ReBoot was the first completely computer-animated half-hour action-adventure show. Produced by Canadian company Mainframe Entertainment. It aired from 1994 to 2001. Chances are if you grew up in the 90s, you saw this show and followed the harrowing adventures of Bob, Dot Matrix, Enzo, Phong, AndrAIa, and the other citizens of Mainframe, though it's sadly not talked about much today in spite of being revolutionary for the world of computer animation. ReBoot occupies that weird place in nostalgia where a lot of people watched it and can recall characters and images from it, not to mention its unique animation, but it simply doesn't get its due for all it did to change how cartoons and CGI was made.
Before Toy Story, there was ReBoot, introducing kids not just to CGI but to the wonders of computers in general. The show followed a Guardian named Bob, his keytool Glitch, and the main cast as they worked to keep the sprites and binomes of Mainframe safe from the viruses Megabyte and Hexadecimal. ReBoot's aesthetic and plot made it stand out from other Saturday morning cartoons like Batman: The Animated Series or Rugrats. In fact, some of the creators were involved in Dire Straits' groundbreaking music video "Money for Nothing," which won an MTV award for Video of the Year and introduced the world to computer animation. ReBoot was a breath of fresh air, and it only got better after its second season when it switched networks and started targeting older audiences.
Here are 30 disturbing things about ReBoot that they don't want you to know.
30 First Things First: Nulls
In the world of ReBoot, games played by the user take the form of giant purple cubes made of pure energy that descend on sectors of Mainframe. The sky turns purple and flashes with lightning, and a voice overhead announces, "Warning: incoming game." Citizens know to evacuate the area or be prepared to fight. When the Cube lands, it changes everything in that sector to the game landscape. Any Sprite or Binome caught inside a Game Cube must fight within the game to defeat the user.
If they lose, everything and everyone in the sector is nullified.
This means buildings disappear and people become multi-colored slug-like creatures called Nulls. These creatures do nothing except screech and feed off available energy. More than once it's shown where a character's loved one becomes a Null, and the thought of that is pretty horrifying.
29 Wait A Nano...
Time can be a funny thing when telling a story. For some movies and TV shows, establishing the exact year and progression of time doesn't have much of an effect – all that matters is you know some time has gone by (think Star Wars for example). For others that rely on ticking clocks and tension, time is everything. In the world of ReBoot, it's made plain that time passes much more slowly for the Sprites in Mainframe since they represent computer functions.
Instead of "wait a second," the characters say, "wait a nano," meaning a nanosecond is the same as a full minute for them. ReBoot is unique in that while most stories take place over days, months, or years, the entire events of all four seasons of the show - everything that happens to our characters - takes place in the course of just one week. Wow.
28 User Unknown
While fighting inside the games is a serious struggle for the residents of Mainframe, the User just plays them for pleasure. It's also obvious the User has no idea the games have a negative effect on the computer or the city of Mainframe. Who is the Mainframe User? It's a big plot point when they install or play new games and when they reset the system, but we never find out their identity.
At least, not exactly.
In ReBoot, the User seems almost like a dark god who rains doom upon the residents of Mainframe, but the User is simply a normal person who runs a personal computer. The User is supposed to be me – or you. Really, the User is supposed to represent all of us, and it's a disturbing thing to think about when you boot up your computer for some gaming.
27 Battle Experiences
ReBoot underwent big changes in its later seasons, including the disappearance of Bob and the promotion of Enzo Matrix to the main character. The young, kind-hearted sprite changed forever when Enzo, AndrAIa, and Friskett, played a Mortal Kombat-esque game against an unbeatable user that put Enzo’s eye out. To escape nullification, the three entered Game Sprite mode and left Mainframe with the game, leaving everyone (including Dot) to think that they had been nullified.
