Childhood Cartoons Revisited

Cartoons from our youth dissected as a young adult

Johnny Test: A bright spot in a dismal era

When I’m wrong I have no problem admitting it. And I will admit that I was wrong when at the beginning of the blog I said that cartoons of this generation have been awful. While I stand by the majority of that statement, there is one show in particular that has me eating some of my words this week. I am talking about Cartoon Network’s Johnny Test. To be honest, I wouldn’t have even stumbled across the show if I hadn’t accidently hit the up button on my TV remote one too many times while seeing what Comedy Central had to offer one afternoon. I don’t really know what interested me in the show, but there were all sorts of chaos on my television screen and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Whether it was the talking dog, identical twin sister scientists or the main protagonist, Johnny Test, himself, I had finally found a show produced by either Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon beyond 2004 that was actually watchable. It brought a tear to my mind (well, in my mind it did).

Cartoon Network debuted Johnny Test on Jan. 7, 2008, but the series premier of the show dates back to Sept. 17, 2005, when it appeared on The WB Television Network, which became The CW in 2006. The show ran on The CW from 2006 to March 1, 2008, before moving to Cartoon Network for its fourth season. Johnny Test is a comedy/comic science fiction cartoon created by Scott Fellows and produced by Cookie Jar Entertainment as of the second season. Warner Bros. Animation produced the first season.

Johnny Test focuses on an 11-year-old boy named Johnny, who appears to be just a typical trouble-making kid living in a suburban household in the fictional town of Porkbelly. However, Johnny’s life is anything but normal, as he lives with parents who are the polar opposite of society’s stereotypes and his identical twin sisters, Susan and Mary, who are self-described geniuses who are always creating new inventions. There’s also Dukey, Johnny’s talking dog that exhibits human intelligence as a result of one of the twin sisters’ experiments.

*Note: You’ll have to watch the video on YouTube itself because the video didn’t allow me the option to embed.

The aspect of the show that I like the most is that it understands its target audience and doesn’t attempt to do anything radical that may turn them off. The creators understand that after a certain age people are going to stop watching, and instead of trying to appeal to the audience as they age, they instead continue focusing on the specific age group they targeted from the beginning of the series. It doesn’t dumb itself down to appeal to seven and eight year olds and it doesn’t try to tackle controversial issues to appeal to those in their mid to late 20’s. Each episode centers around Johnny being used as a science experiment for one of the twins’ newest invention. However, something usually goes terrible wrong, whether it’s the invention’s fault of the aftermath of Johnny’s actions. Either way, it’s usually up to Johnny and Dukey to solve the problem with the aide of the twins. Each show follows that same format, yet it never seems to get dull. It also doesn’t make the crucial mistake of giving secondary characters too big of a role in the show. Johnny’s parents are secondary characters and thus that is what they remain in every episode. There aren’t special episodes where they are the center of attention and the rest of the characters are hardly seen. I never understood why shows chose to do that. If the producers wanted to make secondary characters the stars of the show then they would be the central characters and not secondary characters.

Speaking of Johnny’s parents, it’s quite interesting as to what the producers of the show have done to portray them. By that I mean they have the exact opposite roles that one would expect of a father and mother figure. Johnny’s mother, Lila, works from morning to night and provides the income for the family, which is what the stereotypical father would do. Johnny’s father, Hugh, is a stay-at-home dad who enjoys cooking and cleaning. Hugh is what most people would think of when describing the stereotypical mother. This appears to be a slight jab at the idea of society’s stereotypical view of how a family works. It sends the message that a mother can work and a father can raise the kids and it doesn’t end in catastrophe.

My favorite character, or characters, in the show are the twins just because of some of the things that they say when describing an invention that they have just come up with. As a 22-year-old watching this show, I can only laugh when they describe how a portable black hole works or how they have managed to transport Johnny into his favorite video game. It clearly makes no plausible sense, but yet they make it sound so scientific that a younger viewer may actually think that what they are saying is scientifically correct. Like most female characters on cartoon shows, the twins deal with the everyday struggles of beauty, fashion, boys and aces all of their classes. While they are super-geniuses, they still possess human characteristics that make them a fun part of the show.

