Cartoons are weird. Not that strange smell in the cellar weird, but downright messed up. Johnny Bravo was always one grope away from multiple sexual harassment charges. The Animatics were just glorified schizophrenics. Earthworm Jim & The Tick were unbelievably exaggerated metaphors for parasitic infections. There is a generation of forever mentally dismantled children walking around, thinking that if they demonstrate the dedication of Wile E. Coyote and the aggression of Pepé Le Pew, they may acquire a soulmate (or at least score some free ACME merch).
But cartoons can also be responsible for some of the greatest, most ingenious ideas as well. Some skeptics may claim them “ill-advised” or “deluded or “may result in death”, but what do they know anyway? If it keeps ’em hooked, Let Ren beat Stimpy with that nail in a plank a couple more times, no-one will tell. Here are some of the best gimmicks in cartoons.
They Killed Kenny (South Park)
One question. What’s Kenny’s last name? . . . ? Don’t worry I’ll give you a minute, have a think. Got it yet? No? It’s McCormick. Another question. What does Kyle say after “they” kill Kenny? Don’t need much time do you? You bastard. But like it matters. Was our little orange-clad friend created as a social mirror reflecting the moral corruption of modern life, to be appreciated on a level emotionally-resonant with all humanity? Or is Trey Parker and Matt Stone subtly unknitting trust in the NSPCC one kiddy death at a time? No-one really knows, but I’m just saying Kenny’s died so many times he has South Park morgue loyalty card and Mama & Papa McCormick remain largely uninvestigated with only the slightest of blemished child protection records.
The joy of the multi-mutilation of a minor really comes with the expectation of it though. While the more mature may find it monotonous and malicious, moving towards murder makes the show much more mesmerizing, coupled with how (more often than not) Kenny’s life is snatched from him quicker than a pregnancy test underneath a squatting fretful 14 year old girl. Blink once and a 3500lbs chevy is dropped on top of the tyke without any warning or remorse. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Where else could I see a boy get skewered, hung, decapited, burned alive, run over, feasted upon, beaten to death, dropped from heights, torturously executed, exploded and (my personal favourite) dissolved from the inside out due to over Antacid consumption, for the best part of 15 years with the creativity of Mortal Kombat and the brutality of Happy Tree Friends? Adult Swim?
Frequently unmentioned is the level of satire Kenny’s Thanatos-bothering achieves. A common trait of animated sitcoms (and a lot of sitcoms in general) is no matter how irreconcilably altered things become, the next episode will begin as if nothing ever happened. If Peter Griffin drops his car in a trash compactor, it’ll be there next time. If Bender accidently destroys the moon, they’ll be sure to visit the lunar playboy mansion next episode. Parker & Stone are just lampooning this idea, like they do everything else; by making you crave a child’s blood more than Dracula with a sack full of Capri-suns. It’d be unbelievably clever if it wasn’t so sick.
Bloo (Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends)
Bloo. Yeah. That’s right. MF-ing Bloo. Just stop for a second and try and understand just what Bloo is, just try and understand what Bloo stands for. Bloo is childhood. Bloo is the birth of curiosity and insight in a human being. Bloo is a perfectly honed incarnation of innocence and imagination. Everything about him screams sweet, sweet youth louder than a Dragon Ball villian wishing for eternal life. Literally speaking, Bloo is an intangible mass based on a concept (the colour blue), as opposed to a pre-existing item like some sort of anti-Pokemon. That is immense. Its not even spelled right. “Bloo”. Because that’s how you attract kids nowadays, inaccurate spelling. They could’ve spelled blue with a ‘3’ and flipped the ‘B’ backwards but they didn’t because “Bloo” is fun. Bloo is a malevolent force of absolute imaginary genius like an unrelenting fiery meteorite.
Bloo isn’t just a boss for being engineered and marketed for kids better than a Ben 10 lunchbox wrapped in Hot Wheelz and crammed with sunshine, but someone had to create it. Enter Craig McCracken; a man deserving of the utmost respect for believing he had what it takes to match the sick and twisted corridors resourcefulness of a child’s mind, and hair straighteners. Initially, everyone believes their capable of absolute lunacy if left to their own imagination, like a mental patient detained inside their own living room. But when put to the test, the extent of the so-called unadulterated madness comes up short, underwhelming and always involves a monkey wearing a tuxedo. So a 30-something year old deciding to going through research, test animation and a DeviantArt account until they create the steaming hot piece of digital sass that is Bloo is just…Bloo. Yeah. Thats right. MFing Bloo.
