Made in Canada, cartoons that were the bomb

There are some Canadian cartoons that are just exquisite, and then there are some that are… mehhh.

It’s a little hit and miss when it comes to the True North creating animated cartoons for its youngsters, and surprisingly most of the best didn’t appear in the heyday of the 90s.

I’ve picked a few on this list from back in the day and some from today, but each has its merits. What really is typically awesome of Canadian shows is our need to have strong storytelling and some kind of continuity that keeps the show together until the end.

Stickin’ Around

Sticking Around was as much part of my childhood as peanut butter sandwiches and the constant need to fill my stomach with Resse’s Pieces Puffs. When you’re a kid, however, you don’t often notice the adult themes.

“Mom, why do Stacy’s parents live in separate houses?” *Mom stares back* “Um, best not to ask questions like that dear.” Ok, well maybe the exchange wouldn’t happen this way. This little detail in the show stuck out in my mind like a metallic Crazy Bone. It was something that fleshed out some of the real problems kids and parents had to deal with in the 90s, and still deal with today. “Divorce” was this terrifying prospect that could just tear apart a family and for some it was very real.

An article in the Chicago Tribune explains that the show really isn’t just a cartoon, but the result of Stacy going into art therapy to help her deal with her dysfunctional family. In an interview the creators Robin Steel and Brianne Leary explain the process behind the show’s creation:

“There is an exhausting mental slipstream that I need to get into in creating the storylines and all the wild twists and turns the stories can take with these kids,” says co-creator Robin Steele in a telephone interview from his home near Los Angeles. “It’s tiring being in that 9-year-old frame of mind for any length of time; I don’t know how they do it.”

“When I grew up, it was abnormal to have divorced parents. People would whisper about you if your parents were divorced,” says Leary, who is currently in the process of getting a divorce. “Today, the norm is not the mother, father, brother, sister anymore. If you meet a kid with a mother and a father, living in the same house and actually getting along, it’s shocking.”

Who knew there was so much more to Sticking Around than you first thought? The show introduced kids to serious social problems through the imaginations of Stacy and Bradley, but it was still quite a revelation when I learned about the show’s framing. Well, the opening lyrics says it all.

for your big fat information
this is our imagination
me and my friend bradley
what you know is what you see

That funky smell is indicative of a much larger problem.

That funky smell is indicative of a much larger problem.

Martin Mystery

Oh, man. If there was ever a show that had the “Canadian Look” it would be Martin Mystery, yet it had more than just the look, but also the Canadian storytelling mode. It wasn’t that it was just a cooler version of Totally Spies or that M.O.M. was bodacious, but that each episode has a fairly decent story.

The premise of the show can be boiled down to it being a more alien-oriented Scooby Doo. Martin Mystery and his step-sister Diana Lombard work for The Centre, an agency that deals with the paranormal. Martin and Diana’s personalities feed off of one another during the show, and with the addition of a few other characters like Java the Caveman they basically have all of the archetypes that make up a mystery-solving, crime-fighting team.

However, what’s really interesting about the show is the cross pollination it had with another series mentioned above. It turns out The Centre and WHOOP from Totally Spies are in the same universe, and there’s a pretty awesome episode where Martin Mystery crosses into the other narrative to help out on a few episodes.

Paranormal investigation is a field that’s overlooked far too often. Just ask Dib from Invader Zim, he’d tell you that paranormal detective work isn’t just about proving the Loch Ness Monster exists, but also that it helps to expose the fakes. This is what the show does, but oftentimes it turns out that the paranormal activity is real and pretty scary. It also brings each mystery into a social context where these spirits are often angry about something unjust.

Jacob Two-Two

More like Jacob Boo-Boo. Canadians will recognize Jacob Two Two from a series of book written by awesome Canadian author Mordecai Richler. It stars Jacob, his family, and his friends as they live the Canadian dream of dealing with inconsequential stuff.

The most memorable episode, however, is when Jacob ends up finally meeting the Hooded Fang. As a little kid, Jacob has his share of fears and frights. One of the main antagonists of the show, at least for the first few episodes, is this imposing figure of the Hooded Fang, a wrestler.

There are all kinds of rumours about him and his practices behind the scenes. From eating kids to suplexing the elderly, Fang is just the image of evil for a 9-year-old. However, when Jacob finally meets Fang face to face, he realizes that appearances are deceiving. A kindly guy name Gary, The Fearsome Fang only acts the villain because it’s in his contract. Otherwise, he’s just a regular guy who also happens to be voiced by Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Jacob learns that you shouldn’t judge people based on appearances like his new room, the attic.