Here’s the thing: Enzo and AndrIAa are children, and they spend their teenage and adult lives going from game to game in constant battle. Enzo becomes a rough and darker grown-up Mad Max version of himself, complete with a cybernetic eye, and AndrIAa starts looking like a mermaid biker babe. It works beautifully to bring a mature tone change to the show, but to become that tough these two kids had to go through such intense stuff.
26 You Can't Do That On Television!
Canadian computer animation and design company Mainframe Entertainment managed to get ABC to agree to air ReBoot on Saturday mornings in the United States. The deal with ABC meant international exposure to a wide television audience for the world's first ever computer-animated TV series. ABC knew the basic plot: it was an action-adventure series starring Bob and his key tool, Glitch, as they joined the rest of the cast in fighting off viruses, game cubes, and other threats to the city of Mainframe.
ABC told Mainframe the content would have to be toned down so they could market to children.
For example, direct blows were not allowed, only the implication of injury via noises and cut-away shots. In one example, a character fell and rubbed their rear to ease the pain. The scene was cut for being too racy.
25 Can't Hide These Hockey Sticks
While ABC's censors made sure what ReBoot aired on television was under their iron grip, the merchandise was a different story. This led to an amusing situation where ReBoot merch could be more daring than the actual show. A classic example is the portrayal of the characters in the line of ReBoot Fleer Ultra cards.
Dot was portrayed with far more realistic proportions and showed a lot more skin than ABC's Standards and Practices department would've been comfortable with. Likewise, the young Enzo was shown in a Robin Hood outfit with a bow and arrow, while in the actual episode his arrowheads were replaced with clown faces (yes, really). Enzo also had a smug look on his face, probably indicating Mainframe Entertainment's attitude toward the censorship. The ReBoot video game on PlayStation also contained more violence and fun stuff than the show.
24 Almost Didn't Make It
During the first two seasons when ReBoot was aired on ABC, they often had many bizarre decrees about the show's content. Sometimes the censors would reject an entire episode's script wholesale. One curious case was the Mad Max-inspired episode "Bad Bob," written by Dan Didio. ABC's Broadcast Standards and Practices sent it back with a single line: "Show completely rejected." Here's the weird part: they resubmitted the script a second time, with no revisions whatsoever, and it was approved without a single change.
Though the show-maker's lucked out with "Bad Bob," it wasn't always so easy.
With entire scripts able to be rejected or revised, Mainframe Entertainment's writers had to scramble in order to account for any changes before airing. As it turns out, eliminating objectionable content is hard work, and the show's "action" elements had to be reduced to more "adventure" elements.
23 Cancelled Spin-Off
Despite difficulties, ReBoot became an instant success and household name when it aired. Viewers loved the revolutionary computer animation, the representations of real programming, and the inclusion of video games in the plot. Dizzy with success, the creators of ReBoot pitched a spin-off show called Binomes, starring the small mechanical side characters of the show. No sprites (the humanoid characters) would appear.
Binomes would be educational and aimed at preschool audiences and would take place on a computer chip farm. The show would star a young "one" binome named Bin and his friends and family: Digit, Cookie, Browser, Kernel, Mr. and Mrs. Fontface, and others named the Wizzywigs. Mainframe Entertainment's website announced that fifty-two eleven-minute-long episodes were in production, but the announcement disappeared suddenly. Unfortunately, the show was scrapped for unknown reasons and only a single cute promotional image was made.
22 Oh, Hockey Stick!
Before we leave the subject of ABC's censorship, one particularly bizarre example needs to be talked about. Most of the censorship of ReBoot was predictable: no violence, no guns, no grown-up situations or references, and of course, no profanity. Parts of this make sense when you're marketing cartoons to children. In ReBoot's case, bad words were cut out and replaced with slang and references to mathematics.
But one of the weirdest decisions was the complete banning of a single word: hockey.
Yes, the popular ice sport with the sticks and the pucks. Why, you may ask? Apparently, in some countries, it's considered a vulgar slang term. Even worse, portrayals of the game itself were also strictly forbidden. This led to unusual situations, like a website-only wallpaper of Bob the Guardian playing hockey.
