Voodoo Groove's Top 10 Cartoons of All-Time
by Voodoo Groove

10. King of the Hill

I can't put my finger on exactly why King of the Hill is hilarious to me. I think a lot of it has to do with the voice acting; Honestly, Hank Hill could just talk all day about fuddy duddy shit like Ronald Reagan and "the fundamentals", and I would laugh the entire time. Not that kind of knee-slapping exhuberant laughter, but a warm chuckle at stiff old white people. Plus any time John Redcorn is onscreen I am guaranteed to go "Yesss" and listen intently to his wisdom. I think one of the show's strongest points is that it's consistently amusing, always reliable. That sounds enough like a Hillsian virtue.

Another point for the show is that for every negative aspect of patriarchal conservative thought the show portrays, there's a scene demonstrating how the Hills are basically good people, concerned with doing the right thing. It's kind of refreshing to see a show humanize that which it lampoons.

9. Hamtaro

I swear I wasn't high when I wrote this. Or when I watched it, for that matter. Hamtaro is cute and fun and lighthearted and fuck you.

When I was in high school, Toonami seemed to change its afternoon block like every month. Maybe it's just luck that Hamtaro only ever seemed to be on when the weather was nice and sunny, perfect for watching cartoon hamsters frolick in nice and sunny weather. Hell, sunny's probably the best adjective I can think of to describe the show, and that's what draws me to it. It's just that kind of goofy, happy kid's show that's full of japanese weirdness. I suppose that's enough to put it ahead of King of the Hill in my book. Hm.


Fooly Cooly (I have heard of barbarous tribes that shun the use of "FLCL") is a tour de force of crazy. Fortunately I find it to be a stomachable crazy, having a certain je ne sais quas (let's see how long I can keep the French thing going) that keeps it away from those "random for random's sake" programs. People insist that you have to watch it multiple times to really "get" it. While I admit that it can be a little overwhelming at times, I don't think it's too hard to grasp its basic concepts like growing up is weird, being sincerely mature is hard, and getting smacked with a bass guitar would hurt.

Part of what draws me to the show is its fast pace. When I first saw it, I was used to the drawn-out melodrama of various shonen and shojo series. Anime and manga were fine, but fuck if things couldn't stay interesting for more than one chapter. FLCL is ALWAYS interesting. It's as if they recorded a 24 episode series, and the director decided "I AM SICK OF ALL THIS FUCKING FAT CLOGGING UP MY SHOW!!", then proceeded to cut out everything that didn't involve robot canons, humor, guitars or vaguely philosophical musings. This would explain the seeming absence of the plot. But that's ok, because FLCL is more like a (vespa) ride than an anime. It's not about where you're going, it's about getting there, man. You dig? I do.

And what's the soundtrack for this ride? The fucking Pillows, that's who. Admittedly, I don't like all of their work, but they certainly chose a solid mashup of their songs to feature. It's kind of cool how they had one band provide the music for the entire series, something that probably wouldn't have worked for most standard-length productions. It definitely provides a distinctive sound for the show, and that sort of chilled-yet-still-energetic rock really fits FLCL's atmosphere.

7. Rocko's Modern Life

Rocko succeeds in that it's a show from my childhood that I can go back, watch, and laugh at without too many stupid parts cluttering it up, making it painful to watch. Like for example, the Angry Beavers. Some of that shit was brilliant while other parts are just embarassing to see now.

Man, back in the 90s cartoons got away with so much shit. It was a more subtle time, where you could make veiled references to circle jerks, not like today where you can just up and say shit like "pissed" on a kids' show on Nickelodeon. And I always preferred Rocko's Modern Life to Ren and Stimpy, since that always seemed, I don't know, too crude? Rocko was an amiable guy while everyone on Ren and Stimpy seemed to be a dick. But I never really watched a whole lot of Ren and Stimpy so let's stop talking about it. I think what I'm getting at is you had to peice together some jokes in Rocko to understand them. To this day, I chuckle every time I think about Soylent Green because I associate it with cannibal chickens.

