Study break: revisiting your childhood favorite cartoons as a “grown-up”

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Kelsi Krandel/File

As you flip to the next dense page of your Chaucer reading or stare blankly at your problem set for the umpteenth hour in a row, sometimes you can’t help but want to curl up into a ball, cradling a stuffed animal and swaddled in a blanket. It’s not a shameful thing. It’s nostalgia, and nostalgia is incredibly powerful. The responsibility of college, paying for rent, studying for midterms and generally facing the dreaded fate we call “real life” all can feel like too much sometimes, causing us to long for a reality far from our cramped cubicle in Main Stacks — more along the lines of a couch back home, curled up in a blanket and watching Saturday morning cartoons.

We’re not going to lie. We at the Clog have felt this way countless times. And we decided the best way to remedy this longing was to do just that: Watch our favorite childhood cartoons. But anyone who’s watched TV with a young child in recent memory knows that the shows you love when you’re 5 just aren’t the same when you watch them at the age of 15 — much less 20 or 21. So if you need to satisfy this urge for childhood entertainment while taking a break from your research paper, which shows are worth that trip down memory lane?

We thought that was worth finding out. And it totally wasn’t because we wanted to watch kids’ shows and call it work. We swear. OK, maybe a little bit.

There were so many wonderful shows that aired when we were youngsters, but we at the Clog picked a small handful to re-examine. Enjoy, and feel free to do the same as well!

Rugrats

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1991-2004 on Nickelodeon

The escapades of Tommy Pickles and his diaper-wearing friends capture just the right amount of cheesiness for a kids’ show while following the idealism and overimagination of the 1- to 2-year-old characters. While watching as adults, however, the babies are perhaps the least compelling part of the show. What are far more interesting to us are things such as Angelica’s family dynamic and how her workaholic mother and doting father have shaped her manipulative personality or the relationship between Chuckie and his widowed father, who plays the role of two parents. We love Tommy and Dil’s parents, Stu and Diane, who are hilarious and hardworking, although we question how often they let their 1-year-old and his friends wander around the house alone. “Rugrats” is clearly not a show meant just for children, which we really appreciate. The show includes plenty of witty references more geared towards adult viewers and asks Tommy and the gang to deal with mature questions about relationships, insecurities and morals that felt deeply relatable to us.

Final verdict: It’s definitely a kid’s show, but it’s one that caters well to an adult audience watching with their children. “Rugrats” is cute, witty and fun while still dealing well with deeper issues and themes.

Pokemon

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1998-present on Kids’ WB/Cartoon Network

Ah, the franchise that shaped a generation. “Pokemon” might have started as a video game series, but it has led to the creation of a trading card game, manga, and — of course — a television show. For many of us, “Pokemon” was a staple of our childhood. We loved following the adventures of Ash and his rotating gang as he traveled around the world with Pikachu in his quest to “catch ’em all” and become a Pokemon master.

But watching this show as an adult? Well … let’s just say “Pokemon” knows what it does well, and that’s being a kids’ program. The show is cute but ultimately cheesy and repetitive. The characters are — for the most part — simple. We appreciate that the show tells wonderful lessons about friendship, but it doesn’t really grow. How many times can Ash, Brock and Misty be lost in the woods? How many times will the villainous Team Rocket get blasted off into the sky until it realizes it really sucks at stealing Pokemon? If Ash isn’t a good enough Pokemon trainer to ever lead his team to win a championship, then why are we supposed to root for him? And will he really be 10 years old forever?

Final verdict: Fun for kids and tedious for adults, “Pokemon” is cheesy, predictable and definitely for a younger audience. Plus, it would probably take you years to catch up with the series.

Kim Possible

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2002-07 on Disney Channel

It sure would have been awesome to be Kim Possible in high school. She has tons of friends and she’s a campus superstar and — did we mention — a secret agent? Kim’s awesome, and her show is too. It’s just pure fun. We love a show with a well-developed cast, villains that have more to them than pure evil and an understanding of the timeline of the story it has to tell (here’s looking at you, “Pokemon”). It’s predictable, but it’s still fun to watch, even as an adult. Above all, we really appreciate Kim as a character. We adore that “Kim Possible” has such a strong female protagonist and that being girly and being badass are presented as compatible. That’s a valuable message, and we love Kim a lot for that.

Final verdict: It might not be the best show you’ll ever watch, but it’s still tons of fun. We totally get why we know so many people that use Kim’s signature ringtone for their own.

Dexter’s Laboratory

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1996-2003 on Cartoon Network

Watching this show feels like watching a child’s imagination come to life. That’s kind of magical. There’s definitely a part of us that, as a child, wanted to be Dexter, a child genius with a secret laboratory in his house. Compared to “Rugrats,” however, we don’t feel that “Dexter’s Laboratory” has the same lasting impact. There are some well-meaning references meant to make the show more entertaining for older audiences, but it’s more of an afterthought than anything else, and the show doesn’t really go anywhere. It does a really great thing for its target audience, but we think we might have outgrown Dexter at this age.

Final verdict: Great for your 6-year-old cousin, but not so much for a college student.

Avatar: The Last Airbender

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2005-08 on Nickelodeon

Some of us at the Clog would like to call this the best children’s cartoon of all time. “Avatar: The Last Airbender” tells a complex adventure story of war and conquest in a world where humans can control the four elements and follows 12-year-old Aang and his friends as they attempt to save the world. Its three seasons might look sad next to Pokemon’s 18, but it was a show that set out not to play to a premise but to tell a story. And it did.

The Avatar universe is deep and well-constructed. The characters are incredibly complex and grow with the show. And the themes ask viewers to deal with ideas of justice, loyalty, death, sacrifice, right and wrong, good and evil, self-worth, individuality, abuse and pride. The show feels slow to start and — dare we say it — childish at the beginning, but the longer you watch, the easier it is to forget that “Avatar” is a children’s show.

Final verdict: “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is extremely compelling and worth every ounce of your time. We’re obsessed, and we’re currently watching its sequel series, “The Legend of Korra,” in its final season on nick.com.

We know we missed a ton of great cartoons that aired when we were kids. What were some of your favorites? Are they any good if you watch them again now? Have fun trying this for yourself during a study break — you deserve a moment to be a kid again.

Image Sources: camknowsOEVB, Kate Haskell, Loren Javier, Tom CheckIain Heath under Creative Commons

Contact Kelsi Krandel at [email protected].