Expanding the Imagination: ChalkZone (TV Showcase #7)

Once I began to really get into older TV shows, I started to wonder what made these shows different from the shows I’d watched before, the cartoons and such. So I began to rewatch shows I’d seen years before, and I realised that there was a reason that these shows had stuck in my memory and why I had liked them as much as I did. I won’t do too many of these kids’ shows, but I think it’s important to explore the media’s impact on culture both past and present. So that’s why this Showcase is about “ChalkZone”.

“ChalkZone” premiered on Nickelodean in 2002 and ran for 40 half-hour episodes over four seasons, ending in 2008. The series centered around Rudy Tabootie, an elementary school kid who finds magic chalk hidden away, and by drawing a circle with the magic chalk, Rudy can create a portal to the other side of the chalkboard. This other world is called ChalkZone, where every chalk drawing that’s ever been erased comes to reside. Rudy meets up with a character he drew a long time ago, named Snap, and later, Rudy starts taking his crush Penny on adventures with him back and forth between the worlds. The two worlds often collide, with strange chalk creatures coming to the real world, or with someone uninvited finding their way into ChalkZone. Now, I wouldn’t have even bothered with this series again if I didn’t think that it treated its target audience in a brilliant way. And of course, I will explain.

“ChalkZone” obviously targeted elementary-age children for its audience, but even so, the way the show was presented allowed kids to stretch their imagination, which sadly, is something alot of kids’ shows in recent years have failed to do. The idea of a whole other world, in which no rules of our world apply, isn’t new, but it can always be presented in a new way, which is exactly what “ChalkZone” did. Even so, the show could’ve easily become stupid, with no real driving plot (“Courage the Cowardly Dog” also walked this line with its other-worldly stories), but it never actually went there. There was always a reason for everything, and there was a kind of cultural integration of the different chalk creatures that gave the show a real dynamic (“Doctor Who” and Star Wars showed us examples of aliens as simply other cultures too).

Now, were there things within “ChalkZone” that reflect how most adult audiences of today view modern cartoons? Of course there were. There were instances where something didn’t make sense, or when something unrealistically impossible happened in relation to the plot, or when a flaw caused a character not to react in the way that anyone in real life would. But these instances were not oft-occurring; I think the showrunners were able to see that they had a structured, sensible, and somewhat smartly-written show, and because of that, any cartoon stupidity or crude humour would clash with that to the point that even an audience of kids would be able to point it out. That’s probably where the disconnect in the cartoon world happened, when cartoonists realised that they either had to put alot of work into keeping the show witty, like a live action program, or they needed to dumb down the whole thing so much that a dumb joke would slip by and even be considered funny.

Even today, I think “ChalkZone” was a wonderful idea for two reasons: the way it was able to expand the imagination, and the way it treated kids like they’re smart. What do you think?

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