Modern Cartoon Network is vastly different from what appeared on the channel even ten years ago. While my childhood was filled with shows like Chowder, The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, Courage the Cowardly Dog and more shows that seemed to create content based on the random/weird factor, today's shows couldn't be more different. Though they are still silly and have great jokes, nearly every show on Cartoon Network today has a lesson behind it. However, have the shows evolved in terms of body representation?
Take Summer Camp Island, for example. This show revolves around anthropomorphic animals who are attending a magical summer camp at which everything is alive, there are mythical creatures and there is a sense of everlasting youthful curiosity. The show has plenty of lessons about being a good friend, treating others how you'd want to be treated, trying new things and never losing the sense of imagination and exploration associated with innocence. Its animation style is whimsical and simple, so all of the campers have the same body type. Though this adds to the aesthetic, it unfortunately removes the show from being able to have any tall, strong or chunky characters, since all of them are slender and of the same height.
The Amazing World of Gumball presents oodles of adult humor disguised beneath a unique, innovative animation aesthetic. It has life lessons and some of the more hard-hitting jokes on this channel, but it also has its share of emotionally deep episodes. There aren't many female characters on this show, but the father of the main character is the classic "obese and dumb" character, so that would be up for critique in terms of body positivity. Other than that, most of the characters don't have human-like bodies, so it becomes harder to critique.
Mighty Magiswords is more similar to the cartoons of my childhood, having no strong lessons but a lot of physical and "stupid" comedy for viewers to see. I mention this show because it actually does a great job of showing variety of female bodies. One of the two main characters is a girl with thicker legs and hips, which is a little frustrating because this seems to be the only area that women in cartoons are allowed to be chunkier, but it is better than other series that only represent the lanky or short woman. Princess Zange, though clearly hourglass, actually has a lot of fullness to her figure, so I've added a photo of her. In terms of body representation, this is one of the better shows.
For the shows OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes and Adventure Time, the portrayal of the female form varies rather greatly, so I'd like to do those two series in their own posts so that I can explore them on a deeper level. OK K.O.! features the stereotypical SEVERELY hourglass body, while Adventure Time has only slightly thicker characters of youthful age and some massive stereotypes about strong women.
Teen Titans Go! has two female characters between Raven and Starfire, but the simplified animation style makes both of their heads at least thrice the width of their bodies, which are slender and slight. In the original Teen Titans, Raven was slightly curvier than Starfire, and the same is true here. However, their bodies are so much smaller in this new series that it there isn't much body positivity anywhere at all. As I learned when reading for my superheroines post, Raven is meant to be 5'11 in the comics, but she is the shortest member of the titans here. Starfire is meant to be 6'4, yet she's of average height. There were opportunities to be body positive and to break stereotypes about men having to be taller than their female romantic interests, but the cartoon didn't take them.
Apple and Onion doesn't have any female characters in the main cast, with the most important female character being named French Fry. Her role is the crush of the main character, Onion, so she falls under that trope of being functional only for the romantic advances and development of a male, main character. Being a French Fry, she's obviously slender. There are no waffle-cut or fingerling potato fries up in this series, but that seems to be the least of its worries.
The show that I was by far most impressed with was Craig of the Creek (pictured above). The series presents a creek and its surrounding areas as an oasis for imaginative children living in a suburban town. They split themselves into different groups, which will have domain over their respective forts and adventures. Other than the already cool concept, within the three leads alone there is already a chunky girl, Kelsey. She is two years younger than Craig and five years younger than JP, so she's by far the shortest, but she is definitely the widest and the most imaginative of the main cast, having dramatic (yet very comedic) internal monologues about how she has duties as a hero. She's the funniest out of the main three characters, which was refreshing since most cartoons give the comedic relief position to a male character.
The best part about Craig of the Creek is the variety in body sizes for even the most background of background characters. Within the first episode, we already see plenty of chunkier women of various heights, such as Alexis and Kelsey. Alexis is Craig's older brother's girlfriend, and she is drawn with thicker arms, thicker legs and a thicker torso, though she is of average height. One of the "Witches of the Creek" is a tall and chunky teenager named Courtney. Laura Mercer is the older sister of JP, and she is tall, strong and chunky, being described as both "responsible and sassy" while also being very body-positive, telling her peculiar brother that his body is perfect constantly. I'd say she's a certified TSC, though she is an incredibly minor character so it's hard to make her a true icon for representation. What gets this show a gold star is how it normalizes not being one standard size across all children. When you see a group of kids racing boats by the creek in an episode about tag, you see children of every height and weight and color and personality, and if you grew up with cartoons that didn't show you that, it's a beautiful change to see.
Though Craig of the Creek is amazing, it does fall victim to a trend I'm sure you've noticed about all these shows. All of Cartoon Network's current original animated series revolve around a male star except for one exception, which is the less-than-loved reboot of The Powerpuff Girls. Yet, it becomes hard to count a reboot of a series from two decades ago as a modern victory. If Cartoon Network needs one big change, it is that it needs a cartoon or two that is current and revolves around a female protagonist. No, not the best friend or the love interest or the sidekick. Give us a show with a female front and center on the poster or with her name in the title. With 10 shows with a male lead and only one show with three female leads jammed into it, it doesn't take a mathematician to calculate that inequality.
In short, Craig of the Creek has only just finished its first season and it's already making amazing changes in the cartoon industry and we need more female main characters. Thank you for learning with me today. I hope you learned something, no matter how small (like that Powerpuff Girls is 20 years old *yeesh*). Tomorrow, I'll explore Adventure Time.
mainly male leads