There are certain things that live action productions don’t do justice to – unless they have Marvel’s budget. That’s why, to me, animation is the superior medium for any story, but especially those that challenge genre conventions and the mundanity of  everyday life. With animation, anything you imagine can be created – there aren’t any limits.

This isn’t to say that all animated productions need to be out of the ordinary to be great. In fact, many animated shows I enjoy follow the lives of characters you could bump into on the street: they live in worlds void of magic and  full of problems. Think of shows like F is For Family and Daria – they have continuous storylines running throughout the seasons, so they could easily be live action shows too. Even though they can feel heavy at times, there’s just something about the animation that visually makes them easier to watch.

Even shows like BoJack Horseman, We Bare Bears, and Aggretsuko that feature talking animals and human/animal hybrids, are quite normal in terms of character, story lines, and setting. All of this is to say that genre doesn’t always determine how far creators will take their animations. For example fantasy, and sci-fi shows like Steven Universe, Disenchantment, and Invincible challenge reality story wise, but  don’t necessarily push boundaries of what can be done with the animation form. So, here is a list of episodes, across genres, that do.

Teen Titans Go –  Squash & Stretch – S3 ep.20 

If we become silly cartoons won’t we lose our depth? 

One of my favourite things about Teen Titans Go is that you can tell the creators have fun with it – from the jokes, to the songs, to breaking the fourth wall and addressing the viewer, to the animation itself. It’s an easy and enjoyable watch. 

In this episode, named after one of  Disney’s twelve principles of animation, the Titans realise that ‘real life violence isn’t funny,’ so to get their “bloody revenge” on a squirrel that stole their nuts they ‘become’ cartoons. The rationale is that cartoon violence isn’t serious.

I always love when writers use characters to discuss a delicate topic, or the hypocrisy around the discussion of a delicate topic, in this case it’s violence. Especially knowing that TTG is a show full of explosions, exaggerated fight scenes, wreckage, and injuries.

The idea of the Titans ‘becoming’ cartoons is also smart because obviously to the viewer they’re already cartoons, but in their world they’re ‘real.’

The Titans first become the Toon Titans.

This segment is a nostalgic reference to older cartoon styles like Looney Tunes that have a cat and mouse storyline, and lots of violence. The Toon Titans has the typical slapstick comedy style and features things like circus-y music, sound effects being written on the screen, the Titans having extreme speed and higher pitched voices, insanely large weapons being used, and an abundance of dynamite.

The Titans eventually realise they’ll never catch the squirrel because ‘in this type of cartoon the hunter never captures the prey.’ So, they try being cartoons who “seek violence in the name of justice” – The Teen Titronz.

The Titronz are an intergalactic group that wear simplistic, power ranger-esque outfits. This type of animation contains technology, heroic, upbeat music, slow motion scenes, lasers, and quick robotic speaking. 

The changing of animation in this episode was to fulfil a specific purpose whilst giving us the opportunity to imagine the characters as familiar cartoons from the past. This isn’t the first time TTG has done this, but it’s one of my favourite instances of it – it shows the versatility of the animated form.

Bob’s Burgers – Brunchsquatch – S8 ep.1

You said you were in danger and I took advantage of that for money.

‘Brunchsquatch’ is an anomaly amongst the Bob’s Burgers episodes. It features art from sixty-two Bob’s Burgers fans, and the animation changes constantly throughout.

I’ll admit, I avoided this episode for the same reasons I’m writing about it now: the varying animation styles. But that’s only because at the time I didn’t want to watch something that needed me to pay attention to every second of it. When I eventually did watch it, it became one of my favourite pieces of animated TV. 

Unlike the aforementioned TTG episode, this choice from Bob’s Burgers has nothing to with the story of the episode. It’s just the Belchers’ usual shenanigans: the kids trying to convince their parents to get them a dog, Bob deciding to start serving brunch to compete with Jimmy Pesto, and after being offered a cash sum, Louise agreeing to hide Felix Fischoeder from Calvin Fischoeder.

The artists are impressive. All of them have a distinctive style, and most of them are unlike any I’ve seen elsewhere. A lot of them also challenge the usual shapes, colours, and proportions that the Bob’s Burgers animators use. Some of the animation styles are traditional, others are anime-esque, and many are experimental. Certain artists use mediums you might expect in a still image for example, watercolours, oil pastels, and felt tips. Some drawing styles fit the Belchers more than others while others feel out of place – for me these are the ones where the characters’ mouth movements look out of sync.

It is a lot for the eyes to process, but it’s fun to see the Belchers in their various forms, and get a snippet of what they could have been in another life. It also shows what a difference the art style can make to the characters and show overall – each scene felt like watching a new, but weirdly familiar, programme. What this episode proves is that the voice acting is what really makes the Belchers who they are. 

I’ve seen calls for the story to have been in relation to the change of drawing styles, but I think this is actually a good episode for this because it’s quite chaotic. The varying animations add to the chaos.

I’d advise watching it once for the story and again for the art.

BoJack Horseman – Fish Out of Water – S3 ep.4 

I haven’t been underwater since my mother tried to drown me in the bathtub when I was twenty-two.

I enjoyed BoJack Horseman for its jokes and humour. It’s admirable how it finds the balance between being funny and dealing with lots of important issues that are often hard to talk about. In this episode there are only a few minutes of dialogue, but it is still one of my favourites and that’s because the story is still told so clearly through action rather than words.

