Walt Disney did major damage to cartoons from the 20s onwards, squeezing out one steaming piece of saccharine pseudo-moralistic schmaltz after another. Then The Simpsons came along and showed the world that animation could be intelligent, thought-provoking and, most importantly, hilarious. The global success of Matt Groening's creation paved the way for shows like South Park, which receives more praise from the critics than The Simpsons does nowadays. It also meant that he could get commissioning for his side project, Futurama. When it first aired in 1999, my expressions of joy were inaudible over the widespread choruses of "not as good as The Simpsons". Oh, how wrong those people were. When Futurama was cancelled in 2003, its many devoted fans were devastated. Personally, I always subscribe to the Seinfeldian notion that it's better to go out at the top, and I was happy with how the story had ended. That said, I was still delighted when it was announced that Futurama was to be brought back for four feature-length straight-to-dvd specials. The main reason for this, unsurprisingly, is the series' impressive DVD sales which have actually surpassed those of The Simpsons DVDs. To celebrate the resurrection of my favourite cartoon, I have put together a list of the top 5 cartoons of recent years. Before we go any further, you should know that neither The Simpsons nor South Park are present on the list, and that is because their rampant popularity has meant that they are commonly thought of as t.v. shows, as opposed to cartoons. Ya dig? Read on.
5. Invader Zim (2001 - 02) Created by: Jhonen Vasquez
Brief Plot Synopsis: Dim-witted alien soldier repeatedly attempts to destroy the human race.
At times disturbing and unsettling, this is easily the most mature children's cartoon you're ever likely to see. It is also one of the most stunningly original and inventive animated shows of the last few years. It really is utterly brilliant. The characters are interesting, the voice-acting is superb, and it has a better style of animation than any other cartoon, bar none. Vasquez's artwork is colourful, futuristic and slightly-Gothic all at once, and it's a damn shame this show got cancelled after a mere season and a half.
4. Cowboy Bebop (1998) Created by: Shinichiro Watanabe and Toshihiro Kawamoto
Brief Plot Synopsis: Futuristic bounty hunters dish out tastefully-portrayed violence in anime with strong film-noir overtones.
Anime, Manga, Japanimation...whatever you call it, it can sometimes be brilliant (see: Ninja Scroll), but it can also be silly, cheesy and immature. Cringe-worthy dialogue, woefully-translated theme tunes and indecipherable plots have hamstrung many an anime series. Cowboy Bebop is different. All the qualities one expects from a good anime are present and correct, but the atmosphere of this show sets it apart from its rivals. The tone and ambience of Cowboy Bebop are closer to the sombreness and maudlin of film-noir than they are to other anime efforts, and let's be honest, how could a show featuring futuristic bounty-hunting cowboys be anything but brilliant?
3. Spongebob Squarepants (1999 - ) Created by: Stephen Hillenburg
Brief Plot Synopsis: Cheerful and na?Øve sea-sponge has sub-aquatic fun and frolics.
This is by far the most child-orientated cartoon in my list, I've included it because its appeal is so wonderfully universal. When I saw The Spongebob Squarepants Movie at the cinema, it was distinctly noticeable how the adults and the children in the audience were laughing at different times throughout. But they were all laughing, and that's why this show is so great. It helps that Spongebob is voiced by Tom Kenny, a very talented voice actor, who makes Spongebob an immensely lovable character.
2. Aqua Teen Hunger Force (2000 - ) Created by: Matt Maiellaro and Dave Willis
Brief Plot Synopsis: A milkshake, a ball of meat and a talking box of fries live together and get into adventures.
While the premise, the visuals and the complete disregard for continuity all give this show a unique freshness, it's the dialogue between the various characters that makes it so hugely enjoyable. From arrogant natural-satellite-dwelling jerks The Mooninites to an 8-foot-tall nappy-wearing spider called MC Pee Pants, Aqua Teen's universe is one that is frequently weird and occasionally surreal. Its deranged inhabitants deliver hilarious exchanges and memorable one-liners, and the script writing is consistently superb. Look out for Aqua Teen Hunger Force: The Movie, coming (nowhere even remotely close) to a cinema near you later this year.
1. Futurama (1999 - 2003, 2007) Created by: Matt Groening
Brief Plot Synopsis: Loser delivery-boy gets cryogenically frozen in 1999 and defrosted in the year 3000, where he befriends a hard-drinking robot called Bender and falls in love with an opinionated Cyclops called Leela.
This show has it all. Everything that anyone could possibly want from a t.v. show is here. The animation is a mix of normal 2D and computer-generated 3D images, giving the show a look that's both cutting edge and endearingly idiosyncratic. The subtle visual jokes we know and love from The Simpsons are present, the scripts are always hilarious, and the references to popular culture are always excellently done. Whereas a show like Family Guy is crippled by its immature reliance on pop-culture to produce many of its jokes, this method is never over-used in Futurama. The characters are not only excellently acted by the best voice-cast in the business, they also possess a depth not seen in most television shows, let alone cartoons. This is without a doubt the greatest cartoon ever made, and you should be as jubilant about its return as I am.
Honourable Mentions - Sealab 2021, Samurai Jack, Harvey Birdman, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Naruto, The Brak Show.
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