It’s easy to ignore short web animation as trivial or meaningless, but if a half-hour animation warrants written impressions, why not a series of short clips that together make up a longer run-time? And thus, back to 2003 for my thoughts on now rarely-mentioned but certainly well-remembered violent cartoon series Happy Tree Friends.
Back in 2003, I was linked to Happy Tree Friends shortly before Newgrounds began to host it. I’d been visiting Newgrounds since the 90s, when it was a far smaller place than it is today, with early flash animations and a large gallery for the ‘assassination’ of pop culture figures and Pokémon. My verdict on November 26 was that it was ‘perhaps the most psychotic cartoon series ever’, though my mind went back to little animations I myself had made in my childhood that were at least as violent, if not as visceral. I explained its schtick: ‘It features several ultra-cute fluffy animals having primary-coloured adventures until something goes wrong and they all die in a variety of twisted ways. It’s incredibly disturbing…but also hilarious. And I don’t say that without a twinge of guilt…’
And if Happy Tree Friends was a guilty pleasure, it was one shared by many thousand internet fans. Cartoon violence has a very long history, but Happy Tree Frends enjoyed making the characters as cutesy as they could and the violence as extreme as they could get away with. It wasn’t healthy or clever or as ironic as perhaps it thought it was, but there is something hilarious about the incongruity of cuteness and violence that brings big laughs.