REVIEW: El Tigre (Nickelodeon)

El Tigre

My introduction to Jorge Gutierrez’s work was at the 1999 CalArts Producers’ Show. It was a screening of his CG short Carmelo. If I recall correctly (and I may not be) the film wasn’t even finished that year and was presented as a work-in-progress. No matter though, Jorge’s film instantly stood out. Here was that rarest of rare among student filmmakers: somebody who actually had something to say. The CG in his film might be considered crude by today’s standards, but what hasn’t dated is the passion and affinity for Mexican culture that he infused into that work.

I met him around town shortly after that screening and over the years have had the pleasure of getting to know both him and his lovely wife, Sandra Equihua, who is equally passionate about her art and heritage. Together, they are the animation world’s answer to Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo…well, minus the physical abuse, marital infidelities and communist sympathies.

All this is to say that it’s hardly surprising somebody else has also recognized their talents. Jorge and Sandra now have a show on Nick called El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera. The show premiered earlier this month, and after watching the first four episodes, I’m delighted to report that it’s everything I could have hoped for and more.

When I first heard the series pitch a few years ago, I was immediately impressed by its concept and the dramatic possibilities it presented: the adventures of a young superhero (El Tigre/Manny Rivera) whose father is a superhero (White Pantera) and grandfather a supervillain (Puma Loco). As often as El Tigre fights villians in the show, he must also do battle with his own conscience and learn to distinguish between right and wrong. Does he cheat by his using his superheroic powers to win a soccer (sorry…futbol) match? Does he steal people’s pets and then return them to collect the reward money? Does he spend the family’s guacamole fund to buy a tattoo maker? These are the type of issues that young Manny struggles with in the series.

The series rarely broaches the deeper inner character turmoil inherent in such a setup, those fuzzy and exciting grey areas that fall somewhere between good and evil (I know, I know, it’s a kids show), but there are other levels of richness to be found in the series. Among them is a nicely fleshed out relationship between Manny and his best friend, Frida; a standout is the episode “Adios Amigos” where Manny makes the decision to stay away from Frida in order to protect her from harm, and the ensuing pain that it causes both of them. First and foremost though, the show is designed to entertain, and there’s no shortage of fun throughout. One of the show’s highlights is the stream of deliciously silly villains that El Tigre has to contend with: early episodes have included Dr. Chipotle Jr, General Chapuza and his grandson Che, Sartana and Titanium Titan. It’s a south of the border rogues gallery worthy of Dick Tracy.

El Tigre

Artistically, El Tigre clicks on all fronts. What is particularly impressive is how the visuals channel Mexican folk art without turning it into a caricature. It absorbs the bright rhythms, shapes and feeling of vernacular and folk art, and through digital means, transforms it into something new and exciting. Part of that new and exciting translation comes from how far the production pushes the use of Flash. El Tigre offers hands down the most dynamic implementation of Flash I’ve ever seen in an animated TV series, seamlessly combining the cinematic possibilities more commonly associated with 3D CGI alongside the organic appeal of drawn animation.

The show is intensely stylized but it is not the random styling one finds in most contemporary animation. The various pieces of the puzzle fit together well and form a compelling overall visual point of view. This includes tight energetic direction by Dave Thomas, lush color and background design by Roman Laney and Tod Polson, the eccentric and endearing character design sensibilities of creators Gutierrez and Equihua, and the artistic contributions of an almost too-good-to-be-true crew including Gabe Swarr, Fred Osmond, Chris Battle, Steve Lambe, Ray Morelli, Katie Rice, Sean Szeles, Joseph Holt, Luke Cormican, Ricky Garduno, Dave Knott, Gerald De Jesus, Eddie Trigueros, Fred Gonzales, Denise Chavez, Aaron Horvarth and Katrien Verbiest.

El Tigre

The show is not entirely free of weaknesses. Among them is its annoying tendency to stage too many scenes on slants and diagonals, voice acting performances that I couldn’t understand (good enunciation is apparently not in vogue among current voice actors), instances of out-of-character dialogue (though far less than other modern shows), and at least in the four episodes that I watched, not as much focus as I would have hoped for on the central relationship between El Tigre, his superhero father and his supervillain grandfather.