The Magic Satchel/Hammerspace (Bugs Bunny, Animanics, Scooby Doo, The Mask, basically almost every cartoon ever)
A well known tv trope that has created endless wonderment and infinite opportunities for viewer and animator alike. Simply put, whenever an animated character appeared as though they were briefly partaking in some spur-of-the-moment zumba fitness, only to produce some sort of zany item for their (most likely sordid) purposes, they were reaching into the ‘Magic Satchel’. The trans-dimensional Snorlax diapers where they’re kept is called ‘Hammerspace’, named as such probably due to the comical agreeability found in domestic violence coupled with a gap in the market for one to store their mallets, clubs, bats, truncheons and any whacking implement large or larger.
As a child I always wondered what was that magical rip in the space-time continuum that afforded cartoon characters their supply of utilities. More importantly, I wanted to know how could I get my hands on it. If one simply reached towards their back pocket and believes hard enough, is it possible to materialize a mallet or a custard pie or a murderous raging gargoyle demon? Surely if Wilma Flintstone can produce an entire oversized rack of dinosaur ribs from her tiny cupboards, I can pull another pack of Fruit Pastilles out my bag?
Imagine the trial and error that must have occurred before they decided that Eustace would grab the big scary green mask out of the base of his spine before scaring Courage. After the covert sexual imagery of pulling an item out of your mouth and the overt sexual imagery of pulling something out your crotch, whats left? If history had gone differently Woody Woodpecker could be pulling imitation tommy guns out of his gloves, or a bouquet of daisys out of a fur trouser leg…though that’d be awkward…and forever question the concept of trousers.
The Rugrats ‘Baby’ Language (Rugrats)
A gimmick exploiting something instantly recognisable to everyone will always be a winner. It’s why observational stand-up and sitcoms do well. Because we all recognise that weirdo on the train, or how it always take more than 1 attempt to insert the USB, or the dangers of having a little too much Catholic guilt. Rugrats, draw upon the idea that although not yet owning a discernible palette of the human language, babies still communicate with one and other like a couple college professors during happy hour. But the real magic lay in the viewer being in on all the juicy secret, scandalous gossip. The juicy secret, scandalous gossip of the ultimately unimportant decisions of toddlers, granted, but juicy secret, scandalous gossip nonetheless. We understand the decisions, the personalities and the events despite technically not a single word of coherent english passing by, while the parents stay all silly, ignorant and animated. That’s inspired.
However, medicinally induced adventure time is where this show really took off. Similar to Big Bird’s residence on Sesame Street going unquestioned, each episode was a test to suspend your belief. Are they actually in mortal danger? Just whose side is the dinosaur was on? How does that newspaper chew toy become a quiver AND a plasma rifle? And when the adults look over and the viewer is snapped back to reality, no matter how compromising the position they’re found in, all is apparently well and good…because they’re babies. Tommy has been caught hoisting a plastic screwdriver about to drive it into the heart of ‘vampire’ Lil wearing a necklace of seashells for garlic and holding a bunch of half-eaten carrots for rosary beads and not a single eyelid was batted. Chuckie has probably been found slowly approaching Angelica’s already pinked butterfly spot, stumbling around like a ginger Master Roshi, nappies discarded less than a foot away, while Phil can be seen short of breath and pantsless on the beanbag, stroking his midriff and imitating smoking on Cynthia’s plastic legs. And the only thing heard would be the sound of Drew and Stu arguing over that time they threw sand at each other on a beach 20 years ago. That’s deranged.
Mom & Dad’s Mysterious Top Halves (Cow & Chicken)
In the pilot episode, after outfoxing a red demon/partial exhibitionist dressed as a dictatorish lunch lady, Cow & Chicken return from school (because, y’know, the devil can pass a CRB check) and summed up the day for their parents. During the episode, the parents appear around 3 times, getting about 5 lines, entirely shot from the waist down. They’re not shown as the most pivotal characters around. So imagine the impact of the punchline when, at the end of the day, the camera zooms out revealing Mom & Dad actually have no top halves.
Commence brain spasm. I mean, we’ve heard them talk. They’re still talking! Even when it becomes fully apparent that there is no physical source for noise to exit. Plus, with no evidence of little more than the tools required to produce children (be them of the farmyard variety), and so few appearances you find yourself convinced you saw something indictive of a torso or a face or a chicken wing. You’ll find yourself scanning semi-invented memories searching for mental evidence of a cow hoof or a beak above the belt. If it gets too bad you can find yourself calming shelter in a shrub outside the Anderson’s house, confident that their withholding information about the animated farm family, convinced that’s the reason you’ve adopted foliage for a home and not because your partner forced you out the house, away from the kids with the aid of 6-7 police officers. Failing to pay the bills, neglecting your other half and a weird rash on your lower back is a small price to pay for the truth.
However for anyone who didn’t see the pilot, that no-torso-reveal was never repeated and the parents were always shot from the waist down (and not the only ones to do it), creating a mystery much greater than what happens if you don’t step off the end of the escalator, becoming potentially one of the greatest mysteries in cartoon history. Suck on that Scooby Doo.