TV Preview

'Class of 3000,' With UpKast Eyes

(Cartoon Network)
By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 3, 2006

Hip-hop artist "Andre 3000" Benjamin might already strike some as a cartoon character with his rubbery limbs, outlandish fashion sense and four-digit number for a middle name.

So for fans of the OutKast singer, no major brain leap is required when watching him in Cartoon Network's "Class of 3000" as the animated character Sunny Bridges, who gives up his career as a superstar musician to teach at his old elementary school.

"Class of 3000" was originally conceived for the network's more mature "Adult Swim" lineup, but the show ultimately decided to aim younger. "Class" is strictly for the early-teen-and-younger set, with its ham-handed though admirable lesson-of-the-week format. Plus, the show's students -- who have names such as Li'l D, Philly Phil (voiced by "Mad TV's" Phil LaMarr) and Madison Spaghettini Papadopoulos -- are not above the occasional puke or poo-poo joke. (Another noted vocal talent: "SpongeBob SquarePants' " Tom Kenny, who voices rich kid Edward Phillip James Lawrence III.)

In a future episode, for instance (tonight's hour-long pilot was not made available for review), the kids get a pep talk and Bridges tells them, "We are going to tear down the walls of convention with the wrecking ball of creativity." Well, that phrase slowly gets mangled from student to student throughout the show (like the classic game of telephone), with Madison Spaghettini Papadopoulos eventually mishearing it as, "We are tearing down the walls of constipation, with the wrecking ball of creamed spinach."

Young viewers will readily consider using the words "constipation" and "creamed spinach" a case of brilliant scripting. But it's the musical interludes by Benjamin that might pull adults into the show, too.

Next week, Benjamin and the kids (with an actor named Small Fire voicing Li'l D on lead vocals) sing an addictive, slightly haunting rap with the refrain "All we want is your soul." (The plot revolves around Li'l D, an aspiring drummer who signs a record contract with a corrupt company that makes him shill its canned-ham product.)

The animation is fairly simple and conventional, although it does get wild during the musical segments, which look like the latest videos on MTV2 -- and are perhaps a bit too daring for very little minds. (Each week, various guest art directors -- such as "Ren and Stimpy Show" creator John Kricfalusi -- will oversee the episode's musical scenes, Cartoon Network says.)

"Class of 3000," however, is all about the message -- as in: Be true to yourself; don't give in to temptation; don't sell out.

Benjamin clearly did not sell out with this good-natured, inspirational cartoon. Despite the creamed-spinach joke.

Class of 3000 debuts tonight at 8 on Cartoon Network with an hour-long episode; future episodes will be 30 minutes each.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company