An Essay on Why Amphibia Could Potentially Be One of the Best Cartoons of the Modern Era
I have made it no secret that I am in love with Disney Channel’s Amphibia. This Western Isekai of a girl trapped in a world of talking amphibians has no business being as amazing as it is. Yet during its first two seasons, it’s managed to surpass many people’s expectations to become one of the best cartoons airing right now. Having followed it from the start, I would go so far as to call it a modern-day classic. I would even go so far as to put it on or close to the same level as shows such as Steven Universe, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Gravity Falls in terms of how good it is.
With the show’s third, and possibly final, season airing this Saturday, I want to discuss why I would put this show on the same level as some of the best cartoons of the last twenty years.
It Deals With Serious Issues Like Bullying and Emotional Manipulation
A common thread to all these cartoons mentioned above is that they deal with issues that lots of kids cartoons are too afraid to go near. Gravity Falls was, at its heart, a story about the bond between siblings and how our actions can end up destroying it. Steven Universe was big on how people who live differently receive stigma from others, even in their own family. I could write a series of essays on the mature themes that Avatar addressed. Amphibia follows in their footsteps by dealing with things that kids need to understand and recognize, such as bullying and some people’s toxic influence on us.
Anne claims that the other two girls who came to Amphibia with her, Sasha and Marcy, were her best friends at the show’s start. However, their actions suggest otherwise. Sasha pressured Anne into stealing the Music Box that took them to Amphibia, which she didn’t want to do. Moreover, when we met Sasha, we saw that, while she does care about Anne, she’s also manipulative and not verbally forcing the latter to get her way.
Then we have Marcy. On the surface, she seems like a much better friend to Anne. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll see that Marcy’s not without her own issues. She gets so caught up in what she likes that she fails to pay attention to her surroundings. While she doesn’t always mean to, this can make her inconsiderate to what her friends want. This comes to a head in the season two finale, where it’s revealed that she knew the Music Box could take them to Amphibia, yet didn’t tell her friends out of a misguided attempt to keep from saying goodbye to her friends. While her motives are understandable, that doesn’t make them right.
It Balances the Overarching Story With Episodic Content
This is merely an observation on my part, but I thought it would be important to discuss, nonetheless. Over the past decade, big cartoons have begun to focus more on telling a massive, overarching story. While this itself is fine, it comes at the expense of telling smaller, one-off stories. If you’re a show like Rick and Morty, this tug of war can be a problem.
Amphibia does not have this problem. Taking pages from its predecessor, Gravity Falls, Amphibia has learned to balance the need for episodic content with the greater, overarching story. During the first season, Amphibia mainly focused on episodic adventures that were mostly comedic in nature. Protagonists face a dilemma; they come up with some crazy plan to fix it, and by the end of the episode, the status quo’s more or less restored.
Nonetheless, continuity’s present in every episode, with several of what some call “filler” advancing several ongoing plots. And to the show’s credit, it resolves the secondary stories before heading into the season finale.
Season two onward, there’s a greater emphasis on the overall story. No longer confined to a single setting, the show starts firing on all cylinders, building a massive world. Even the filler episodes on the journey to Newtopia help develop the characters and the world of Amphibia while also just being fun to watch. The bottom line, the show’s team doesn’t waste a moment on screen.
It Knows When to Be Funny and When to Be Serious
Given that it’s meant to be a kid’s show geared towards kids, you would expect Amphibia to feature a lot of comedy in it. And it does; some of the lines the characters say are absolutely hilarious. But don’t take my word for it. Check out this compilation of out-of-context scenes from the first season!
Comedy is all well and good, but there’s a time when a show needs to drop the jokes and get serious. And when Amphibia gets serious, it can get dark. As in, some of the darkest stuff that Disney’s ever done for a TV show.
Besides delving into the previously mentioned issues of bullying and toxic friend influence, Amphibia can get pretty heavy on violence and trauma. Truthfully, the entire series could be viewed as some sort of nightmarish scenario from a certain point of view. Anne, Sasha, and Marcy were only thirteen when they got whisked away to Amphibia, leaving their families in the dark about their whereabouts. The world they enter is far more dangerous than that on Earth, and while the girls manage to survive and even thrive, they’re still trapped in a world that they were ill-equipped for at the start. Add on the emotional trauma they each go through due to the growing rift between them, and it’s a wonder how the girls have stayed sane.
However, if you’re looking for an example of just how dark Amphibia can get, then look further than the season two finale, “True Colors.” The last five minutes are so dark that Disney had to put a content warning up for kids. After you see what happens, you’ll know they weren’t over-reacting.
That had to be some of the darkest stuff I’ve ever seen in a kid’s show!
Dope. Ass. Soundtrack
One golden rule I have when evaluating a show’s worth is how effective its soundtrack is. The right music can make a person feel emotions that they wouldn’t feel otherwise. For example, pick any iconic scene from Star Wars. John Williams’ music makes those scenes what they are, and it shows. The same can go for Amphibia.
Throughout the show’s run, Matt’s team has managed to get very creative regarding the show’s music. Just listen to the 8-Bit remix of the show’s theme song for the Season Two trailer, courtesy of Hyper Potions. Paying homage to Matt Braly’s love of video games like Legend of Zelda, this music is just raw energy and makes you pumped for whatever comes next!
Here’s the music for the trailer for the second half of Season Two. This is the kind of music that you would expect to hear in a grand fantasy story like Legend of Zelda, or even Lord of the Rings.
Lastly, we have what may be the show’s musical magnum opus, “Anne’s Power.” Played at the climax of “True Colors,” this short song is nothing short of a masterpiece. It conveys a sense of wonder and awe as we watch Anne unleash a level of strength no one knew she had. At the same time, you can’t help but feel Anne’s pain and loss in the music. It’s both awe-inspiring and tearjerking and possibly one of the best-animated sequences in recent memory. I couldn’t stop listening to it on loop for days!
Go Support This Show
If you’ve read any of my previous articles regarding Amphibia, you know my opinion regarding this show. I consider it amazing and one of the best cartoons for kids on TV right now. Unfortunately, Disney has dropped the ball on the show several times now. Firstly, it released the entire first season over a single month. That’s good for viewers who hate waiting but bad for the show’s growth. Secondly, they screwed the show over with the finale to its second season. Both by postponing it less than a day before it was to be aired and then failing to tell iTunes this development, thus allowing it to be leaked online.
The show’s about to enter its third season, and if Matt Braly’s to be believed, this will be the show’s final season. In other words, the hype for the show’s going to be high in the coming months. Let’s make sure it stays that way. Amphibia is a cartoon that more people need to be talking about, and what I mentioned is only a few of the reasons why. So get out there, promote the heck out of this show, and let Matt and his team know how much we love what they’ve done. They deserve it.