Culture Feature

This Haunts Me: Murderous Cartoon Animals of the 2000s

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.

Music Reviews

Hear Fritz Hutchison's New Album "Wild Wild Acres"

Watch Fritz perform at 3PM on Popdust's livestream on Saturday, May 30th.

Fritz Hutchison just released his debut album, Wild Wild Acres.

It's the kind of album that will make you want to lounge in a hammock all day or ride a horse across the country or just drop everything and howl at the moon—it sounds like that kind of freedom. Hutchison is alternatively blunt and sincere, a trickster with a performative flair and a penchant for sunny hooks.

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CULTURE

"Numa Numa" Came Out 15 Years Ago, and My Life Has Flashed By

There are teenagers now older than I was when I first saw Numa Numa Dance.

15 years ago, in 2004 on the 6th of December, I was hanging out in my middle school best friend Dave's living room, along with my other middle school best friend, Ari.

Dave's family desktop was located right smack in the middle of his living room, so his mom could easily see whatever us boys were browsing as she milled around the kitchen. These were the days before YouTube existed, and our favorite website, hands down, was Newgrounds.com.

Even taking Dave's mom's lax demeanor into account, browsing Newgrounds during the daytime always felt like playing with a live grenade. Newgrounds centered around user-submitted content, much of it animation-oriented, and most of it featuring a distinct "everything is stupid, nothing is precious" sense of humor categorized by over-the-top violence, sex, and edge. In other words, middle school me thought it was the best thing ever.

Sometimes during sleepovers, late at night after Dave's parents were asleep, we would head downstairs and gawk at Newgrounds' 18+ section together, which included lewd dating simulators featuring poorly designed cartoon avatars and a game where you could shoot Steve from Blue's Clues.

But during the daytime, when Dave's mom had a chance of peeking in on our activities, we stuck to Newgrounds' homepage which skewed a little more tame, at least for the most part. It was on this very day, 15 years ago, (midday, I'm sure) that we stumbled upon a fresh video on the homepage titled Numa Numa Dance.

Numa Numa www.youtube.com

The video featured a doughy man, later identified as one Gary Brolsma, dramatically lip syncing and dancing to the Romanian single "Dragostea Din Tei" by the Moldovan pop group O-Zone. Brolsma's performance was, in a word, perfect. The "dance" was stupidly basic, with Brolsma mainly pumping his fists up and down and gyrating side to side. His facial expressions were expertly timed (an eyebrow raise cued to a goofy sound effect, for instance), and on top of that, Brolsma was really funny looking.

We instantly loved Numa Numa Dance, watching it again and again and again, laughing uproariously as we attempted to copy Brolsma's moves. Numa Numa Dance would become the first "viral" dance video, hitting two million views on Newgrounds which, back then, was staggering.

There are teenagers now, older than I was when I first saw Numa Numa Dance, who weren't even alive when Numa Numa Dance came out. Which is to say, how does time move so fast?

15 years sounds like such a long time, but it doesn't feel like I first watched Numa Numa Dance over half my lifetime ago. When I think about Numa Numa Dance, it feels like only a few years back that me, Dave, and Ari were hanging out in Dave's living room, playing N64, talking all night during sleepovers, and stealing Dave's older brother Matt's uncensored comedy CDs to listen to jokes our parents didn't want us to hear. How could Numa Numa Dance have come out 15 years ago?

The older you get, the more life becomes a series of disparate moments. Days, weeks, years blend together, leaving you with memories that are more like feelings, perhaps not even wholly real. All the rejections, disappointments, and pains of childhood dull over time, as rejection, disappointment, and pain become part and parcel with being an adult. But you only get so many Numa Numa Dances, and when you think back 15 years later, maybe those Numa Numa Dances are the only things that really mattered.