Last week, I talked about Infinity Train, a show that was recently green-lit by Cartoon Network after its “pilot” mini-sode became the most popular short on the channel. Welcome to My Life was another mini-sode that aired around the same time, and also gained a measure of popularity due its unique premise, characters, tone, and animation style. It has, unfortunately, not received a full series yet.
Welcome to My Life was created by Elizabeth Ito and takes place in a world where humans and monsters co-exist. The short follows a day in the life of Douglas “T-Kash,” a monster going to an all-human high school.
The story is told in a documentary-style; an off-screen interviewer, voiced by Ito, asks T-Kash questions about himself, his family, his childhood. She doesn’t interfere with the events of the day. The main conflict of the short is a boy, Ian, challenging T-Kash to a fight; Ian feels insulted by T-Kash calling him, “a human version of me.” T-Kash meant nothing wrong by it and doesn’t want to fight but doesn’t know how to avoid it.
T-Kash, himself, is probably one of the most realistic depictions of an average high school boy that I have ever seen. It’s odd. He really isn’t that special of a character: he likes video games, hanging out with his friends, playing football, superheros…I’ve met a lot of T-Kashes in my time. And interestingly enough, it’s this complete mediocrity, his complete averageness that makes him the perfect protagonist.
Almost always, the “average” kid protagonist comes with a twist: he has fairy god-parents, he has ghost powers, he is a superhero, she is a pop star…They’re almost never totally normal. Almost never is the protagonist a truly average kid. The only one that comes to mind is Ginger Foutley from As Told By Ginger.
T-Kash doesn’t seem be outstandingly good at anything. But when juxtaposed with his appearance and society’s attitudes towards monsters, it makes him stand out. He isn’t different from the thousands of other high school boys, but he deals with looking different from his peers, which comes with discrimination and “microaggressions.”
The parallels to real life issues of race and immigration are done impressively well, without resorting to Captain Planet-style speeches or morals. I haven’t seen any cartoon whose main themes revolve around subject like this, who don’t at some point or another fall into this trap. Sure, it’s only one episode, but even then, it’s hard to write about these issues without bashing the idea of “discrimination is bad” over the viewers’ head with a brick.
And I think part of it is due to the dialogue.
The short has some of the most natural dialogue ever. The show allows for the voice actors to take their time, pause between words as though they’re thinking about what to say and doesn’t exaggerate events. Even the parents in the show are portrayed very realistically; they struggled as children but now have a more comfortable place in society, and struggle with technology.
Interestingly, all the main characters are voiced by Ito’s family. (T-Kash is voiced by her brother, and her parents voice T-Kash’s parents) The mini-sode was based on Ito’s CalArts final, which had the same basic premise (which also had her family as voice actors.) I think this actually worked in favor of the short as it made all the dialogue and interactions feel more natural.
If Welcome to My Life is somehow made into a full series, it would be awesome if Ito’s family could reprise their roles but I would understand how difficult that may be. I do adore both of the parents’ voices and personalities, particularly the mother’s. Even though she only has a few lines, her character is very memorable.
T-Kash’s best friend Lucas also only appears for a short time but manages to also be quite memorable. Despite kind of looking like the stereotypical irresponsible hippie friend, Lucas is actually very reasonable and sane.
What really makes this short stand out is the art style. I don’t know what to call the design of the characters, but it’s really interesting. The animated characters are placed on a live action backdrop, like The Amazing World of Gumball. While I find the human designs a little bland and awkward, they’re not terribly designed or bad to look at.
The monster designs are pretty cool, especially considering T-Kash and his parents each have their own unique design; they’re impossible to confuse with each other, and they’re pleasant to look at. The movement of the characters is very smooth as well.
It’s very, very obvious that a lot of hard work and love went into this short to give it a unique feel, and to really get its message through.
And I love the nuance of the short. It doesn’t talk down to the viewer and assumes that they will be able to make connections and understand character motivation and growth on their own, as so many shows don’t do. I really appreciate that.
It’s time that we had a show like Welcome to My Life; one that discusses issues facing a lot of today’s youth without the superhero or fantasy premise. It’s much harder to argue for discrimination when the guy just happens to be really big with green skin rather than a guy who could kill somebody if his powers got out of control or because somebody with mind control powers could brainwash him to use his powers for evil. There’s none of that worry or moral ambiguity that could be be used against the monsters.
This is a story that’s especially needed today, when talks about immigration and race dominate the media, particularly in the news. The idea is presented in a way that makes it easy to relate for anyone who has ever felt out of place and presents those same ideas, point-blank, to those coming from an area of privilege and showing how their biases are incorrect.
The fight between T-Kash and the bully never comes to fruition. Lucas breaks it up by talking to the bully, who he knows from church. The bully apologizes after realizing T-Kash isn’t a bad guy, so there’s nothing wrong with being like him and the two decide to play video games after school. It’s a great way of showing how reaching out can be a great way of eliminating those biases, and that allies can work to help bridge that gap.
We also get to see some of T-Kash’s insecurities about being a monster; he’s large so people tend to be scared of him, and monsters don’t seem to have a large population or presence. T-Kash enjoys football, but didn’t originally try out for the team; however, he says it helps him fit in and make friends. He just wants to be accepted for who he is.
If this short was green lit, there’s a lot of subjects and ideas that the series could tackle. I imagine that it would not be easy. There might not be enough content to make a full series, but it might make a really excellent mini-series.
This show is unlike anything else on any children’s network. It’s a very down to earth show with realistic characters and problems. It’s not the kind of thing that would normally be animated; there’s more than a few live-action shows that cover these same ideas. But animating it, and having the main characters be monsters gives the show an entirely different feel. I can see why Cartoon Network might be hesitant about giving it a full series.
But, if it became a popular series it could likely change the face of children’s television forever.
And that’s the scoop!
WCN short can be viewed here.
Original CalArts short can be seen here.