Review: Codename: Kids Next Door

A quirky cartoon from the mid 2000’s is a fun meta-commentary on childhood.

The Lowdown:

Show: Codename: Kids Next Door

Network/Years aired: Cartoon Network, 2002-2008

AniB’s thoughts: You might have seen this review coming from a mile away if you read the Valentine’s Day special, but it’s exciting nonetheless to formally discuss a show that was certainly a great favorite of mine growing up. The 3rd last Cartoon Cartoon to be green-lit from a pilot- and also end its run on Cartoon Network, KND enjoyed a successful era on the network, exiting at a time (January 2008) where a great transition period was about to occur (not that anybody knew that yet.) The show, in two words to anyone unfamiliar, is creatively fun. At its most basic level, Codename: Kids Next Door sounds like what you’d expect: A spy organization featuring kid agents- and it is, but that’s just the beginning. There are giant tree houses, custom weaponry made from common household items and duct tape (which is referred to as 2×4 technology), which in turn, also have creative acronyms for code names (i.e. S.P.L.A.N.K.E.R.= Solid Pine Loaded Artillery Nicely Kicks Enemy Rear), and retrofitted vehicles that are engineered to fly. In most universes these kids would be credited as sheer geniuses, but the KND-verse is honestly a surreal version of our own- and so everything, from parody and references, to childhood fears embodied by the rogues’ gallery of wacky villains, is cranked up to 10- and by and large, it works! The sheer inventiveness and creativity was not only a credit to Tom Warburton, who headed up the show, but also necessary to really bring alive the very titular organization- the Kids Next Door- in all its zany, out of this world absurdness and the hilariously unorthodox problems and enemies facing them.

 

KND, in simplest terms, is a meta-commentary on childhood done right. It starts with a core 5- Sector V- that all embody different personalities, insecurities and aspects of growing up. From the work-obsessed, sharply focused Numbuh 1 (aka Nigel Uno) to his second in command, the cool, collected Numbuh 5 (Abby Lincoln) and right down the line, they are a varied group with unique quirks- but unequivocally embrace their childhoods in a way most adults might wish they had cherished theirs. For all the outrageous missions and crazy weaponry, the greatest enemy in KND is time itself- which has an undefeated record against an agency that normally decommissions its operatives at the tender age of 13- the gateway to adolescence. While the show is a highly episodic endeavor, there is a very loosely overarching narrative that binds this key element to the story, and it gives us in the end one of the more underrated poignant moments in animated history when (spoilers!) the team has their final goodbyes in the finale, Operation I.N.T.E.R.V.I.E.W.S. As a result, the show actually sends an interesting message about the fact that while childhood ends, nobody actually has to let go of being a child entirely. (Think about this idea for a second- all cartoons are made by adults, regardless of target audience, right?) Regardless, the entire notion plays at the imagination, supplemented by a group of characters that’s very likable.

There’s another key point that really stands out in Codename: Kids Next Door: it is one of the finest examples of diversity in a show. For a topic many liberal-leaning critics harp constantly about, it succeeds in KND for a few reasons; chief among these being that it was not a major goal or overtly intended theme of the show. It happened naturally. The Kids Next Door organization proper is a multi-ethnic, globe straddling enterprise that incorporates children from around the world; Sector V themselves are different in terms of ethnicity, and the best part about it is that none of them once seem to care about  their origins; they are simply friends and that is the end of it. But beyond that kind of diversity also lies an intellectual diversity that’s even more important- going back to different character types, goals, and ideas, the kids constantly show individual ways of thinking and solving problems, but an equal willingness to pull together and execute a plan if a goal required it. On screen, this is all accomplished in variously unusual ways, but if you accept that the show is a little convoluted in order to be fun, you’ll have a great time.

Finally, the villains of this show are all deliciously cheesy and fun. They’re legitimate threats in-universe, but include such cohorts as Gramma Stuffum (an obese old lady who creates sentient food that in turn tastes awful and makes its victims quite fat), Knightbrace (a candy shop owner-turned dental avenger at night, with aggressive teeth cleaning techniques), and Mr. Boss (a big, hunchbacked corporate type man who constantly has a cigar in his mouth and delegates other underlings and villains to do his bidding). However, the big bad of this show- Father- and his Delightful Children are a different story altogether; mostly, they are a contrast in styles to our heroes: anger replacing joy for the latter, and the child-like sense of curiosity and adventure sapped for a sort of obedient sadism in the latter (and they are quite tragic characters.) It’s very interesting what you observe when you pop the lid up on a childhood favorite- because there’s a lot more there than initially meets the eye.


 

Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation, with a distinct style focus on certain exaggerated features, i.e. large feet. Considering the show started in 2002, the level of detail on different sets is impressive, especially the tree houses and the various homemade inventions. As a result, it’s a show that really emphasizes some imaginative ideas, and executes them fairly well. Character models tend to stay simple, which usually works, but sometimes are a little grotesque in certain situations.  4/5 points.

 
Characterization: The show mainly has a core 5; that being the so- code numbered operatives Numbahs 1-5. All of them feature distinct personalities, and some surprisingly complex character development. They tend to stray outside their stereotype,to often hilarious results.

Nigel Uno (Numbah 1) is the leader of Sector V; he’s an agent’s agent, working tirelessly on behalf of the KND, a habit that has both seen him grow into one of the organization’s most elite agents, but also much to the annoyance of his squad members, who often wish he’d take a little more downtime. Overall though, he’s both liked and respected by his friends, isn’t immune to having a lot of fun and is noted for his bald head and trademark sunglasses.

