Critic’s Notebook: Cartoons on YouTube: ‘Bee and PuppyCat,’ ‘Dead End,’ ‘King Douglas’


I bring you cartoons. (Or links to them anyway.) They are your friends, friends, and though the work of many hands — sometimes separated by oceans — over many months, perhaps the purest, most direct expression of delight the Televisions has to offer. (“The Televisions” is the name I’m trying out for the many platforms that deliver moving pictures to wherever you are. Thoughts?)

I came to the YouTube channel Cartoon Hangover by way of “Adventure Time” — both are under the wing of the freelance production house Frederator Studios — and got caught up there in a whole mess of the “Adventure Time”-related teenage sci-fi action-romance “Bravest Warriors.” (Kelli Martin’s “Doctor Lollipop,” about a unicorn M.D., a resident there, also had something to do with it.) Frederator functions as a studio, a network and, in the modern way of sharing (both interests and responsibilities) a community: The sometime-upcoming first full season of “Bee and PuppyCat,” from “Adventure Time” vet Natasha Allegri (she created Fionna and Cake, the gender-swapped Finn and Jake), was funded last fall with a Kickstarter campaign ($872,133 raised from 18,209 contributors).

As established in the 10-minute pilot, viewed more than 3 million times (nearly 8 million if you count the views for the original separate postings of its two parts), “Bee and PuppyCat” tells the tale of the serially fired Bee (Allyn Rachel), a human girl whose mumbly fumblings recall Abbi Jacobson in “Broad City,” and PuppyCat, an other-worldly being who falls onto her head out of a crack in the fabric of the night as she waits on a street corner in the rain. (“Change, stupid light,” she says, possibly precipitating the event.) PuppyCat is also a temp worker, it turns out, though a more capable, serious, imperious and heroic one. He/she/it drags Bee into Fishbowl Space as a partner; what begins as babysitting a large, lachrymose fish leads to fighting a large angry monster, which leads to getting paid. Domestic comedy mixes with moody dreaminess/dreamy moodiness and surreal action scenes. There is an obvious Japanese influence in the design, the content, the odd bits of small business (as in the sushi-eating turtle crooked in the arm of Bee’s temp-agency boss, voiced by Tom “SpongeBob” Kenny), and in the synthesized, singsong, boy-soprano Vocaloid-performed voice of PuppyCat. But that’s just par for the course in modern art self-education; it doesn’t read as anime pastiche. An original vision orders the elements.


In the recently posted “Dead End,” by British cartoonist Hamish Steele, Barney, Norma and Pugsley (a Fez-wearing pug with an English accent) have occupied a haunted house. When the Internet goes out, making life impossible, a trip to the attic (“If we got rid of all these candles and Ouija boards, this could make a nice den”) leads to Barney being trapped inside the Web and his body occupied by Pauline, the Slimer type whose house it is to haunt. (“I’ll never get out of here,” a lost Barney frets. “There must be nearly a hundred websites on the Internet.”) Steele establishes his characters and milieu quickly and assuredly, so quickly and assuredly that he manages to weave in self-referential humor before five minutes are up. Things move fast, but in a kind of lazy way. (Like the Internet itself, one might say.) There is also a nod to fellow Frederator player Catbug, from “Adventure Time,” and a swipe at Rep. Todd Akin’s famous ignorant comments on the relationship between rape and pregnancy: “If it’s a legitimate haunting,” says Pugsley, “the house has a way of shutting the whole thing down.” The ending is slightly disturbing and a little sad, though one expects, or anyway hopes, it is merely a cliffhanging, probably a lengthy one, before the story continues.

In a previous post some months back, I drew your attention to the melancholy “King Douglas,” by young Wyatt O’Connell (the teenage son, it transpired, of Kristen Hersh, of Throwing Muses fame, who voices the title character). Two episodes existed then, posted on YouTube; a third has been added, I am happy to see, and say. (It is embedded into this column; link here.) O’Connell’s drawing and animation skills are elementary, to say the least, and yet they serve his story well: Two children — the excitable (General) Miles and the reticent (King) Douglas — have imagined a vacant lot into a nation, Lotvakia, populated only by a bowl of minnows. They come into conflict with Roderick Sliit, the vaguely Ruritanian, adult leader of Superia, who has imperial designs on their territory. In the current episode, Miles and Douglas visit Superia, only to find themselves his incarcerated guests.

Also on O’Connell’s modestly populated YouTube channel are some single-episode series. “Kale’s Komplex” is set in a sort of haunted apartment hotel with its own heartbeat, where one door opens into a white void, another into a room with enigmatic phrases written on the walls, in typewriter typeface: “the story is rupturing,” “drowning in what used to be Thursday”). In “Erik and Francisco: The Great Construction,” Francisco is working on a secret project several stories high, much to his guardian uncle Erik’s consternation; there is some action in this one, and physical danger. Erik: “Francisco, there’s a warning light inside a person’s head that is supposed to go off inside a person’s head at the appropriate time and say, ‘This is ridiculous. It could get me killed.’” Francisco: “What color is it?”

In spite of the animator’s youth and amateur status, it seems perfectly reasonable to me to take him seriously. (The creators of “Bee and PuppyCat” are young too; ditto the creator of “Dead End.”) Though it has been set upon by corporate body snatchers, the spirit of the Internet is that — all URLs being equal — anything posted there is potentially as available to the world as anything else, and therefore equally worth noting, if it’s worth noting. But apart from that, his work, for all its simplicity, is fairly sophisticated (and unusually downbeat, and very much its own thing) in tone and pacing, and where it is recognizably young, it is also precocious. His language has the kind of semi-florid colloquial formality delightful to smart kids working out what language can do: “You there! Power hungry charlatan! You’re a jerk!” Perhaps this is what it’s like to grow up in a world already full of Wes Anderson films.

Pass it on. And send links to any cartoons you feel, really feel, I need to see.

Robert Lloyd tweets in 3D (height, breadth and time) at @LATimesTVLloyd