One of the greatest strengths of using animation to tell a story is the ability to bring the creator’s imagination to life. Be it through pencil drawings or computer images, creatures and places can look exactly like they should, with no limitations from the real world to restrict them. This can especially be seen in landscapes that look alien or operate on their own logic.
In children’s animation, traveling to other worlds offers escapism for kids looking for a reality more interesting than their own. However, they are often not all fun and games: sometimes behind the smile is a foe in disguise, and over the next mountain could be a mature lesson waiting to be taught. Neither they nor the audience will find out unless they’re willing to take the next step.
Adventure Time is perhaps the most important cartoon in the last two decades. The story of Fin and Jake and their adventures through the land of Ooo helped pull Cartoon Network out of its dark period and spearhead a new golden age of children’s cartoons. It accomplished this thanks to its memorable characters, willingness to tackle heavy themes, and simplistic yet creative art style.
The land of Ooo offers many landscapes for the characters to explore, from a kingdom inhabited by living candy to a never-ending dungeon. However, sometimes Fin and Jake find themselves in parallel universes, on other planets, or even in the land of the dead. This is when the animators and story-writers could get creative and weird in a show that was well known for being just that.
‘Star Vs. The Forces of Evil’
Princess Star Butterfly of Mewnie is given a magic wand on her fourteenth birthday. However, her unruly nature convinces her parents to send her to earth as a foreign exchange student so she won’t destroy their castle. Teaming up with a boy named Marco, she learns about Earth culture, fights monsters, and develops as both a magic user and a princess.
Star and Marco’s adventures aren’t limited to Earth and Mewnie. Thanks to an item called Dimensional Scissors, they can travel to all manner of universes, many of whom are aware of one another because of this dimensional travel. It offers an interesting look at how different worlds would enact diplomacy with one another, especially in today’s multiverse-obsessed society.
When Anne Boonchoy steals a music box for her friends, it opens a magic portal and sucks them into the world of Amphibia. Anne is separated from the others and lands in the village of Wormwood. She is accepted by the Planter family, and together they teach each other about their respective cultures while trying to get Anne and her friends home.
The idea of a world inhabited by frogs allows Amphibia lots of room to be creative, especially in its wildlife. While many creatures resemble oversized versions of snakes, praying mantises, and dragonflies, they are enhanced with new features that help them feel alien. It’s also fascinating to see how a frog society operates, especially with other anthropomorphic amphibians like toads and newts creating a cast system.
‘Over The Garden Wall’
Cartoon Network’s first miniseries tells the story of brothers Wirt and Greg. On Halloween, they find themselves far from home and lost in a mysterious forest called The Unknown. With a talking bluebird named Beatrice as their guide, the brothers try to get home while avoiding the mysterious Beasts who stalk the woods.
The Unknown is a fascinating world because it plays with one’s perception. It feels like stepping into a fairytale, where characters are referred to by profession rather than names, animals attend school, and magic is very real. Very few things are as they seem, and every day the boys must race ahead of the feeling of despair lest it keeps them lost forever.
Somewhere in the multiverse, there is a train that travels forever. It finds people carrying unresolved trauma, brings them onboard, and assigns them a number on their hands. As the passengers navigate the many cars and confront their issues, the number on their hands goes down until it reaches zero, and they can go home.
Much like Adventure Time,Infinity Train allows its characters to explore micro-worlds connected to a central hub world. The various cars lead to unique and creative landscapes linked to helping the passenger confront their trauma. It offers an interesting look into how deeply trauma can be buried within the human mind and how much work is needed to move on.
While in detention, young Rudy Tabootie finds a piece of magic chalk that allows him to enter ChalkZone. In this land, every drawing that has ever been erased from a chalkboard is a living, breathing creature, including Rudy’s superhero creation, Snap. Joined by Rudy’s friend Penny, they explore ChalkZone and try to keep it safe from humans and drawings who wish to exploit the chalk for their own ends.
The magic chalk allows Rudy to create whatever he wants within ChalkZone, allowing creative problem-solving. Things he adds to the world become permanent, such as a second eye on a Cyclops to give him depths perception. It isn’t perfect, however, as things like water and vacuum cleaners from the real world can bring the apocalypse.
One night in the middle of nowhere, a kid called Kid finds a series of space rocks that grant their bearers superpowers. He attached them to rings and one by one distributes them among his friends to form his own superhero team. Together they fight to protect the community from aliens who want to acquire the stones for galactic conquest.
While season one takes place on earth, the show’s second season teleports the local truck stop into space. This allows the characters to experience fun alien planets, each with creative designs and a few new stones of power. The show is a wonderful homage to pulp science fiction stories, led by the creator of The Powerpuff Girls, Craig McCracken.
‘Mia and Me’
When Mia Marconi receives a book from her deceased father, she discovers it is a portal to a magic land called Centopia. Here, Mia transforms into an elf and befriends many of the land’s inhabitants, including elves, pans, and unicorns. Together, she tries to understand the book’s mystery and save Centopia from encroaching evil.
Although designed for younger audiences, Mia and Me is a perfectly serviceable show. The world of Centopia has bright, vibrant colors, and the designs of the various creatures, especially the unicorns, are creative and fun. It offers a very sharp contrast to the human world, which is presented using live actors, reflecting the children’s imagination watching the show.
Reggie Abbot loves being a kid and never wants to grow up, to the point where she created another world called Endless, populated by all her old toys and drawings. With her friends Todd and Esther, they have fun playing superheroes and avoiding the real world’s responsibilities. Unfortunately, the more they run from their problems, the more their problems follow them into Endless.
Endless island works wonderfully as a location for the series. Its inhabitants are bright and colorful, befitting children’s toys. Still, many of them also have off-putting designs and are incapable of making decisions without the help of the main characters. It’s a subtle way the series represents the transition from child to adult.
In a dystopian world, a horse and her rider are attacked by Minotaurs while recovering a magic artifact. The horse awakens to find that she can talk and has been transported to a strange world of centaur creatures. Teaming up with a friendly centaur herd, she sets off on a quest to combine her artifact with similar ones scattered around Centaurworld in the hopes of being returned home.
Centaurworld asks how many things can be made into centaurs, and the answer is “everything.” Along with using more animals than just horses, inanimate objects like buildings and tornados are made into centaurs, offering a unique design that contrasts with the harsher, more grounded world Horse is from. Yet there is a danger present in the pastel world, as the longer Horse remains, the more her art-design shifts to resemble the inhabitants.