Johnny Test is currently in its fifth season with eight more episodes remaining. The show has already been picked up for a sixth season, which will be comprised of 26 episodes, being Johnny Test to 117 episodes, which would be the most ever by a show aired on Cartoon Network. There is currently a full-length animated TV movie in the works as well.

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Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon: Which network is better?

Much like the polarizing movie franchise “Twilight” with Team Edward and Team Jacob, the general audience of cartoon watchers has a similar divide between Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. Nickelodeon, more or less, had limited competition when it debuted in April of 1979, as Cartoon Network didn’t come into the picture until October of 1992. But the lack of competition didn’t spell success early on for Nickelodeon, as it struggled for ratings with shows like “Dusty’s Treehouse,” “First Row Features” and “Special Delivery.” All of the shows that premiered on Nickelodeon during that time were live-action. By 1984, the network had lost $10 million.

Ironically, it wasn’t until Cartoon Network was in its development stages before Nickelodeon’s popularity took off. Nickelodeon opened Nickelodeon Studios, a television studio/attraction at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., in 1990, which created the network’s first batch of animated series in 1991. In 1991, “Doug,” “Rugrats” and “The Ren and Stimpy Show” aired on Nickelodeon as the first three nicktoons produced by Nickelodeon Studios. I was one when these cartoons debuted, so by the time I first discovered cartoons, both “Doug” and “The Ren and Stimpy Show” had already aired their respective season finales. “Rugrats” was still in its prime. A re-run of “Doug” was the first non-“Sesame Street”-ish cartoon that I watched as a young kid. If I had to make a list of good cartoons and bad cartoons, “Doug” would go in my good cartoons list. It had some good qualities to it, although a large aspect of the show was pretty bizarre. The cartoon focused on Doug, a high schooler living in Bluffington who recently moved from Bloatsburg after his father receives a job promotion. The best part of the series is the names and how they are drawn. Aside from Doug Funnie, there is Roger Klotz, Patti Mayonnaise and Mosquito “Skeeter” Valentine. Roger is yellow-skinned, Patti has the skin color of a beef patty and Skeeter is blue. It’s the only time I’ve seen a character (besides the Smurfs) that’s blue-skinned. The cartoon dealt with the issues of unfamiliarity, bullying and love, although I was too young at the time t0 understand that.

For every good cartoon, there is also a bad cartoon, and that was “The Ren and Stimpy Show.” Everyone I talked to in elementary school loved that show, but I never knew what the commotion was when it came  to that nicktoon. First of all, the show was stupid and unlikable. I know the creators were going for that, but it was over-the-top stupid. Even someone my age (eight at the time) could notice that. It was trying to deliver cheap laughs, but all it was doing was killing my still developing brain cells. I don’t even know what the two characters were supposed to represent. Ren looked like a rat and Stimpy looked like a blue and white pillow. Nothing in that show was working for me.

As Nickelodeon’s success grew, a new competitor in the form of Cartoon Network emerged in 1992, which started as a network that re-ran episodes of old Looney Tunes and Popeye cartoons. But in 1994, Cartoon Network launched Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast, an animated parody talk show, featuring Space Ghost, a 1960 cartoon by Hanna-Barbera studios. To date, “Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast” has lasted the longest of any cartoon launched by Cartoon Network, lasting 104 episodes over 14 years. This goes on my good cartoon portion of the list. The humor was spot on and the characters of the talk show worked perfectly, mainly because his crew was serving Space Ghost against their will as punishment for their crimes. Space Ghost’s lack of intelligence in certain situations made for a half-hour worth of entertainment.

