This was not a topic I thought I was going to tackle so soon. But it just so happens that lately I’ve just been feeling super nostalgic towards the early-2000s cartoon series, Jackie Chan Adventures. And thought, may as well type up a review on it, while the energy was still going strong.
Jackie Chan Adventures, as the name implies, is a cartoon adaptation of the real life actor, Jackie Chan. While the show is certainly not the first to be a cartoon adaptation of some real life celebrity, I always felt this show was perhaps the best offering with this approach. These kinds of shows usually focus on how the cartoon version of a celebrity is always awesome and unstoppable. But I feel Jackie Chan Adventures manages to focus more on how Jackie Chan is a fairly comedic dude, even in the midst of epic Kung Fu action, and how he’s not always the most awesome person ever. The show as far as I know, had gotten input from Jackie Chan himself, on how he would be portrayed in the cartoon. And this included his goofy dorky self.
The show had come out during a time shortly after groundbreaking shows like the Batman: Animated Series and Animaniacs had aired, as well as other clearly influential shows like the then recent anime boom in the States, and even the hit Disney film, Mulan. The early-2000s had a whole variety of action cartoons with some Asian influences (shows like Teen Titans, Totally Spies, Xiaolin Showdown, and TMNT 2003 all coming to mind). Spanning a total of 5 seasons, I’ll share my thoughts on what I found to be the show’s strengths and weaknesses in each of them.
The show’s setup is pretty much an Indiana Jones adventuring inspired approach. While most of the show takes place in San Francisco, the characters will travel around the world a lot, searching for various magical ancient artifacts (in Season 1’s case, 12 magical talismans), while combatting various baddies who want them for themselves along the way. The show has a neat little adventuring premise, with some nice magical Chinese (and even Japanese) lore tied to it.
I think what stood out most about the show’s first season for me, was the action and it’s animation quality. The show would throw Jackie into all sorts of amusing circumstances, where he’d have to use his skills to get himself out of such situations. Jackie would perform epic kung fu moves, clearly paying homage to the same man in real life. The action sequences I felt were a real joy to watch. And in my opinion, is one of the main reasons why I personally feel like the first season is the show’s strongest.
The show has a fun cast of characters (both good guys and bad guys). Jackie himself is the cool action-y goofball, much like his real life counterpart. Uncle, who’s my favorite character in the show, is Jackie’s grumpy and overly eccentric uncle (or is he Jade’s uncle? Even the show admits, it’s not entirely sure), who’s also a Chi Wizard, using his ancient Chinese knowledge to cast natural Chi Spells. Jade, Jackie’s niece, is generally a hit-or-miss character, depending on who you ask, or what exactly you want out of the show’s episodes. She’s the token kid-appeal character. You’ll either find her annoying, or you’ll appreciate how helpful and cheerful she can tend to be. I personally enjoyed Jade well enough. It’s similar to my feelings on Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The Dark Hand are a nice little group of villains. Even though I feel Valmont is sadly underused. But I did love how chillingly creepy the mysterious Shendu was.
If there’s one thing I do remember about the characters in this show, it’s their millions of catchphrases, lol. Various examples: “Bad day! Bad day!” “One more thing!” “Magic must defeat magic!” “Angry crow takes flight!” just to name a few.
After getting killed at the end of Season 1, Shendu returns as a spirit and possesses Valmont, and begins a quest to free his 7 other Demon Sorcerer siblings from the Demon Netherworld, via searching out the 7 Demon Portals. Jackie and his friends’ mission is to stop them however they can.
This season retains a lot of what was fun from the first season. But I feel it’s a slight step down. Season 2 focuses less on the action and animation quality. While the action is still decently enjoyable, it focuses less on Jackie’s kung fu, and more on trying to feel fantastical (like repeated uses of the Talismans during battle). It’s still fun. Just sadly not quite as eye catching in my opinion. And sadly, this becomes the standard for the rest of the show.
Season 2 also had a TON of filler episodes. Sadly, I find the majority of the filler eps in this show to be fairly mediocre and forgettable. There’s a couple I enjoy. But the rest I don’t feel like recommending.
Back in the day, I did enjoy the 2-part finale, Demon World Part 1 and Part 2, thinking it was pretty epic. But looking back, I realized the writing and direction was pretty poor and sloppily slapped together. The 2-parter just had way too many conveniences going on, which really hurt the tension in my eyes. Thus, for me, the true finale of Season 2 would be the episode, “The Eighth Door.” That one wrapped things up much more neatly in my opinion.
This season is a bit of a mixed bag for me. It still has decent episodes with fun characters and decent action. But where Season 3 hurts for me, is the new villain, Daolon Wong. This saddens me, since I always REALLY wanted to love Daolon Wong. I love his design. I love his concept as a Dark Chi Wizard. And his motivation to just wanting to cause trouble cause he thinks he’s so great, works well enough for me. Also, he’s voiced by James Hong, who completely eats the role up! But sadly, the writers did such a sloppy job at executing Daolon Wong. He came off incredibly incompetent and even just downright stupid in a lot of episodes. It’s such a shame. Shendu he is not.
Much like season 3, this one is also a mixed bag for me. What I do appreciate about this season, is the villain Tarakudo. I feel he made better decisions than Daolon Wong did, and managed to come off more competent as a result. Especially when his endgame plan is pretty much a result of “if he wins, he wins. If he loses, he still wins.” Either way, Tarakudo’s victory of covering the whole world in Shadowkhan always seemed like a foregone conclusion to the floating Oni head. Tarakudo, while ruthless, also had a certain polite personality to him, which made him different from the more cruel Shendu and Daolon Wong.
Where I feel Season 4 mostly lacks in though, are the characters themselves. The writers really feel like they’re phoning it in a lot this time. The characters at this point just kinda go through the same old same old motions as always, dealing with whatever plots they get thrown into. It’s not particularly what I’d call the most creative.
This is the one season I found very little to enjoy at all. Not only are the episodes lacking any sort of imagination (and I mean REALLY lacking. So many previous plots get reused), but the writing is also horribly inconsistent and all over the place. While the characters in this show are fairly simple, Season 5 tends to go fairly bi-polar over how to present or utilize them.
On top of that, we have who imo, is the worst villain in the show, Drago. A character who’s constantly annoying in how hip he tries to be, with his nauseating dialogue. Not to mention he’s probably the most incompetent and dumb villain on the show. It’s like he was asking to lose. Previous villains like Shendu, Daolon Wong, and Tarakudo would all make attempts to stop the heroes, or Uncle’s Chi Spells. But Drago never really does. He’s pathetic.
Overall, I’d say just don’t bother with this season in general.
Jackie Chan Adventures is a fun little action cartoon show, which I feel is stronger early on than it is later on. It’s got fun mystical setup with fun characters, and some pretty nice animation, paying good homage to the real life action star. If you’re curious to try out some early 2000s cartoons, and wanting something that’s a bit mystical and action-y, give the first one or two seasons of this show a shot.~