During its 17 years, Cartoon Network has done a great deal of good for animation. The network’s development of original programming changed the landscape of televised animation. Many of their shows became classics amongst animation enthusiasts and a multitude of talented individuals broke into the business through their system. Unfortunately, their success didn’t quite carry over to this decade. While Cartoon Network still developed some great shows, a stretch of mediocre offerings and heavy flirtation with live-action tarnished their previously stellar record. Despite the slight downturn, we salute the network’s accomplishments by presenting you with the five best Cartoon Network originals of this decade.
5. The Secret Saturdays Created by Jay Stephens
Plot: A family of cryptozoologists deal with strange creatures while saving the world.
Why It’s Here: While it has only been on television for little over a year now, The Secret Saturdays has already earned its place on this list. The series is unlike any other cartoon currently on air and harks back to the days of Jonny Quest, giving the series a fantastic retro vibe while simultaneously moving the genre forward.
Unfortunately, the villains have not had the same attention paid to them as their motives are left at ambition or greed, but some are still excellent in their own right. Antagonist V. V. Argost’s delightfully dark demeanor brings a level of creepiness to the series that makes the Saturdays’ plight all the more interesting and the Vincent Price inspired voice work by Corey Burton is simply stellar.
The series’ subject matter of cryptozoology is one that isn’t explored often in animation. Consequently, this provides the show a wider variety of paths to explore in their well-written stories. All in all, The Secret Saturdays has earned the #5 spot on our list and we sincerely hope the network orders more episodes.
4. Megas XLR Created by George Krstic and Jody Schaeffer
Plot: An overweight oaf tricks out a busted robot and uses it to save the world.
Why It’s Here: One of the coolest animated programs to have ever been conceived, Megas XLR proved that giant robots are, in fact, awesome. The series took the best elements from a wide array of action cartoons and pulled them together to form the perfect comedic action-adventure series. Megas XLR explored what people would really do if they had a giant robot at their disposal; it’s a good thing to save the world, but if you don’t have fun and wreck half of the city in the process, then you’re doing something wrong. Coop, the accidental pilot of Megas, is a contemporary everyman who many people growing up in the late 80s and 90s would be able to relate to. He is often more concerned about eating, watching his favorite television shows and playing video games than training to defeat the alien race known as the Glorft. As such, he is a character easy to relate to and through whom we might live vicariously. Who wouldn’t want to be like Coop? He does whatever he feels like and still manages to kick butt with his giant freaking robot. Sadly, the series was cancelled long before it should have been, but we feel that Megas XLR is certainly one of Cartoon Network’s best original programs this decade. We truly did dig giant robots.
3. Ed, Edd n Eddy Created by Danny Antonucci
Plot: A trio of misfits spend their days devising money making schemes.
Why It’s Here: While it actually premiered in 1999, it would be impossible to tell the story of Cartoon Network this decade without it. Ed, Edd n Eddy became a fixture throughout the 00s with its finale airing just a few short weeks ago. Even after ten years, the series is just as charming as ever. Perhaps it matured alongside us; the first few seasons were fun to watch, but like a child learning to ride a bike, there were a few falls and things didn’t always end up as they should have. But as one season led into the next, the series hit its stride. We got to know the kids of Peach Creek, not only as characters but as friends. We saw them live their lives as we watched each episode. We experienced both their failures and their triumphs. We laughed at them and alongside them. Ed, Edd n Eddy was the last of the Cartoon Cartoons standing, and an era ends with the show’s closure. We sincerely believe that this series was one of Cartoon Network’s best animated programs this decade, and even though fierce competition prevented it from being any higher on our list, make no mistake: this was the type of series that comes along very rarely and we should cherish our memories.
2. Samurai Jack Created by Genndy Tartakovsky
Plot: A samurai must find his way back to the past in order to defeat an evil being.
Why It’s Here: Could an animated program ever be appreciated as a work of art? While cinematic productions have been hailed as artistic masterpieces due to their stunning and immersive visuals and engaging stories, televised cartoons still carry a stigma and such praise is seldom lavished upon them. If there were one animated program that could truly be considered the visual pinnacle of the art form, it would be Samurai Jack. This story about a lone samurai who is cast into the future and then tries to find his way home, set a standard for action animation that has yet to be matched in the West. The series was beautiful; its backgrounds were awe-inspiring and its animation allowed the characters to move through their world with grace. The plots were also written well, with a wide variety of stories being told, each with their own blend of action, comedy and drama. But if the series is so wonderful, why is it only #2 on our list? It was a difficult decision, but despite all of the things that the series got right, it’s hard to deny that it did have some pacing issues and there were a bit too many episodes in which Jack found a way home only to pass up his chance in order to do the noble thing. The reason such was done is understandable, but to tease the viewers so often only to have closure ripped away leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth. Fortunately, the tale may finally be told when the movie, now being co-produced by J. J. Abrams, is completed.
1. Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends Created by Craig McCracken
Plot: A boy pays regular visits a bizarre foster home for imaginary friends.
Why It’s Here: Perhaps it is only fitting for an animated program about imaginary friends to be one of the most imaginative animated programs of all time. Craig McCracken earned his stripes with The Powerpuff Girls, but with this series, he truly thought outside of the box and created a colorful world filled with bizarre characters of fantastic design. While the overall premise of the series was fairly simple, it was written with finesse and many of its plots were delightfully outlandish. The series also stood out due to its proficient use of flash animation; few animated programs have managed to use flash as well as Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends and even critics of flash animation would be hard pressed to find many faults with the way that it looked. While there were a few bad episodes along the way, the level of quality that this series had was largely consistent. The best episodes were the specials, and the one that specifically comes to mind is the Emmy award winning Destination: Imagination, which could very well be the crew’s magnum opus if and when they choose to end their careers. We feel that this series has earned the top spot on our list and we’re grateful that we had the opportunity to enjoy it.