The supporting cast of Rocko were pretty great too. Heffer's that douchebag friend who eats all your food, Filburt was eternally stuck in a loop of turning pages and washing hands. The Bigheads had their moments, primarily when the Mrs. went into undersexed housewife mode. Ms. Hutchinson was creepy and had a hook for a hand. And while it didn't have the best animation (it was at a fairly standard level for the day, I'd say), some of the visual gags, mainly character expressions, were hilarious.

And how the fuck did they get The B-52's to do the theme song?

6. Daria

I think a lot of people can relate to Daria. Sometimes it seems like everyone around you is just completely stupid, and your only link to sanity is an armor of snark. I know I do, especially when I was in high school and way too cool for that shit.

Daria seemed a breath of fresh air for the disenfranchised teens of the 90s (well, a breath that had to be taken from MTV, which was kind of weird). It was a show for the people who didn't care about pep rallies or extracurricular activities. Although it played to certain high school stereotypes, it would also subvert them on occassion. Even the taciturn wallflower Daria herself realized at some point that going around hating everything wasn't exactly productive. The characters in general were pretty great, like Daria's borderline bipolar dad and the entire Lane family.

When I watched Daria, I was able to look at the screen and go "Yeah, that's me. I feel like that all the time." And that's a nice thing to have when you're 16 and convinced all of your peers are insane.

5. The Secret of NIMH

"I'm so glad you're not giblets right now."

In preparation for this article, I rewatched a couple of cartoons to jog the ol' memory. You know, make sure I wasn't letting the nostalgia filter obscure my vision. The Secret of NIMH is a special case because I had never seen it until shortly before I wrote this up. I had heard friends muse about it, praise it and the like, and I figured hey, I'll give it a shot.

Now, before we move on, I'd like to explain that I really don't care for 3D animation that much, and I think that Flash is a plague that has befallen the animation industry. That too played a part in my interest in this movie.

I struggle to think of anything as beautiful as The Secret of NIMH that has come out in the last 30 years, at least anything that I've seen. Maybe it's some kind of reverse nostalgia, where I see it for the first time and think "wait, cartoons used to look like this!?" I've seen Don Bluth's other work (er, the good stuff, The Land Before Time, An American Tail, all that jazz), but I personally think this is his best. The backgrounds are beautifully painted, the characters are always moving, even just subtle movements that help illustrate their personalities. There is weight and emotion behind the movement, and god dammit I miss when people used to actually draw things.

The Secret of NIMH falls into that category of movies that are ostensibly for kids, but are grim, serious, and hint at social issues that children probably don't think about (or understand). The central plot of the movie is a field mouse trying to save her son from death by pneumonia or death by plow. She needs the help of escaped genetically modified lab rats to do so. From the beginning, shit is going down. There's a plucky comic relief character, but he does little to lighten the overall mood, and plus he's kind of annoying anyway.

Our protagonist is Mrs. Brisby, widowed mother of four, field mouse with a stylish shawl. She's a compelling protagonist; she's constantly faced with brick-shitting tasks, but proceeds despite her fears (relayed again by the awesome animation and solid voice acting), driven by the fact that if she doesn't succeed, HER FAMILY WILL DIE. I like this conflict of mouse and plow because it's oddly mundane; it's one woman fighting against a force of nature (I assume plows look inevitable and unstoppable to a mouse). There's no overblown drama about a quest to save the world from some ill-defined power. This allows it to pull at the heartstrings and explore the devotion of a parent to their children. There's one scene in particular, near the end, just before Mrs. Brisby does that weird stuff with the necklace and everything turns red. Her home, with children inside, is sinking into a mud pit and it's too heavy for the collective strength of the rats to pull out. But Mrs. Brisby just freaks out and tries to do it by herself, swimming frantically to grab onto the abandoned ropes and squirming as others try to restrain her. It's just a really intese scene that displays how much emotion good animation can convey.

