One of the highest compliments you can give an animation is that it transcends age groups. An even higher one is that it unites age groups. While classic cartoons like The Simpsons (1989-) can be appreciated by everyone through a series of pop culture references and relatable character tropes, trailblazing ones like Adventure Time (2010-2018) unite people over a community of decoding the implied pasts and futures. Cartoon Network’s new offering Infinity Train (2019-) seems to adhere to both, offering up unique characters, existential questions and rich lore, while maintaining a child-like wonder. Through a hero’s journey of mythic proportions, our protagonist Tulip goes through a character arc that unpacks the common adolescent challenge of coping with change and trauma. It’s a fun, dark and deeply affecting piece of television art, offering up a lesson we can all learn from.
The series accomplishes a whole lot in 110 minutes, with each episode fleshing out a different reality. Some resemble M.C. Escher paintings, while others are filled with talking Corgi societies and, as the title suggests, we don’t get to see all of these skewed realities in just ten episodes. What we do see is silly, imaginative and beautifully animated. The animation style resembles the ever-influential Adventure Time, with its colourful and strange monsters. The creators have put so much detail into every immersive frame, which is a huge achievement considering how many different universes the show explores. The animation perfectly sets the tone, with blue and grey’s occupying the late-night scene where Tulip emotionally runs away from home and opportunistically boards the neon green train. While oranges and reds fill up the dangerous space outside of the train. Although it is a 2D animation style, there is an incredible depth of field, so that each reality upon the train feels vast. Infinity Train is a visually stunning achievement and the perfect backdrop for Tulip imaginative character arc to take place.
Tulip’s character arc is about dealing with change. Specifically, the change involved with her parents divorce. The dark and often scary moments of the show are a lesson in the challenging and confusing aspects of emotional development. When Tulip is forced to relive key memories in her life, she views them through an emotional lens. Instead of the reality of her parents divorce, she sees devilish versions of her parents and a house both on fire and flooding, signifying the traumatic emotions associated with it. Eventually, she is able to overcome the trauma of these distorted memories by accepting what really happened. It’s refreshing to see a cartoon tackle the scary aspects of adolescent change through a uniquely intelligent character like Tulip.
Through a series of Black Mirror-esque train carriages, Tulip develops her coping abilities. She learns that her logical mind won’t always work on the train; instead, she must connect with her emotional side to combat the strange world. The glowing number on her hand is symbolic of her emotional growth and each train carriage offers up unique and unexpected situations to conquer in order to progress. In this way, the train’s logic would not be out of place in most video games, mirroring Tulip’s game designing aspirations. In fact, creator Owen Dennis has highlighted the ‘point and click’ video game Myst (1993) as a direct influence on the series. While we don’t see every train carriage, we are left uncovering the mystery with Tulip, asking many of the same questions. We don’t get all the answers, we don’t even know if it’s a real or imagined experience for our hero. It leaves us wanting more and speculating the epistemological consequences of the bizarre world.
Infinity Train has a lot to be proud of. It has delivered psychologically rich characters, multiple imaginative worlds inside one epically vast one, and a hero’s journey that wouldn’t be out of place in a Joseph Campbell novel. It combines all the things I love about animation into a delightful experience. Although originally intended as a stand-alone mini-series, the creators have announced a second series, and there are a lot of places the Infinity Train can go. Its ambiguity and unanswered questions left me hungry for more and I will wait for the second season with curious excitement.