what the definition of a ghost is) to being monsters from another dimension, despite there already being a few episodes that contradict that claim. I guess the only “ghost” that is acceptable for Butch is the “Holy Spirit”. I will give Season 3 this much credit as it seems everyone in Danny’s town is recognizing and treating him more of a hero. It took almost three seasons for everyone to praise Danny Phantom unlike in Naruto where it took a whole sequel series for everyone in the Leaf Village to start praising Naruto and his numerous good deeds.
But then we got stuck with a really bad finale with the hour long special “Phantom Planet”. What happens in this final episode is that Vlad Plasmius hires an elite team of ghost hunters that beat Danny at his own game every time. Danny gets fed up with being outmatched and decides to give up his ghost powers for good. This is one of the most selfish actions I’ve ever seen any hero do in my life, and the most stupid. You’re being out matched by better ghost hunters? Boo-fucking-hoo. At least Peter Parker had a good reason why he gave up being Spider-Man in Spider-Man 2. It was because he was struggling between balancing his work and social life with this superhero identity, and this personal struggle greatly affected his powers. Danny was like, “Man, these jerks that work for Vlad are better than me. Fuck it, I quit.” What’s worse is that his friends and sister barely make an effort to talk him out of his decision and he still goes through with it.
But things get complicated when a giant asteroid that is sum how resistant to all modern technology and even ghost abilities comes hurtling towards earth. Vlad uses this as an opportunity to take over the world (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1W7c8QghPxk). He reveals his alter ego to the world and demands to make the global leader along with being paid $500 million dollars for getting rid of the asteroid. Dude, you are super rich and would be conquering the world so you would have all of the money. Why the hell would you demand more money? Any who, Vlad fails to stop the asteroid so it’s all up to Danny. Danny gets his ghost powers back, recruits all the ghosts in the Ghost Zone to aid in making the earth phasable so the asteroid passes through it. Danny’s identity is revealed to the world and his parents but I honestly couldn’t care less about that since the show has already did this song and dance number a few times before. But I guess this is permenant now versus having everyone’s minds wiped by the end. Danny and Sam confess their love for each other and start going out. Oh and Tucker somehow becomes the new mayor of Amity Park. How the fuck did that happened?!?! And that was the end for Danny Phantom, concluding in 2007 and leaving its legacy with three seasons and a total of 53 episodes.
Overall, Danny Phantom wasn’t a perfect series, but it was a great series. It had some flaws but it had a ton of good and memorable moments. Whenever I think of this show I think about the first two seasons and ignore the third. It is a shame that we never got a fourth season and I highly doubt we’ll ever get one any time soon. It does give my creative writing side some ideas about a fourth season but I think I’ll save that for another post. Danny Phantom is a Nicktoon that is well worth your time. Check it out and go ghost!
-Very stylized animation
-Talented voice work
-Catchy theme song
Final Grade: A-
Two more Butch Hartman cartoons down, two more to go!
Alright, those are my thoughts of Danny Phantom. Have you seen this show? What were your thoughts? Have a favorite episode? Favorite character? Favorite moment? Please be kind, leave a like and comment, and check out more reviews here on Prose!
Danny Fenton/Danny Phantom: “I’m going ghost!”
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