If you are in you in the 30+ crowd like I am, you probably grew up in one of the best time blocks for animation on TV. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Thundercats, TailSpin, G.I. Joe, Duck Tales, Batman: The Animated Series, Animaniacs, X-Men, the list is exhaustive. Basically, any type of hero we needed, any story we wanted to hear, any sort of friends we were lacking in real life, were there on our screens on Saturday mornings.
The cartoons of the 80s and 90s were my first taste of visual escapism. It was because of the X-Men cartoon that I jumped into comic books. It was because of April O’Neil in TMNT I learned that being a lady journalist was badass. And I’m pretty sure I remember the capitals of the states primarily because of Wakko’s song from Animaniacs. For a lonely weirdo kid, these cartoons were my friends. They were my muses. They were my babysitters. The animations dancing around on my TV during that time helped provide a burst of color to my, and I’m sure others, young life.
Significant animations weren’t limited to just the small screen in the 80s and 90s. Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which might be the first and most iconic marriage of live action and animation, was released in June of 1988. That movie was a brilliant merging of what had been seen as a typical art form for children with the storytelling of an adult feature film. It would become a heavy influence and inspiration for animation for decades to come. Disney spent those two decades putting out some of the most influential and lucrative animated films in history.
Maybe we did live in the gap between Cinderella and Frozen, but we had The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Toy Story. Kindly say “There’s a snake in my boot!” or “This is Halloween” to a peer of yours and I will bet you dollars to donuts, they know exactly what you’re referencing. And too, if you’ve never held your cat (or child for that matter) outstretched while chanting Rafiki style, I don’t know if we can be friends.
That being said here are 5 cartoons that I personally love. And I think, if you gave them a try, you’d love them too.
Adventure Time is the classic tale of a boy and his dog going out in the world. But the world is a surreal post-apocalyptic land full of candy people, vampires, Ice Kings and Bubblegum Princesses. Oh, and the boy is the last human and his dog can shapeshift and talk.
In the midst of all that, some ultra heavy real-life issues are tackled. Love, loss, friendships, family alienation, and loneliness are just a few of them. One of my favorite things about the show is that during this hero’s journey that Finn and Jake are on, Finn and the world around him age. Characters grow and relationships change. Storylines mature along with their characters. The canon for this show gets DEEP. And occasionally, dark. Very dark and very emotional. Also, keep an eye on the supporting characters. They are all wonderfully fleshed out and many have complicated backstories of their own. There are quite a few strong female characters that are both heroic and flawed. Which is pretty much how the world works.
To say my family loves this show would be a disservice. How important is this show to my family? Well,
This is Jake, our bulldog.
And this is Marceline, our daughter.
Where and How to Watch: Adventure Time is still airing on a limited schedule on Cartoon Network. You can find the whole series on Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, and Youtube. (subscription/service fees may apply)
Did you watch The X-Files and Twin Peaks growing up? I really think Alex Hirsh, the creator of Gravity Falls, sure the heck did.
Gravity Falls follows fraternal twins Dipper and Mabel Pines as they spend the summer with their Grunkle Stan in a weirdo oddball town in Oregon. Grunkle Stan, who is probably the greatest con man not working the tent revival circuit, runs a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not rip off roadside attraction called the Mystery Shack. The oddities Grunkle Stan charges people to see are nothing compared to the actual oddities that roam the surrounding area. Gnomes, giants, one-eyed interdimensional beings, everything is possible and probably probable in the town of Gravity Falls. Like Adventure Time, the story here is deep full of unexpected turns. Not only does the show tackle the always creepy, always unexplainable Pacific Northwest, it also struggles with sibling relations, socio-economic inequality, zombies, age differences, friendships and the struggles of being the weird kid. We’ve all been the weird kid so those feels are real.
Where and How to Watch: Gravity Falls has run it’s course and reached a logical closure point. Reruns show sporadically on Disney XD. You can find the series in its entirety on Hulu, Amazon Prime Videos, iTunes, and Youtube. (subscription/service fees may apply). If that’s not enough to satisfy you, check out the Gravity Falls Graphic Novels!
