It’s a common misconception that all cartoons in recent years are either shit, or dumbed-down to such a level that even a newborn baby could point out how brain-numbingly stupid they are.
The only good animated shows are the family/adult sitcoms like The Simpsons, Futurama, Family Guy, American Dad and Bob’s Burgers, but it could be argued that even these shows have been stretched out long past their sell-by dates.
Since the early 2000s, lacklustre animated movie spinoffs, toy adverts disguised as action-adventure shows, and pointlessly serious reboots of (formerly) fun 80s cartoons have been the animated diarrhoea you force yourself to watch.
What happened to the joyfully silly cartoons of the 90s? Johnny Bravo – the adventures of a catchphrase-spewing, chauvinistic dim-wit, who’s become an idol for today’s gym-loving, narcissistic, body fascist arseholes; Pinky and the Brain – just two mice mixing with celebrities and trying to conquer the world in one failed attempt after another; and Dexter’s Laboratory – a creative genius and his annoying sister pushing sibling rivalry to the limits.
Those cartoons were so successful because, beneath the crazy, they were about the characters and the adventures that sprung from relatable scenarios. They skewered reality and taught you everything about life and the world around you that school couldn’t. Now, after years in the wilderness, this style of cartoon is making a triumphant return.
Adventure Time follows a young boy named Finn and his best friend, a shape-shifting dog called Jake, the most prominent heroes of the Land of Ooo, as they repeatedly save the citizens of the Candy Kingdom from a variety of foes. Monsters and demonic signposts, evil hearts who’ve escaped their bodies, magical aliens and sugar-loving deer are just some of the threats they face in a fantastical, post-apocalyptic crapsack world.
Despite the bizarreness of their enemies, Finn and Jake’s adventures begin from a relatable physical scenario or emotional premise. Finn making sure all the candy people stay inside a palace surrounded by candy zombies stems from his inability to break a promise. His quest with Jake and Tree Trunks, a tiny elephant, through a dark forest to find a mythical crystal gem apple begins with Finn wanting to help his friend get out of the house. What a boy scout.
A mixture of the surreal and the mundane is a prominent feature in other modern cartoons. Uncle Grandpa, at its core, teaches kids valuable life lessons like being responsible for your actions or learning how to laugh. The titular protagonist, every kid in the world’s uncle grandpa, has a long list of friends: an exercise-loving dinosaur, an anthropomorphic pizza slice and a cut-out tiger that shoots rainbows out of its arse.
Regular Show takes the same approach, sending protagonists Mordecai, a blue jay, and Rigby, a raccoon, on wild adventures that parody pop culture and the contemporary world. They go on a date that turns into an FBI sting operation; they bully leather-clad, drag race-loving unicorns; they embark on a quest from one end of a superstore to another; and they enter a tag-team mud wrestling match so they can buy a tent.
Adventure Time, Uncle Grandpa, and Regular Show fully embrace imagination, and skewer the world to such a point where all you can do is laugh.