Friday 15 January 2021

Carmen Sandiego Returns For Her Latest Caper in the Season 4 Finale


Carmen Sandiego (2019 Series) Title Card

Fans could not be more excited when Netflix officially announced the final season of Carmen Sandiego set to premiere on the 15th January 2021.  Previously in Season 3, although the series for the season was too short (there are only 5 episodes) it left fans with a burning curiosity about the myriad of possibilities the series may take thereafter.

Carmen Sandiego Season 4 Official Trailer

If you are new to Carmen Sandiego, it is a 2019 Netflix animated adaptation to the highly successful media franchise of the same name. Otherwise known as, “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.”  

To get you up to speed, here is the gist of it.

Toddler Carmen Sandiego, formerly known as "Black Sheep"

An orphan girl, known only as “Black Sheep” is raised on a secluded island in an academy for criminals called V.I.L.E. (the E stands for Evil) When she eventually learns about the sinister intentions of the people who raised her, she was repulsed by the truth. With the help of a white-hat hacker named Player, she escaped the island and took on the name Carmen Sandiego. Now, Carmen and her sidekicks Zack, Ivy and Player travel around the world masterminding spectacular heists in the attempt to foil V.I.L.E.'s diabolical plans. However, hot on their trail is the ACME Detective Agency who are hellbent on putting V.I.L.E. under arrest for their evil deeds. Yet they also suspect Carmen as the key to their investigations and pursues her to wherever she is around the world. 

The characters in Carmen Sandiego 2019 Netflix series

The series follows Carmen Sandiego as the protagonist with a mission to thwart V.I.L.E. (Villains International League of Evil) from stealing the world's treasures. She is somewhat a modern-day version of Robin Hood where she steals from V.I.L.E. first to thwart them from carrying out their wicked plans. The series features Jane the Virgin, Gina Rodriguez as Carmen, Stranger Thing's  Finn Wolfhard as Player and experienced voice acress Kari Wahlgren as Sheena aka Tigress.  
Source: Insider 

Rina Rodriguez as Carmen Sandiego. She is best known for her role in "Jane The Virgin"

Finn Wolfhard as Player, Carmen's secret weapon.
Wolfhard is famous for his role as Mike Wheeler in the Netflick smash hit, "Stranger Things"

Rita Moreno as Cookie Booker.  
Rita is best known as Anita in West Side Story (1961) 
She is also well known as the voice of Carmen Sandiego herself in the 1998 animated series, "Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego"

Michael Hawley as Zack, Ivy's brother and ally to Carmen.
Hawley does voice work for several video games including "Mad Max" and "Batman: Arkham Knight."

Abby Trott as Ivy, Zack's big sister and ally to Carmen.
Trott has done numerous voiceovers for many animes and video games.

Kari Wahlgren as Sheena or Tigress, a V.I.L.E. operative.
She has voiced over a hundred animes, video games and anime.

Mary Elizabeth McGlynn as Coach Brunt, a V.I.L.E. faculty staff.
McGlynn has done voice overs for animes like Naruto and Sailormoon Crystal.

Charlet Chung as Interpol turned ACME Agent Julia Argent.

Rafael Pertardi as Interpol turned ACME Agent Chase Devineux. 
He appears alongside Keanu Reeves in the movie "Siberia"

Over three seasons, fans followed the super thief across the globe pulling off spectacular capers in an action-packed drama. Wherever our protagonist sets foot, she will rattle off bits of trivia about the country and culture.

In Season 1, episode 3, Carmen introduces Indonesia to the audience.

The series is highly engaging and takes on an original plot never heard or explored before in the previous media formats of the franchise.  Rotten Tomatoes rated the series a 4.5/5 and describing as appealing to both long time fans and audience that are completely new Carmen.

The iconic red, geographic theme, characters and educational snippets, much of Netflix's rebooted version is a  tribute to the legacy of a 30 year old franchise in various media forms. 

Yes, you heard it right. Carmen Sandiego has been around far longer than you think! As a fan who grew up with the Carmen Sandiego games, I will dive into the evolution of the franchise that made Carmen into a pop culture icon even before her debut on Neflix.

How on Earth Did Carmen Sandiego Begin?
Source: The Avocado

The first Carmen Sandiego leaped to life all the way back in 1985 as a computer game created by Broderbund called Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. The game was conceived by an ex-Disney employee and some talented people who were experimenting to include more graphics into text-base adventure games that were common at the time. 

The first computer game in 1985 started it all.

Carmen's in-game dossier back in the 1980s. Her characteristics will evolve over time.

The game concept centered on tracking and chasing down criminals through clues and deductive reasoning. It was not until the founders of Broderbund, Gary Carlston suggested to include a geographical theme to the game. The game's appointed writer, David Siefkin was tasked to include The World Almanac and Book of Facts into the game's narrative and packaging.

The game packaging includes a 1991 version of the World Almanac, making it one of the heaviest games sold in stores. 

However, on top of its robbers and cops themed adventure game, what made it especially compelling was its leading character, Miss Carmen Sandiego herself. Inspired by the Portugese-Brazillian singer Carmen Miranda, the lead antagonist was bestowed with a name that sounded exotic and mysterious. Her last name Sandiego was derived from San Diego city, California. Though no one really knows her descent, her name seems to suggest that she is of Hispanic origins.

Carmen Sandiego on the box art of the 1995 CD-ROM game.

In the game manual, she is described as a clever and quick-witted woman who steals only for the intellectual challenge. A former talented Acme detective, she turned to a life of crime after realizing that her cases do not satisfy her intellectually. She is the founder and ringleader of V.I.L.E. (Short for Villains International League of Evil. ) She prefers to mastermind her heists and let her henchmen carry out the operations. Physically she is consistently depicted as having long wavy brown hair and dons an iconic red fedora and matching red trenchcoat.  In other versions, she also owns a cat named Carmine and drives a red convertible. Both her eyes or one of them are usually hidden by the shadow of her red fedora which gives her the impression of mystery. 

