Back to Jaw About Odyssey
Just as every big Hollywood movie calls for a sequel, so every popular series calls for spin-offs. In the case of Adventures in Odyssey, the primary motivation behind expanding the series is not dollar signs, but reaching more people with the message. To date, AIO has spawned a video series, a book series, various apparel, a few games and activities, and even computer software. The idea has been to not only provide other outlets for listeners familiar with the series, but also to attract new fans.
Most of spin-offs affect the audio series very little. Obviously the apparel and toys don't change our outlook on the series and the games really don't add to the narrative in a big way. The two major elements that have changed AIO significantly are the book series and especially the video series. The book series has dealt with many of the familiar elements of Adventures in Odysseyexpanding various characters and storylines and even tying in some of the points left undiscussed in the audio series. Setting the book series before the audio series gave Paul McCusker the opportunity to provide explanations for various stories, contribute to character's pasts and even introduce plot points in the past which are used much later in the series. That's another important point about the books. They were written by Paul McCusker, a major contributor to the AIO audio series.
But the books have a few problems too. One of my major complaints is that Paul McCusker presents elements that conflict with the audio series. For instance, the books are supposedly set two years after Whit created Whit's End (as revealed in Book 4: Behind the Locked Door), and two years before the audio series began (since in AIO19: Recollections, Tom says that Whit created "this place" four years ago.) However, the books feature the Imagination Station from the very beginning; Mark takes a journey in the very first book (Strange Journey Back). The Imagination Station was not introduced in the audio series until AIO66: The Imagination Station, and it did not exist before that since Whit decided to invent it (or at least finish it) specifically for Digger Digwillow. So, technically, Mark Prescott used it three years before it was invented. Besides, would he have put Connie in the much less dramatic "Environment Enhancer" in AIO46: The Shepherd and the Giant if he had the Imagination Station? I think Paul tried to cover his tracks on this one when he wrote in AIO293: A Code of Honor that Jason and Jack "discovered" a previous version of the Station in the basement. Evidently we are supposed to believe that perhaps this was the one that Mark Prescott, Jack Davis, and Matt Booker used, but the facts just don't fit very well into the previously revealed information from the audio series. As cool as the Imagination Station is, we don't need it back when it didn't exist. If Paul was going to set his books two years before the audio series, he should have left out the Station. But in other books, like Book 4: Behind the Locked Door, we learn more about Whit's past and his son Jerry. That is how the books should be usedto enhance previous storylines or to begin new ones that will logically fit in with the audio series. It is difficult for the books to stand completely on their own due to their origin. I'm guessing the books would not be known at all if there were not an AIO audio series. There are tons of books out there in the ages 8 to 12 range. That's why the books should emphasize the points which made the audio series popular.
The books are basically aimed at the same audience as the audio series: ages 8 to 12 or so. While many adults can love the audio series, I doubt that quite as many will enjoy the books, mainly because they don't have the benefit of a high quality production team behind them. No matter how well Paul writes the books (and all of them are extremely well-written), it's difficult to compare them to the thrill of actually hearing them produced. Technicalities aside, I enjoyed all of the books. I enjoy anything that adds to our knowledge of AIO, especially that which is so well done as these books are.
On the other hand, I've had a very hard time swallowing the AIO video series. From the beginning the video series bothered me with its cutting of popular characters, its ignorance of the AIO storyline, its reliance on traditional action instead of the spectacular dialog of the audio series, and its dismissal of so much AIO fans held dear.
The Imagination Station, which in the audio series gives the impression of a "virtual reality" machine, which simply helps you use your imagination. In Video 1: The Knight Travellers, the Imagination Station actually takes people back in time (they even "disappear" from the present). Blackgaard was altered from a very intelligent world-domination type who wants to steal computer programs and viruses to a rather silly villain who somehow wants to apparently charge admission to the Imagination Station (the plot really isn't explained very well).
But the biggest problem of all with the video series is not is abandonment of popular characters, nor its annoying departure from nearly all AIO storylines. The most troubling problem is its reliance on cartoon action and violence. Okay, so the violence isn't anywhere close to what's on Saturday mornings nowadays, but what is the point of some of the action? It's to entertain a much younger audience. For example, in the first video, we have some poorly done scenes where Dylan, trying to save Sherman the dog, jumps onto a character's shoulders, pulls his hair, pulls another character's ears, all while the two of them try desperately to hit him and only end up clobbering one another. These type of scenes have been in animation since the beginning and now seem more inspired by the success of Home Alone than the AIO series. Compare the action of any of the videos to Darkness Before Dawn, Waylaid in the Windy City, or A Name, Not a Number and the audio series wins hands down. Just in that first movie, we also have some pointless other subplots (should I say comedy?) about the snake of the villain and a chase through the mansion. These scenes add absolutely nothing to the overall story. They serve as filler to get to the 30 minute mark and provide time for Eugene to say some of his dumbest dialog yet. Then we have long scenes in the Middle Ages where Dylan must defeat Mr. Faustus in the joust, which seems mainly put in to give the episode a dramatic ending, since it really has nothing to do with the rest of the episode. In the end, Whit tacks on a speech about materialism, supposedly the theme of the episode, but was really mentioned rarely.
Those of you reading this may think that I am so negative toward the first video simply because it was different than the audio series. In a way you are right. But why, when you have a series as good as AIO, do you simply throw out just about everything that makes its good? But animation has to be different than a purely audio series, right? Well, just because animation needs to be different doesn't mean that we should resort to all out action and fill the work with clichés used from the beginning of time. The videos did get better. The second and third improved a bit on the theme area and added occasional humor. Video 4: Shadow of a Doubt remains the best of the video series in my opinion, since it was closest to the feel of the audio series, both in humor and fun. The action sequences are still not that great, but are better than the previous ones. All of the videos from five through thirteen are very watchable and interesting, even very entertaining at times. But I still wonder why if Focus wanted to make a series this incredibly different than the audio series why they simply didn't make a brand new video series, based on new characters.
One of the saddest parts of the video series is that many of the people who watch these videos (and they are very popular), will never know the audio series. Many churches and Christian book stores that carry the videos don't offer any of the audio series. I don't want to give the wrong impression here: I think its great that Focus would produce an animated video series that can present the Christian message to younger children. But if they are going to put the name "Adventures in Odyssey" on it, they should at least keep some semblance of the original series in them. If you're going to replace great plots and dialogue with thin stories and all action, chose a different label. Adventures in Odyssey means too much to me.