Do you remember that show Danny Phantom? What about CatDog or Lizzie McGuire or even Cyber Chase? If you answered YES to any of these, then you probably recall the variety of characters that came out of this generation of child-friendly television.
The thing about these late 90s/early 00s shows is that I could relate to literally any of the characters; whether a boy, girl, only child, punk, brat, sweetheart … whatever the archetype the character stood for, they all still had a piece of them I could empathize with and understand. In my experience, the TV writers didn’t have to tailor characters to a certain type of kid viewing the show – all the characters could be understood by any child.
Here’s a list of seven characters who still resonate with me to this day. Now, about ten years later, it is these fictional people who I related to, who made me think about myself and the world around me. These are the characters I wanted to be and who I wanted as my friends. Truth be told, I still would like to be friends with them.
So here they are, in no particular order.
Sue Ellen – Arthur
Everyone remembers Arthur’s smart-alec sister D.W. and his best friend Buster, which were both great characters, but back in the day Sue Ellen was my hero. She could do it all – play saxophone, beat the boys up with her karate moves, take pictures … the list goes on and on. But most of all, I loved that she was a traveler. She and her parents recently moved to Arthur’s neighborhood from someplace abroad. The show insinuates that she’s lived in Nicaragua and Egypt and California, and her knowledge of Japanese water lore impressed me to no end. Do you remember that she had a bunch of weird souvenirs in her room, and Buster was convinced that she was an alien? I thought that was so cool – she wasn’t afraid to be herself around her friends. A lot of trinkets I own now remind me of her – my little Eiffel Tower and my genie lamp from Istanbul – I think she’d approve.
Kim Possible – Kim Possible
Who didn’t want Kim’s perfect hair or that slouchy belt? Kim was sincerely the whole package – beautiful, powerful, smart, and kind. She was a spy, complete with all the gizmos and gadgets. And as a girl raised on James Bond, I thought she was even better than Bond. She didn’t have to lie or act pretentious to be liked. Her friends showed me that a spy didn’t have to be a loner; she could do what she wanted and still be herself. And looking back now, it was certainly a plus that she never hid her identity. For Kim, anything was possible – even making good grades and finding love (which was never an overplayed theme in the show, thank goodness).
Sam Manson – Danny Phantom
Speaking of strong, independent women, let’s move on to Sam Manson, best friend of Danny Phantom – my ghost fighter hero (who was also a ghost – kind of). Besides being smart and pretty and having purple as her favorite color (also mine as a kid), Sam was a punk rock/goth girl who took no crap from anyone – not Danny, not her parents, and certainly not any ghosts. And she was SO FUNNY. Her monotone way of expressing her feelings and giving crap to her friends was ingenious. I wanted to grow up to be just like her, high hair bun and all (which is coming back in style – did anyone notice?). And I wouldn’t have classified myself as a super punk/emo child, but Sam sure did make it look good. To this day I’m looking for a pair of combat boots as sleek as hers.
Ned Bigby – Ned’s Declassified
Be still my heart. I had the biggest crush on this kid.
Growing up, Ned’s Declassified was one of my all-time favorite shows. It’s weird now because I don’t remember much of the overall plot. I do recall that he would write in his notebook ways to survive middle school. Ned was a brilliant smartass who was really “nothing special,” which made him all the more special to me. After watching the show each afternoon, I really felt like I could tackle anything middle school might throw at me – especially since I wasn’t even in middle school yet (in 2003 I would have only been in third grade). Ned covered everything from making good grades to dealing with the local bully to being in love with your best friend (a concept I hadn’t even considered at the time). Ned was truly an inspiration to me. I bet he got through high school just fine.
Corrine Baxter – Strange Days at Blake Holsey High
I do miss this show. It covered all sorts of weird things that could never happen at a real high school – think time travel or spontaneous explosions. I connected with Corrine almost immediately when I saw my first episode – initially because my name is Corinne (pronounced the same way – I pretended it was spelled the same, too). But soon it became clear that Corrine Baxter was the book-smart one of the group, and as an avid reader, I knew she was meant to be my hero of the show. She was the logical friend who could help answer questions through thought and action. Although she was a “neat-freak,” she still grew emotionally throughout the show. Eventually she would take action on her own rather than feel the need to clean up after the Science Club all the time; not only did she time travel, but she also got to experience an alternate reality or two. I definitely connected with her – I was the smart, clean friend growing up, trying to find ways to get off of the sidelines and into the thick of it. Corrine did it – certainly I could too.
Mac – Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends
My sister and I adored this show. Mac was a boy who visited Foster’s Home after school everyday to hang out with all the imaginary friends awaiting adoption. Mac was just a kid, like me, with a wild imagination. The show covered his antics with all the imaginary characters. While he was a bit shy, he wasn’t afraid of a little rambunctious adventure. I hoped I could get up the courage to go somewhere with my friends (imaginary or otherwise) one day. I think I’ve followed in his footsteps pretty well; I never want to lose my creativity or my love for the fantastic.
Ash Ketchum – Pokemon: Indigo League
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Ah, Pokemon. This show meant a lot to me growing up. Ash was the definition of an adventurer – he wasn’t afraid to befriend strangers or stand up to his enemies. Most of all, I loved his relationship with his Pokemon. He respected them and treated them as friends, while plenty of other characters used their Pokemon solely as weapons. Though Ash was a little naive at times, I still wanted to be like him – honest, respectful, loving, and fearless. His awesome, pokey hair were pretty rad, too.
There are so many other shows with fantastic characters – the Dragon Tales kids, the Powerpuff Girls, the Rocket Power roller skaters, the middle schoolers in Recess, even Yu Gi Oh! But all of them had these traits in common – a certain love for their friends and the courage to stand out from the crowd. It may be a little sappy and sentimental of me to say so, but even the Grim Reaper in Billy and Mandy needed his pals.
I think about all these characters sometimes, as though they are old friends or old pieces of myself. No matter where I will go in life, I’ll remember them fondly.
Did I forget some of YOUR favorite childhood characters? Let me know @theMoshery!
Corinne Pachl is a recent graduate from Truman State University whose heart will always lie in the depths of Kansas City, MO. Since studying abroad in Europe, she just wants to travel and eat food from all over the world. Until her next adventure, she aspires to find happiness and understanding in the soundtrack of everyday life.