21 "I Want The Penguin Deleted"
In the Wallace and Gromit short "The Wrong Trousers," there's a silent and creepy penguin criminal mastermind named Feather McGraw who steals the gigantic mechanical trousers to get his flippers on a gemstone. Fans of the British claymation comedy no doubt remember Feathers as a surprisingly eerie villain, but few probably know that he actually appears in Reboot - and more than once!
In fact, he makes no less than five cameos throughout the ReBoot series. He never does anything, doesn't speak, and no obvious reason exists for the cameos. He is somehow never discussed by the ReBoot characters. Yet, there he is. It became an inside joke for the makers, and after Feathers' fifth unexplained appearance the producer sent a hilarious but strong message to visual creators: "I want the penguin deleted."
20 The Game That Changed Everything
One aspect of ReBoot's lore that isn't discussed enough is that Enzo and Dot Matrix are not originally from Mainframe: our favorite brother-sister duo is actually from a sister city named Twin City. The two systems used to be connected by the Gilded Gate Bridge. In the User world, the cities were two independent computers networked together. One fateful day, Dot and Enzo's father Professor Matrix activated his greatest creation, the Gateway Command that would prove the existence of the Net.
Unfortunately, the experiment brought the powerful Super Virus Gigabyte to Twin City, completely destroying it in an explosion.
The destruction of Twin City resulted in the nullification of all the Sprites living there except Dot and Enzo (explaining why Enzo has no friends his own age), including their father. Twin City became the island of Lost Angles, and Gigabyte was split into Hexadecimal and Megabyte. Wow, that's pretty heavy.
19 Female Forms
Dot Matrix was originally the only leading female character among the Sprites before AndrAIa and Mouse came around. During the 1990s, female protagonists in television shows were taking on more important roles, growing beyond the "damsel in distress" archetype. Dot was an example of this, being a valuable member of the team, the older sister and parental figure of Enzo, and a voice of reason (and later love interest) for Bob.
But not everybody was happy with how Dot was portrayed in the series. ABC's censors wanted to change to her physical characteristics, among them making her chest into a single "mono object" on her body. Meanwhile villains like Hexadecimal were allowed to wear and show off whatever they wanted, implying the perhaps even more problematic idea that only villains could be comfortable with their bodies. Dot was portrayed more realistically after the ABC era ended, all without changing her character.
18 Originally Weren't Going To Be Humanoid
Fans know there are two kinds of characters in ReBoot: the Binomes, which are the blocky and robotic-looking beings that resemble ones and zeroes, and the Sprites, who have humanoid designs and features. The contrast between the two is one of the more interesting aspects of the ReBoot Universe.
But when the show was in early development, all of the characters were originally going to be Binomes.
The reason was mainly technological: creators weren't sure if they could create CGI characters that looked human enough to be convincing. After all, there was the "Uncanny Valley" to worry about. Meanwhile, having everyone be Binomes would've solved that issue due to their blocky designs being much easier to animate. Of course, they ended up being able to make designs that looked human and went with the Sprite/Binome world we all know and love. Interesting how technical limits can influence design.
17 The Bad Guy Basically Won
One of the more disturbing facts about ReBoot is that during the later, darker seasons when Enzo became "Matrix" and he and AndrAIa are off in constant battle in the games, Mainframe is completely wrecked while they're away. In fact, let's be clear: while they were gone, Megabyte basically won.
It's bad enough Matrix and AndrAIa are stuck in a never-ending cycle of violence as they travel endlessly from system to system, but when they finally do return home to Mainframe, they find it an absolute war zone. Megabyte was able to take over, every sector has been destroyed, and the city is now a burned-out shell called "Megaframe." It's also in the middle of a civil war between Megabyte's forces and the Mainframe Rebellion. So, by the end of season 3, it's pretty safe to say Megabyte came out on top ultimately, even if we know it doesn't end there.
