Imaginary friends—lovable, fanciful childhood companions ... where do they go when we grow up? This was a troubling question to a free-spirited young lady named Foster, and so, when she grew up, she set up an adoption agency for imaginary friends. Aiding her in this endeavour was her own imaginary friend, a rather fussy, six-foot anthropomorphic rabbit named Mr. Harriman.
Cartoon Network’s Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends is an imaginative romp into a world populated by our childhood playfriends: monsters, talking appliances, anthropomorphic animals, pixies, superheroes, aliens, and many other crazy creatures. Craig McCracken, of PowerPuff Girls fame, helms this energetic and dizzyingly creative project.
Among the many colorful denizens of Foster’s Home are:
- Mac: One of the few humans in the cast, Mac is a little boy who had to give up his mischievous imaginary friend, Bloo. Mac now spends almost every day at Fosters, playing with Bloo or getting into adventures with the many wild characters there. Mac provides—a relatively calm centre for the show, a fairly normal kid for the viewer to identify with.
- Bloo: An outrageous little ghost-like creature, Bloo was dreamed up by (polite and reserved) Mac. Bloo is like a full serving of id, funny, selfish, hyperactive, silly, and utterly out-of-control. Bloo is often the antagonist for the plots, and sometimes he is the protagonist. Bloo is often the one who learns a lesson, but frequently, the lesson doesn’t get learned at all!
- Mister Harriman: This anthropomorphic bunny, complete with monocle, moustache, and generic English accent, is stuffy and sometimes downright humorless. He fulfills the role of headmaster at Foster’s Home and keeps some of the more outrageous personalities in check. His success at doing so is sometimes a bit limited, and Mr. Harriman can be a bit hapless at times. For all his compulsive, sometimes overbearing personality, he manages to be loveable despite himself.
- Madame Foster: The archetypal kooky old lady, Mrs. Foster is a tiny woman who is always looking for fun and adventure. She is one of the more extreme personalities that Harriman and Frankie try so hard to keep from getting out of hand! As the founder (and primary source of funding) for Foster’s Home, she has the final say on what goes on, but she usually defers to the better judgement of Mr. Harriman.
- Francis (Frankie) Foster: Frankie is Madame Foster’s granddaughter, and as such, she gets to be maid, repair service, chauffeur, and chef for the home, in addition to running errands, and mediating fights. Needless to say, young Frankie doesn’t get a lot of time for a personal life. She is a fairly organized young lady, but her status as the overworked caretaker for Foster’s Home leads to a lot of funny conflicts within the plot of the show.
- Eduardo: Eduardo is a gigantic, Spanish-speaking ogre, complete with fangs, horns, a skull belt-buckle, and purple fur. He is also hilariously cowardly and adorably good-natured. Eduardo’s innocent sweetness is the perfect counterpoint to Bloo’s antics, although he is sometimes the victim of unscrupulous outsiders.
- Wilt: Wilt is a long-legged orange monster with a googly eye (and a regular one ... well, a regular one on an eyestalk)...and a basketball obsession. Wilt is kind-hearted and forbearing to the point of naiveté, and his sweet nature often gets him into trouble (but, to be fair, it sometimes gets people OUT of trouble as well).
- Coco: Coco is smart, stable, and sensible—she also appears to be some kind of hybrid between a palm tree, a bird, and an airplane. She can lay plastic eggs that contain any kind of plot device or deus ex machina that the characters need, and she communicates by using strings of the syllable "co..." Okay, she is pretty fanciful! One of the many funny running gags of the show is that everyone seems to be able to understand Coco's bizarre language, except, of course, for the viewer!
Coco: Coco-co COCO co-cocococo co COCOCO!
Wilt: Oh wow! That's a much better plan, Coco!
- Others: The premise makes it easy for the show's creators to have scads of funny supporting cast. Some of them show up from time to time (either quietly in the background or as a part of the action), others may show up once (presumably, someone adopted them). It is a chance for the Foster's team to flex their creative muscles.
Bloo I have an idea!
(lightbulb goes on over his head)
Bloo: Bulby! I wish you'd cut that out!
Bulby: Sorry! (hovers off)
The art in Foster's is beautiful. Clean, simple and fun, somewhat less stylized than Powerpuff Girls or Dexter’s Laboratory, probably because most of the characters are so outrageous-looking in the first place. The backgrounds owe a tip of the hat to Edward Gorey, especially the big Victorian home where the friends live. The voice talent is terrific, featuring such veterans as Grey DeLisle (Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi), Tom Kane (Yoda in Star Wars: Clone Wars, Duck Dodgers) and the always brilliant Phil LaMarr (Samurai Jack and John Stewart from Justice League, to name only two of his extensive credits).
One of the best things about Foster's is the plotting. Fast-paced and surprisingly complex, the stories frequently break cartoon storytelling rules in unexpected (and often delightful) ways. While most of the plot conflicts centre around someone (usually Bloo) breaking the rules or otherwise misbehaving, and things almost always turn out for the best, in never seems to follow an easily-predictable pattern. The plot usually takes unexpected twists and turns.
The characters interact in interesting ways—leading to a surprising amount of character development. Fussbudget Mr. Harriman keeps wacky old Madame Foster in line, Bloo gets people to to lighten up, good-hearted Wilt keeps put-upon Frankie from exploding, and every one tries to help scaredy-cat Eduardo to cope with his timidity.
Bloo and Mac are frequently (but not always) the central characters. Bloo's awful misbehavior and Mac's covering for him (or scolding him) often drive the funniest conflicts. Bloo is an interesting character—he's a selfish jerk and a hellion, but he is usually a character that you can't help but root for. He's a bit like that charismatic guy who keeps getting himself (and everyone else) into trouble but whom we forgive because, ultimately, we had so much fun!
My Own Thoughts
I was never a huge fan of Powerpuff Girls or Dexter’s Laboratory. I enjoyed them but never went out of my way to see either one. This show, however, hits a very primal place in my imagination, I seldom miss an episode.
Foster’s does not feel like a kid’s show. Fairly sophisticated plots revolving around surprisingly complex characters make it seem more like a well-made animated sitcom than a show aimed at children. That said, it is absolutely clean—there is virtually nothing here that anyone could object to: no coarse language, no sexy innuendo, and very little even in the way of cartoon violence. Also conspicuously absent are the gross out and potty humour that seem to be a requirement for kid's entertainment these days.
Wracking my brain, the only complaint I can imagine levelled at this show is that some families may object to the fact that disobedient Bloo does not always suffer the consequences of his actions (in fact, things sometimes come out better because he was acting up). I suppose a few very religious households might find the wacky imaginary friends disconcerting, but, seriously, there are some folks who thought the talking dog in Davey & Goliath
was inappropriate—I doubt they are spending much time watching Cartoon Network!
This show is, however, probably not appropriate for the Thomas the Tank Engine and Jay Jay the Jet Plane crowd. The complex plots and level of zaniness may be bewildering and over-stimulating to the pre-potty training aged audience. Also, they could potentially find some of the imaginary friends kinda scary!
With its hip, pop-cultural savvy, it is a little bit like Animaniacs or Pinky and the Brain. Its clean art reminds me a little of Samurai Jack (in fact, they did an episode where Bloo tells Mac a fairy tale and casts himself as a rock 'n' roll superhero—the homages, both to Star Wars and Samurai Jack were thick on the ground). One friend compared the strong personalities and interesting interactions to Winnie the Pooh (on acid). All this adds up to a wonderful cartoon show!