The Wild Thornberrys Revisited

Going back to those favourite cartoons you watched as a child normally leads to a lot of strange and confused realisations about that show. You may pick out now-obvious sexual innuendo (I’ll never forget the moment in Bee Movie when the grandpa bee shouts “I did it with a grasshopper once, her crazy legs had me up all night long!”), adult humour, jokes that reference something you’ve since seen / read / heard so can finally understand, and sometimes, the shows are downright creepy and you wonder how you ever sat through an episode at the age of 7 without crying.

Well, recently I went back to one of my old favourites, The Wild Thornberrys, because as far as my memory was concerned, that show was awesome. Or, in the words of Nigel, I thought it was ‘smashing!’

For the most part, it really is. I really like The Wild Thornberrys. It’s colourful, captivating, has talking animals (yes!) and you learn facts about said talking animals. No, my wonder at how I never noticed some things as a child began during an episode with a gas station man who had a captured hyena in a cage, that he then taunted with meat. His creepy line (grunt) was, “Wanna see him dance?”

Nigel was not impressed.

I was also annoyed when, for the 3rd episode in a row, Eliza mucked shit up again. I wanted to face palm her face. That girl thinks she is always right – and doesn’t just leave it at thinking she’s right, she acts on it. She’s freeing hyenas willynilly, ditching Donnie, running through wildebeest, canoeing in arctic water, playing with cheetahs dying of thirst and then wondering why they’ve turned on her with the plans of making her lunch… Eliza thinks mostly of herself and assumes every animal she meets will love her. She also can’t stand it when somebody likes Debbie. She’s a loose cannon, who nearly gets herself and the family killed multiple times, all while sighing, squeaking and complaining nonstop.

When I was a kid, I thought Debbie was an over-reacting, whiny teenage brat. Little did I realise that Debbie acts this way because she lives with a group of people who isolate her, ignore her, ridicule her, and force her to live in an environment devoid of any safety, comfort, education options, or anything she is interested in. Every time Debbie purchases a CD player or ‘boom box’, Donnie, Darwin or Eliza either break it or throw it in water. This goes for everything Debbie buys – and she buys these things in an attempt to feel a part of the world she so desperately misses. Besides, teenager living in a van with your family non-stop? We’d all go crazy.

When it comes to Donnie I only have questions. Yes, after his parents were killed he was raised by an Orangutan for a year or two, but why oh why, does that mean he is irreversibly insane? Perhaps it is to do with the fact that Donnie is never disciplined (aside from the occasional scream from Debbie) nor does he receive education (Honestly, the boy isn’t speaking English yet and you’ve had him with you for 2 years? I think it’s time to work on that, sign language?) And also because he has never left the wilderness. No wonder the boy can’t move on from the world of his dead parents and adoptive, Orangutan mother – he still lives in it!

The mother of the group, Marianne, is constantly depressed over whether or not she’s bonding correctly with her daughters, yet never does much to correct this due to the constraints of her job. She’s also insanely jealous of any woman who comes close to Nigel (going so far as to injure her back when competing with one English beauty) which makes me worry for her ability to trust. This inability to bond or trust possibly comes from her overly-critical mother who feels the need to make Marianne feel bad about well, everything. Except for at the very end of the show when they need to make everything happy again. You know.

There are a few things you could say about Nigel Thornberry, as far as shortcomings go, but after everything I’d just like to wrap his whole bit up with saying he’s still awesome.

The Wild Thornberrys. I thought things were normal until I was older, I liked Eliza until I realised how impossible she is to like, I worry for Donnie and I feel a sense of pity for Debbie. Who would have thought. My only question is, are these things really there? Or now that I’m older and more cynical, and worn, do I just see them?

It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I’m writing a critical essay on a kid’s television program. What happened to my life?

134 thoughts on “The Wild Thornberrys Revisited

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  3. I loved the Wild Thornberrys as a 10-12 year old, mostly because my family traveled around in an RV on long summer vacations, I was the younger sister, and I wanted to talk to animals. I was just thinking about this show the other day. Loved this recap. I would seriously watch a marathon right now. Great blog!

  4. Nice blog! That’s interesting to hear the hidden things that are in the cartoons we watched as children. But I believe that the reason that television shows include these adult references is, not only to interest the adult population, but to portray our society as a whole. Human beings are not perfect, there are real life “know-it-alls” like Eliza, teenage brats like Debbie, and people who do have mental health issues like Donnie. It allows us to see these human imperfections while being able to laugh at them because they’re only cartoon characters. As we grow older we can look at these characters and sympathize with them or understand more, instead of just assuming they’re crazy.

    • This was a great comment, thanks for leaving it! There are many life lessons not portrayed as lessons in kids shows that we only see when we get older, great point.

  5. You’re so right! I used to watch this show along with other all the time…then you come back and realize that what you thought was is/ far from what it was…I’ve always thought, maybe it’s for parents who are watching with their kids so they’re not bored out of their skulls…or are they just putting subliminal messages out there?! Just kidding :P

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  6. I loved this show and many others growing up. This post really does remind me of Hey Arnold! That has so many hidden bits and bobs here and there.
    The ‘smoothies’ that Miriam would always drink, here desperate need for coffee in the morning (which she’d often fall asleep drinking), and how she would always look for the Tabasco. There are several!
    However, I think that in order to captivate an audience of children, there needs to be more than just jokes that draw in older age groups, and for that reason sadly, Hey Arnold! didn’t even survive until its final movie, The Jungle Movie.
    I think that a lot of shows manage to pull it off, and it is that that keeps them enjoyable throughout the years and years you spend growing up.

