July 30, 2020

Cartoon review: "Hero Elementary"

A look at the PBS Kids cartoon "Hero Elementary," which combines basic science with superheroes.

Cartoon review: "Hero Elementary"

“Hero Elementary” is an animated series that debuted on PBS in 2020.

Summary

“Hero Elementary” is about a group of children with superpowers; the kids attend a special school for superheroes-in-training. (Think a version of “Sky High,” Marvel’s “X-Men,” or “DC Super Hero Girls” for young children.) As an educational series, “Hero Elementary” is meant to teach basic science skills and concepts (observation, logic, research, etc.).

The main cast includes:

  • Lucita Sky: a Latina girl who has the ability to fly; unfortunately and ironically, she’s also afraid of heights. As far as I can tell, flying anywhere above 10 feet/three meters or so renders Lucita dizzy if she looks down.
  • Sara Snap: An Asian American girl who has two powers: teleportation and super-strength.
  • Benny Bubbles: A Caucasian boy with the ability to generate forcefield-like bubbles. Benny’s also an animal lover.
  • AJ Gadgets: an African-American boy with the ability to project his thoughts visibly to others (dubbed “thought projection”). AJ’s also an avid inventor, and autistic.
  • Mr. Sparks: a Latino man who’s the students’ teacher. He doesn’t seem to have any superpowers, but still can teach superheroes-in-training.
  • Fur Blur: the class pet; she’s a hamster with super-speed.

Keeping with PBS and its target audience, this world’s superheroes are basically emergency rescue personnel/superpowered Good Samaritans, versus engaging in fisticuffs with supervillains. Secret identities also aren’t present here.

Hero Elementary’s classes, similar to Sky High, Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngers, and other famous superhero schools, involve subjects familiar to superhero fans. One episode has the students excited about learning how to leap a tall building in a single bound (the school has a special training clock tower for such). Other episodes have the students learning how to make rescues on water, or at nighttime. Keeping with the Batman-like non-powered side of superheroes, the students also learn how to swing in on or climb ropes.

Most episodes have the students summoned to assist someone in their town (named “City Town”) at various tasks, ranging from a missing pet to an out-of-control giant mutated plant growing over the city. After superpowers fail to resolve things, the kids use science skills (dubbed “superpowers of science”) to make observations and use logic to solve the problem.

As it’s a superhero cartoon, there’s references to and parodies of superhero elements throughout the show. A few adult superheroes are seen or referenced:

  • Athletica, a “super-gymnast hero.” She resembles a non-powered Wonder Woman without the magic lasso, or Sportacus from “LazyTown.” Sara’s a big fan of Athletica.
  • Dr. Inventorman: a famous “inventor hero.” He’s basically an African-American version of Reed Richards, but with flight powers instead of stretching powers. Dr. Inventorman’s also popular enough to have a series of movies and TV shows. AJ’s a big fan of the Doctor.
  • Jetman Jones: a jetpack-using hero who resembles the Rocketeer.
  • AJ enjoys comics and movies about two other heroes, Branch Man (who looks like either a forest-based take on Swamp Thing or a heroic version of the Floronic Man, an old Atom foe) and Arctic Chill (basically a heroic version of Flash foe Captain Cold). An episode where Branch Man has a parade float suggests they're both actual heroes (versus fictional characters) in-universe.

Highlights

  • “Movie Theater Meltdown”: The class goes to see the debut of an Arctic Chill movie at the “Oneplex”… so named because it has a single screen. A former student of Mr. Sparks is now a teenage concessions worker, whose heat powers set off the main plot.
  • In one episode, Dr. Inventorman invents a plant growth ray. After testing it and seeing that it works, his second use for it is… curing his own baldness by growing out his hair.
  • The fact the series includes a diverse cast of characters as the superheroes. Only one of the starring cast of characters is white (Benny).
  • On a related note, it’s one of the few children’s TV shows with an autistic main character.

Opening credits

Here’s the theme song to “Hero Elementary.”

Image from "Hero Elementary." (PBS)

Updated 8/30/20.

Tags: MediaAfrican-AmericansAsian Americanscartoon reviewHero ElementaryLatinosPBSPBS Kids