A Video Essay Guide to Your Favorite Cartoons

From Spongebob to Hey Arnold!, here are five video essays about cartoons that will take you on a trip down memory lane.
Spongebob Squarepants
By  · Published on July 5th, 2018

From Spongebob to Hey Arnold!, here are five video essays about cartoons that will take you on a trip down memory lane.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about air conditioning. Maybe it’s because there is a record-breaking heat wave currently making its way through the northeast corner of the United States. Maybe it’s because my landlord nailed the screen into my window so I can’t put in an air conditioner. Maybe it’s because…no, no, it’s definitely those two things.

As I laid in bed last night, gasping for air and feeling like the face-melt guy from Raiders of the Lost Ark, I thought about the good-old summer days; when it was too hot to go outside and play so you just sat inside all day watching Cartoon Network in the cool. Those were the days.

Because I am feeling nostalgic and sweaty, I figured our next video essay guide (for those new to the program, so far I’ve done guides to Vertigo, Citizen Kane, and Paul Thomas Anderson) should be a look at five essays about some of the best cartoons ever made.

Chuck Jones – The Evolution of an Artist

For nearly thirty years, Chuck Jones was the most influential director you’ve never heard of; one of the lead directors behind America’s favorite cartoon series, Looney Tunes.  This video essay from Every Frame a Painting traces, as the title suggests, Jones’ career and his evolution as an artist.

It makes the case (rightly so) that Jones is a virtuoso of visual comedy. It take a deep-dive into the anatomy of a gag, and explores how Jones was able to be innovative within the rigid form of short, cartoon comedy. More importantly, it places an artist’s body of work in context and examines his influence on the form.

Animaniacs – The Birth of Smart Cartoons

Alex Meyers begins his video essay by pointing out that cartoons have been in existence longer than film. And like the history of all art forms, there are certain benchmarks that mark a news phase of the medium. In this essay, Meyers argues that Animaniacs started a cartoon renaissance in the early 1990s: The birth of the smart cartoon.

Animaniacs, Meyers said, paved the way for cartoons like Dexter’s Laboratory and Johnny Bravo. From there, came shows like Family Guy and South Park. Do you agree? Watch his essay and see if you can be convinced.

Why do we love Spongebob?

That is a great question, and answers may vary. Like most other young adults, I grew up on a diet of Spongebob. I think we’ve all been in a situation where we’re hanging with a group of friends and all of a sudden it turns into a contest to see who can quote or remember the most Spongebob. It is without question one of the aforementioned benchmark shows.

In this video essay, Karsten Runquist asks a fairly simple question, Why do we love Spongebob? For fans of the show, these reasons seem obvious. But, if you’ve never seen the show, or are looking to take a trip down memory lane, this essay is a good place to start.

Why Hey Arnold! Is Among The Best

Did you watch the new Hey Arnold! film? Me neither. Do you consider yourself a fan of the show? Me too.

This video essay makes the case for Hey Arnold!‘s greatness, and why it may be the deepest and most profound show of its generation. Rather than the typical superhero cartoon, the shows of this period, As Told By Ginger, Rocket Power, et al. were realistic and dealt with teen issues in an emotionally honest way. And Hey Arnold!, as this essay argues, may have been the best of the bunch.

The Origin of Mickey Mouse

As someone named Will, how could I not include an essay about Steamboat Willie? The answer: Very easily. People used to call me Steamboat Willie when I was younger and I always hated it. That point aside, if there is a giant of American cartoons, it’s Mickey Mouse.

The history of Mickey Mouse is the history of Disney, and the history of Disney is much of the history of cartoons. In this essay, One Hundred Years of Cinema goes back 90 years, to the creation of Steamboat Willie and the birth of Mickey Mouse.

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Will DiGravio is a Brooklyn-based critic, researcher, and video essayist, who has been a contributor at Film School Rejects since 2018. Follow and/or unfollow him on Twitter @willdigravio.