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I’m an appreciator of tales of friendship, adventure, and self-discovery. I’m a fan of stories of triumph. I’m a sucker for wholesome and uplifting content.
2020 was an emotional rollercoaster, which I talked about in-depth in Issue 721. Cartoons played a huge role in comforting me and protecting my mental health. When 2020 had me crawling into bed, here are the 5 binge-worthy animated series that got me up and ready to face the world.
NUMBAH FIVE: WE BARE BEARS
Webcomic turned Emmy nominee, We Bare Bears, by Daniel Chong is a series centered around creating a “chosen family” and finding where you belong. The show follows the lives of three adopted brother bears. Film-maker Grizzly, aspiring musician Panda, and talented chef Ice Bear as they navigate their lives in San Francisco, CA. The Bay Area setting is inspired by Chong’s time spent in Emeryville as a storyboard artist at Pixar.
On the surface, We Bare Bears is light-hearted, wholesome, and youthful - paralleling the three protagonists. When parting through the fur of the show (pun intended) it’s clear that the writers emphasized that kinder viewing makes for kinder people.
A central focal point of the show according to Chong is, “ “the need to fit in and belong.” (2016, Cartoon Brew) “It's a story about people just trying to fit in and I think it's something that we all can relate to, just trying to find a place in the world (2014, Animac)
Chong, an Asian-American immigrant, intimately understands the desire to seek community in a new place and the perils of assimilating for acceptance as a minority. Chong explained this more in-depth in a post on Twitter.
We Bare Bears has been screening on Cartoon Network for the last four years and 2020 marks the premiere of their first film, We Bare Bears: The Movie, which debuted this summer. At the time of writing the film, some two years ago, a point of public discussion in the U.S was the federal family-separation immigration policy enacted at the U.S.-Mexico border where many Mexican families were being separated and detained. The question of who belongs to a place and why is a core theme illustrated in the recent We Bare Bears film.
Chong tells the SF Chronicle that the film marks the “conclusion of the official series” which is all the more reason to binge-watch seasons 1-4 and the new film.
We Bare Bears is available on HBO Max, Hulu, and Cartoon Network.
NUMBAH FOUR: THE AMAZING WORLD OF GUMBALL
If you’re a fan of an array of animation styles then The Amazing World of Gumball is simply astonishing to watch. The style of animation is a combination of 2-D drawing, CG animation, and puppets. The show details the life of Gumball Watterson (a blue cat) and his family that includes his mother (a blue cat) his father (a pink rabbit) his sister (a pink rabbit) and his adoptive stepbrother who also used to be Gumball’s goldfish.
Some of the many recurring characters are Banana Joe, Tina the Dinosaur, Carrie The Ghost, and Sarah The Ice Cream Cone. The characters are hilarious in their own right and even funnier to watch as they interact with one another.
The Amazing World of Gumball surpasses pure comedy to tackle social issues/conversations like respect for minimum wage workers, integrity and self-worth, the dangers and blessings of social media, and establishing your core identity rather than wearing the personality of someone else.
The Amazing World of Gumball is available now on HBO MAX and Cartoon Network.
NUMBAH THREE: AVATAR THE LAST AIRBENDER
Friendship, spirituality, redemption, ancestry, nationalism, and imperialism are just a few of the many key elements that make Nickelodeon’s Avatar The Last Airbender hands-down one of the best television shows I’ve ever watched.
So much so that during quarantine in May, when Netflix returned the program to their catalog, I watched seasons 1-3 in one week. Avatar follows the journey of Aang (The Avatar), a 12-year-old Air Nomad, as he works to master the four elements of Earth, Wind, Fire, and Air in hope of ending a 100-year war.
Aang is accompanied by his band of teen friends Sokka, Katara, and my personal favorite Toph Beifong who each bring a level of comedic relief, expertise, and sass to assist Aang in ending a war that’s been ravaging their world for the last 100 years.
