Review: Kid Cosmic 2021 By Craig McCracken
The name “Craig McCracken” carries a great deal of prestige in the world of animation and beyond.
After getting his start on Dexter’s Laboratory, he set out on his own, creating two of the most iconic TV shows ever to run on Cartoon Network: The Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. If McCracken wanted to retire after those slam dunks, his legacy would’ve been secure, but he’s always up for a new challenge — never content to be pigeonholed into a single category or coast off his past successes. Take, for instance, his latest series, Kid Cosmic, whose first season arrived on Netflix today.
Recently speaking with SYFY WIRE over the phone, the legendary creator describes the project as his most mature show to date. “This one is really grounded in reality, whereas a lot of my other shows take place in a fantasy reality,” he explains. “Powerpuff is definitely a cartoon, it’s very campy and very tongue-in-cheek; Foster’s was very playful and Muppet-y and imaginative; and Wander [Over Yander] is definitely super, super cartoon-y — almost like Bugs Bunny and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
On the surface, Kid Cosmic seems to share a lot of creative DNA with The Powerpuff Girls, as its plot centers around a team of unlikely superheroes trying to protect their town from extra-planetary threats — whether it be invading aliens or kaiju-esque monsters. But unlike Powerpuff Girls, which leaned heavily into its bubbly and borderline anime-inspired universe, Cosmic goes for a much more subdued approach in its execution to the central genre premise.
“These are real people and this is really happening to them, so we consciously decided to not design it super broad and not to animate it really squashy and stretchy; not to put wacky sound effects in it and just really ground it in reality,” McCracken adds. “To me, this is the first time I’ve ever been able to tell a real, sincere human story. It’s definitely less cartoon-y than anything I’ve ever done, for sure.”
Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin cartoons and 1984’s The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension helped serve as the inspirational backbone for the show.
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“When I was a kid, I loved the Tintin books. I loved the adventure stories and I loved how grounded they were in reality. Even though they were cartoon characters… it really felt like [they were] in a tactile, believable, [and] real world, so I wanted to tap into that,” McCracken reveals. “From a science fiction perspective, I’m a huge Buckaroo Banzai fan — it’s one of my favorite movies. I was definitely pulling a lot of influence from it because even though that movie is about science fiction and alien invasions, it’s still grounded in reality. There’s a very human thread moving through that whole thing of: ‘These are regular people in these extreme situations.'”
More than anything, though, Kid Cosmic is a loving celebration of comic books and their narrative tropes. Set in a sleepy hamlet in the middle of the American Southwest, the series kicks off with an origin story that would make Hal Jordan and Thanos proud. When the titular hero (an oddball of a boy simply named “Kid,” voiced by Jack Fisher) discovers five cosmic stones that grant special abilities to anyone who wields them, he decides to turn them into rings and form a team of local heroes who have no prior experience in defending the planet.
“A lot of times when I would watch superhero films, there was always a quick montage in the middle where the characters suck at using their powers and then they get great,” McCracken says. “To me, that moment when they’re not good is the most human moment and the most relatable moment and the funniest moment. I was like, ‘Well, let’s just make series that takes place in that moment, expand on that idea, and allow them to not be great at it for a while.'”
Keeping the stone of levitation for himself, Kid distributes the remaining gems to Jo (Amanda C. Miller), a teenage diner waitress who gains the power of teleportation; Papa G (Keith Ferguson), Kid’s scrapyard-owning grandfather who is able to replicate himself into an army of clones; Rosa (Lily Rose Silver), a volatile 4-year-old girl who can exponentially increase her size; and Tuna Sandwich (Fred Tatasciore), a lazy cat that gains the power of precognition. To round out the group is “Stuck Chuck” (Tom Kenny), a big-headed alien intent on obtaining the stones for nefarious purposes.