Story Study: Codename: Kids Next Door by Mr. Warburton

As a kid, I so wanted to be a part of the coolest kids’ group ever from my favorite cartoon as a pre-teen girl. My love for this show influenced my writing early on, which is why it’s worthy to be included as one of my Story Studies.

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My first encounter: Codename: Kids Next Door (or KND) was probably my biggest childhood obsession, other than High School Musical. Though we didn’t have cable most of the time in my earliest years, I first saw the show at home on one of the rare periods of childhood when we did. But I wasn’t able to watch the show that frequently, as not long after we got rid of cable (again), which led to one of my greatest childhood regrets: not being able to watch the KND movie when it was first released on my birthday. A petty sorrow, perhaps, but I was very young at the time. One KND TV event that I did not miss, however, was the series finale. We had cable again at the time, so I was able to watch the episodes leading up to the end as well as watch the movie at last before the series aired its final episode. We recorded the finale on a VHS tape (yes, we still had a VHS player back then) and I was able to watch it a couple of times before the recording was lost (sadness). The first time I watched it, I cried, both because the ending was sad but also because something I loved was over. Well, sort of. I still hadn’t watched every single episode, which became my next mission. Using the list of episodes on Wikipedia, I managed to track down every single episode I hadn’t yet seen and watch the entire series over the course of a few years.

Though I have fond memories of the series and still find it clever and funny, it’s probably not something I’d put on a list of my favorite stories today. Still, it did make an impact on my life as a storyteller and artist, which makes KND worth writing about today.

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What I love: The characters and their relationships. The main cast of five each bring something distinct to the team, have their own personality and quirks, and have great chemistry with one another. Also, the family relationships of the core team provide some unique and interesting dynamics as well, as the main characters get into conflicts with (or concerning) their siblings or their parents. Despite the cartoonish and (at times) outlandish premise and plots of the show, the main characters’ relationships with one another and their families provides something extremely relatable and real to the show. In addition to the main five, I’m also very fond of a few of the minor characters and villains as well.

The incredibly imaginative and fun worldbuilding. The world is entirely based off of exaggerated childhood tropes and themes, from the tree house bases to the construction of the technology. The conflicts in most episodes, too, grow out of common childhood “struggles,” like eating vegetables or going to the dentist. It’s a super creative premise, in my opinion, and appealed to me as a kid because I longed to go on the same kinds of adventures the KND did.

Finally, the humor (except for the cruder humor typically found in other childhood cartoons). The writing is pretty clever and provides many hilarious, quotable lines.

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What critiques I have: My biggest complaint concerns the minor inconsistencies and unanswered questions. Since the series doesn’t have a huge overarching storyline, there are some elements of backstories that go unexplained, or a character’s motivations seem to change between episodes. These plot holes could’ve been fixed by being set up with a more concrete and consistent narrative arc. Granted, KND is a cartoon and meant to be episodic, but the few multi-episode arcs they had could’ve benefited from more clarity from the start, and it would’ve been cool to know the histories of some of the characters in more detail, something we really only get glimpses at or very little explanation about.

Also, Numbuh 362 (my favorite character) should’ve had a bigger role in the finale. Just saying.

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My greatest takeaways: This show is one of the first stories I remember being strongly invested in. I loved it, embraced, it, and learned what it was to love characters and stories. Since early on the inconsistencies and lack of setup in the series annoyed me, I practiced building complex stories through reimagining the series, using the story threads already existent in the show and making up my own backstories for the characters. Doing this fueled the fire of my own storytelling drive.

KND also led to the birth of the characters who now exist in my The Myth-Keepers series. Those characters, born from a kid spy series heavily inspired by the series, grew out of their original KND  mold and now exist in my fantasy series (which is still in development). So, in a way, my favorite childhood cartoon will (hopefully) live on through the stories of Matt, Luke, DJ, and others from my original “kid spy book series” who found their way into The Myth-Keepers.

Finally, KND is the reason I learned to draw (or, rather, cartoon) myself. I started with a “How-to-Draw” book for the series, then used those same techniques to draw the other characters of the show (based on images I found on the web). Once I’d learned how to draw in the Manga and Chibi styles, the show’s main characters became one of my first non-original characters to adapt into my new drawing style.

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It’s so interesting to me how something so small, like a favorite childhood cartoon, could impact so much of my artistic endeavors. I may never watch KND again, but nonetheless it still means something to me today and influenced my storytelling for the better.

What was your favorite childhood cartoon? Do you see it influencing you today?