Unlike Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network had a strong stretch at the beginning of great cartoons. There wasn’t a bad cartoon for several years, as “Dexter’s Laboratory,” “Johnny Bravo,” Cow and Chicken,” “Powerpuff Girls” and “Ed, Edd n Eddy” put the network at the pinnacle to the end of the 20th century. All of those shows fell under the good cartoon side of my list. But the turn of the century wasn’t kind for Cartoon Network at first, as “Mike, Lu & Og,” a spinoff of “Ed, Edd n Eddy,” bombed, as did “Sheep in the Big City” and “Time Squad.” They all lasted approximately 26 episodes. As someone who enjoyed “Ed, Edd n Eddy,” “Mike, Lu & Og” was a big waste of time. The plot of three kids being stranded on a deserted island doesn’t show any creative thought and each episode was less memorable than the last. It was the first bad cartoon on my list from Cartoon Network. It was shortly followed by “Sheep in the Big City,” which was about a sheep in the big city. To be fair, I never watched it. There was nothing in any of the commercials that I saw about it that made it seem appealing. And the 27 episodes it lasted was proof of that.

For Nickelodeon, after “Ren and Stimpy,” things turned around and the network experienced an 11-year golden period, starting with “Rocco’s Modern Life” and ending with “Danny Phantom.” In between were some of my personal favorites like “Angry Beavers,” “As Told by Ginger,” “Invader Zim” and “The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.” During that 11-year period, 18 of the 20 cartoons that were launched lasted at least 40 episodes, “Hey Arnold,” “Spongebob Squarepants” and “The Fairly Oddparents” have all surpassed the 100-episode threshold. All the above listed cartoons landed in my good cartoon list.

But in today’s society it’s all about what have you done for me lately. And it’s no secret that both networks are struggling to produce quality cartoons. Nicktoon Studios has been shutdown and the masterminds behind Cartoon Network’s “Cartoon Cartoons” have found jobs elsewhere. Every single show that Nickelodeon has produced since 2004’s “Danny Phantom” has been pure garbage. None of the cartoons can keep my attention for more than two minutes before I can feel my brain cells exploding. Even their most successful cartoons of today, “The Penguins of Madagascar” and “Back at the Barnyard,” are awful in my opinion. Talking animals do nothing for me. They are just annoying. “Spongebob Squarepants” is Nickelodeon’s claim to fame and I can’t stand hearing that annoying laugh of Spongebob’s anymore. That show is past its prime and needs to be thrown away. The creativity in that show has clearly fallen apart and it’s more annoying than entertaining anymore.

Cartoon Network has one good show today: “Adventure Time.” Although the show is stupid, it is actually quite funny, as the main character and his pet/friend find themselves in a number of unfortunate situations with some very peculiar foes. It’s one of those rare cartoons these days that are geared toward all age groups. Everything else, including “Regular Show” and “Ben 10” are overrated in my opinion. “Ben 10” just takes concepts of a bunch of older shows and meshes it into one show. “Regular Show” should be renamed to “Below Average Show.”

Although they haven’t produced a good show in quite some time, Nickelodeon gets the nod for me. While Cartoon Network has produced 10 shows I’ve enjoyed throughout my life, Nickelodeon has made 17. With that, Nickelodeon wins the debate.

A history of Nickelodeon:

A history of Cartoon Network up until 2010:

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Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice: Ingredients to an Amazing Cartoon

Those that know me well know that “The Powerpuff Girls” is my all-time favorite cartoon. It was when I was a kid and it still is today. I’ve seen the movie, as well as every episode of the series. Although it is considered to be a cartoon show targeted at the female population, one-third of its viewers are male.

The mid-’90s was a period of great growth for Cartoon Network, as 15 new cartoons were produced by Hanna-Barbera and Cartoon Network Studios over a six-year period from 1996 to 2002. They were known as “Cartoon Cartoons” and “The Powerpuff Girls” was the fifth cartoon to be created. Compared to the other “Cartoon Cartoons,” “The Powerpuff Girls” had the most seasons (six) and had the second-most number of episodes (78). It was the only “Cartoon Cartoon” to receive its own movie deal and appear on the big screen.

“The Powerpuff Girls,” which debuted on Cartoon Network on Nov. 18, 1998, centers around three mutant super heroes created by Professor Utonium in his basement. What gets lost throughout this whole ordeal is why a middle-aged scientist was creating three little girls in the first place. It seems a bit odd if you take the time to think about it. Nonetheless, Utonium combines sugar, spice and everything nice (whatever that means) into a mixing bowl. But, as the opening theme suggests, he accidently adds an extra ingredient to the concauction: Chemical X. While Chemical X is never fully explained to what it contains, it becomes the sole source of the girls’ super powers.

