X-Men '97 isn't the best X-Men show ever made; this is

X-Men '97 is getting celebrated after the end of its first season on Disney+, which seems like a good oppotunity to celebrate the excellent X-Men cartoon that time forgot:
Wolverine and the X-Men (Intro) [HD]
Wolverine and the X-Men (Intro) [HD] / DanChaotic1

Recently, Disney aired the first season of X-Men '97, a revival of X-Men: The Animated Series. X-Men '97 has the same exaggerated style, continued plotlines we'd last checked in on over a quarter century ago, and even featured several of the same voice actors. It was largely celebrated by fans who remembered the original show from years earlier, as well as newcomers who were seeing this pulpy take on the famous super-team for the first time.

The series is a lot of fun, if somewhat shackled to the original show's aesthetic. X-Men: The Animated Series is that it's earnest and exciting, but also limited by the animation technology available at the time, and sometimes dramatically over-broad. There's a reason that supercuts of Storm shouting about weather have been popular for over a decade now; this stuff is a little kitschy, a little campy, a little bit too much, in the best possible way:

X-Men '97 revives this over-the-tap, occasionally klutzy style, but now it's being done on purpose rather than on accident, which to me makes it a little less satisfying. X-Men '97 is a solid show, but I think the love for it is overblown, and there isn't enough acknowledgement of its shortcomings. Plus, I have to wonder why X-Men: The Animated Series was revived despite a final season that ended on a note of finality, and when there was a better X-Men cartoon waiting for a second chance.

Wolverine and the X-Men is the best X-Men show ever made

After X-Men: The Animated Series wrapped up (for the first time), a few more attempts were made at reviving the franchise in animation. X-Men: Evolution was a more kid-friendly take that lasted four seasons between 2000 and 2004. In 2011, we got an X-Men anime series. And in between in 2009, a show called Wolverine and the X-Men aired on Nicktoons Network for one season before being quietly canceled.

Wolverine and the X-Men is clearly made in the aftermath of the X-Men movie trilogy starring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. For one thing, Wolverine is the main character; the show takes place a little later in the chronology of the franchise, when Wolverine has stopped being quite so much of an insatiable rage monster and is ready to lead the team rather than begrudgingly go along in hopes of being able to stab something. Jean Grey is missing and Cyclops is in a depression, which flips the usual responsible guy-vs-wild rebel relationship he has with Wolverine.

The show hits a lot of the same plot beats that many of the X-Men adaptations do: there are Sentinels, the Phoenix shows up, and there's a storyline set in the future, where humanity's anti-mutant prejudice has grown out of control and resulted in a brutal dystopia. But the show scrambles the usual character dynamics in a way that makes these stories feel new. A disillusioned Rogue spends a lot of time working with the bad guys, Magneto is a family man with a teenaged daughter, and the mutant Emma Frost plays a huge role helping the X-Men get back on their feet after a brutal attack, striking up a relationship with Cyclops in the process.

There's also an attempt to turn down the cheese a bit in the aftermath of X-Men: The Animated Series. This is still a cartoon about superheroes, so it's trying to be entertaining first and foremost, but it does it in its own way. The writing and performances are consistent from the first episode to the last, when the show was axed for reasons that remain vague to this day; financing is named as the culprit, but the details remain elusive.

Because it's different, because it's confident, and because it's too often forgotten, I think Wolverine and the X-Men deserves accolades, especially as another X-Men cartoon has a moment. Who knows? Maybe we won't have to wait 25 years for this one to make a comeback. If you're interested, you can watch all 26 episodes on Disney+.

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