The film isn't without it's flaws though. Namely, the villain, Jenner, seems like an afterthought. He wears a black, cape, flips it dramatically, strokes his pointy goatee, and does your average villainy things. But that's it. He shows up, says "I'm evil!" with a suitably evil laugh, does an evil thing, then dies. He gets like 10 minutes of screen time, and I think I'm being generous there. Really, the rats of NIMH altogether seem kind of mysterious. Though on this end, I can kind of understand the lack of focus they get. The story is about Mrs. Brisby after all. Yes, superintelligent rats wearing renaissance clothes are intriguing, but she's got her own shit to take care of. It leaves a lot open (and I'm certain the book expands upon their origins and goals), but I don't really mind that. The ending is suitably weird and magical, basically boiling down to "plot device powers, ACTIVATE", but as a 1982 fantasy movie about talking mice, I think I can spare it a gimme in this department.

You know what's weird? All of the Brisby children get names, and it's established that Mrs. Brisby's husband was named Jonathon, but she never gets a first name. Is it coincidence that it never gets mentioned, or when the rats learned the ways of humankind did they also adopt a patriarchal power structure, with Jonathon deciding his name was good enough for his wife to take? Should I stop thinking about this?

4. Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop is the whole fucking package. Beautiful character designs and animation, superb voice acting, that kind of noir sophistication. Oh yeah, and the fucking music. It's probably my favorite soundtrack to anything ever. Cowboy Bebop is what I show to people who are convinced anime is all hyperactive teenagers and schoolgirl fanservice. It also has spaceships and Steve Blum.

Bebop is an expertly executed mashup of genres and ideas. It's got the bounty hunter space travel thing going, with a healthy dose of noir, mixed with an old west flavor, a dash of Bruce Lee and sprinkled with jazz. And it makes all of these ingredients work together. It's a unique blend that gives Cowboy Bebop a great flavor.

The music in particular is one of the show's defining features. I'm a bit confused that jazz isn't a more popular choice for action scenes in media (I stand by the claim that Marvel Vs. Capcom 2's swanky soundtrack fit the game, and it stands as my most memorable fighting game soundtrack). But man, when a chase starts up, or someone jumps into their ship, or fists start flying, or anything involving two people and physical conflict happens, that music starts and shit is on. Yoko Kanno and The Seatbelts take the show to a whole 'nother level with their music. I think it's physically impossible to hear the theme song and not be dancing in some fashion within the first 10 seconds.

The dub is the best dub I've ever heard for an anime. Every character is nailed perfectly. There's really not much more to say on that front, except that yes, voice acting does play a huge part in how enjoyable your cartoon is.

Cowboy Bebop is just cool. It's got style, it's got substance. The characters are well written and well designed. It can be serious, it can be funny, it can do action. Anime series just don't get any better.

3. Princess Mononoke (Or, Hayao Miyazaki part 1)

Hayao Miyazaki is one of those rare directors that does just about everything right. The animation in his movies is superb, his world's imaginitive (or, if based off a book or something, beautifully renditioned), and his characters arewell-rounded. So my list isn't 6/10ths Miyazaki, I've decided to list just two of his movies, each representing a side of the Miyazaki spectrum; The more serious and violent Miyazaki film (often with some sort of environmental message), and the coming-of-age, personal-level film.

Princess Mononoke is an example of the former. But what elevates Mononoke above the rest of its ilk is the nature of its antagonists. No one in the movie is portrayed as wholly evil (the empire comes close, but it is a much less visible force). The film obviously has a pro-environmental image, but it portrays both sides of the conflict in a fair light. Lady Eboshi could be seen as the main villain, what with polluting the forest and exploiting its resources, but she's doing it in the name of providing a safe haven for the poor. The forces of nature are just trying to protect their home. There are tactile motivations for everyone.

The visuals in Mononoke are typical Miyazaki fare, meaning they're pretty bitchin'. Special mention goes to the spirit of the forest, who may be the most unsettling thing I've ever laid eyes on. When you first see it it's beautiful, fungi and flowers bloom into existence at its feet as it walks. But then the majestic elk turns its head and there's a fucking creepy ass man-face and you feel totally uncomfortable. The scenes where Ashitaka's cursed arm act up are pretty gross too.

In the end, Princess Mononoke is a great representative of Miyazaki's work because it has strong, fleshed-out characters, approaches an issue smartly by exploring both sides of conflict, and it has some breathtaking environments, beasts and machinery.

