Staff Beef: Courage the Cowardly Dog, the Gold in Cartoon Network’s “Golden Age”

Being the respective Nightwing and Blackbat of the DMV area, it’s to be expected that Taj Williams and I might find ourselves in a few sibling disagreements every now and again. But this time my Bat bro is just plain wrong and I gotta set the record straight: Courage the Cowardly Dog is and always will be a better show than Dexter’s Laboratory. Don’t believe me? Here’s a few of the myriad of reasons that a pink dog in the Middle of Nowhere, Kansas leaves a boy-genius in the proverbial dust.

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The Artistry

True Cartoon Network royalty knows that shuffling flat-looking characters in front of simplistic, uninspired backgrounds ain’t fit for the crown and Courage has never left us disappointed in that department. Working in a visual medium means knowing you’ve got maybe five seconds to grab your viewer’s attention and shoooooot. You want a side of gorgeously detailed landscapes that look like they belong in a museum with the 22 minute cartoon you ordered? Here you go:

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But that’s just a taste of the creative abilities the Courage team is capable of. Throw in stop-motion animation, CGI, and flawless green screen effects to this already impressive artistic arsenal and it couldn’t be more apparent why you’d have to spend all your time in a laboratory just to try and compete:

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Can the animation be a bit scary at times? Hell yeah, and I personally hate horror anything but yet I’m still a huge fan. Besides, that just keeps you in company with classics like The Nightmare Before Christmas.

The Protagonist

Without a doubt Courage’s vast range of facial expressions, complicated moral dilemmas, and depth of emotional reactions make him a much more fascinating title character than Dexter. Where Dexter is born into the privilege of stable suburban family and more or less possesses intellectual superpowers to make his every wish come true, Courage is quite literally an underdog who has to protect his adopted family on their struggling farm in the actual Middle of Nowhere. Courage teaches us to work with our fears in order to achieve goals that are important to us and through confrontation with Eustace’s constant pranks how to stand up to bullies even when we’re tempted to believe their hurtful words. Dexter’s most recognized catchphrases are all insults towards his sister. Courage’s?

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I’m just saying, who would you rather be inspired by as a role model?

The Supporting Cast

Of course, a show can’t last for long on one character’s merits alone, and that’s why Courage also dominates with its other characters. A complex duo all on their own, Eustace and Muriel Bagge not only kick ageism’s ass but also introduce the idea of dynamic characters. Sure Muriel can be a naive and overly kind maternal figure, but she can also be critical and demanding. While Eustace is typically greedy, lazy, and domineering, there are moments when he’s hardworking, protective, and even vulnerable. Each episode stands alone because you can never be sure how a character might react to a certain stimulus. Compare that to Dexter’s parents whose conflicts are about as exciting as room-temperature mayonnaise, and, well, you get the picture. To be fair, Dexter makes a strong play for my comic nerd feelings with its Justice Friends segment, but does that really count if it’s not even part of the main show?

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The Villains

Speaking of comic nerddom, Courage’s rogues gallery is so awesome they deserve their own spin-off with villains that include (but aren’t limited to): an impatient French duck, a smooth-talking cat, an evil banana, a theatrical alligator, and a goose deity with the power to grow an entire field or hurtle thunderbolts on a whim. Word, and Dexter got like… what? One dude with an obnoxious laugh and a sister? Oh. Okay

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The Story

Y’all, we haven’t even touched the plots up in this piece yet. Courage got original and necessary stories for days. When was the last time you could say you watched a cartoon that touched on…

  • Living with PTSD (“Remembrance of Courage Past”)
  • The serious effects of abusive relationships on the survivor and her friends (“The Mask”)
  • Debunking the workaholic and achievement myth of perfection (“Perfect”)
  • A critique of colonialism’s acts of pilfering artifacts and the imagined consequences that a just system would dish out (“King Ramses’ Cure”)
  • The difficulties of child rearing (“Little Muriel”)
  • Judging people based on their actions and intents, not merely on outward appearance (“The Hunchback of Nowhere”)

…and that’s just for starters. Dexter, meanwhile, offers us such gems as repeating the words “cheese omelette” in French for the entire duration of the episode.

The Awards

At this point I know Staff Beef means reaching deep into receipts like its tax season so let’s finish this off by making one thing clear: Dexter may have had hella award nominations, but nothing beats being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film your first year out the gate (and let’s be honest, the only reason Courage ain’t win is because he had to compete with the GOAT stop-motion team Wallace and Gromit). Also, how you have a three year jump on the airwaves and two “revival” seasons but ain’t got but a one award lead?

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The long list of evidence just speaks for itself. Courage inspired us, challenged us, awed us, frightened us, but most importantly it allowed us to bask in the presence of sheer cartoon greatness. If you’re looking for an undeniable masterpiece of the Cartoon Cartoon generation, it’s clear Courage the Cowardly Dog stands paws and tail above the competition.

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  • Lauren Bullock

    Contributor

    Lauren is a writer, performer, and reincarnated sailor senshi. She enjoys long walks in the woods and fighting crime as a costumed vigilante of many aliases.

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