Entire family: No (age 7 and older)
2000, 286 min. (13 episodes), Color
Unrated (would be PG for rude humor and frightful situations played for laughs)
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
Bonus features: none
Cartoon Network has a reputation for edgy, “out there,” and slightly manic animated shows aimed at kids ages 7-17. The characters are often anime-influenced and drawn with severe angularity, while the style of backgrounds would have to be called minimalist. Coming out of CN in the early years were Dexter’s Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, Cow and Chicken, and I Am Weasel, followed by The Powerpuff Girls and this popular entry, Courage the Cowardly Dog.
CN is part of Ted Turner’s broadcasting empire, and their shows have always tickled some children and rubbed others and parents the wrong way. They can be a little in your face, a little loud, a little shrill at times. But as CN series go, Courage the Cowardly Dog is actually one of the more traditionally animated. The backgrounds have more detail, and there are more props than we get in other shows, which makes for a richer-looking appearance. The concept, meanwhile, is actually as familiar as it gets: a dog is adopted by an older lady named Murial Bagge, a farm wife who lives with her crotchety husband, Eustace, “in the middle of nowhere”—quite literally in the town of Nowhere, Kansas.
But you know you’re not in Kansas anymore when the first episode is a riff on the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale, with a Magic Tree of Nowhere granting wishes . . . and gaining power as it goes.
Many of the plots from this 13-episode season are fantastic, with the bulk of them drawing inspiration from the horror genre. One of the best is a take-off on the old Mummy films, but revolving around a special kind of cookie. And in a spoof of The Fly, Courage gets turned into a fly by a villain named Di Lung. Such episodes are constructed in thriller fashion but played for laughs, starting with a dog who’s deathly afraid of just about anything and REACTS IN A BIG WAY. Each outing, Courage has to confront all manner of fantastic villains and threats in order to save his often clueless owners.
The humor in Courage isn’t as rude as in other CN shows, with the worst of it coming out of the mouth of Eustace, who is perpetually annoyed by Courage and shouts “STUPID DOG” every chance he gets. But the extreme exaggeration of old-people stereotypes proves to be a necessary ingredient for a show about a cowardly dog who rises to the occasion despite his fears. Children will respond to the wild leaps of imagination and the ways in which this series, like Disney’s Phineas and Ferb, creates fantastic adventures for everyday characters and situations.
Courage the Cowardly Dog ran from 1999-2002, and each episode runs 11 minutes long. The best season is still the first, but Season 2 also catches the show near its apex, when the writers were still freewheeling yet constrained by a kind of Kansas reality check.
Recommended for children ages seven and older, and in truth boys will probably respond to this show better than girls.