Web shows like "Happy Tree Friends" and "Llamas With Hats" emblemize a disturbing trend that I can't shake from my memory.
Last week, a friend of mine brought to our group chat a question that'd leave my brain spinning with nostalgia for the rest of the day: "What's everyone's favorite terrible viral video from the 2000s?"
We immediately covered the basics: Original songs like "Shoes" and "Chocolate Rain," the purely insane (but still sort of relevant?) "Leave Britney Alone," the insta-party trick "Daft Hands," and Weezer's "Pork and Beans" music video that managed to convene all the aforementioned videos into one nifty time capsule. Soon, we were discussing the deep cuts of mid-2000s YouTube virality, including the equally adorable and disturbing animated web series "Happy Tree Friends."
"Happy Tree Friends" was created by Audrey Ankrum, Rhode Montijo, and Kenn Navarro and distributed by Mondo Media. My first foray into the show was by way of the music video for Fall Out Boy's "The Carpal Tunnel of Love," my personal favorite track off their 2007 album Infinity on High. Like many alt-leaning folks born in the mid-'90s, I adored Fall Out Boy. Around this time in the mid-2000s, I also became enamored by "scene": the emo-adjacent subculture that juxtaposed cutesy and edgy aesthetic elements, like pairing a Hello Kitty necklace with heavy eyeliner. Or, like sweet cartoon animals getting murdered in Final Destination-like tragedies.
Fall Out Boy - The Carpal Tunnel Of Love www.youtube.com
"Happy Tree Friends" first aired in 1999, but its number of viewers boomed after the rise of YouTube and the clip for "The Carpal Tunnel of Love," which Navarro directed. Blending dark comedy and splatter elements, each "Happy Tree Friends" episode—as well as the music video—is prominently gory. In one episode, a moose named Lumpy tries to call for help in a phone booth after inadvertently causing a truck to flip over in the middle of the road. Before help can arrive, the flaming truck erupts, and the driver's guts and blood engulf the phone booth.
Happy Tree Friends - Friday the 13th www.youtube.com
But as the interest in the "scene" subculture waned, so did the success of "Happy Tree Friends." After nearly 200 episodes, the show ceased production in 2016.
"Happy Tree Friends" isn't the only murderous cartoon I remember discovering through YouTube.
About two years later, when I was in high school, I began hearing my friends recite lines from another blood-soaked series of anthropomorphic animals: "Llamas with Hats."
The first episode of "Llamas with Hats," created by Jason Steele, was uploaded to YouTube in 2009. The series follows the misfortunes of two headwear-sporting llamas: Carl, the well-meaning one with an unfortunate habit of accidental murder, and Paul, his reasonable but understandably annoyed roommate. Across 12 short episodes, Carl accidentally sinks a cruise ship, causes an entire city to erupt, and builds a dragon out of human meat, for starters. "Caaarl, that kills people," Paul replies in an instantly-quotable whine that pairs hysterically well with Carl's dry matter-of-factness. As one top YouTube comment puts it: "This whole series is a disturbing masterpiece."
Llamas with Hats 2 youtu.be
"Happy Tree Friends" and "Llamas With Hats" won't live up to the decades-long sensation of The Simpsons or even the progressive wit of more recent adult cartoons like Big Mouth. But, with too much time on our hands right now, it's been fun to reminisce on bygone Internet trends that defined so much of our youth—gory animals among them. Watching these shows today feels like a Hot Topic-clad fever dream. Laughing along feels a little bit wrong, but eventually, giving in is inevitable.
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