Animaniacs: Understanding China’s Nostalgia-Fueled Cartoon Craze

New clothes for Haier Bros. sparks wave of sentimentality and raft of criticism.

A photo collage shows images from various animated television programs. From @海尔兄弟 on Weibo

A remake of a beloved childhood cartoon aired in China this week, eliciting varied reactions and a wave of nostalgia among netizens.

First broadcast in the mid-’90s, the original “Haier Brothers” cartoon stars two adorably animated boys who traverse the globe in search of adventure, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they’re wearing what might conservatively be described as swim trunks. In the revamp, however, the two tykes don space suits as they seek extraterrestrial encounters — and this departure from convention hasn’t gone over well with netizens who remember the first show.

“This is so ugly! I prefer the original characters,” commented one user on microblogging platform Weibo. “I grew up watching you — are you trying to damage my childhood?” wrote another.

Apart from TVs and computer screens, many Chinese people often find the two brothers on their refrigerators and air conditioning units: Haier is also a major manufacturer of home appliances and electronics. Headquartered in coastal Qingdao — a city whose rich German heritage is still evident in its beer and architecture — Haier modeled the blond-haired, fair-skinned brother after an archetypal German child, and the dark-haired, dark-skinned brother as an average Chinese boy. The series was conceived as a marketing move and helped Haier become a household name.

Fans affectionately dubbed the pint-sized heroes the “Underpants Brothers,” and jokingly call Haier appliances the world’s most expensive cartoon-related merchandise.

In the 1990s cartoon, the two brothers go all over the world combating natural disasters and escaping from sticky situations — navigating through a maelstrom in the Norwegian Sea, fending off grizzly bears in Alaska, getting surrounded by crocodiles in the Amazon, and struggling to make fire in the frozen Arctic, to name a few. While the original cartoon had a strong focus on nature, geography, and the social sciences, the new version will incorporate elements of cosmology and popular science.

During the ’80s and ’90s, China saw many successful animated imports from countries like the U.S. and Japan — but domestic cartoons also carved out their own niches and loyal fan followings. Here are a few of the classic Chinese cartoons that remain fondly remembered today by millennials.

Calabash Brothers

Popularly known as “Huluwa” in Chinese, this cartoon series first broadcast in 1986 pits seven child heroes against an evil snake-spirit and her husband. In one episode, the snake-lady captures the old farmer who bred the boys from a calabash vine — and thus “Free my grandfather!” became a war cry in the kids’ ensuing efforts to rescue the old man.

Each Calabash Brother has a signature color from the polychromatic spectrum, and each has special strengths and weaknesses. The red brother, for example, is uncannily strong, but also hot-headed and reckless. The orange brother, meanwhile, has heightened hearing and the gift of clairvoyance. Read the full article here.


This is original content by Sixth Tone and has been republished with permission.