Like all children my age, I hoped to someday get my letter of acceptance to Hogwarts. Failing that, I wanted to join the Kids Next Door before I turned thirteen. Created by Tom Warburton (Doug, Pepper Ann) for Cartoon Network Codename: Kids Next Door ran from 2002-2008 and its concept is as memorable as it was simple; in a world dominated by arbitrary punishments, endless chores and dental appointments, the Kids Next Door are a high-tech global organization comprised of thousands of children across the world. Their aim: to protect the world from the tyranny of adults.
Kids Next Door largely deals with the average struggles and curiosities childhood but comically raises the stakes with firmly tongue-in-cheek nods to action, horror and sci-fi genres. Plots include an infestation of lice which escalates to a Ridley Scott style survival horror, a ban on fizzy drinks which results in Al Capone style root beer smuggling, an attempt to sneak into an R-rated film which is revealed to be a secret meeting place for adult supervillains and my personal favorite, Number 1 and 2 attempt to research bras which turn out to be secret teenage weapons. (Battle Ready Armour) The plot is largely upheld with its striking and eccentric rogues gallery of villains. The most recurring antagonists are the Delightful Children from Down the Lane a gang of creepy Midwich Cuckoos style children who are far too pleasant to be considered real kids. Other villains include Count Spankulot (Darran Norris) a spank happy vampire.
Memorable as well is Knightbrace, (Tom Kenny) a failed dentist (kicked out of medical school for attempting to give babies braces) who is driven mad by his job at a candy shop, prompting him to become a dental hygiene themed vigilante who is compelled to forcibly fight cavities and a steal candy. Similarly confectionery themed is Stickybeard (Mark Hamill) a sweet-thieving buccaneer with a candy cane sword and gumball cannons. But the archnemesis of the KND eclipses all other foes in the form of Father (Maurice LeMarche). Appearing only as a silhouette, Father has the appearance of a stereotypical 50’s dad enveloped in shadow, complete with a pipe and raging pyrokinetic powers. His list of crimes includes child experimentation which resulted in the Delightful Children, numerous attempted murders of the KND and even (albeit only hinted) attempted cannibalism with the use of a giant cake.
By far the most interesting thing about Codename: Kids Next Door is its mythos. Apart from the thrill of the KND’s hi-tech arsenal constructed out of household tat, the in-show explanations for adult phenomena from a child’s point of view are as surreal as they are amusing. For example, Coffee and tapioca are mineable resources which are used to fuel adults and the elderly respectively. The episode Operation A.R.C.H.I.V.E is the best example of this. A parody of Animatrix’s Second Renaissance, the episode regardless posits a highly creative origin story for the conflict between adults and children.
In the first Golden Age of the Kids Next Door, only children existed living in Garden of Eden style giant treehouses. Eventually to curb their boredom, child scientists bio-engineer adults in their likeness, exaggerated their appearances to look goofy and clownish. (made taller than children to reach high shelves) They are eventually utilized as a sort of slave labour force, expected to help build larger treehouses and cater to their child masters’ every whim. Father himself is revealed to have been the first adult to rise up against a child, inventing the act of spanking when tormented to insanity by his child handler. After a prolonged war in which more and more territory was lost to the adults, a truce was settled upon whereby children could live safely in the newly created artificial unit known as ‘the family.’ However, the adults scored one last decisive victory in the creation of schools, which serve as reconditioning centers to erase children’s memories of their origins and replace them with ideas of adult supremacy.
Despite the fantastical and humorous elements of the series, KND retains a surprising amount of heart. Be it through the children’s stumbling romances with one another or their conflicted relationships with their parents, whom they necessarily regard as both their caregivers and their oppressors. The KND fear the monotony of adulthood, but more accurately they are afraid of losing all that made them childlike and adventurous. This is best referenced through the metaphorical device of the decommissioning chamber, a device which erases all KND operatives’ memories upon the age of 13 as they enter adulthood and officially become an enemy, which well and truly makes this series the most literal possible embodiment of Forgotten Childhood.