Courage the Cowardly Dog

Tagged: TV

US animated tv series (1999-2002). Stretch Films. Created and directed by John R Dilworth. Written by Irv Bauer, David Steven Cohen, John R Dilworth and William Hohauser. Voice cast includes Arthur Anderson, Marty Grabstein, Thea White and Lionel G Wilson. 52 23-minute episodes (each usually comprising two stories), plus the pilot and a special. Colour.

Courage (Grabstein) is an abandoned dog rescued by an old farming couple, the kindly Muriel Bagge (White) and her unpleasant husband Eustace (Anderson/Wilson). The couple are regularly threatened by horror tropes – Supernatural Creatures, Monsters, serial killers, psychopaths – with Courage forced to overcome his natural cowardice to rescue them.

Sf themes are frequent (see Horror in SF), for example: an Asteroid impact hurls the trio to a 3001 (see Far Future; Time Travel) inhabited by banana people who believe they are in a Utopia, unaware it is created by monkeys who plan their harvesting. The three are put in a Spaceship by the military to fix the Sun, which is about to go out – Muriel's brain is hacked by an Alien saboteur ("if the Sun wants to fizzle, let it! We like it dark"), but Courage still manages to replace the Sun's light bulb. A missionary fish takes the trio to a tribunal for re-education: put in a fishbowl, they are given artificial gills until they become civilized and grow gills of their own (see Satire). A pregnant space squid that creates Stars lands on Earth and is taken by the military: Courage frees the babies; the squid dies and becomes a garden. The last of the snowmen extracts the human "anti-melting gene" from the Bagges (see Genetic Engineering). Courage's patronizing home Computer (see AI) Uploads itself into Muriel's mind. A Scientist turns Courage into a fly. An alien chicken transplants Eustace's head onto its own (headless) body; two alien ducks abduct Muriel, using her to rescue their brother from a military base. There are also Robots, Invisibility, fluctuations in age and size (see Great and Small) and Dr Gerbil's human experimentation. Parodies are not uncommon, the targets including H G Wells's Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) and The Exorcist (1973).

Though targeting children, the show can be very dark: it is no Scooby-Doo. Courage's comically portrayed cowardice and the Bagge's lack of trauma strongly contrasts with the actual perils they face. Even the lighter episodes have unnerving moments – whilst others' use of imagery, soundtrack and subtext can be outright disturbing. Our hero is truly courageous, repeatedly overcomes his fears and as likely to succeed through negotiation, screaming, reason or dancing as by violence. This was an entertaining series with frequent tonal shifts: though adults might find Courage's hysteria and the more cartoony elements irritating, there are also scenes they might be grateful they never saw as a child.

The pilot, The Chicken from Outer Space (1995), produced by Hanna-Barbera, was the Oscar runner-up for Best Animated Short Film of 1995. A CGI special, The Fog of Courage (2014), intended as a pilot for a further series, was broadcast only in Southeast Asia. [SP]

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