A few years ago I stumbled across a pilot for a possible cartoon series to star Ashley Johnson in the lead role. That pilot became a series, that series will be getting a follow up some time next year, and there’s a handful of short episodes somewhere that I haven’t seen.
The series takes place on a train that is, unsurprisingly, infinite in length, and comprised of extradimensional cars that contain worlds that conform to a strange and alien theme. Kingdoms ruled by dogs, nations of sentient water blobs who are terrible salespeople, caverns of crystal that alter with sound, worlds where reflections can gain independence from their caster, that sort of thing. The cars reorder themselves on a whim, and some require quests to be completed or revelations to be reached before they will reveal a door onwards, some are just hard work.
Main character, Tulip, is a young programmer and games designer who flees a troubled home life to get to a design camp, and takes the train oblivious to how it’ll interfere with her plans. Suffice is to say that the train turns into a journey of self discovery, and she gathers new friends along the way, because it’s a kids show, of course she does, and one of them is a robot with mental troubles of its own, and the king of all corgi’s voiced by Ernie Hudson because hell yeah he is!
I won’t lie, I tend to evaluate any intellectual property based on how easily I imagine running a role-playing game in the setting and using the rules inherent to the world, and by that category alone I’m pretty well sold. Characters could start with a fixed level of mental disquiet, and every step of their journey either brings them closer to, or takes them farther from the revelation that will point the way home. Sessions are based on cars, their are enemies… allies, and all of it is in pursuit of personal betterment… like Quantum Leap… but it’s a train.
How can hindsight be so flawless if we use rosy tinted glasses to see it? We look at the kids shows of our youth as “the golden age”, hell, I’ve had plenty of arguments with people about who got the best era of cartoons, but the truth is we only remember the good ones. When I was a kid I watched Hey Arnold and Recess (also starring Ashley Johnson), and that’s still good TV, it’s dated surprisingly well over the years. But we also had Bodger and Badger, Teletubbies, and the Men in Black cartoon series. And it’s easy for us to watch kids TV now and say “Well this is terrible, we’d never have sat through this!” Well, we did, we just forgot because it wasn’t very good.
We’re already confronted with a generation who grew up on Adventure Time, of which I’m already a fan, and I think that – given another season or two – Infinity Train has that kind of potential. It doesn’t shy away from thoughtful dialogue, challenging issues, or emotional moments, nor does it dress up every heartbreaking moment in clunky metaphor, we see the unpleasant home life that drove Tulip to flee home, and we understand the struggle she’s going through. It’s a situation many children suffer with, and it can present them with challenges that are horrible and confusing, but all too real. And slowly but surely we see her come to terms with her situation, and that’s not say that things automatically get better for her. There’s a happy ending that’s not “happily ever after”, but accepting, and powerful in its own way.
Ok, it’s also a kids show, I’ve no doubt with a subtle change in target audience – like if this was an anime instead of a western cartoon – it’d be able to go a little darker, take things a little more seriously, maybe even take a more dramatic stance on the adversity Tulip faces; it’d be nice for more animation to embrace the melancholic. But I won’t lie, I’m curious to see what a second season of Infinity Train can offer. The trailer already shows that we have a new protagonist, but thanks to certain events in the first season we keep Ashley Johnson’s character, Tulip. There’s also no malevolent force controlling the train, so I’m curious to see what adversity our new hero faces.