Other than that, the rest of Carmen's back story is never truly defined and shrouded in mystery, leaving it open to interpretation.

As for the game mechanics, the players take on the role of ACME detective agents whose goal is to pursue and nab V.I.L.E. henchmen stealing the world's treasures through clues provided by witnesses in various locations. The scoring system is based on the number of cases the player solves. By rising up the ranks, the player will arrive at a point where the ultimate goal is to catch Carmen herself. 

The interface from Where in The World Is Carmen Sandiego (1991)
where the player interacts with the game.

Where in Space is Carmen Sandiego. (1993)
Notice that the interface remains consistent in design.

Ironically, the game was never intended to be an educational game. For the record, any game that is labelled “educational” usually means dull and boring. Yet, Carmen Sandiego found its way into schools when teachers begin recommending them to classrooms as a means of learning geography. 

The unexpected popularity compelled Broderbund to capitalise on the potential and begin expanding the games with sequels. Carmen got so popular that on March the 4th, 1988, the first Carmen Day was organised in Bluffton, Indiana! Since then, across the United States, Carmen Day was held in schools inspired by the franchise. A week-long of Carmen themed activities were held and supported by Broderbund and later, The Learning Company after Broderbund was acquired in 1998. (Source: Wikipedia)  

The 30th Anniversary of Carmen Day was held on the 8th of March 2019 where an interview with Gina Rodriguez was broadcasted live along with the trailer from the upcoming Netflix series.

Carmen Sandiego Day with Gina Rodriguez

Yet, the ever-growing popularity of Carmen did not stop there.  In 1991, PBS adapted the game into a children's television game show called, "Where in The World is Carmen Sandiego." The show was created partly in response to a National Geographic survey that indicated that Americans had dreadful knowledge in geography where one in four were not able to identify the pacific ocean or the soviet union.

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego children's game show
The show ran from Sept, 30 1991 until 1995. 
A total of 295 episodes were aired for five seasons.

The show introduced Lynne Thigpen as The ACME Chief. Her compelling acting and booming voice literally stole the show.

Subsequent CD-ROM remakes of the games released after the TV show had Thigpen as a retcon providing videos and voiceover for the games.

In 1994, the cartoon series Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego by DIC Productions L.P. is released and aired on Saturdays on FOX's Fox Kids Network.

The animated series was a real attempt to flush out Carmen's back story

The series introduced us to characters like Zack and Ivy. 
Many characters from different franchises, not just the animated series were rebooted in the Netflix 2019 version much to the delight of fans. 

The Carmen franchise did experience a slow down after the game show was discontinued by the network. Although two new spin-offs of the game show was produced, notably Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego, it only lasted for 2 seasons.  In 1998, the creator company Broderbund was acquired by The Learning Company. Many attempts were made to reboot the franchise with an injection of new games but none had the same spark or magic of the previous games.

Chase Devineux was originally from Carmen Sandiego Maths Detective

Although the games created by The Learning Company failed to achieve the success of its predecessors, it did introduce the characters Agent Chase Devineux and Agent Julia Argent which are rebooted in the 2019 Netflix series.

Sadly, the franchise gradually slipped to oblivion until Netflix step in to revive the series in 2019. The rest as they say is history.

Having grown up with the Carmen Sandiego games in the 90s era, to state how psyched I am about Season 4 is truly an understatement. My “pursuit” of her took me around the world, across the United States, the Solar System, and through the time-space continuum.

My introduction to Carmen Sandiego ironically was not on Earth but in SPACE.
 "Where in Space is Carmen Sandiego"

As a child, I was always intrigued by her character. What is she like?  In spite of the big E that stands for EVIL in V.I.L.E. Carmen never appears as truly evil to me. She was a villain with a heart, extremely intelligent, and bear qualities that I looked up to as a capable woman. 

The 1998 cartoon series was the first real glimpse of what Carmen is as a character with depth, showing audiences the first time an individual with emotions, intentions, and a strong moral complexity that is interwoven into her personality. I can only imagine what Carmen is really like and will satiate my curiosity through the fanfictions that existed online.

For fans of the franchise, this is THE season you do not want to miss. Undoubtedly, as the season finale, perhaps we will finally learn the answer to the big question, "Who on earth REALLY is Carmen Sandiego and what in the world does she truly want? We seen her growing up in search of her place at the faculty and left in search of her true origins. Through her adventures and missions, we learn that family plays a huge part in her and so are the values like trust and friendship.

For a series aimed at the younger audience, it is refreshingly not as straightforward as one expects, where good triumphs over evil. There are different sides to the conflict as quoted by a character, "We live in a world where villains don't look like villains and heroes don't look like heroes."

It is a series with characters who are not what they seem that sends a powerful message to audiences about how the world works in reality and is just as important as an educational info dump about geography.

If you are new to the Carmen Sandiego series, I highly recommend to watch it with an open mind. The animation is especially stunning and fluid. There is plenty of ass-kicking action in every episode to keep you engage and intrigue. As for returning fans, the Netflix 2019 adaptation of Carmen Sandiego is a dream come true to some especially to those originally drawn by her mysterious facade and intellectual prowess.

Still, the series dares to take on an angle that portrayed Carmen as a de-facto of V.I.L.E. rather than the founder or leader. Yet, who knows what the future may hold for our sassy protagonist as she continues to search for a purpose that is true to what she believes in. 

No media franchise in the history of Carmen has ever explored her as deeply and passionately as this one.  For that, I looked forward to what will be revealed in the episodes of Season 4. 

Until then, arrivederci!