L-r: Cow, Chicken.

COW AND CHICKEN

Medium: TV animation
Produced by: Hanna-Barbera
First Appeared: 1995
Creator: David Feiss
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The idea of inter-species romance, while perhaps not all that familiar to toon lovers, hasn't been entirely a stranger since the days of Horace Horsecollar being engaged to Clarabelle Cow in the early Mickey Mouse

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… newspaper comic. By the time All-American Comics did J. Rufus Lion, whose wife was a chicken and whose nephew was a giraffe, it was no longer surprising to see mixed-species families in cartoons.

But in Cow & Chicken, a series on Cartoon Network (2 Stupid Dogs, Krypto the Superdog) that ran from 1997 to 2004, cross-species familial ties are seen at perhaps their apotheosis. The title characters, Cow and Chicken, were what their names implied, but were also brother and sister. What's more, their parents were human, and they were also related to pigs, sheep and snails — not to mention Boneless Chicken, who, having no skeleton, could only lie helpless on the ground.

The explanation? There wasn't one, unless you count the fact that Mom once referred to them as her "science project", and, sitting on an egg in one episode, remarked that it brought back memories. But it gives new meaning to Bart Simpson's well-known calming-down advice, "Don't have a cow".

Cow & Chicken goes back to a story animation man David Feiss (Alvin, Smurfs) made up for his young daughter decades ago. It intersected his professional work in 1995, when he made a short cartoon about the idea for the What a Cartoon! show.

What a Cartoon! (later called Cartoon Cartoon) was a series of unrelated cartoons that ran on Cartoon Network, and often showcased characters or concepts that Hanna-Barbera, the network's sponsor, later spun off into separate series. Such spin-offs over the years have included Dexter's Laboratory, Courage the Cowardly Dog and Johnny Bravo.

In the case of Cow & Chicken, the decision to do the spin-off was made only partly on the basis of viewer response. The fact that the short was nominated for an Emmy also had a lot to do with it. The series started on July 15, 1997.

Even from the beginning, the show wasn't just about an unusual family. The Red Guy started as their adversary right away, attempting to lead them astray from the very start. At first, it was implied he was The Devil himself, Madam Satan's boyfriend and Satana's dad, but no. He's just a supernatural entity who tries to do them harm, and isn't very good at it. He often appears in disguise, but is about as convincing — to the other characters as well as the viewers — as Boris Badenov.

All three main characters — Cow, Chicken and The Red Guy — were voiced by Charles Adler, whose other credits include Doctor Doom in recent Marvel Comics animation and a villain (even worse than the protagonist) in Mad Jack the Pirate. Mom was Candi Milo (Astro Boy, Coco in Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends) and Dad was Dee Bradley Baker (Detective Chimp in Batman, several voices in Powerpuff Girls). Also heard were Howard Morris (Archie's pal Jughead), Dan Castelanetta (Earthworm Jim), Tom Kenny (Spongebob Squarepants) and Susanne Blakeslee (Wanda in Fairly Oddparents).

The Cow & Chicken show originally had three segments, the first and last of which were devoted to the title characters. The second segment was I Am Weasel,. which pitted the handsome, talented, generous I.M. Weasel against his lowlife antagonist, I.R. Baboon. Weasel was voiced by Michael Dorn (Centurion Robot in Duck Dodgers); Baboon by Adler (who also played Mr. Adler in Beavis & Butthead). I Am Weasel was later spun off into its own show.

Three seasons of 13 episodes each were made, and a fourth, with 15. The last aired in 1999. Cartoon Network reran it until 2004, but after that it was dropped from the schedule.

— DDM

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Text ©2010-11 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Hanna-Barbera.