Though an oft-forgotten relic of Adult Swim's colorful past, Home Movies has maintained a die-hard cult following for over two decades since its release. Running for four seasons from 1999 to 2003, the cartoon would revolve around a young boy named Brendan Small and his two friends, Melissa Robbins and Jason Penopolis. The three children would spend their time acting and writing in home movies of their own creation, while also juggling the seemingly impossible task of growing up and coming-of-age.
An apparently simple concept on the outside, what makes Home Movies stand out is its ability to capture the charm and endearing nature of childlike creativity mixed with dry adult realism. Similar to the likes of Calvin and Hobbesthe kids are abnormally well-spoken for their age and possess high levels of emotional intelligence, with their parents and pseudo-parental figures being dismissive or crass, often missing the point of what they're being told entirely. Creators and voice actors from the show would branch off to helm other successful projects throughout their careers, but the scratchy, improvisational charm and wit of Home Movies will remain a favorite among fans for being a truly timeless depiction of kids.
Home Movies is Based on a True Story
Creators Loren Bouchard and Brendan Small would both come from animation backgrounds, with the two meeting while working on the show Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist in the late 90s. After bouncing around a few concepts, the duo and their crew eventually landed on a show around Small's childhood experiences of making home movies with his friends, with the main character being named after him, along with Small providing the voice.
Originally airing on UPN, the network would cancel the animated series after five episodes, citing low viewership. After seeing potential in the concept and creators, Cartoon Network would purchase the rights to air the cartoon, renewing it for more episodes and making it the first show to premier on their new mature programming block, Adult Swim.
Small, who also came from a background of studying music, would take part in creating songs for the series, many of which becoming part of the home movies made by the kids and depicting a wide array of genres to match the ever-changing plots and storylines within them. These musical talents would follow Small's career into other projects, such as his cult classic Adult Swim animated show Metalocalypseto which he would create three albums of songs for. It even seemed to follow co-creator Loren Bouchard, whose Bob's Burgers uses music in delightful ways.
Make it Up as You Go
Home Movies would become known for its use of improv when creating episodes, a technique carried over from dr catwith the voice actors utilizing the rough outline of a plot and coming up with dialogue on the spot, bouncing off of one-another to allow for a more informal conversational style. Because of this, characters would sometimes cut each other off or stutter, though what might seem like an unprofessional lack of polish would actually be part of the distinctive charm the series became recognized for.
The first five episodes of the show would be created without any scripts, with the performers having an outline in mind of how the episode would play out, and allowing it to progress naturally via their improvised conversations. In certain cases, up to five hours of dialogue would be recorded for a single episode, which would then but cut down for the roughly 20 minute runtime. Being a story-driven show, how characters talked to one another and worked off of others remained the number one focus, and though later episodes and seasons would see more of a structured and scripted approach, they'd never stray too far away from the improvisational style.
Home Movies: More Than Just Kids
While being asked what went into performing as a child for the show, Small would reply that he instead opted to just talk like an adult, giving his character intelligence and social awareness above his 8-year-old age, while remaining egotistical and flawed in other ways. In between the trio of kids putting together the elaborate concepts and performances of their home movies, they'd often be depicted going through very poignant and important family scenarios, such as dealing with divorced parents or going into therapy.
Many of the films which Small's character would make with his friends were actually echoes of his current experiences within his life, much to the child's surprise. The movies within the show are fun, creative parodies of everything from Amelie to Pulp Fictionbut each of them have emotional resonances of what childhood can be like.
For an early 2000s cartoon, themes and dialogue would also be very progressive, and character growth began to take shape starting in the second season, with more of a focus on an over-arching narrative rather than being episodic in nature. Relationships would grow and lessons would be learned, allowing for a satisfying sense of evolution for the children and adults alike.
Keeping it in the Family After Home Movies
Throughout many of the animated projects helmed by Loren Bouchard, reoccurring cast members would be abundant, though none more consistent throughout his cartoons than the great voice actor H. Jon Benjamin, who would be a long-time collaborator with Bouchard. Within Home MoviesBenjamin played the oafish and obnoxious Coach McGuirk, the gym teacher/dysfunctional father figure to Small's character whose voice is instantly recognizable (and made famous by playing the titular Archer); Benjamin also plays Jason, the nasal childhood friends of Brendon. Being a fan favorite of the series, Benjamin would also see a starring role in Bouchard's successful animated Fox sitcom Bob's Burgerswhich also carried over the semi-improvisational style sharpened within Home Movies year prior.
Being a lovably timeless animated series as well as influencing many to come, Home Movies was cheerfully endearing, offering a comforting sense of familiarity. Though suggestive themes and adult concepts would be discussed, there would never be a modicum of true cynicism on display, only playful sarcasm and parody of how the world works, as seen through the eyes of creative children. It's not without good reason that the minds behind the cartoon went on to produce other massive successes in their careers, in some cases putting in hidden Easter eggs and cameos of the Home Movies characters within their newer shows.
A cornerstone of both classic Adult Swim programming and the careers of Brendan Small and Loren Bouchard, there will always be much deserved adoration for the inimitable simplicity of the one and only Home Movies.