2022 has been a devastating year for the world of animation. The Oscars kicked things off by relegating animated feature films to nothing more than children’s fodder, Netflix is slowly disintegrating its entire animation department, an animated voice-over legend left this mortal plane far too soon, some of the best animated films of the year were unceremoniously dropped on streaming instead of being given the opportunity to shine in theaters, and HBO Max has absolutely obliterated its animation catalog, recreating the very problem that Cartoon Network was created to solve. Animators are continuing to fight for fair wages and better work environments while the industry as a whole continues to treat the medium with the same modicum of respect given to a wet newspaper.
During the HBO Max Animation Purge of 2022, which saw beloved titles like “Infinity Train,” “OK K.O.! – Let’s Be Heroes,” and “Close Enough” wiped from the platform, there was also an announcement that Cartoon Network shows “Craig of the Creek” and the preschool spin-off series “Jessica’s Big Little World” were having their episode orders cut in half. Considering “Craig of the Creek” is the channel’s star in the post-“Adventure Time” era, the fact not even the biggest show on the air could escape the clutches of animation devastation in the wake of the Warner Bros. Discovery merger was terrifying.
We wrote the final episode of Craig of the Creek today. pic.twitter.com/Z13GcZPsjM
— Ben Levin (@ben_levin) December 2, 2022
Co-creator Ben Levin took to Twitter today to announce that the final episode of “Craig of the Creek” had been written, confirming that the episode order chop also meant the end of the show. It cannot be overstated what an unfortunate decision this was, as ending “Craig of the Creek” is a huge mistake.
I’ve written before about my love of “Craig of the Creek,” a series I confidentially described as “the show everyone (yes, everyone) needed growing up.” Created by Matt Burnett and Ben Levin, “Craig of the Creek” is an imaginative celebration of friendship, play, identity, and community building. While the show is accessible and written with young audiences in mind, much like the films of Pixar, “Craig of the Creek” presents its stories in a way that transcends age in terms of relatability.
The show centers on middle child Craig Williams (Phillip Solomon), who spends most of his time at the local creek with best friends Kelsey Pokoly (Georgie Kidder/Noël Wells) and J.P. Mercer (H. Michael Croner) and the other friend groups in their neighborhood. The kids have built their own adult-free paradise, where exchanging currency, conflict resolution, exploration, and daily adventures are all guided by the kids, held only to the schedule of the sound of a sousaphone played by Beth, aka “The Timekeeper,” to inform the creek inhabitants when it’s time to go home for dinner.
For the most part, “Craig of the Creek” is based in reality, with the day’s events inspired by the real-life trials and tribulations experienced in childhood like competitive sports, sick days, losing a pet, breaking something you weren’t supposed to have, struggling to learn a new skill, visiting extended family members, and of course, your first crush. But the entire show is presented through the kids’ imaginations, so while a creek-wide game of “The Floor is Lava” is, in reality, a bunch of kids standing on rocks, through their eyes, it’s a dangerous game of life and death. “Craig of the Creek” never crushes anyone’s imagination for the sake of reality, presenting both perspectives as existing simultaneously.
Co-creator Ben Levin posted a Twitter thread lamenting the end of “Craig of the Creek,” writing, “The Creek was a giant sandbox and we tried to make room for everyone to play. We collectively channeled our childhood dreams and adventures into each episode, hoping to inspire the kids watching at home or at least make them laugh.”
I will firmly say that the creative team’s goal was achieved, as no other animated series in TV history has ever had the welcoming, affirming diversity as “Craig of the Creek.” There were characters from all walks of life and from a variety of different family backgrounds, with an emphasis on the diverse representation of Black and LGBTQIA+ communities.
The Williams Family grabbed the torch from “The Proud Family” and expanded diversity beyond the wildest imaginations of many of us who grew up in the 1980s or ’90s. Whether it’s Jackie teaching Black American Sign Language so other kids can communicate with him or the Jewish Kelsey struggling to navigate her budding queer feelings about Isabella “Stacks” Alvarado, so many stories from lived experiences that have never been addressed in mainstream children’s media had the chance to be explored.
“The characters and spaces were rich and nuanced and it felt like we could have explored them forever,” said Levin. “And we certainly had more stories to tell, but unfortunately, because of this merger, this is the end.”
If there’s a silver lining to be found, it’s that the creative team behind “Craig of the Creek” was given enough notice to write a conclusive ending for the series, something that was sadly not afforded to many of the other shows demolished following the Warner Bros. Discovery merger. 2023 will see the debut of “Craig of the Creek: The Movie,” as long as their parent company doesn’t decide to pull a “Batgirl” in the final hour. It seems silly to mourn a children’s show that made it to five seasons and a movie, but after season 4, it felt like “Craig of the Creek” was just getting started.
In 1969, Mister Fred Rogers spoke before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications to make the case to continue funding children’s educational programming, saying, “I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable — and manageable — we will have done a great service for mental health.” Unfortunately, Cartoon Network is not publicly funded, and I doubt the Warner Bros. Discovery CEO would be nearly as receptive as Senator John O. Pastore.
The loss of the social-emotional education provided by “Craig of the Creek” is immeasurable, and what this means for the future of Cartoon Network is still unclear. It’s sad when any show ends before its time, but it’s doubly sad when it’s a show that feels reflective of the world so many people are trying to build — one that is funny, understanding, empathetic, and accepting of all kinds of folks. This may be goodbye, but just like children growing older, we’ll always cherish the memories of the moments that helped shape us into who we are.
As Jeff Rosenstock so lovingly sings at the end of each episode, “When it’s time to go to bed, I know I don’t have to feel alone, ’cause I’ll see you tomorrow, at the creek.”