Image: YouTube screengrab
On a nondescript street on Mars a red cartoon ape almost floats away but his parents pull him back down to the ground. Then the kid starts quoting Hamlet.“Are you sure this is our kid?” The father asks.“Well, he’s definitely my kid,” the mother responds. It’s supposed to be the punchline of a joke, but not many people are laughing. This is one of a number of scenes from The Red Ape Family—a cartoon series that bills itself as the “world’s 1st animated comedy series powered by blue-chip NFTs.” It’s one of the ongoing simultaneous attempts to create extended universes based on NFTs, which are now searching for any sort of purpose in the real world. I’ll save you the eight minutes and confirm your biases up front. It sucks.The animation is bad, the writing terrible, and the voice acting atrocious. But all that is besides the point. The Red Ape Family doesn’t exist only to entertain, it also exists to advertise itself as an investment vehicle.
First, it’s not strictly true that The Red Ape Family is the world’s first comedy NFT cartoon. That dubious honor belongs to the Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher-backed Stoner Cats. Both Stoner Cats and The Red Ape Family exist to market financial products to the crypto-rich. Stoner Cats sold NFTs that allowed token holders to watch its episodes and sold out in 35 minutes, generating around $8.3 million at the time.The Red Ape Family’s is on YouTube where anyone can watch them, but each episode is accompanied by a sale of 333 NFTs. The appeal of holding the tokens is mostly the potential for future earnings: the show’s website promises that a quarter of all streaming revenue (from YouTube or, rather optimistically, Netflix or Amazon Prime) will go towards buying “blue-chip NFTs” and distributing fractions of ownership to token holders that can then be sold, among other perks. The episode NFTs themselves also seem to have a secondary market, with holders of the first episode NFT on OpenSea listing their tokens for dubious sums up to half a million dollars. But the biggest difference between Stoner Cats and The Red Ape Family is their rosters. Stoner Cats has Hollywood talent like Jane Fonda, Chris Rock and a number of professional voice actors including Seth MacFarlane. The Red Ape Family has rapper 2 Chainz as an executive producer for some reason and a bunch of crypto bros. The results are stunningly bizarre.
The setup is simple and the episode runs a thankfully short eight minutes long. “It’s 2130. The earth is dying. But all is not lost! Four Bored Apes. One dog. A Lazy Lion with a stethoscope. A mission to Mars,” the show's description said. There is no plot to speak of—just a series of events that showcase various NFT lions and apes. The camera pans over images that I’m sure mean something to someone in a Discord somewhere but will only confuse a general audience.In the opening scene, NFT Chucky (BAYC #6614) steals a golden USB stick from a secure location. Then the titles play. Then Chucky is talking to his wife, the algorithmically-generated Winky (BAYC #6408).“Do you know what this is?” Winky says. “This little lump of gold is actually a device containing the most valuable NFT ever created. I read about in Vogue.”“NF what?” Chucky asks.“Non-fungible token.”“Non fuckable toucan?”“All you need to know is that it actually is worth more than the entire city of Paris.”“Including the awful tower?”“Yes, including the Eiffel Tower.”It continues on like this for another three minutes. The apes gather their family and flee Earth for Mars in the Musk-1. They take along their Lazy Lion doctor who eats people and, for some reason, speaks in a thick African accent. The Apes arrive on Mars and other Apes watch them, wondering why they’re on Mars. Oh, and vaudeville-stars-turned-silent-movie-icons Laurel and Hardy are the bad guys for some reason.That’s pretty much it. It looks like shit, the “jokes” (if you can call them that) land with a thud and everything seems designed to just show off as many NFT JPEGs as possible. Its closest artistic relative is the glut of South Park style cartoons rappers put out as vanity projects in the early 2000s or Newgrounds animations made by 8th graders. But again, the cartoon is incidental. This project is about selling and minting more NFTs. "We didn’t just want to hold BAYC NFTs and watch them appreciate in value,” The Red Ape Family writer Chris Goward told The Bored Ape Gazette—a blog about the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs. "After some research, we discovered that there was a huge gap in the market. NFT projects, on the whole, lacked innovation and true utility. Projects were siloed, and no one was incentivised to derive tangible benefits from IP and commercial rights. We also noted that there were limited ROI possibilities beyond reselling, staking, getting free tokens/airdrops. That’s why we decided to do something that had never been done before. Something that would bring the entire NFT community together and create endless opportunities for holders."Now that’s comedy.