After an accident in his parents’ laboratory, Danny Fenton must come to terms with his newfound ghost powers, which allow him to fight the supernatural spirits that enter into his realm. At the same time, he must manage the stressors of high school, while keeping his alternate identity a secret from those who might wish him harm, including his ghost-hunting parents.
Spoiler Level: None
Fresh off of his success with The Fairly OddParents, Butch Hartman designed and developed the series that is widely considered to be the best of his extremely popular shows: Danny Phantom. It was the action/adventure story that Nickelodeon desperately needed at the time and it played a critical role in competing with Cartoon Network’s golden lineup (Teen Titans, Samurai Jack, Powerpuff Girls, Codename Kids Next Door, and the list goes on). While perhaps not particularly artistic or inspired, Danny Phantom still holds a heavy place in the world of early aughts cartoons and an even heavier place in the hearts of those who grew up with it.
A large portion of this nicktoon’s success can be attributed to its familiar structure. A teenage boy, forced to reconcile two separate identities after falling victim to a catastrophic lab accident that grants him with superhuman abilities. We’ve seen this story more times than we can count—the Spidey fans among us will have even seen it pop up multiple times with different iterations of the same character. This show works because it is grounded in stories that we already know. In stories that feel inherent.
Those who tuned in to watch Danny every week could count him to scratch their superhero itch, even if they didn’t yet know they had one.
The show delivered reliability, following the same format that had already been established within its genre. With its episodic progression, its highly characterized villains, and its secret identity dramatics, Danny Phantom was essentially a comic that found its home in television first.
Which is not to say that the show didn’t find originality at some points along the way. The added element of the Ghost Zone—the supernatural realm of the dead, largely accessed by a portal in the Fenton family basement—brought a twist to the story that established a unique tone for the show. The show’s animation style and color scheme cleverly enhanced this element, oftentimes leaning on a green/purple lighting instead of the standard teal/orange.
The show also found its niche in the setting, not only in the town of Amity Park, wherein ghosts and ghost hunters alike run amok, but also in the depicted time period. Danny Phantom grabbed hold of the early aughts and squeezed until there wasn’t anything left. PDAs and chokers and synchronized boybands—this show is a time capsule disguised as a narrative, marking it as more of a memory for those of us who survived society’s great puka shell obsession, rather than just another show.
Perhaps this is why the show maintains a cult following, even all these years after its cancellation. Today, there is fanfiction and cosplay abound, fans of the show still filled with passion about the characters and concepts. Recent internet campaigns have called for a reinstatement of the show, some rooting for a reboot, and some looking for a glimpse into Danny’s future. It’s clear that despite its overall plain execution, there’s something just a little bit magical about this boy ghost and his stories.
Danny Phantom isn’t going to blow anyone away, especially if they missed the original series air. The show’s true heart lies in the feeling it evokes in people who love it and have loved it for years. It’s one step short of nostalgia, but well on the path of childhood comforts. This is one of the shows that thrives in its audience, which is a truly beautiful achievement. Without them to enthusiastically love, enjoy, and create for the show, this fan favorite would be forgettable.
But not every show has to be gorgeous and thought-provoking. Not everything is an award-winning masterpiece. Sometimes toons just need to make us feel happy and safe when the world feels anything but, and the devotion of its fanbase clearly indicates that Danny rises to the challenge.
Danny Phantom: The Forgettable Fan Favorite
Writing - 7/107/10
Storyline - 8/108/10
Acting - 6/106/10
Music - 5/105/10
Production - 7/107/10
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