To promote his upcoming film, BoJack attends The Pacific Ocean Film Fest – an underwater film festival. Whilst there he tries to reconcile with his former colleague Kelsey, and somehow gets stuck looking after a baby Seahorse. BoJack Horseman uses its human-animal hybrid characters to create a lot of the humour in the show. The same is done in this episode, but through image, with the theme of sea life and the ocean. BoJack gets pen ink from a squid, the Anglerfish use their antennae as camera flash, the currency is seashells, and my favourite is the recurring image of ‘being packed in like sardines.’

This episode is all about the visuals and music. It’s impressive how much emotion is conveyed without a being word said. BoJack is the fish out of water – unable to communicate with the sea life or navigate this underwater world properly. His loneliness and isolation are clear. This is broken for a brief period when he’s with the baby Seahorse but that ends abruptly.

We know so much yet so little about the ocean, so this episode was inevitably going to be creative and beautiful. My favourite scene, where the animation shines the most, is when BoJack and the baby Seahorse find themselves in the depths of the ocean. Once they’re out of the darkness, they’re surrounded by a neon seascape of Anemone (thanks Finding Nemo), Coral, and sea plants that shine like coloured strobe lights. This is accompanied by dance music as BoJack chases baby Seahorse – it almost looks and sounds like a rave.

I’ll be honest there’s no other type of show without dialogue that I’d watch for twenty minutes. My attention span wouldn’t keep me interested in watching a human underwater for that long, and logistically that would be really difficult to actually film. Animation doesn’t have this problem. This episode being visually and audibly intriguing kept my attention in a way I think only an animation could. Again, it’s an episode that you don’t want to look away from otherwise you’ll miss the smart little details.

The Midnight Gospel – Taste of The King – S1 ep.1

Come get me! Come on zombies…oh no. I think that’s my aunt.

The Midnight Gospel challenges conventional animation shows in a lot of ways. The colours, shapes, proportions, settings, characters – even the episode formats are unusual. When we first meet Clancy and his simulator, things seem quite normal. Once Clancy goes outside, we see an interesting spherical landscape that partially hangs upside down – like a rollercoaster.

Of all the worlds that Clancy visits, this one gives the clearest sense of what’s happening – a zombie apocalypse. Of course, the conversation he has with the president he meets is completely unrelated – and about drugs and mediation. In any other show, animation, fantasy or otherwise, it wouldn’t make logical sense for a president to have a random conversation with the misshapen man that crashed into him from space – during an apocalypse. 

The dialogue and on-screen action are equally chaotic at times, but the animators clearly took a lot of time to add details to show the destruction of this world. The president’s office has arrows in the wall, empty food cans on the desk, badly barricaded windows with bullet holes in them, and a weird magical dog. The animation style makes all of this even more interesting – take the blood splatters for example (there are lots of them), they’re weirdly circular and look more like jelly than liquid because they bounce when they leave the body. There are other details that make the animation stand out from others, like the tiny president (using someone’s amputated legs as stilts) and Clancy walking through blue and purple trees with crystals growing around the trunk. The characters’ static movements are of note too – it’s something I’d expect from a stop motion production.

The most interesting parts of the animation in this episode were the colour changes. When Clancy briefly becomes a zombie, everything he sees suddenly has a trippy, yellow tinge – reminiscent of psychedelic trips I’ve read stories about. 

There’s a more unusual use of colour in this episode too – for some reason the space between the forest and the inside of the mall is black and white. I found this quite weird but interesting to see. The monochromatic space really changes the mood for a second – it’s actually more relevant to a horror and apocalyptic theme than the bright colours used throughout. 

This episode is full of tiny details that all work to show the freedom you have when working with animation.

Adventure Time – Guardians of Sunshine – S2 ep.16

What if losing all your lives in here makes you die in real life?

That just makes me wanna sit here and feel bad.

Adventure Time for me was a ground-breaking animation when I started watching it, and still is ten years later. You can look above for the only thing that has topped it – but they have the same creator so it’s no surprise.

Of course, the fantasy genre allows for a lot of boundaries to be pushed, and magical things to be imagined, but I still think the show is imaginative in a way that would be really difficult to emulate without copying. It has probably inspired a lot of shows after it to go above and beyond.

Visually, the colours, the landscapes like the Candy Kingdom, the nonsensical characters like the Candy people, even the stories themselves, take the animation form further than most shows I can think of. ‘Guardians of Sunshine’ is an example of this.

After failing a video game level multiple times, Finn and Jake, despite being warned not to, go into the game through BMO to try and win it. Inside the game they become 3D animated characters – think Lego and Minecraft-esque.

I found the small detail of Finn looking at his leg and seeing code really smart. Other details like the glitching, the geometric, green landscapes, and the music, make it feel like watching the intro of an old video game. It was also fun to see things like Finn being physically knocked back by sound rays and Jake stealing coins from the scoreboard – even in the game they do things that wouldn’t be possible normally.

Adventure Time had quite a few guest animated episodes – like ‘Bad Jubies,’ ‘A Glitch is a Glitch,’ – but this is the first one I remember watching.

One thought on “Squash & Stretch – Five Episodes That Make the Most of the Animated Form.

  1. This was such an interesting read! I loved that you provided colourful examples and highlights of each episode. I’ll most likely be checking these out soon. Thanks Kiah.


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