On the whole, the show’s strengths overwhelm its faults. Thanks to its creators, the series is colored with a generous Mexican spirit and personality, while remaining accessible to all audiences, whether you’re full-blooded Mexican or somebody whose knowledge of Mexican culture extends as far as the end of a churro stick. Refreshingly good-natured and lovely to look at, El Tigre is one of the finest animated offerings to appear on TV in recent memory.

New episodes of El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera air Saturdays at 10:30am/9:30c.

El Tigre

A sidenote: many of the El Tigre artists are also bloggers and they’re posting some illuminating production material on their blogs. Here’s a selection:

* Specialty poses by Gabe Swarr

* Rough Flash animation by Sean Szeles

* Various designs and paintings by Steve Lambe

* A piece of promo artwork by Chris Battle

* A great doodle of Frida by Katie Rice

El Tigre


  • http://www.mukpuddy.com Mukpuddy

    Nice review dude, I really think this show has set a new standard! An added mention should go to Miah Alcorn who is working on the backgrounds for the show!!

  • http://educatedmetalhead.blogspot.com/ anonymous

    Flash animation still strikes me as consummately underwhelming. I’ve tried to like it… lord knows i’ve tried….but in the end it is FLAT. Flat, flat, flat, and watching it is like looking at a sticker book or a “ColorForms” playset we used to play with as kids.

  • Corrado (anthony)

    I’m impressed that animation like this is on Nick. Normally CN is where there’s more artistic freedom rather than Nick. But I guess with this, Avatar, Random cartoons and the like, Nick is starting to be the more artistic network.

    It’s not the best show, but at times there’s some great dialogue. But I wouldn’t blame it on the VA’s though.

  • Sirose

    Jorge is so cool! During CSSSA Innerspark 2006 he visited us in the Animation department and showed us the pilot episode for “El Tigre”. I hope this show goes far. :)

  • dan

    I couldn’t have expressed those thoughts any better than you just did. I had that same introduction to Jorge’s work as you, but I was even luckier to be at CalArts as a peer. I knew he kicked ass then, and now everyone will know about how great his (their) designs are. It’s amazing what they have done using flash. I’m glad someone has pushed that tool. Now maybe they will make some better updates to the software. Kudos Jorge! And, Amid nice job with the blurb.

  • http://benbalistreri.blogspot.com Ben Balistreri

    Here! Here! Congrats to all these talents on an awesome show!! Dave Thomas, you are a stud!

  • Bob Harper

    Wow Amid – you actually like a TV cartoon! Kidding aside this is a tremendous piece of work provided by a tremendous group of artists. Kudos to Jorge, may it last many seasons!

  • http://www.fatkatanimation.com Gene Fowler

    Great designs fellahs – go lambey!

    We got your brother, we’re holding him ransom!

  • http://ghostbot.blogspot.com roque

    I wouldn’t have expected any less from that crew.

  • Jorge Garrido

    This guy has a great name! I also love the idea of blending traditional authentic folk art with a cartoon.

    And Katie Rice works on it! I’ll definately be checking this out!

  • Steve

    I agree wholeheartedly. This is a fun show, and it’s produced by a great team of really cool people. Congrats to all.

  • Paddy Mac Fisto

    No mention however of the amazing work Boulder Media in Ireland are doing on the show. It’s true that this is some of the finest Flash animation on TV. The animators in Dublin deserve many congrats for all their efforts.

  • http://www.cganim.com chuck

    Congratulations Steve and the rest of the crew. Looks like a fun show to work on!! Please send me a free promotional DVD with all the extras!

  • http://www.animationreplive.com Novid

    Its not a bad show, at times its surprises me with its Mexican style at other times its a retread and at other times i think they crashed there computers too many times.

    I just wish them the best, its just not my cup of tea though.

  • http://www.travisgentry.com Travis Gentry

    I haven’t seen the show, I can only comment on the stills I’ve seen. I like the style, but everything seems to be on one plane. The foreground, middle ground, and background all mesh into one. For those really busy shots, you’d think they’d try to separate the planes with some better color choices.

  • http://merks-art.blogspot.com Tim

    I really love the use of Mexican/South American design in animation. It just jumps right out at you. It’s so fun and lively. The colours, patterns I love it all. I think the first time I really took notice of it was that old lucas arts game ‘Grim Fandango’. Man I loved that game, I was drawing skeletons for weeks after that.

    I must check out this series, thanks for the review.

  • Inkan1969

    I’m really surprised the censors let through that “Donkey Zebra” episode, where El Tigre accidently killed the zebra by feeding it the wrong food, and then brought it back to life as a zombie.