16 Connection To DC Comics
For fans of both ReBoot and the DC Universe (such as myself), it's thrilling to find out that ReBoot has a connection to DC Comics. That connection is the name Dan DiDio, who formerly served as executive editor and currently publishes DC Comics alongside Jim Lee. He was a freelance writer before he started his career at DC and mostly worked for Mainframe Entertainment. He wrote for the series War Planets and also wrote multiple episodes of ReBoot, including "Firewall" and "Number 7."
That's right: one of DC's top men used to be a writer on ReBoot.
He's also done a lot of work for DC since he started there in 2002, including Batman and the Outsiders, Justice League Dark, and Justice League International. Though he's since returned to regular writing duties, at his peak DiDio was Senior VP for DC Comics. And to think he got his start writing for ReBoot!
15 Other CG Cartoons Delayed The Series
Though it was by far their most famous project, Mainframe Entertainment didn't just make ReBoot. They produced several other completely CGI action shows like Action Man, Max Steele, the critically-acclaimed Beast Wars spin-off of the Transformers franchise, and they've produced the majority of the Barbie film series for Mattel, which is secretly wildly successful.
Though they've since changed their name to Rainmaker Studios, Mainframe remains important in the CG world. Due to the success of video games and CG, Mainframe's other projects led many fans to worry about when new seasons of ReBoot would air in the U.S. and Canada. In particular, the company's lengthy work on Beast Wars and Shadow Raiders directly delayed new episodes coming out. Fans had to wait patiently to see what happened to their favorite characters.
14 Sisterly Love
What goes through the minds of censors? Though their job is to keep children's entertainment light-hearted and safe, they can also twist the meaning of perfectly innocent scenes into something truly sinister. One infamous example involved ABC censoring Dot kissing Enzo on the cheek because, according to them, the gesture could be seen as some kind of forbidden familial relationship between the two. As a result, scenes featuring sibling affection between the two were greatly reduced.
After hearing ABC's complaint, series co-creator Ian Pearson stated it was "one of the sickest things I've ever heard."
Indeed, it seems patently ridiculous, since ReBoot never implied that kind of relationship between Dot and Enzo, and both characters even had romantic subplots with other characters. We're pretty sure most kids would interpret a peck on the cheek as family bond, and it's pretty strange to think censors believed otherwise.
13 Ended On A Cliffhanger
ReBoot managed to win audiences over in both the United States and Canada and won a second season on ABC. The episodes started off as self-contained stories, usually with the characters dealing with some mischief or plot from the two viruses Megabyte and Hexadecimal or encountering everyday misadventures. But by season two, Mainframe began taking risks by adding in story arcs and a little more violence.
Fans loved it, but Disney bought ABC, meaning some series were bound to canceled. ReBoot was one of these. Its second season ended with the major cliffhanger "Firewall" in the U.S. While Canadians saw season 3 in 1999, American fans had no idea if the show would continue. Thankfully, after three long years of waiting, the show migrated to Cartoon Network in 2001.
12 Darker Movies Made For TV
After ABC canceled ReBoot, Mainframe had to consider its options. Keep in mind these were the days before Netflix and Hulu; publishing shows to internet wasn't an option either, since most people still used dial-up. They decided the best choice was to follow the second season with a film. A treatment was written called Terabyte Rising, which dealt with the backstory of the show's world and the destruction of Twin City.
After ReBoot was syndicated on Cartoon Network the idea was scrapped, but many ideas would be used in the fourth season.
After season three, Mainframe again considered two made-for-TV films titled Daemon Rising and My Two Bobs, but cut up the movies into eight 21-minute episodes that aired on TV. ReBoot's fourth and final season was originally going to have thirteen episodes, with the last episode being a musical. Sadly, the creators had to tone down their vision due to budget issues.
