Photo: ‘Kid Cosmic’/Netflix
In the world of animation, the name Craig McCracken is easily one of the more prestigious ones. Having gotten his start working on ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’, the animator would go on to create ‘The Powerpuff Girls’: a smash hit for Cartoon Network and easily one of the best and most iconic animated shows ever made. He followed that up with the delightful ‘Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends’ and the short-lived yet underrated (in my friends’ opinion) ‘Wander Over Yonder’.
His latest project, the Netflix original animated series ‘Kid Cosmic’, marks McCracken’s return to the superhero genre as well as his first serialized show. While it doesn’t hit the same heights as ‘The Powerpuff Girls’ for now, ‘Kid Cosmic’ still delivers a fun ride with great animation, an entertaining cast of characters, and strong humor.
Set in a sleepy desert town we follow the titular Kid (Jack Fisher), a young and imaginative comic book fan who dreams of being a superhero. One night he finds five cosmic stones of power near a downed alien spaceship that grant special abilities to anyone who wields them. Fashioning them into rings and keeping one for himself, which gives him the power of flight and inspires Kid to form his own superhero team. The other rings find their way into the hands of teenage waitress Jo (Amanda C. Miller), who gains the power to create portals; Kid’s grandfather Papa G (Keith Ferguson), who’s able to create duplicates of himself; four-year-old girl Rosa (Lily Rose Silver), who can grow to giant size; and Tuna Sandwich (Fred Tatasciore), a lazy cat who now sprouts a third eye that allows him to see the future. Rounding out the group is “Stuck Chuck” (Tom Kenny), an alien who finds himself stranded on Earth and held captive by the team after a failed attempt to steal the stones for his leader.
It would appear that Kid’s dreams are coming true, except him and his friends soon find out that being a superhero is harder than the comic books make it look. And as numerous intergalactic threats converge on the town looking to claim the stones for their own nefarious purposes, it falls on this ragtag group of misfits to master their powers and learn how to work together, as well as learn what it really means to be a hero.
The Origins and Inspirations Behind ‘Kid Cosmic’
Like any good superhero, ‘Kid Cosmic’ (the show) has an origin story. McCracken had the idea for the show in mind since 2009, but he kept it on the backburner as at the time most animated kids shows like ‘Spongebob Squarepants’ and ‘The Fairly OddParents’ told stand-alone stories in each episode. This also extended to McCracken’s own works, and exceptions like ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ were few and far between. “I can’t do a random 11 minutes with this because, in a random 11 minutes, a character can’t grow or change or learn anything. Because those old school cartoons that we made, they were made to be shown in any order at any time on any day”, McCracken explains in an interview. “So, you sort of always had to hit the reset button for every episode, but when I started thinking about this idea (Kid Cosmic), I realized it needed to grow and change”.
Then shows like ‘Adventure Time’, ‘Gravity Falls’, and ‘Steven Universe’ became hits and proved that there was an appetite for serialized animated stories, made easier as streaming and binge-watching took off. And Netflix was particularly adept at this with shows like ‘The Dragon Prince’, ‘She-Ra and The Princesses of Power’, and ‘Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts’. As such the streaming service’s embrace of the serial format made it a good fit for ‘Kid Cosmic’ and the story McCracken (who developed the series with his wife Lauren Faust and ‘DuckTales’ showrunner Francisco Angones) wanted to tell. Said McCracken, “As soon as I saw Netflix animation was doing stuff and knowing what Netflix shows are like, I’m like, ‘Oh, well they would be open to serialization. They would do a limited series. They don’t need to do hundreds and hundreds of episodes'”.
In terms of what inspired the show’s look and story, ‘Kid Cosmic’ is very much a love letter to comic books and their story tropes from the idea of all-powerful space rocks (shades of the last two ‘Avengers’ films) to the protagonist with the tragic past. A key inspiration McCracken cited is 1984’s ‘The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension’: like that film, the show also tells a wild sci-fi story with extreme situations that are still grounded in reality with regular people. The show’s art style and character design draw heavily from both old comic strips like ‘Dennis the Menace’ and ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ with more muted colors and a clearly hand-drawn sketchbook-like aesthetic (think black dots for eyes), as well as alien designs inspired by films like ‘Mars Attacks!’, ‘Attack the Block’, and ‘Alien’.
The Road to Being a Superhero
While the show’s setup may seem familiar, it all comes down to the execution. And ‘Kid Cosmic’ nails that part. The show benefits from a very charming vintage aesthetic, a mix of the past and present both visually (as mentioned above in how it draws from old comic strips) and in the show’s universe. The show’s music and episode titles even lean into that vintage influence, with episode titles being variations on “Kid Cosmic and the…” as well as with the use of fuzzy-sounding garage rock music. It helps set the show apart from other glossier superhero fare.
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In addition to exciting action, ‘Kid Cosmic’ is also very funny. Tone-wise it would fit in perfectly at Cartoon Network, as well as with McCracken’s previous works. The type of humor runs the gamut from broad to witty and even deploys some hilariously dark humor from time to time, as well as homages and pop culture references for older audiences. It’s also at its funniest and strongest in the first half of the season as we see these misfits come together, come to grips with their new powers and mess up a lot. It’s also hilariously self-aware when it comes to its use of superhero tropes, playing them straight or subverting them for comedic effect befitting a show that centers on a comic book fan.
The characters are archetypes but benefit from very appealing character designs and distinctive personalities. Kid is an excited yet reckless young boy who just wants to live his dream of being a superhero; and in his need to be in control he falls short as a leader and struggles with insecurity and self-doubt, which makes him more susceptible to bad choices. Jo is a teenager with dreams of seeing the world; she serves as the more mature and level-headed foil to Kid, acting as his voice of reason and big sister figure. Rosa is an incredibly adorable and rambunctious little girl who looks up to Kid and loves playtime. And Papa G is the quirky but good-natured grandfather who encourages Kid into avoiding violence but can fight if he has to. If there is a negative to the show is that as it gets more plot-heavy in the second half of the season, the other characters’ growth is pretty much sidelined to focus squarely on Kid’s emotional journey as he learns humility and the real idea of superheroism, and to let go of his selfishness.
Tying into that is the show’s overall thesis, in the words of Papa G: “Heroes help, not hurt”. It’s a lesson that Kid comes to learn over the first season: that being a hero isn’t just about looking cool or living out a power fantasy. It’s about learning how to share and to genuinely extend a hand to those who do need help. Without getting into spoilers, the team’s attitude is contrasted with that of the season’s Big Bad who preaches a “might makes right” mentality and an overzealous fear and hatred of the “other”.
Despite a missed opportunity in letting its supporting characters grow, ‘Kid Cosmic’ is still very much another winner for Netflix and another strong showing from Craig McCracken thanks to delightful animation, fun humor, and endearing characters. If you liked ‘The Powerpuff Girls’, you’ll very much enjoy this. And considering how the first season ends on a cliffhanger, I’m hoping we get word of a Season Two soon.
Cast: Jack Fisher, Amanda C. Miller, Lily Rose Silver, Tom Kenny, Keith Ferguson, Fred Tatasciore, Kim Yarbrough, Grey Griffin
Created by: Craig McCracken | Developed by: Craig McCracken, Lauren Faust, Francisco Angone | Executive Producers: Craig McCracken, Rob Renzetti, Melissa Cobb
By Mario Yuwono
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