The array of ingredients creates three kindergarten-aged kids that the professor names Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup. Blossom, the self-pronounced leader of the girls, is depicted in pink with orange hair and a red bow. Bubbles, the joy and the laughter, wears blue and wears her golden hair in pigtails. Buttercup, the toughest fighter, wears green and has short black hair. Their big eyes match the color of their respective dresses. One thing most people don’t know is that Craig McCracken, the creator of the show, originally designed Bubbles to wear green and Buttercup to wear blue, but thought that the colors would not match their personalities and therefore decided to flip-flop.

McCracken originally created “The Powerpuff Girls” back in 1992 when he was enrolled at CalArts Academy. He had originally named his cartoon “Whoopass Stew!” but Cartoon Network asked him to change the name to something more PG for its audience. “The Powerpuff Girls” has a ton of hidden references to “The Big Lebowski,” McCracken’s favorite movie. One such occurrence takes place in the episode “Something’s a Ms.” in which the Mayor’s secretary, Ms. Bellum, is kidnapped. When the girls are given their assignment, it is told in a similar fashion as in “The Big Lebowski.”

While the main theme of the cartoon is super heroes saving their city from evil, there are plenty of underlying messages. The girls may be super heroes, but they have to deal with problems that girls their age normally deal with, which makes it easier to relate to the girls. Certain problems include school, sibling rivalries between the girls, eating vegetables, making friends and dealing with the insecurities that come at that age.

Growing up, Blossom was always my favorite because of her ability to take charge and think quick on her feet. As I watch it as a 21-year-old college student, I tend to lean toward Bubbles as my favorite of the three girls because she is the stereotypical five year old. She gets upset when bad things occur, is afraid of the dark and loves anything fluffy and cute. She is quite different than her other sisters, who are constantly in a power struggle. Buttercup has always been my least favorite character, as I don’t find anything appealing about tomboys.

The creativity of the show is evident in the villains that the girls must fight. The most notable is Mojo JoJo, an evil monkey affected by Chemical X. His intellect and actions are comparable to that of a monkey. He constantly creates evil schemes to defeat the girls, but all end in defeat. But, like a typical primate, he enjoys his share of bananas. Other common occurring villains include the Amoeba Boys, Fuzzy Lumpkins, Princess Morbucks, Sedusa, the Gang Green Gang and HIM. HIM was a loose interpretation of the devil, but toned down with colors of light red and pink as to not scare the audience. But to someone my age, HIM clearly represented Lucifer with his abilities to control others and bring life to inanimate objects. HIM’s clearest portrayal of the devil is in “Speed Demon” where the world goes to Hell when the girls unintentionally freeze themselves in time when racing home.

McCracken tried to appeal to a more male-oriented audience when he created the Rowdyruff Boys, a trio of boys that resembled the girls. While the girls were created with sugar, spice and everything nice, the Rowdyruff Boys were created with snips, snails and puppy dog tails. The trio consisted of Brick (Blossom’s opposite), Boomer (Bubbles’ opposite) and Butch (Buttercup’s opposite). Evenly matched, the girls are forced to use their girlish charm to defeat the boys, kissing them on the cheek,  causing them to blow up. The message behind that can go in a variety of ways, but I took it to mean that girls can use their sex appeal to lure boys in and break them down.

Few people know that McCracken also created a trio of evil girls that resembled the Powerpuff Girls, but were polar opposites in terms of personality. Known as the Powerpunk Girls, Berserk (Blossom’s opposite), Brat (Bubbles’ opposite) and Brute (Buttercup’s opposite) set out to destroy the girls in their quest for world domination. The Powerpunk Girls never made it in an episode, but did appear in comic strips.

“The Powerpuff Girls” went on to be nominated for six Emmy’s, nine Annie’s, and a Kids’ Choice Award over the course of its airing. It ended up winning two Emmy’s and two Annie’s. “The Powerpuff Girls” became a nation-wide hit, as the series branched off into video games, comic books, CDs and a Japanese spin-off known as “Powerpuff Girls Z.”

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