Hoagie P. Gilligan, Jr., or “Numbah 2” is the team’s resident mechanic and vehicle specialist. A little on the rounder side, he sports a pair of old-time aviator googles at all times, loves chili dogs, and has an awful sense of humor- a fact that Numbah 5 in particular is not fond of. He also loves to monlogue situations as if he were a private detective, which occasionally is featured in Numbuh 2-centric episodes.

 

Kuki Sanban is “Numbah 3.” Usually sporting a bright smile and an aloof personality that can be only described as “airheaded,” Kuki loves all “girly crud,” as Numbah 4 would put it; in particular she has a massive collection of Rainbow Monkeys, the KND universe’s prized plush toy line. However, she’s much more cognizant than she lets on at times, and when angered, takes on an essentially demonic personality that is a complete 180 from her usual demeanor (and is terrifying!)

 

Wally Beetles, or “Numbah 4” is the resident tough guy. A short kid sporting a bowl cut and a distinctive orange hoodie, he’s sensitive about said height, and often tasked with the most dangerous missions for the team- because he’s also not “school-smart.” However, he does have some high “street smarts” and is the bad boy of the team, but he has a tendency to get himself into hilariously awful situations. (Every once in a while, he triumphs.) He also hates being associated with anything “girly-” especially Rainbow Monkeys and being caught crying.

 

Finally Abby Lincoln (Numbah 5) rounds out the main cast. Cool in both demeanor and style, the second in command of Sector V holds the most common sense on the team as its oldest member, and is arguably its most competent member aside from Numbah 1. She holds a deep loyalty to her friends and family, but her personal hobby is hunting for candy treasure- an endeavor that makes for some unlikely allies and enemies along the way.

 

The show features a large and varied rogues gallery, a good number of which parody well-known entities (i.e. Robin Food) and common childhood myths and fears. Some villains receive backstory, in particular Father, the KND’s archenemy. The Kids Next Door themselves have a memorable array of other agents outside the show’s main characters, all as quirky and colorful as the main cast.  The show’s characters follow a large, overarching canon. 4.5/5 points.

 
Story quality: The story itself follows a large canon usually rooted back to the mysterious roots of the KND organization at a global and galactic level, and the thematic elements I discussed in my thoughts,  but the majority of episodes are episodic. It is interesting to see how events do tie in, as sometimes seemingly minor events pop back up in later stories. The whole premise is fairly convoluted, but that’s part of the wackiness and fun of the show. 4.25/5 points.

 
Themes: There’s definitely a clever play on childhood nostalgia and imagination in this show, and it’s evident through everything, from the 2×4 weapons to the unimaginably crazy, massive tree houses. Other than that, standard stuff, friendship, commitment, and a whole lot of secrets exist in the shadows… This show actually has some interesting undertones, especially the inevitability of growing up, which is something anybody can relate to.  4/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: KND has its weird moments (and when they happen, you’ll know), but is really a very cool show at heart with good to great humor and a cast that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It also has some very good instrumental tracks that emphasize the action on-screen; and the theme song is clean and embodies the show; it’s a little bit of James Bond in there.  4.25/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 21/25 (84%). Codename: Kids Next Door was an excellent show with minor flaws; however the sheer inventiveness of the idea and its well done execution led to a highly popular series that ran for 6 seasons and two TV movies. It was consistently one of Cartoon Network’s better shows from its inception to its conclusion. Kids Next Door- battle stations!


Like this review? Wished you could be a KND agent back in the day? Leave a comment!

Author: anibproductions

I am the founder and writer of AniB Productions, currently a fledgling blog with a focus on animated shows from both the East and the West. Love Buffalo sports, good political discussion, and an interesting conversation wherever I go.

4 thoughts on “Review: Codename: Kids Next Door”

  1. Great write-up! I’d forgotten just how inventive this show was. I never watched it faithfully, but it was a pretty consistent presence on Cartoon Network while I was growing up. I just recently rediscovered the series finale I’d never seen before, and it really ended on a surprisingly poignant note. I thought at times it went too far with vilifying adults (like that “In the beginning” episode that I only realized later was parodying The Animatrix), but it helped that it never took itself too seriously and was often a lot of fun. I did enjoy the characters and the creative acronyms – I bet someone had fun thinking those up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really does have a touching finale. Tom Warburton, who headed up the show, made sure he alone personally penned those last 5 minutes; to him, he was saying goodbye to “his kids” that he’d created, and it showed. I do think the show struck a good balance between fun and serious, and the characters were a riot, even outside the main cast I talked about. Finally…I bet they did have a lot of fun with those acronymns! Every episode name and every invention had them- I bet somebody in particular on the show’s team worked overtime…

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  2. I honestly don’t remember a whole lot about this show save a vague recollection that the beginning the whole Kids vs Adults thing was treated a lot less seriously in the first episodes and KND being a much smaller thing (with the pilot making the Kids Next Door out to be just those five playing “resistance” if I remember correctly).

    I wonder why there was such a huge shift, if indeed there was a shift and I’m not just mis-remembering.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, you definitely remembered correctly. The initial concept was just the 5 kids; Tom Warburton pitched the show along with “Kenny and the Chimp,” which was not picked up for a full series. As the series came into its own, it proceeded to do a lot more world building, especially after the first season, but it did have smaller beginnings. Great insight!

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