There are plenty of things a kid could value. Getting a puppy for Christmas. Scoring the winning run in Kickball. Hanging out with friends after school. Formative experiences like those are treasured because they expose kids to the thrill and beauty of life, showing them what it means to live. Kids Next Door evokes that same sentiment, encapsulating the important feelings and lessons we first learn as children into core values that must be held on to as we grow. Breaking them down, we see that these virtues guide the actions of KND’s main characters.
(This is part 2 of a mini-series/long essay I’m doing on Codename Kids Next Door. You can find the first part here.)
This isn’t a hard association. Childhood is often seen as a joyful, simpler time without any real worries or responsibilities. Likewise, many kids on the show are having fun without a care in the world, but, for those in the Kids Next Door, things aren’t that easy.They’ve taken on a huge responsibility, daily going on dangerous missions in a never-ending battle against evil. It’s a daunting commitment capable of taking its toll on anyone over time, but these kids continue the fight.
More importantly, they continue to have fun with the fight. Despite everything, these kids still love what they’re doing. They love fighting for the sake of other kids, and they love having fun with each other as they do it. If life throws them a “Gi-HOOG-ic”, kid-eating ice cream monster, they defeat it and make an ice cream party out of it.
Joy’s power doesn’t solely come from living during a time that should naturally have joy in it. It comes from actively choosing joy and seeking to have fun even when tough times try to say otherwise, developing it like it’s a muscle. Kids Next Door operatives don’t have normal childhoods. They’ve had to deal with things no child should have to deal with, like fighting an army of highly-trained ninja teenagers fueled by caffeine, hormones, and angst. When you think about it, the same could likely be said about a lot of people’s childhoods (except for the ninja teenager part, I hope). In a world rife with things that want to steal and suppress joy, it takes a lot of strength of character to remain joyful, even as a kid, and maintaining joy grants the ability to see the world in the way that it’s meant to be seen, inspiring amazement and humility.
Another value often associated with childhood, wonder grants a new perception, allowing you to see just how big and amazing the world is while having fun in it.
After re-watching the series, I think my one of my new favorite episodes has to be “Operation: T.H.E.-F.L.Y,” which subtly illustrates what it means to live a life filled with wonder. It’s a silent story, presented solely through visuals and music like a Tom and Jerry cartoon, told through the point of view of a housefly buzzing around the Sector V HQ, a giant tree-house. Given Kids Next Door’s premise, this is an unusual set up for an episode, with no evil adults to fight nor kids in danger. It’s actually the first time we see the main characters after a mission, killing time and living their lives until duty calls again. You’d think a bunch of kids would overlook a tiny, dirty fly as they try to relax, but amazingly it’s the opposite.
Not only do they notice the fly, they’re completely fixated on it. As soon as it enters each of their rooms, it suddenly takes up their entire focus. When Nigel—apparently scared of bugs—sees the fly, the music picks up as it suddenly turns into a fast-paced chase scene, compelling him to rely on his quick wits and reflexes in order to escape it. Hoagie sees the fly and gets inspired to make a new device that allows him to gracefully fly and play in the air with his new friend. Kuki catches the fly and dresses it up for a tea party with her and her vast array of stuffed animals (where she got the tiny dress, I’ll never know). When the fly escapes and enters Wally’s room, the music intensifies again as Wally, practicing martial arts, tries to squash the fly with extreme prejudice, destroying his room in the process. Finally, it meets Abby, who ponders for a moment as everyone rushes to her room, each wanting to do something different with the fly. Deciding to live and let live, she lets the fly free through her window (the episode goes on a little longer, but I won’t spoil the ending for you).
I’m amazed by the amount of attention they each give the fly. One might see this as simply a bunch of kids so bored with themselves that they’re willing to mess with a fly to break the monotony. I see five kids who are so filled with wonder that they want to have fun with a fly. Their wonder mentality allows them to see it in new and unique ways. It could be a threat, a muse, a playmate, an opponent, or a fellow life worth respecting. If they can do that with a fly, what’s that say about me? I’m a guy who can’t entertain himself for more than five minutes without electronics and shrugs whenever he drives past beautiful landscapes on road trips. Yeah, just call me wonder-boy.
From the biggest playgrounds to the smallest bugs, wonder allows these kids to acknowledge and appreciate the world they live in, tuning them in with what’s going on around them and compelling them to find more things to be enthralled with. This desire for discovery and exploration is the culmination of the freedom they’ve been blessed with.
What kid doesn’t want to be free? It’s an instinct as natural as breathing and the very thing the Kids Next Door fights for. Kids are kids when they’re free to be themselves and enjoy the world the live in, so the worst thing you can do to kids on this show is infringe upon their freedoms for selfish gain.
Some of the bleakest moments on Kids Next Door showcase worlds in which children are forced to work nonstop. The beginning of the KND movie Operation Z.E.R.O flashes back to a time when the all-powerful Grandfather ruled with a wrinkly, iron fist. He forced kids across the globe to slave away in his giant tapioca factories, all so that he could have peace, quiet, and an endless supply of pudding. Smoke and pollution filled the air, choking away nearly all remaining traces of greenery and life. Grimy kids moaned in despair as they slaved away, lugging heavy sacks of pudding mix or nearly baking alive while shoveling coal into giant furnaces.
In this and similar scenarios, kids are fooled into thinking that they have no freedom, leading to this gloom. Not only are they not allowed to play, but they aren’t allowed to think, to gain understanding. They’re taught that life is miserable and there’s nothing they can do about it. The Kids Next Door fights to teach kids otherwise, showing that they don’t have to live confined lives ruled by others and their ways of thinking. It’s only when kids on KND know they are free to express themselves, their desires, frustrations, and their hopes, that they gain the courage necessary to fight back against those who say otherwise. It’s that courage that brings out the best in every one of us.
(Tune in next time as I continue to talk about the childhood values that can be gleaned from Codename Kids Next Door, starting with courage.)