2. Kiki's Delivery Service (Miyazaki part 2)

On the other side of the Miyazaki spectrum we have Kiki's Delivery Service. It's on this list for a lot of the same reasons Hamtaro is, but it has, you know, more substance. Miyazaki has a knack for producing good coming-of-age stories featuring a girl in an unkown environment, and while Spirited Away is certainly no slouch, I personally prefer Kiki. Plus it was the last film Phil Hartman was in. Every time I see that dedication to him in the credits I get a little faklempt.

Kiki's Delivery Service shares an interesting aspect with a couple of other Miyazaki films, namely the lack of an core antagonist. The main character simply grows up without having to overcome an outside, oppressive force. Learning the virtues of adulthood through personal trials and tribulations is a bit more believable than uncovering the secret by killing a demon wolf or whatever. I'd also like to note that this is another instance of a solid female lead, along with a varied group of female supporting characters, in a Miyazaki film. That scores some more points in my book.

Miyazaki often puts some sort of flight scene into his movies. So, Kiki's Delivery Service, a movie about a witch that makes flying deliveries, has plenty of them. Which is all gravy, because Miyazaki's flight scenes are animated really, really well. Seriously, you can see the bristles on Kiki's broomstick quiver in the wind, the sense of motion is great.

In the end, it's a fun story about a witch trying to find her place in the world while living above a bakery. And that's good enough for me.

1. Avatar: The Last Airbender

I admit, I was one of those people who dismissed Avatar as just a silly American cartoon that thought it was anime. After a couple of friends raved about it, I figured I should sit down and give it a fair chance. After a couple of episodes I realized what a fool I had been. Avatar is my god damn favorite cartoon ever. Hell, it's my favorite show ever. And fuck that movie that came out and forced me to clarify which "Avatar" I'm talking about all the time.

Avatar succeeds on so many levels, addressing all sorts of topics I'm interested in. It manages to work in Buddhist philosophies and kung-fu style in a genuine fashion, avoiding that "McDojo" air that plagues similar material. It's one of the few shows that actually treats women as men's equals through example, featuring not only strong, diverse, and flawed female and male central characters, but also shows nameless citizens of both sexes participating in various roles in equal amounts. This is most clear in the Fire Nation, of all places, where female soldiers are as common as male ones. In fact, this is one of the steps Avatar takes to give the Fire Nation some virtue, instead of just being "that asshole nation" (I sense a theme here, me liking well-rounded antagonists and positive female characters). Contrast the water tribes, which had more strict gender guidelines that made them seem kind of douchey, despite two of the protagonists belonging to that nation (though it was not the tribe they came from that practiced this).

The creators handle the Eastern philosophy admirably, they obviously did their research. It's amazing when a show on Nickelodeon can relay information about chakra and inner balance without sounding hokey.

Avatar displays a level of animation surpassing many of its contemporaries, though it's not always perfect. The elemental effects are creative and crisp, while the character's physical movements are fluid. You can tell the illustrators studied actual martial artists when drawing the fight scenes. Basing each element's fighting style on different real-world martial arts was an awesome idea, and it's easy to point it out and discern the various styles if you have a little bit of knowledge on the subject. It's a really nice touch and an extra something to appreciate about the world of Avatar.

Of course, an interesting world with Eastern sensibility and equal opportunity magical martial arts are not enough to elevate a cartoon to the top of my "All Time" list. No, the characters have to be solid as well! And Avatar delivers, my friend. I'm not going to lie, the first season starts a little slow (which is probably why I wrote it off so quickly), but it does lay the groundwork for character development in the long run. Development is actually handled very well, and characters (well, some of them at least) continue to grow all the way until the end of the series. I could list all the things I like all the characters, but that would probably be enough writing for entire article in itself.

One of my personal favorite moments is from one of the final episodes, when Zuko asks Aang if he's going to kill his father to put an end to the war. Now, Aang is just a Buddhist monk kid who strives to solve situations through nonviolent means, which is problematic because from what we know, the Fire Lord doesn't give a shit about your morals, he will burn everything forever until he's dead. This moment is great because Aang is like, "oh shit, I never thought of that", and this looming decision plagues him until he actually does fight the Fire Lord.

I really can't do this show justice through text. Everyone should probably just watch it and send me hate mail if they thought it sucked.

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