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In 1996, Arthur, a cartoon based on the book series by Marc Brown, debuted. Technically speaking it is still making episodes, believe it or not. The show about an eight-year old aardvark has never been shy about how sweet, safe, and designed for children it is. And yet, adults, even ones who didn't grow up with it, love Arthur. Why is that?
There's an episode of Arthur that might actually help explain why this particular children's cartoon retains such popularity with adults: "That's a Baby Show!" In what can only be described as one of the most unexpected meta narratives in storytelling history, "That's a Baby Show!" features a plot wherein Arthur is supposed to watch a cartoon called "The Dark Bunny" (more on that in a moment) but instead watches a show called "Love Ducks," which is specifically targeted towards toddlers and pre-schoolers.
"The Dark Bunny" is almost beat for beat a retelling of Batman: The Animated Series, except with a bunny in the lead and also there's tentacle monsters. But the tone and style are so similar that the background art is virtually identical. Arthur's sister, DW, is too scared to watch "The Dark Bunny," but all of Arthur's friends say it's the best show on TV.
Arthur winds up watching "Love Ducks" instead. "Love Ducks" is a show with bright colors, soft voices, and adorable ducks. Arthur is hypnotized by it and keeps forgetting to watch "The Dark Bunny" because they air in the same time slot.
And while the actual Batman: The Animated Series had completed airing new episodes by Arthur's TV debut, it was still one of the most watched cartoons in reruns. Also, DC had set the tone for cartoons, so there wasn't a lot of room for cutesy kid stuff.
Or was there? Because Arthur was a very popular, sweet show with soft voices and no real danger. And the other show "Love Ducks" was aping was Teletubbies, which has a weird, psychedelic quality that makes people watch it whilst under the, uh, influence.
What the creators of Arthur, the show, were trying to say is that they know adults are watching the show — and that's okay! It's okay to like this soft show for soft boys. Not every day is a day where you want to watch Batman punch the Joker in the face!
On today's episode of Every Day Animation, writer and comedian Orli Matlow joins the podcast to talk about her love of Arthur, her super love of Arthur's sister, DW, and all the ways the show inspires us to value libraries, to respect each other's creative visions, and, most of all, to just occasionally admit we're soft and thoroughly enjoy a baby show for babies.
On tomorrow's episode of Every Day Animation, comedian and host of Dark Tank, Yedoye Travis, joins the podcast to talk about One Punch Man. I asked him who would win in a fight between Saitama and Goku, and Travis said that question was dumb. So you don't wanna miss this landmark, folksy, tells-it-like-it-is episode! One Punch Man is currently available on Netflix and Hulu.