  • chazwazzum

    I don’t think the censors would object to an episode featuring the death and resurrection of a zebra. Heck, that exact premise has been done before on numerous TV shows… Charles In Charge, Seinfeld, The Golden Girls… they’ve all addressed the “dead zebra” subject in their own signature ways. Heck, the dead zebra episode on Full House was one of my favorite episodes and one of the most poignant moments of the series.

    But I hope this succeeds with viewers. I’ve seen Jorge’s work and various series pitches for years now and I new it was only a matter of time before a series was picked up. Maybe we’ll see a “Muertito� feature one day? Orale cabrones!

  • Inkan1969

    chazwazzum, you’re joking about the “dead zebra” eps, right? :-)

  • Steve Gattuso

    I remember seeing a sample of this show at a presentation at the Glendale Library last year. I was impressed by the way the animation adopted Mexican art styles, and laughed at the depth of the gags worked into the short segment (the Ennio Morricone-based score was perfect.) Glad to see the show is doing well, and I hope it’s a success for all involved.

  • Seconteen

    I love this show.

  • Kris

    Where can I purchase a DVD of El Tigre for my grandson’s birthday?

  • http://none Artitst07

    I like Manny and Frida they are my favorite characters! who could hate this show?!

  • S#

    I think this show is stupid. Manny and Frieda are stupid little snots who need total supervision. Period. The villains are stupid and evil for its sake (Santana is HOT, but I hate her.)

    Oh, and the whole Flash Animation thing really has to go. You don’t see anyone with any real or honest drawing skill rely on it, unless they are desperate and cannnot draw. Just because you can think of something to draw does not mean it’s going to look good on T.V. It never does.

  • ghostwriter56

    I can’t believe Nick is dumping a super show like DANNY PHANTOM for this garbage!

    This show is an insult to anyone of hispanic background, poorly animated…hate flash, bad writing and awful acting….it should be dumped.

    This is part of Nick’s “Fresh and New” line up? Save us, please!

  • RickChil

    All I can say is that my 4 year old Son Loves it. It is his favorite show. I just want to know where I can buy a DVD

  • cd

    Hey ghostwriter56 – the show is produced by hispanics. Nice knee jerk reaction.

  • xupache

    Man this TOON was long due, kudos to everyone behind the brilliant, thought provoking creation,you have struck an artistic artery in the southwestern Aztlan mindset. Aprobecho

  • KittenMagician

    This is my absolute favorite show!! I wish I had a DVD of it(sigh).

  • claudio

    pos quiero mas imagene

  • Kyle Christopher Eaton

    Hello people, I like to talk that I saw and heard that El Tigre had been cancled and I saw a few people didn’t like that show. Just for the record, I like to say – don’t listen to those bad people. What I mean is don’t care about them. Please bring it back. I believe in you. I know that Manny and Frida will be in love soon. I want a few episodes about that and like fake out make outs and one last episode when they finally kiss. Remember in “Neds declassified school survival guide” with Ned and Moze. And remember in “Danny Phantom” with Danny and Sam. So I want it to be like Manny/Frida. I like El Tigre 100% no matter what. Oh and remember what the other people said about there should be a dvd of El Tigre? I am thinking the same way. Look deep beneath your souls, Thank you.

  • UK El Tigre fan

    El Tigre is great show, but the ***** at nick cancelled it, El Tigre had real potential, lets just hope it comes back on the air even if its on CN.

  • el tigre fan

    I love this show. They should make a DVD of it.

  • quenn

    I Love el tigre the adventures of manny rivera good show

  • Artemis

    I’m all for a DVD, it’s wity and cute and my son loves it. I was going to buy him one for christmas but alas discovered it doesnt exist. It’s like, helllooo nickelodeon, I am trying to spend my money here….

  • TOBY SAVEDRA

    me and my son love the show i wish they’d show it more often and add 2 ondemand

  • cartoon-lover

    I definitely liked this review. It showed the upsides of the show, and kind of persuaded people to watch it more. That I liked. I liked watching El Tigre even before I read this, but this review changed the way i watched the show. Now, I’ll think of it more than just a random, awesome kids show, but a show to show life lessons, in a comical way of adventure, family, friendship, and, of course, fighting evil with animation. So, thank you for writing this review, I really appreciate it.