11 Emma See What You Did There
ReBoot featured several in-universe references to the makers' frustrations with ABC's Broadcast Standards and Practices department, usually using the initials as a joke. In the episode "The Quick and the Fed" for example, Bob uses the command "BS&P" to teleport through a window after ABC refused to let him break the window with a rock. In "In the Belly of the Beast," Enzo fired a gun that shot rubber life rafts with the word "BS&P Approved" engraved on the side.
There was a character named "Emma See." They identified as a prog censor. They reject every single act Dot wants in the talent show. A band called the Small Town Binomes also sings their smash hit song, "BS'n'P." For the icing on the cake, in the DVD commentary for ReBoot, it was revealed Emma was a parody of a specific BS&P representative who "was not happy about it."
10 Short-Lived Webcomic
After ReBoot ended its run in 2001, the creators knew they had a fanbase that was hungry for more. In 2008 the company, now known as Rainmaker Entertainment, announced they would team up with fellow media company Zeros2Heroes to create a ReBoot webcomic series. The idea was to produce a continuation of ReBoot's story that all fans of the TV series could enjoy.
Eventually, a webcomic was released on the Zeros2Heroes website called ReBoot: Paradigms Lost.
The series dealt with the details of what happened after Megabyte took over the Principal Office. It started off as a webcomic, but the goal was to eventually transition to a physical version. No doubt Rainmaker also hoped the comic would do well and lead to more CGI ReBoot movies or TV series. Sadly, the comic ended after one year with no explanation, and its future remains murky.
9 A Movie Trilogy Got Deleted
Speaking of scrapped projects, in February 2008, Paul Gertz of Rainmaker Animation, one of the studios making up ReBoot's renamed production company, announced that a ReBoot movie was in development. Even more shocking was the news that this movie would tell the story of a Guardian who wasn't Bob. Fans reacted negatively to the new design of the characters and the fact that Bob, Enzo, Dot, and Phong wouldn't appear.
In June 2008, the real shocker came when it was announced that an entire movie trilogy was in the works. A trailer for the first film was released in 2009, but issues soon surfaced which doomed the project, including the head writer resigning. News about the trilogy was slow, and eventually any mention of it faded away. In 2011, Rainmaker removed the trailer and all references to the film from its website, signaling they had abandoned the project.
8 Entire Episodes Down The Memory Hole
While Mainframe had a heck of a time getting anything fun past ABC's censors, the UK was even more strict when it came to children's shows. Europe has a long tradition of removing scenes of violence and suggestive themes from their programming. Instead of removing the most offensive scenes from the show, UK media company Meridian Broadcasting refused to air entire episodes.
As a result, almost half of season three and no episodes at all from season four made it to television in the UK.
Just in case you thought they were done, Meridian also announced they would not air any of the proposed ReBoot movie trilogies in the UK. ABC may have forced Mainframe to make serious changed to the show's content and tone, but at least they let it be aired on TV, censorship Easter Eggs notwithstanding!
7 A Hidden Message
Censorship of episodes and revised scenes and scripts (and in some cases entirely rejected episodes) caused nothing but headaches for ReBoot's developers. Their changes were often unexplainable and unreasonable. Dan DiDio himself recalled how the struggle to get episodes approved in time was so crazy that in one episode the crew decided to hide a secret message for Standards and Practices.
In one episode, the animators had the lights in the cityscape spell out a secret message in binary code. For those who don't speak the language of programming fluently, the code reads, in all its glory: "[Redacted] you, broadcast standards." It was certainly a creative way for Mainframe to vent its frustrations at their work being chopped up. Thankfully, no one in BS&P managed to catch onto the hidden profane insult.
6 Doggo Bazooka
During the 1990s, children's shows were very sensitive about the portrayal of weapons, and particularly firearms. Violence could always be replaced with slapstick humor, but what could possibly be done about guns? Yet, while none of the Sprites of ReBoot were permitted to use gun-type weapons, even in battle, non-humanoids got free reign.
