Cartoon Classics: Fairly Odd Parents

Fairly Odd Parents was a children’s cartoon that aired on Nickelodeon in 2001, and ran until 2006. In 2007, it was revived and ran for more seasons until it officially ended in 2017. The show actually originated from a 7 minute short film created in 1998 by animator Butch Hartman, and in 2001 Nickelodeon picked it up as a series. The show’s ratings went through the roof upon its release, and it was nominated for a handful of awards including The Favorite Cartoon award for the Kid’s choice awards of 2004. To this day, people who grew up watching it remember it very fondly, and that’s when I decided to find out why.

I watched the first episode of the show, titled “The Big Problem”, which aired originally in 2001. This episode is the set up for the series as a whole, as we are introduced to all the central characters and the general world building as well as the theme of the show. The plot of this episode is rather simple: Timmy, our protagonist, is sick of being treated differently by adults for being a child, so he asks Cosmo and Wanda, his fairy godparents, to make him an adult. Once this is complete, however, he discovers that being an adult is not what he expected it to be and tries to reverse the wish he made. It’s a pretty standard “be careful what you wish for” story, and most of the show’s episodes follow a similar format.

What I first noticed when I began watching the episode was one thing: it’s very fast-paced. There’s lots of action happening almost constantly and lots of movement, but it’s not so much that it’s hard to watch. In fact, this fast-moving tone matches the show’s wacky theme well, and it works for the settings the characters are in. However, I also noticed that the show is rather mean-spirited in nature, as I realized quickly through watching this episode that Timmy’s life is miserable for more reasons than just the fact that he’s young. He’s bullied at school, his parents are incompetent and neglectful, his babysitter Vicky is strict and downright cruel, and all of these things are portrayed as comedic. His only joy in life seems to come from these fairy godparents, and even they can’t always provide him with what he needs because of loopholpes in their fairy godparent rule book (which is only referred to as “Da Rulez”). Maybe it’s just that I’m an adult who’s very protective of kids and not a child myself, but seeing Timmy go through these parts of his life are actually kind of upsetting when I really sit and think about it. But even with my discomfort, I’ll still go through my four pieces of criteria to analyze this show further.

Firstly, the animation style: is it any good? Yes, I think so. The movement is fast and fluid, which matches the show’s fast-paced dialogue and story. The character designs are simple but unique, and despite Timmy’s simple appearance his design is anything but dull to look at. The characters’ faces and bodies are angular and made up of lots of jagged lines and edges, which one would think would make them harder to animate in a fluid style, but the opposite is true. The animator does an excellent job of giving all these characters life and movement, and that really is something I can admire.

Next, the voice acting. The voices are very exaggerated and overacted, but it really works for the characters who are speaking. Even Timmy has a loud and squeaky voice, but it totally matches his design and his character (he’s voiced by the amazing Tara Strong, who’s voiced many other classic cartoon characters). Despite this, I will admit that the voices do get rather draining to listen to after a while, especially Vicky’s voice. Although I believe Vicky’s voice is intentionally annoying, since she is the antagonist of the show anyway.

Now for the writing. The story for the episode is simple, like I said, but it does a good job of setting up what the rest of the show is going to be like. The beginning of the episode shows us a look into what Timmy’s daily life is like, and throughout the episode the the fairy godparent rule book is shown or talked about, which sets the stage for the world building of the series. As I mentioned earlier, though, the tone is rather mean-spirited but it’s written in such a way that it’s almost funny, and many of the jokes come from here. What I will say about the writing, though, is that the world in which Timmy lives is very large and demanding, and while I would chalk this up to the show’s mean spirited humor, I also realized that this is how children view the world. To children, world in which they live is bigger than them and tailored towards adults, and many of them long to just have whatever they wish for. Yet what’s interesting about Timmy’s case is that he has what many children could only dream of having: two fairies who can grant him whatever he wants, but the issue is that Timmy is a child, so he only focuses on what he wants rather than what he needs. This is very true to the nature of child, because children, no matter their background, tend to think very egocentricity and only focus on what they want in whatever moment they’re in. So despite the show’s theme, the writers know how to realistically write children and how to write for them.

Lastly, what’s the appeal for kids? While there isn’t terribly too much to Timmy as a character and his design is rather basic, the conflicts he faces are ones children may find relatable. Yes, his parents are dumb and neglectful, but the main issue Timmy has with them in this particular episode is that they’ve left him alone with a babysitter he hates to go to a movie they know he won’t be interested in. This, although its exaggerated in the episode, is a situation that a lot of children can probably relate to, as they very well know the feeling of both not feeling included in something and of being left alone with a babysitter. I can see why so many kids enjoyed this show, as its both energetic in nature and relatable for kids in its writing, so it’s only natural that kids would find it appealing enough for it to be nominated for an award.

All in all, Fairly Odd Parents has its moments but is largely intended for kids, as it should be. While the world building is interesting and the jokes can be funny for both adults and kids, it’s mostly appealing to children and clearly landed an audience with them, one that still remembers it fondly today.