Genndy Tartakovsky’s Best Movies and Shows, Ranked
Animation holds a special place in our hearts. When life seems a little too scary or uncertain, cartoons offer an escape and an answer. Kids, and kids at heart, can both enjoy the characters’ silly antics and sometimes learn lessons one episode at a time. A storyteller captured our imagination and our reality in a poetic and practical way: Genndy Tartakovsky. The Russian-American host, producer and director is famous for his series of animated TV shows on the popular Cartoon Network TV channel. His style is pronounced yet subtle, using thick outlines for rounded and square depictions of his characters.
Tartakovsky brings his characters to life with memorable personalities that don’t need many words to get their point across. His calling card is silence coupled with action; episodes go without dialogue for long stretches, giving viewers a sober, uninterrupted chance at interpretation and connection to its characters and plots. Despite a few project cancellations and delays, Tartakovsky has been in our good graces since 1996, with prolific work that went against the fast-moving trends of the television and film industry. He is currently working on a new show and movie, Unicorn Warriors Eternal and Fixed, respectively. It’s time we shared the best of the designer’s talent so far.
8 Korgoth of Barbaria (2006)
A silly and raunchy parody of Conan the Barbarian, this pilot episode was never produced. Designed for adult swimming, Korgoth of Barbaria takes place in a post-apocalyptic high fantasy and medieval world. A petition was made to bring Korgoth back, but nothing came of it. Hopefully the warrior will fight another day. Until then, the only way to see the hyper-violent brute is online and in the obscure DVD set, Adult Swim in a Box.
seven Sym-Biotic Titan (2010-2011)
With just 20 episodes to its name, the short-lived series about war-torn survivors of an alien world acclimating to Earth as high schoolers has earned it a cult following. Tartakovsky wanted to continue production, but unfortunately Cartoon Network Studios did not renew the show because it lacked potential for a toy line. It’s a shame, considering shows like this wouldn’t need toys to make it popular. The heavy themes of isolation and feeling worlds apart as an angst-filled teenager were different for Cartoon Network. The Ultraman-meets-Transformers style of animation alone could rival other shows at the time. The legendary series never went to DVD in the United States, but is available on iTunes and the Microsoft Store. At least fans of the show will always remember it and have the infamous “Shake It, Bake It, Booty Quake It” scene.
6 Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003)
Say what you will about the prequels, but this clone wars it’s even the hardest version star wars fan would accept as canon. There are more battles than you can shake a lightsaber, and rightly so. The few things that made Episode II: Attack of the Clones its hollow dialogue, lackluster romance and vague politics were disappointing. Tartakovsky doesn’t mince words with his mid-series and keeps your attention on the relentless conflict and movie saga references. His contribution to the Star Wars universe would inspire the CGI spin-off Star Wars: The Clone Wars in 2008, but not before helping the series win back-to-back Emmys.
5 Hotel Transylvania (2012)
Tartakovsky’s first film as a director makes fun of his creative properties. Here he reinvents the genre of horror and Universal Classic Monsters. Dracula is a father, protecting his daughter, Mavis, and other ghouls in his Hotel Transylvania from the creepy human world. Adam Sandler plays the count alongside fellow Saturday Night Live alumni for a monster mash. It’s funny how reality and art mix; when Dracula serenades Mavis; it’s like watching one of Sandler’s Weekend Update performances. Hotel Transylvania became a franchise, collecting a total of four films. Tartakovsky creates another charming adventure by telling the stories hidden between the lines.
4 Dexter’s Laboratory (1996-2003)
A precocious boy genius (not Jimmy Neutron) and avid scientist with a nondescript European accent captured young hearts and minds everywhere. Dexter was one of Tartakovsky’s earliest character works at the California Institute of the Arts, loosely based on his own childhood and his meddling ways with his older brother. Bubbly entertainer and troublesome sister, Dee Dee, balanced hardworking academic Dexter so well that the show received Emmy nominations and a time-traveling TV movie, Dexter’s Laboratory: Ego Trip, where Dexter saves the future of his future self. The show is a love letter to the creative and the curious, to the quiet confidence that comes with doing their best work independently, and to the inspiration we find in the most unlikely places. Dexter’s Laboratory put Cartoon Network on the map.
3 The Powerpuff Girls (1998-2007)
If Superman only had daughters and their pet was Godzilla, you get The Powerpuff Girls. Instead of the Man of Steel, we get the womanless Professor Utonium, who makes an accidental discovery by mixing Chemical X with sugar, spices and everything nice, creating the superhero sisters: Bubbles, Blossom and Buttercup. The show is a tribute to the Kaiju film genre and 1950s retro-futurism. GPT is great fun with its cutesy violence and tongue-in-cheek parody of Japanese and American pop culture. In the memorable episode “Beat Your Greens”, an alien race called the Broccoloids plans to take over the minds of all of Townsville, forcing girls and children to face the tribulation of eating your vegetables. Tartakovsky captures the innocence, ambition, and responsibility of kindergartners with superpowers as an analogy for growing up too fast and keeping the child in us alive. The Powerpuff Girls also received a TV movie about their origin story and was nominated for sixteen awards, including two Emmys.
2 Primal (2019–present)
Tartakovsky forgoes words for a more guttural galley of emotions in the prehistoric cartoon Adult Swim. The hunter-gatherer, Spear, and the tyrannosaur, Fang, must join forces to survive the changing natural world as they become the last of their kind. Remarkable is an understatement here; it makes sense that words were not fully developed at a time when language was not invented. Likewise, the use of sounds, facial expressions, and violent physical slapsticks are the primitive tools of storytelling, which Tartakovsky employs simply and cleverly. The series has won five Emmys and earned Tartakovsky an Emmy for his storyboard work and continues with its second season on July 21.
1 Samurai Jack (2001-2017)
The timeless story of a time-traveling samurai named Jack who must return to the past to disrupt the future of the evil spirit, Aku. Stoic, honorable and deadly, this show was heavily inspired by spaghetti westerns such as The good the bad and the uglyand the martial arts adventure television series Kung Fu. The scenes unfold at a wonderful pace, slowly savoring the moment in silence until the action transforms this daydream into a nightmare moving at breakneck speed. Both are balanced in delivery and let the tone have the final say. What makes this series special is the fact that Tartakovsky brought it back after eleven years to provide a fitting ending to Jack’s story. Tartakovsky’s creative career isn’t over, but if the history books were to lay claim to a magnum opus, Samurai Jack would be their first and last choice.