10 Modern Cartoons That Are Making Children Dumber

By Alicia Ashby in Cartoons, Daily Lists
Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 8:07 am
5) American Dragon Jake Long

American Dragon: Jake Long debuted at around the same time as a competing cartoon called The Life and Times of Juniper Lee. I point this out mainly because they were extremely similar shows, both about Chinese-American kids who gained mysterious superpowers as part of their heritage and had to basically go around policing a hidden world full of spirits and monsters. The difference between the two is that Juniper Lee was good while Jake Long totally sucked. Juniper Lee boasted better designs, better animation, and substantially better writing. The characters were more likable and the stories more grounded in authentic Chinese mythology. Jake Long was stiff, reliant on shitty flash animation, and featured stupendously awful designs that made the titular heroic dragon look kind of like a bloated dog.

Another difference between the two is that Juniper Lee was swiftly canceled where Jake Long is still airing on the Disney Channel to this day. You can still hear its mewling Jonas Brothers theme song and still see every ugly episode. Perhaps Jake Long stood out a bit more in Disney's more lackluster cartoon line-up, or maybe the fucking Jonas Brothers song kept kids watching. It's hard to tell. This is such an astonishingly terrible show if you sit down to watch much of it. Jake Long's duties as a dragon-boy-thing are entirely unclear -- sometimes he fights monsters and other times he just listens to them whine. The villains are mildly offensive Klan analogues who like to kill all non-whites- - er, I mean, all magical beings. Whee.

4) Hot Wheels Battle Force 5
I've spent a lot longer trying to figure out what the hell is going on in Hot Wheels: Battle Force 5 than I think I did figuring out calculus in college. I haven't completely succeeded yet. There is a profound incoherency at the heart of this show that is far greater than my ability to understand it. I mean, I've even asked eight-year-olds to explain it to me, and they've just rambled on a bit before admitting that they don't know what the hell is going on in it, either.

At the surface of it, Battle Force 5 appears to be one of those super-vehicle shows designed to sell fanciful car playsets to little boys. But selling toys would seem to necessity some kind of semi-coherent narrative, of which BF5 has none. The main character drives a car that pops out giant knives all over and spins around like a top. There is a girl who drives a green off-road thing whose tires become claws and then it climbs around like a monkey. The flying motorcycle and the purple thing that fights by turning its sound system up way loud are downright mundane in comparison, but putting them all on the screen together in stiff TV-caliber 3D animation is kind of like smoking a joint only to find out it's been stuffed with PCP.

I couldn't tell you the plot of the show at all, nor can any child I've seen an episode with. It has something to do with traveling to parallel dimensions that are basically Super Mario levels and then racing super-vehicles against evil super-vehicles driven by talking crocodiles and other rejected Ninja Turtles bad guys. Events do not flow in any linear fashion in Battle Force 5; it's like a kids' toy-selling show run through a dadaist filter.

3) Casper's Scare School

The longevity of the Casper the Friendly Ghost property is a mystery of the ages. It is boring as shit and has been for longer than I've been alive. The original theatrical cartoons were boring, the comics were boring, the old tV cartoons were boring, yet the Casper property is one that will not fucking die off despite, in theory, being already dead.

Casper's Scare School is how Casper plans to bore kids in the 21st century. Casper is relegated to bland straight man and surrounded by kooky classmates in a Hogwarts-like school for monsters. The plots are all pretty standard for mediocre kids-in-school cartoons, as are the supporting characters. Casper's friends are lovable losers, he's tormented by a snotty vampire kid, the principle is a two-headed asshole, etc. Like a lot of the cartoons on this list, Casper is animated in 3D. It's far from the worst-looking show here, since the monster kids are clearly all designed around the limits of 3D on a TV budget. Casper was not, though, so he basically looks like a blobby white piece of shit. The show also insists on doing well-lit segments set in an Anytown, USA sort of suburb that look completely hideous compared to the scenes set at the monster school.

What's frustrating about Casper's Scare School is the sense that its creators actually had access to the resources necessary to make a decent cartoon. Some of the monster kids have imaginative designs and the story is almost interesting when it doesn't involve Casper. Somebody paid good money for the fucking Casper license, though, so it's rare that the camera isn't pointing at him and his goddman boring antics.

2) Chaotic
Many people think the entire Yu-Gi-Oh franchise is shamefully, unimaginably bad, but it's hard to rag too hard on Yu-Gi-Oh in a world where somebody's greenlit not one but two seasons of Chaotic. Where Yu-Gi-Oh just presents a demented world where everyone's obsessed with a bad CCG, Chaotic presents a world where the only thing that can possibly matter is playing a incomprehensibly horrible digital CCG/videogame thing.

Storywise, Chaotic is about a bunch of boring whitebread assholes who are, for unknown reasons, chosen to go to a magic bullshit realm called Chaotic where they get to play the Chaotic game all day. The show's explanation for this involves astral projection -- players as so special they split into two selves, a mundane one that does boring shit like going to school, and a super-speshul Chaotic one that exists in Chaotic and plays games all day. The actual Chaotic game makes Yu-Gi-Oh seem like an exercise in sublime strategy. Playing it involves having a deck of cards, but there's also a digital play mat so the cards can battle for territories, and the battles are conducted by transporting the player's whiny suburban mind into a "real" monster that fights in the "real" version of a territory. Exactly how you win or lose is incredibly unclear, as the rules seem to change depending on how many monsters they want to show per battle.

Special mention must be made of Chaotic's completely insane production style. The show's first season was animated using bafflingly cheap Flash animation that made it look like a long-form eSurance ad. The second season switched over to something meant to look like anime but clearly produced by some European studio that just barely knows how to make things move. The change in designs is so abrupt and radical that the protagonist entirely changes ethnicities, because I guess the first season wasn't boring-ass or whitebread enough.

1) Johnny Test
Canadian animation, for the most part, completely fucking sucks. Canadians will be the first people to tell you this. Like most other Canadian-made media, Canadian cartoons get financed largely because Canadian networks are legally obligated to make sure a certain percentage of their content is actually produced in Canada. This makes the sudden U.S. fad for cheap Canadian cartoons like Johnny Test completely fucking confusing, although currently it is being produced so cheaply that it is no longer even animated in Canada, but is instead being slapped together in what I imagine to be Filipino cartoon sweatshops.

It is poorly animated in Flash, such that most episodes contain less actual movement than '60s Hanna-Barbera shorts. The entire premise, most of the characters, and roughly 75% of the show's episode plots are recycled wholesale from the '90s Hanna-Barbera hit Dexter's Lab. Johnny Test is nothing more but a loud, ugly, and inferior Dexter's Lab. When I have personally seen modern children presented with the choice between Johnny Test on Cartoon Network and Dexter's Lab on Boomerang, Dexter's Lab wins every time. Unfortunately, kids often don't have a choice. Because Canadian programming like Johnny Test is so incredibly cheap to produce and air, Cartoon Network makes a point of running -- and this is just a rough estimate -- approximately 20 hours of Johnny Test per day. Kids watch it because they want cartoons and it happens to be on, and thus, this processed, calorie-lite, cartoon-like product has apparently gotten enough eyeballs that Johnny Test has run four seasons.
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