Summer Camp Island
This show is brand new but has fast become one of my absolute favorites. Summer Camp Island follows the adventures of best friends Oscar, an elephant and Hedgehog, a hedgehog as they go to summer camp on, you guessed it, an island. But wait? Did that camp counselor just poof into a witch once the parents left? And did that tree just come alive? And holy sparkles, do those marshmallows have teeth?!
Summer Camp Island takes the surrealism of Adventure Time and builds on it. The show’s creator, Julia Potts, actually worked on AT as a story artist. The character dedication and storytelling are very similar and just as enduring as that of AT. My favorite episode revolves around Hedgehog turning into a werewolf. No spoilers but I promise, that episode hits home on many, many levels. The overall theme of accepting and celebrating your personal weirdness and being true to your friends isn’t honestly presented enough.
Also, anytime there’s a sassy witch with pink hair, I’m all about it.
Where and How to Watch: Summer Camp Island is currently airing on Cartoon Network and on Boomerang. They actually just completed a 24-hour marathon of the show! If you aren’t hooked by now, they really want to make sure you are! I’m not aware of any streaming options but the CN app may have it available.
First, to get it out of the way, Rebecca Sugar is a genius and I have a total crush on her. Like Julia Potts, she worked on Adventure Time. Her last episode as a storyboard artist for Adventure Time was the Emmy nominated “Simon & Marcy” from season 5. After that, she left Adventure Time to start her own show, Steven Universe. Which just happened to be the first show on Cartoon Network created solely by a woman.
Steven Universe is about the adventures of the young man who the show is named for. Steven’s life is little more complicated than a normal beach living son of a musician turned car washer. That’s because his Earth isn’t quite our Earth. His Earth has The Crystal Gems, a group of magical humanoid gemstone aliens who guard Earth. Steven himself is half Gem as his mom Rose Quartz was the leader of The Crystal Gems. There is so much more here I’d really love to tell you but you really need to experience it for yourself. The show focuses on a lot of the same things as Adventure Time and Gravity Falls. Steven Universe, however, has some a-freaking-mazing sci-fi world building. There are adult sci-fi shows that lack the expanse this show has. Also, Steven Universe is beautifully LGBTQ+ friendly. It is one of the most accepting and empowering shows of any genre on TV currently.
Steven Universe is for Everyone!
Where and How to Watch: Steven Universe is still airing albeit on a modified schedule, on Cartoon Network. It is also available on Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Youtube, and the Cartoon Network app. (subscription/service fees may apply)
Ruby Gloom started not as TV pitch or idea but as a stationary line made by the Mighty Fine company. With books and backpacks, pens and fancy paper, Ruby Gloom was initially marketed towards the goth subculture before being turned into a kid’s TV show. It started airing on Canadian TV in late 2006.
With its goth underlying still shining, Ruby Gloom is a wonderful concoction of humor and darkness. With characters that are just flat out adorable for those of us who spent too many summers dressed in all black, it’s ultra relatable and easy fun. Skull Boy, Doom Kitty, Misery, and Iris join the titular character as they try to look on the bright side, no matter how dark and dreary it might be.
Also, the music in this show is outstanding. It’s surprising how good the musical storytelling is in the show. When was the last time you heard Zydeco in a kid’s show? Or in any show? It’s cool on it’s own!
Where and How to Watch: Ruby Gloom is no longer airing. You can find it to stream on Amazon Prime Video and iTunes. (subscription/service fees may apply)
Today, animation has been solidified as a serious art form. From Cartoon Network to Sundance, Disney XD to the Academy Awards, animation is not just for children. Often times, it’s able to tell stories that live action can’t quite grasp. And sometimes that’s even with the help of anthropomorphised animals, fairy tale creatures, magic, and above all else, friendship and love.
- I want to take this space to admit that I’ve never really watched Rick and Morty. I hear, from multiple people from multiple stations in life that it actually is hilarious. I just can’t get over the clips I saw of Rick and Morty fans being cringey as fuck in an effort to get some Szechuan sauce at McDonald’s. Maybe it is badass and I’m missing out, but eh, I’ll take a pass. Also, that constant burping thing is kind of gross. As an addition sidenote: if you noticed, I left shows like Archer and Bojack Horseman off the list. They are great shows but have all the hype they need.