A prime example of this is the episode where Enzo's dog Frisket wields a bazooka.
No one else on the show could've possibly gotten away with using a gun, but the freakin' dog gets to have an anti-tank rocket launcher. We suppose BS&P weren't concerned about the kids at home imitating a canine, or maybe the logistics of children obtaining such heavy weaponry made it a non-priority. In any case, towards the end of the series when the target demographic was changed from children to teens, every Sprite and Binome was carrying a handgun, cannon, or a bazooka.
5 A Certain Spy Thriller
"Firewall" is widely considered one of ReBoot's best episodes that signaled the series' turn towards more complex story arcs and mature themes. But what even hardcore fans may not know is that it contains a lot of references to the James Bond film series. It even comes with a signature Bond opening credit sequence with a song named after the episode's title. "Firewall" is the only episode in the series with an original title sequence and song.
There's also a ski sequence from the 1977 movie The Spy Who Loved Me, the gyroplane from 1967's You Only Live Twice makes an appearance, and there's even a Santa Clause-themed rendering of the scenery from 1969's "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," among other references. Throughout the whole episode, a variation of the famous "James Bond Theme" plays.
4 Got Much Darker
You might have noticed the tone of ReBoot changes a lot between the first two seasons and the last two seasons. Getting canceled turned out for the best: the series could not go PG and be produced for an older audience. ReBoot became darker and much more serious, focusing on the older and more mature Mainframe residents fighting Megabyte's takeover after Bob's vanishing, and Enzo and AndrAIa'snew role as seasoned fighters.
With their creative energy unleashed, characters could now be portrayed with more realistic bodies, weapons could be freely used (and were), violence could be grittier, and storylines could last for multiple episodes. The animation also showed more polish and attention to detail than the first two, more light-hearted seasons. Finally, unlike many TV series ReBoot would be allowed to end its story properly.
3 No Cliffhangers Allowed
It was a different time when ReBoot first debuted on television in the 90s. These were the days before DVR and binge-watching on Netflix. Kids had to patiently wait until the next week (and between seasons even longer) to find out what happened on their favorite TV show.
But no child had that problem with the first season of ReBoot.
This is because ABC didn't allow any episodes of the show's first season to end on cliffhangers. Each episode had to be self-contained, with a plot that neatly wrapped up within the 30-minute time slot. Why in the world would a major network want to prevent kids from desperately wanting to tune in to one of their own programs? Good question. Apparently, it was to prevent children from experiencing "traumatic tension."
2 Thirty Video Games Referenced
The premise of ReBoot involved the characters interacting with the video games that the User would play. When Sprites were caught in a Game Cube, the environment around them would change to match the game scenario. This was so they could interact with the game and try to defeat the User.
While the show did come up with ideas for original games, over thirty actually-existing video games were referenced in ReBoot.
Big-name franchised titles include Sonic the Hedgehog, Mortal Kombat, Crash Bandicoot, as well as Pokémon, Dragon Ball Z, and even the famous Pong. Perhaps the most famous example was a mash-up between Resident Evil and the Evil Dead series. This had Enzo in the orange outfit from Michael Jackson's Thriller video. Dot looked like Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. ReBoot allowed its creators a chance to show their love of video games in creative ways.
1 There's A Reboot Of ReBoot Happening This Year
By far the biggest complaint that ReBoot fans have about the show is that it ended. While season three had a real conclusion, season four ended on a cliffhanger. This was just when it looked like the series was continuing on into a bright future. It's always frustrating when a good show doesn't get the ending it deserves. But fans can rejoice. Reboot is coming back later this year!
A sequel to the show titled ReBoot: The Guardian Code is in production. It's planned to air on YTV and Netflix in March 2018. It will have 26 episodes. The new series will involve a new cast of characters recruited to protect cyberspace. But it's also been confirmed that Bob, Dot, Enzo, and other characters from the original series will make an appearance. It's great to know that even seventeen years later, ReBoot is still going strong!