THERE WILL BE TRIPS DOWN CHILDHOOD HORROR MEMORY LANE.
My editorials for Something Ghoulish have been grim lately, haven’t they? They’ve just been explorations of the bleakest topics and morose subjects imaginable. Well, you’ll be overjoyed to know we’ll be discussing cartoons and animation this week. No worries, there shan’t be any spoilers. However, there will be trips down childhood horror memory lane. The loveliest thing about (good) animation is that it’s timeless, especially images that enthrall us with the weird, horrific, or fantastical. By proxy of my birth year, I was perhaps blessed with the ‘golden era’ of animation (i.e., the 1980s/1990s). However, I know this is debatable, especially with the animated programs that I’ll discuss today.
For context, some of my favorite horror animated shows from my childhood were Courage the Cowardly Dog (1999) with its setting in Nowhere, Kansas where literally anything and everything horrific could go down and I absolutely lived for the show and follow murmurings of a resurrected sequel like a hawk. The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy (2003) was a wild ride where you never knew what adventures the children would pull the Grim Reaper into or if the gates of Hell would open up just to spit out the character of the week for laughs. Going back even further, I recall when they aired the Beetlejuice (1989) animated-spinoff series and the kaleidoscope of hand-drawn craziness that emerged therein. Oh, and who could forget Aaahh!!! Real Monsters (1994) from Nickelodeon that had the entire premise of a scaring children school that was later heavily sampled by Pixar’s Monsters Inc. (2001) years later. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the constant body-horror episodes that proliferated the entirety of Invader Zim (2001) during its initial run on the network too.
ANIMATION ISN’T JUST ‘KID STUFF’
Good horror times all around, right? I truly truly miss a lot of those shows and wish we had the same animated creepiness to fill the void that they’ve left behind. However, all hope is not lost. The young people have good, if not great shows too, that you should really binge watch in your spare time especially because the shows are serialized. I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea with animation because sometimes it’s nice to have bookends to episodes or just have a recurring character for giggles and background recognition. I’m going to advise giving these shows a chance for that reason because the writers and animators are completely aware that everyone is watching their content and realize they need to deliver an A+ product.
The time investments that I’ve made into religiously following The Owl House (2020–) on Disney Channel would probably make some persons scoff, but I can’t praise the show enough. It’s so good. The humor is on point! The animation is impeccable in every episode! Ugh, and it appears that two of the main characters in the series are going to be an item! The talent is just off the charts regarding this show and I can’t sing its praises enough. Oh, and the comedy to horror elements are always finely tuned.
Similarly, the Victor and Valentino (2019–) series on Cartoon Network is an absolute blast. The blending of horror, history, and ethnicity are similar due to both shows having LatinX lead characters. The primary difference is the setting of Victor and Valentino is somewhere ambiguously Latin American. Since the show’s premiere, there have been an abundance of stories, legends, and folklore that the show has beautifully unraveled. The characters are all engaging, handsomely rendered, and the horror designs are all top tier. Akin to The Owl House, both programs have the element that I absolutely love in regards to the unknown or creepy things which aren’t necessarily to be feared but respected; it’s the human monsters that you need to be leery of.
GENERATIONAL WARS OF CONTENT
There are phrases that every generation hears once they’ve reached a certain maturity threshold. You’ve heard some variant of the following: ‘kids don’t know how good they have it’ or ‘back in my day we had xyz’ etcetera etcetera. There’s always a real or imagined battle between the generations regarding entertainment content, especially things from one’s childhood. The nostalgia for happier days and feelings from that momentary period of bliss is so strong that we sometimes act rudely or harshly with persons younger than ourselves about what the best this or that is. We shouldn’t hold things too sacredly or covetously sometimes because ‘the youngins’ deserve a chance to experience our good times too. Moreover, we can learn a lot from their faves and even learn to like if not love their ‘kid stuff’ in equal measure.
Honestly, great stories are here for the making and the taking, especially with a lot of the earlier content restrictions that limited our own shows from the supposed ‘golden age of animation’. Now, children finally get to rep characters that have confirmed racial, ethnic, sexual, and gendered identities. We had some shows during our heyday that ticked the representation boxes too, but reflect on just how many really went there with the character’s lives, identities, sexual orientations (besides heteronormative) and get back to me.
I don’t mean with the old wink-wink-nudge-nudge sort of representation either. I also understand that we’ve also grown a lot as a society with what we deem acceptable and appropriate for children. My generation and beyond have constantly been pushing for more in regards to our entertainment and we have more tools now than ever before to make sure the CEOs, show-runners, and all those deemed necessary get the message that halfsies just isn’t going to cut it anymore–lives are at stake. Thus, more cartoons than ever before are pushing the storytelling envelope with more daring art and political messages throughout their mediums.
ANIMATED ‘IN MEMORIAM’
Various animated programs have long concluded or recently came to an end that were absolute game changers and icons in their own right that are imperative to acknowledge. Recently, Cartoon Network has closed the door on its two largest flagships from the 2010s, namely Adventure Time (2010–2018) and Steven Universe/Future (2013–2020). I watched both shows as I was navigating my late teens and early 20s at University and Graduate School and both animated shows have an incredibly special place in my heart. When I needed a respite from exams, papers, and too many campus jobs Adventure Time and Steven Universe were my place of decompression and self discovery.
What made both programs so special were there settings that were like Earth but not quite and our reality imbued with surreality. They were windows into a dystopia for children and young adults that wondered and feared what the future held. Moreover, the central characters and storylines were such a breath of fresh air visually. Both programs also exist along the same sliding timeline when LGBTQIA+ representation was really starting to kick into high gear. Adventure Time crawled so that Steven Universe could sprint to the historical finish line. The latter series was a rare gem that’s beloved by all age demographics and had the fandom to prove it. I know that if more Steven Universe content came out today the Internet would probably tilt on its axis and some platforms would probably crash for a while (akin to what happened when Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra headed to Netflix.)
I’m excited to see what the future holds for animation as a medium, especially within the horror/science fiction genres. For example, the stories of Adventure Time shall continue in a series entitled Distant Lands (2020–) that is slated for the HBO MAX streaming service. Plus, The Owl House and Victor and Valentino animated programs already have additional seasons in the pipeline. I’m so grateful to the creators and animators that are letting their sci-fi horror flags fly. There’s always room for more stories about creepies and crawlies or existential dread across the cosmos (for kids of all ages).