By Janie Walenda
Editor’s note: In our “Best of 2022” series, A&E writers revisit their favorite movies and television shows that weren’t reviewed during the year.
I have a soft spot for children’s cartoons, and I watched an inordinate amount of them last year. And out of all the cartoons, and even out of all of the television shows I watched, “Amphibia” has the biggest impact on me.
Running for three seasons and ending in May of 2022, “Amphibia” fits in well with other Disney cartoons like “Gravity Falls” and “The Owl House.” These shows follow preteen protagonists who suddenly find themselves in a wacky, supernatural new world. “Amphibia’s” protagonist, Anne Bounchoy, is convinced by her friends Sasha and Marcy to shoplift a magical treasure box, and they get stuck in Amphibia, a world filled with amphibian creatures. Anne befriends a family of frogs named the Plantars, consisting of Hop Pop and his two grandchildren Sprig and Polly.
Anne’s relationship with Sasha and Marcy is the thread that ties all three seasons together. “Amphibia” explores their friendship painfully realistically, albeit heightened by the show’s circumstances. All three are young preteens struggle to find their place and grow during their time in Amphibia.
Anne and Sasha’s struggle to reconcile is my favorite part of the storyline. It’s not a simple or easy road to forgiveness, and both make decisions that hurt each other. It’s surprisingly realistic for a children’s cartoon, but not overly angst-ridden.
“Amphibia” is also surprisingly dark. I have never felt so much dread than when season two’s finale opened with a disclaimer, stating that the episode has some intense final scenes. Given that the finale ends with one of our child protagonists stabbed and another thrown out a window, the disclaimer is well-earned. While shows like “Gravity Falls” and “The Owl House” have darker humor and visuals, “Amphibia” is so light-hearted for the majority of its run but ends each season with heartbreak and high stakes.
However, the majority of “Amphibia” is light-hearted. Its style of humor is extremely effective for me, utilizing and contrasting deadpan and dramatic editing. While Anne has plenty of conflicts with the people around her, she works through betrayals, her own self-centeredness and frequent lifestyle clashes to keep healthy relationships with the people who are important to her.
One of the selling points of “Amphibia” is how it explores different cultures. Despite a clearly fictional and fantastical setting, the show is inspired by creator Matt Braly’s childhood visits to Bangkok, Thailand. But far from just representing Thai culture, “Amphibia” highlights what it means to transition to another culture. While the show derives plenty of humor from Anne’s mishaps in Amphibia, we ultimately get to see Anne breaking past the culture shock of being in a land inhabited by talking frogs, newts and toads. Throughout the show, we see Amphibia become home.
And this is where “Amphibia” earns its spot as my favorite TV show of 2022. Because unlike other chosen one stories where the normal world is a place to be shunned and our hero chooses to stay in their new fantasy world, Anne knows she will go back home. She loves her family and the business that they run. She spends the majority of the show on a quest to return home. And as the series progresses, it becomes clear that not only will Anne have to say goodbye to Amphibia, but that the goodbye will be permanent.
I suspected that would be true from the moment I began the series. However, as the show progressed, I hoped that the finale would reveal some way to hop between worlds. But as the action-packed finale began its conclusion, it became very clear that there was no going back. And so, the series ends with tear-jerking goodbyes and a finality that leaves very little hope of an ultimate reunion.
Obviously, “Amphibia” is far from the first show to end with its cast going their separate ways. It’s one of the most common endings for a television show. But the way “Amphibia” says goodbye particularly struck a nerve with me. Perhaps it’s because the show ends with our cast separated between two worlds, with no way to contact each other. Or maybe it’s the time jump that shows the cast growing up and moving on without each other.
Because I’ve faced a lot of goodbyes in my life, growing up in a military family, I am used to moving away or seeing others move away. And even though I live in a world where I can communicate with those I’ve left behind, I’ve still had to face a hard truth. I can talk with my old friends, and I can visit my old homes, but I can never live my old life again. And that is the experience “Amphibia” captures so well.
I have watched a lot of movies and television shows, many of which have emotionally affected me. However, “Amphibia” is the best a show has ever spoken to my experience and been a catalyst for my growth.
“Amphibia” is not a grand drama. It’s 10-minute-long cartoon episodes about a world of frogs. It is delightfully bizarre and laugh-out-loud hilarious. And it’s a story about home. What it means to make a new home, and what it means to leave.
“Amphibia” is available on Disney+
Janie Walenda is a sophomore Global Business major and the A&E editor for Cedars. She is passionate about musicals, animation and cold brew.
Images courtesy of Disney Television Animation