  7. Loved this show as a kid. If you thought the adult jokes were interesting you should check out the “finger prints” clip from the “Animaniacs” very inappropriate.

  8. Awesome analysis, and I agree with your thoughts and opinions on this show. I loved it growing up, and still do! I just wish they still showed it on TV. Maybe they do and I just never happen to see it when it’s on. Oh well, it’s a great show!

  9. That show was great. I think about these kinds of things when I watch shows or movies from my childhood. Guess they have to put something in there only the adults would understand or they’d lose their minds watching it with their kids. ;) Memory lane is always a fun one.

  10. I loved this show. Talking to animals was always one of my greatest fantasies as a child (other than being related to Matilda and having telekinesis), because then I would have some friends other than my immediate family. I was fairly isolated as a young child. I had no idea what kind of opinion you would have on the Wild Thornberries, when I saw the title of the blog I just clicked, and frankly I’m very satisfied. Let me know if you ever “revisit” Rugrats (I was religiously following this for years), or Dragon Ball Z (this could probably explain my fascination with martial arts as an adult, lmao). Kudos friend. :)

    • I always wished I could talk to animals too! And yeah, the Matilda powers would have been awesome.
      A few people have mentioned Rugrats, I might have to do a Rugrats analysis haha. Though I did read a very good interpretation of it that involved all the characters being parts of Angelica’s imagination and it was creepy, and dark.
      It might be a bit sad if I do another style of post that I had Freshly Pressed, but oh well! I’ll let you know :)

  11. Ha ha! Love this post-childhood analysis. At 61 I’m way past childhood but I still love the show. I bought the DVD and watch it over and over. Wonder what that makes me? Am I repressed? No. Am I dim? Certainly not! It’s fiction… keep on enjoying it!

  12. Coming to think of it, Eliza IS an annoying little brat. Don’t know why she used to be my second(to Nigel, of course)-favorite character on the show! With age, comes a better understanding of all things annoying, I guess.
    I think you wrote something here that most of us readers can relate to. Glad Someone did it!

  13. Even as a kid, I couldn’t stand Eliza and felt sorry for Debbie. But the things you mention about the other characters are very interesting. Very noticed Marianne’s inability to trust!

    • I like that you picked up on these things when you were young – you must be very intuitive. Poor Marianne, she has some parental issues. I wonder if she would ever get through them.

      • Maybe if Marianne was in a normal setting and didn’t have to keep saving her family from certain death (as I seem to recall her doing a lot with their caravan-like-vehicle), she’d get a chance to work through those issues

  14. When I was a little girl my parents let me watch “The Golden Girls” and I always loved it. Then when I was in college I watched a few reruns and was horrified by all the stuff I had missed in my innocence, I can’t watch anymore because I can’t process what is actually there versus my golden memories of those four “girls.” My children won’t be watching it anytime soon.

    Maybe I better not rewatch “The Wild Thornberries,” although I have to admit I always thought that Nigel was pretty dense about most things.

    • Haha it is quite a dirty show – in a looking-for-a-date older woman kind of way.

      Nigel is definitely a bit dense, I think he has his mind permanently on animals. I do like him though, he’s too funny and excitable to hate.

  15. My kids liked this show, so i also saw it to assure it wasn’t going to warp their young, impressionable minds. As far as critical thinking about why each character is what they are the only one I really had trouble with was Nigel. He seemed like a brainless dud most of the time, saved by his wife from utter annihilation. Thanks for the memories!

    • Haha, poor old Nigel. I was going to do a paragraph on him and his thickness, but ultimately, I do like him and he is a pretty good guy – he’s more likely to do something best for his children than Marianne.
      Plus, his voice, I can’t help but love it!
      No worries, thank you for commenting!

  16. This is both awesome and terrifying. I find this every time I revisit a childhood movie or tv show. There so much we can’t understand when were young. As someone who works with kiddos I do appreciated subtle adult humor but it’s always disheartening when I discover it in my favorite shows.

  17. There’s nothing wrong with you! This post was awesome, and you are so correct in recognizing that by going back to your childhood shows, you pick up on things you miss.

    If you’re all at interested, I wrote a comparative essay on the dynamic of friendship between Tiana and Charlotte from The Princess and the Frog:
    http://beyondtheyellowbrickroadblog.com/2012/11/17/an-analysis-of-the-dynamic-between-charlotte-and-tiana-an-essay-on-disneys-the-princess-and-the-frog/

    -April R

  18. I’d forgotten about the Wild Thornberrys – I watched it when I was a bit older, in those teenage days when I was clearly too old for it but was too tired to do anything but slouch on the sofa when I got home from school. Thanks for the reminder!

  19. Wow, I never thought much of Debbie. But that makes so much sense. Poor girl! How depressing. I do find myself feeling different when I watch old cartoons as an adult.
    My favorite to rewatch is Rugrats. So many hilarious jokes for adults but not as disturbing as most “adult jokes” on kid shows/movies. I die laughing.

  20. lol liked the end of your post, I remember enjoying the thorn-berries as a kid as well. Although I can’t say I liked Eliza, and I can understand Debbie, the only normal kid in the family.

    The dad is not bad either.

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