If you’re a fan of fight scenes, deeply intricate story universes, spirit worlds, kick-ass women who share equal responsibility in leadership, and characters who refuse to be definitively labeled as “villain” or “hero” then Avatar The Last Airbender is a must-watch.
Avatar the Last Airbender is available now on Netflix.
NUMBAH TWO: THE LEGEND OF KORRA
In an effort to not reveal the many spoilers of Legend of Korra, I'll stick with a simple summary, this is a follow-up series to Avatar The Last Airbender.
Korra, a water bender from the Southern Water Tribe, is the new Avatar and unlike her predecessor Aang, Korra fights more than one key enemy during the four seasons of the show. In fact, in each season there is a new villain with an entirely new agenda that Korra must face.
The Legend of Korra builds on top of the original Avatar storyline and delves far deeper in explaining how exactly the spirit and physical realm are connected, how humanity learned to wield the four elements, as well as clarifying the Avatar reincarnation cycle.
The Legend of Korra graciously reintroduces our favorite characters from the original Avatar both in episode cameos and through the introduction of the descendants of Katara, Aang, Toph, and Prince Zuko to name a few.
The Legend of Korra is better than Avatar The Last Airbender in the same way that you might expect your children and grandchildren to be more self-aware, kinder, and wiser than you were at their age, and to live in a world that is more diverse and tolerant. With that being said, there would be no Korra without Aang.
The Legend of Korra is available now on Netflix.
NUMBAH ONE: CRAIG OF THE CREEK
Rounding out my list at #1 is Cartoon Network’s Craig of the Creek. COTC is a handful of amazing things that deserve to be praised, celebrated, and binged watched.
To start, the series is centered around Craig Williams (played by Philip Solomon), a 9-year old black boy who shows early signs of being an architectural and design genius. Craig is gifted in math, has an adventurous spirit, and has a moral compass any adult would benefit from following.
Craig’s ensemble cast is made up of his mother (A “HU” alumni. I’ll let you all converse on what the H stands for. Played by Kimberly Hebert Gregory ), his father (played by Terry Crews), his adorable younger sister Jessica (played by Lucia Cunningham), and his elder brother Bernard who is played by voice acting legend Phil LaMarr, aka the voice of Hermes Conrad on Futurama and Samurai Jack of Samurai Jack!
Craig spends most of his time with his friends Kelsey & J.P. in the creek that sits behind their residential neighborhood in Maryland. Funnily enough, my partner is from Maryland and when I told him about Craig of the Creek he confirmed that creek life was absolutely a staple of his childhood days.
The show is colorful with black family love, magical realism, and an abundance of charismatic children characters that include horse-girls, sewer kids, tea-timers, and a squad of ninjas. As a huge fan of Disney’s Recess in the late 90’s I have to say that Craig of the Creek is a spectacular new-age interpretation of kids at play.
2021 will be the continuation of the third season of the Emmy nominated series, and to kick off the year Craig of The Creek is returning on January 18th with a new half-hour special, "Winter Break". Each episode is usually eleven minutes, which is why fellow Craig of The Creek fans like myself are geeking out.
You can binge-watch Craig of The Creek on HBO MAX and Cartoon Network.
ONE MORE THING BEFORE I LET YOU GO
A major theme of this blog is showcasing the impact of cartoons across generations - their ability to enlighten and heal us from the comfort of our homes. Although the characters and backgrounds may be fictional, the lessons are real. The shows listed above demonstrated love, perseverance, friendship, strength, family, self-respect, self-awareness, and kindness. 2020 asked me, what are our collective human values? What do we as humanity really think is important?
Is it family? Like The Amazing World of Gumball.
Is it friendship? Like Craig of the Creek.
Is it belonging? Like We Bare Bears.
Is it spirituality? Like the Legend of Korra.
Is it fighting for a better future? Like Avatar.
What is evident, after witnessing all that unfolded this past year, is eventually we will all need to be on the same side, because there are bigger threats to humanity than other people. Eventually, we all will need to share some core values.
Until next time, stay fantastic fam.
P.S. I love to read comments so drop yours below.