As well, the show took place in Montreal! Well, the books take place in the city as well, but as a kid living in Toronto there was a kind of dialectic between our two cities in who is the most Canadian. It’s certainly cemented the idea that I will one day live there.

Also Noah is an ass. Most of the show’s episodes surround Jacob learning how to be heard around his peers and family. As the series goes on, he repeats himself less and less, so it’s a sign that he’s becoming a little more adult. Also, I love the Dad’s character who was modeled after Richler.

Captain Star

I have selective memories when it comes to Captain Star.

Captain Star flies around in the “Boiling Hell”, a starship that’s been sent to the edge of the universe. On the planet, Captain Star sits in his wheelbarrow waiting for order. He waits and waits, but nothing arrives. Though there are a number of television shows that promote the captain as a James Bond-like hero, he finds himself totally isolated from Earth.

What’s happened is this: he has a spotless image and they want to keep it that way by keeping him out of the way. It’s kind of sad really how each episode has this mundane plot and he’s just having to deal with being involuntarily retired while the Earth uses his image. There isn’t much else I remember about the show and I’m going back to my wheelbarrow.

Clone High

Oh my God the last episode of this show was such a punch in the balls and heart. Clone High was on television during the mid 2000s when Jack Black was still culturally relevant and cartoons still had great animation. Even though the show was ridiculous and often nonsensical, you couldn’t help feeling for the characters, especially for its heart string-pulling unrequited love.

What’s the most appropriate term here? Shipping. This term describes fan fiction that pairs up two characters in a romantic relationship just to see what the hell would happen if the two were together. In the case of Clone High, all of the students are historical figures from Caesar and Gandhi to Cleopatra and JFK. Each episode has a socially relevant message, and even a little punch.

The final two episodes sees Abe and Joan finally, finally, finally, finally (!) realizing that they care about one another. Unfortunately, the principal of the school in his insanity ends up freezing the entire cast in a meat locker. That’s the end of the series. Seriously, it takes a creative will of iron to end this long, lovely, distraught tale with, “Chu-kuluh”. Please finish the story.

Clone_High_Abe_and_Joan

There’s never been a character I’ve wanted to punch more than Abe. He’s so blind to everything Joan feels for him, but at the same time she’s so passive that Abe is never given that smack to the cranium that could have prevented everything from going so wrong in the end. It’s a tale everyone knows and has felt, including me. I could write an entire article on this show…

ReBoot

My format, Guardian, to mend and defend; to defend my new found friends, their hopes and dreams, to defend them from their enemies. Aside from the horrible punctuation, these lines from Bob – the Guardian who protects MainFrame in ReBoot – became the first lines from a television show I ever memorized. As a kid with an attention span of a spoon that’s pretty impressive.

I’ve done more writing and thinking about ReBoot today than I ever did when I was younger. As a child, my view of the world was relatively small. Like all of us, I was confined to our neighbourhood and family in the pink haze of innocence. We were lucky enough to have parents who invested in a computer and my brothers and I spent countless hours playing with them and eventually surfing the net. What ReBoot did for us was provide a tangible representation of that interaction.

ReBoot_MainFrame_Locations

Far too many shows attempt to create a reality sans metaphor. In other words, cartoons try to emulate the real world without an attempt at creating their own. ReBoot was unique in creating a world so different, so out there that it represented something so much more than what was just on the surface. They were inside of a computer! Technology we barely understood was broken down into images and shapes that we could relate to. That’s pretty awesome.

Storm Hawks

I was super obsessed with Storm Hawks a few years ago. The show created by Nerd Corp Entertainment had this perfect combination of politics and folklore seen in shows like Avatar. Also sky pirates, sky pirates are cool.

There’s a big extended universe in the show, but I did have quite a big problem with its universe. Absolute evil doesn’t exist. There are reasons why people are evil, but in Atmos the Cyclonians are totally, utterly evil.

While characters like Master Cylonis has temporary set backs in her evil schemes, the show’s dynamic ultimately comes down to the Sky Hawks being the ultimate good and the Cyclonians being the ultimate evil. It’s a dynamic that kids can understand, but one that doesn’t really exist in the real world. Evil has to be tempered with reason and underlying factors.

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