Greetings all you lovely readers of and welcome to “Animated Anarchy.” As wonderfully geeky our corner of the Internet is, we haven’t had anyone jump into the goldmine of the world’s history of 2D and 3D animation. So join me, Scott Johnson, as I dive into the inkwell to bring up some of the fascinatingly brilliant, contemplative, weird, and flat out bad cartoons.
From Aardman to Avery or Watanabe to Williams, we’ll cover it all! As Weird Harold would say, “Feast your eyes on the greatest blog on Earth!”
If you were to ask me what’s the greatest era of network animation, I would honestly have to tell you it’s the 2010s. Don’t get me wrong, I love the 90s era with the rise of Nicktoons, Cartoon Network, and The Simpsons. I love the experimental age of Flash animation and Mature/Adult cartoons during the mid-2000s. And you can’t question the genius of the DC Animated universe from Batman: The Animated Series to Justice League Unlimited. But these days? We have broken new ground again, and again, and again.
We have the madcap, psychedelic energy of someone like Ralph Bakshi combined with brilliant storytelling inspired by shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender. Many of our cartoons cover every age demographic and genre. If you get tired of Fox’s Animation Block, you can head over to Adult Swim or Disney XD for fun for the whole family or your inner manchild. The new people in charge of animation are hungry with new ideas and many them want to create or nurture the next big phenomenon.
It was difficult narrowing this list down to five choices, but their sharp writing, creative wit and visual flair will make them stand out as pop culture landmarks.
5. Phineas and Ferb
Phineas and Ferb is probably the most questionable pick on this list, but I believe it is essential to what has made this current era of animation so fun and enjoyable. This show is a wonderfully crafted by the Rube Goldberg Machine. It bonds to the status quo like several cartoons, but it’s so delightful to see the plots come together with science, songs, spies, and unbridled positivity. You can’t help but love everyone in the cast from Ferb’s near-mute, straight man demeanor to the surprising depth to the bully Buford and relaxed, easy-going nature of the parents.
What I think the show strikes best is with the character dynamic of Candace. She is intentionally written as a nosy, nagging big sister, but never played off as the good guy because her obsession with her brothers’ inventions is her ultimate downfall (Like a reverse Dexter’s Laboratory). Not to mention, the begrudging rivalry between Perry The Platypus and Dr. Doofenshmirtz is consistently entertaining with the comedic backstories and foiled plans. That’s why I love Phineas and Ferb. You can watch it at anytime with any episode and enjoy the ride for it’s cheerful, all-ages approach.
4. Steven Universe
Steven Universe was close to not making the list, but has already developed in a single season as being one of the most engaging, colorful, and endearing shows. First off, the show’s visual style is gorgeous as it takes the best elements of retro anime and splashes it with vibrant shades of pastel colors. Each episode has been very sneaky building up a strong continuity with Steven’s duties and powers as a Crystal Gem. There’s always something new to discover as he follows Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl to fight crystalline beasts across the galaxy or teach them about the modern rules in the fitting backdrop of Beach City.
The titular Steven is loveable, capturing the joy and the right amount of assured intellect of an adolescent boy. Not only does he remind myself as a kid, but I wish I was as cool as Steven at that age. He’s charming, he’s funny, he breaks out in catchy songs on his ukulele, and he’s the true heart of the team. The show has also been really emotionally strong when it comes to tackling issues of love, patience, loosing family and trusting friends. At this rate, I believe Steven Universe will be one of our most beloved modern cartoons.
3. Rick and Morty
What was easily the biggest shock this year in terms of new cartoons; Rick and Morty hit the ground running of being Adult Swim’s funniest, perversely creative show in years. Only someone with a jaded obsession of pop culture like Dan Harmon could make a show that hilariously references sci-fi, adventure tropes and skewers them beyond comprehension. This is a show that doesn’t care what you think about it and will go that extra mile be it the powerful ending of “Rick Potion #9″ or the awesome montage of “Something Ricked This Way Comes”.
To me, it’s the type of show Doctor Who would be if written by a strung-out, drug dealing genius with no regards for humanity over the almighty proof of science.
Don’t let the bizarre, amateur designs discourage you, this show is much more than a twisted version of Back to the Future. Rick Sanchez and his infinitely unfortunate grandson Morty go on adventures across the universe while balancing the dysfunctional lives of themselves and their family. It’s wildly imaginative every step of the way with great alien concepts and biting, meta-commentary from Rick that has made the show incredibly quotable. It might take you a few episodes to get into it, but Rick and Morty deserves the cult status it has already earned. For a more detailed look at the origins of this program, check out the article written by OneOfUs Illuminati Angelo right here!
2. Gravity Falls
There is no better show out there that understands memes, pop culture jokes, or our love of big mysteries than Gravity Falls. This was made directly for adults who grew up at the turning point of the Internet and kids who love to laugh at the newest Internet joke. The cast is small, but incredibly detailed with the twins Dipper and Mabel, the laid-back Wendy, the goofy Soos, and the clever, endearing-shyster of Grunkel Stan. Each episode is about them dealing with supernatural mysteries that range from funny, scary, silly, and even as gut-busting parody.
Gravity Falls is a beautifully woven tapestry of continuity, covering the phenomenal origins of the small town with creative, intriguing ideas and leaving Twin Peaks-style hints for the audience to decipher and become more invested in the show. But along with the overarching story in place, it still finds time to develop characters and subvert popular myths. Season 1 was super clever at developing great villains while opening the world up to so many possibilities.
Even Season 2 immediately picks up the events of the previous season and tackles issues head on. The minor complaints I would have had about clichéd character moments were automatically addressed in really unique, honest ways for each individual arc. The show leaves you waiting in anticipation to find out more secrets of the townspeople or what creative myths the writers will spoof next. The Pines have made their place in modern day animation and I can’t wait for where the show will go next.
And just as an extra bonus, the creators have produced several mini-episodes to show between episodes and for commercials. They’re funny, they’re adorable, and I have a feeling some of them may play a part in future seasons…
Before we get to the #1 of this list, I want to address a two really fantastic shows that had to be cut after some tough deliberation.
Honorable Mention: The Legend of Korra
Legend of Korra is the true spiritual successor to Avatar: The Last Airbender with the best-animated fight scenes and beautiful, world-building mythology. It’s a shame that Nickeoldeon has so poorly mismanaged the series to being forcibly ended and pushed online to complete its run. What kept this from being on the list were the pitfalls made in the noticeably weaker second season, which to its credit does play a pivotal role in the story and telling the origin we’ve all wanted to know. But any fan will tell you it doesn’t quite grasp the big ideas the original series pulled off.
It was very difficult to cut a show this gorgeous and rich with ideas. But that all might change if the final season gives us the ending we all hope it can deliver.
Honorable Mention: Bob’s Burgers
I wish I was the one who coined the phrase “Wes Anderson’s Animated Sitcom,” because that’s what Bob’s Burgers is in spades. It’s funny, it’s shockingly real-to-life, and it captures our love of awkward humor with the right balance of quirky and charming. The Belcher Family have fried their way into our hearts and is keeping Fox’s Primetime Animation Block relevant for the maturing audience. The way they have made such entertaining characters like Tina, Gene, and Louise is an art form in and has been etched into the public eye
Again, it was a hard cut to make. But I had to give all the other shows an edge for taking advantage of the medium. Rarely does something happen in Bob’s Burgers that couldn’t be replicated in live action. And as much as we love the characters, sometimes I feel bad for poor Bob who has to deal with the repercussions of his family’s eccentricities all the time. But covering that, we now move to the final answer of the list…
1. Adventure Time
Some of you are probably going “Yup, saw this coming” and I can’t deny it. Adventure Time is the greatest cartoon on television right now. For this era of animation, it has made the biggest impact, has the biggest fanbase, and is the best show for one specific reason. Adventure Time shattered the mold in a time where nothing else like it was out there in such a masterful way.
It is the new Ren and Stimpy or Spongebob or Avatar if you will. It’s even the progenitor to our level of quality, as some of the alumni from the series have made their own incredible shows. (Like Steven Universe by Rebecca Sugar and Rick & Morty by Justin Roiland, as previously listed)
Adventure Time is that perfect blend of everything that so many creators want to do. It’s an over-the-top, fantasy world with super fleshed out, down-to-Earth characters and relaxed plots. It can be absurd with weird concepts and psychedelic flow, but still logical and downright cerebral with deep messages. Episodes range from being light, episodic fare to complex, season-long story arcs that turn the dramatic stakes and emotional hooks up to eleven. The show can do it all and even throw some catchy songs in too!
Pendleton Ward, with his LSD-powered creativity, has made a significant contribution to animated art. The way we have watched the humble, cool Finn mature into a teenager has been amazing and downright raw with his character development. The more we learn about Jake The Dog, Marceline the Vampire Queen, Princess Bubblegum and Lumpy Space Princess makes us want to learn more about them and see their adventures. What the show did so beautifully is that not only did it show us all of these things in such an original way; it absolutely paid off at the end of Season 2 saying that this show has a bigger story to tell.
It’s deceptively brilliant. The character design, the bright colors, the trademark objectification and signature style of the eyes made Adventure Time stand out amongst the others. And it goes significantly deep with what they’ve shown from episode to episodes. We’re talking beyond morals of being a good guy or telling the truth. Adventure Time has covered topics from Sexual Awakening (Frost & Fire/Breezy), Overcoming Depression (Dungeon Train), Accepting Reality (Puhoy), Diversity (Thank You), and even Libertarianism (Lemonhope).
The show stands atop the world with a magnitude of ingenuity and human emotion that will be hard to rival in years to come and that’s why it is currently the best cartoon on the air.
Thank you all for reading my first contribution into the One Of Us family. See more reviews, lists, retrospectives and coverage of all kinds of animated programs and films in weeks to come!