People fall into one of three camps when it comes to ReBoot, the first-ever computer-animated TV show: they either love it, find it ridiculous, or don’t remember it at all. It is ridiculous, to be clear, in the same way that any mid-‘90s attempt to understand computers and the internet was, full of references to “the net” and dot matrix printers. Its characters had a weird, plastic sheen to them; here is a video of two of those characters having an extremely ’90s guitar shred-off.
However, the show’s ardent fans have clung to it, in part specifically for those clunky attempts at emulating the interior life of a computer, and in part for its surprisingly urbane scripts, full of in-jokes and pop-culture references. A new article on BuzzFeed goes in-depth on the history of the show, saying, “It was like prestige TV for kids, the way people hailed The Sopranos as Hollywood-level drama that you could watch in your pyjamas at home.” The article’s full of interesting creative details, such as how the core team was assembled for Dire Straits’ legendary “Money For Nothing” video, and the fact that the show’s central conceit, of being set inside a computer, was mostly an excuse to not have to render things realistically.
But mostly, Buzzfeed’s article traces the story of Mainframe, the scrappy upstart Canadian company attempting to upend Disney’s animation dominance. By offloading a lot of the hard work of animation to computers, they planned to streamline the process, doing in weeks what other animation houses spent months or years on. Disney had teams full of artisans toiling over each animation, while Mainframe had computers quietly rendering as the employees got drunk at a nearby strip club.
In fact, it all reads like a surprisingly common dotcom story, of grand schemes of disruption thwarted by huge salaries, unrealistic dreams, and unsustainable overhead. ReBoot was intended as a trial run while its makers spooled up licensed work and then made feature films, but, despite a lot of talk, things never got off the ground. (They actually turned down work on Shrek when it was still a Chris Farley CGI/live-action vehicle.) A grand IPO at around $10 a share soon fizzled to less than a dollar per share as one project after another failed to materialize.
Many of its workers went on to huge projects, including Star Wars, Harry Potter, Finding Nemo, and, fittingly enough, Shrek. Given that we live in the age of reboots and spiritual sequels, a reboot of ReBoot has been announced, and is currently in production as a trilogy of films. May they age as gracefully as these opening credits did: