May 5, 2020

On the Right Track: Infinity Train Review

On the Right Track: Infinity Train Review

"Are You looking for your bagel mother too?"

Whether people realize it or not, we're in a golden age of modern cartoons. From long-running series like Adventure Time to short series such as Gravity Falls, there is an array of diverse cartoons for any aged viewer. Among the many great series at our fingertips is a little-known show called Infinity Train, a hidden gem in this gold rush of animation. It's a strange and beautiful show that has drawn me in since its initial mysterious trailer. 

My interest grew when I heard that one of my favorite Actresses / Voiceover Artists, Ashley Johnson (The Last of Us, Blindspot), was going to voice the central character Tulip in this series about a mysterious train.

Infinity Train is an anthology series created by Owen Dennis (storyboard artist on Regular Show). The premise? A young girl goes on an emotional adventure on a mysterious endless train with everchanging cars heading to nowhere in particular. Though it seems like a simple concept, it is anything but that. When the viewer steps foot onto the infinity train with Tulip, they are in for an amusing and emotionally charged ride.

This article will be a spoiler-free look into why everyone should be watching the largely "slept on" Infinity Train, which is now in its second season or "Book Two."

When we meet our protagonist in book one, a teenage girl named Tulip (Ashley Johnson), she's struggling to deal with the emotional aftermath of her parent's divorce. She runs away from home to take herself to a computer programming camp and ends up on a magical train with a glowing number on her hand. Being of a logical mind, Tulip tries to find answers right away to be in control of her situation. She develops a plan to journey through the train to find out why she is here, how she can leave, and what the number on her hand means. 

Along the way, Tulip befriends One-One (a robotic ball that splits in two) and Atticus (a Corgi King capable of speech). These characters join her in her quest to find out how to leave the train. As they venture through each train car, they find each one is like another world. It has its own set of rules, own creatures or terrain, etc. Tulip faces obstacles, both physical and emotional, as she heads towards the front of the train. Depending on her actions, she realizes that the number on her hand goes up or down. 

Through her journey, Tulip learns to come to terms with the inner emotional turmoil that she's been avoiding and repressing. Each episode is a mini-adventure, and each door to another car requires a puzzle to be solved. The story is deep and engaging, the world is highly imaginative, and the characters are likable and relatable, and you find yourself reaching the end before you know it. 

While some could argue that the story can be simplified to a typical hero's quest to return home, the way that it's presented is both beautiful and meaningful. The ending is realistic, satisfying, and the entire journey is one that children and adults will benefit from experiencing. 

It's also worth noting that Tulip is an excellent character. She is written and portrayed as a realistic teenager struggling with complicated emotions that she has not been able to understand or cope with in a healthy way. Tulip is a unique female character in that she's allowed to be stubborn, confident, logical, and goofy. Sometimes she's so logical that she overthinks things that would be more easily solved if she would just let herself feel. 

While the episodes are short in comparison to other forms of media (about a ten minute run time), they contain an amount of character development and plot that other shows struggle to achieve comfortably or consistently. We join Tulip as she matures emotionally throughout the season, and we grow with her. Additionally, the show hits all the right beats while balancing some heavy emotional subjects. It knows when to be funny, heartfelt, and heartbreaking rather than interrupting any of those moments and lessening their effect.

While Infinity Train could easily have been a single-season series, I'm infinitely glad that it wasn't. I was excited to learn that though one character's story ended, the show was continuing. Animated shows take time and money to be created, so it fell into the back of my memory. When I stumbled upon the second season earlier in the week, I bought it immediately. I hadn't known that the season aired yet, and as soon as I pressed play, it felt like being reunited with an old friend. 

Infinity Train manages what few shows can achieve even with hour-long episodes and endless seasons. It was able to seamlessly flow two seasons into each other despite having a different main cast for each season. As I mentioned before, it was like reuniting with an old friend. The train is the same, but different. The struggles are the same, but different. The show builds upon what made the first season so special and compliments it without trying to recreate or redefine it. 

Instead of Tulip, we follow the journey of her mirror counterpart (Mirror Tulip, also known as MT), who was Tulip's reflection in the first season. After the events of the previous season, she exists outside of the mirror world and is no longer destined to follow and do everything Tulip does. While MT (Johnson) is in the outside world, she's in a pseudo-free state. She's still running away from the fallout of the events of the first season. MT also wants to exit the train and be free to have a life of her choosing. She wants to be her own person and not just the reflection of a "real" person. 

MT meets and reluctantly befriends Jesse, a newcomer on the train, and a deer with supernatural powers, which they name Alan Dracula. Jesse is a people pleaser. He struggles with standing up for himself and what he believes is right, even at the expense of others. Being a denizen of the train and unable to have a number on her hand, MT helps guide Jesse. 

Along the way, MT and Jesse each face struggles with identity, fitting in, and living for themselves instead of others. Through Jesse, Infinity Train tackles the way young men feel pressured to conform to toxic masculinity. 

While both seasons focus on a character's emotional journey, this season compliments the first rather than copies it. Themes of individuality and morality lead the show forward as characters look not only at themselves and how they treat others but at how the train functions and treats its passengers as well. The ending once again is beautiful and satisfying.

Infinity Train has easily become one of my favorite cartoons, and it continues to show how modern animated series can hold their own when compared to other forms of storytelling media. It is not just entertaining; it is essential viewing for all ages. At its current 20 episodes, the entire show can be watched in a matter of hours. It is easy for bingeing and highly rewatchable. In my opinion, it is a modern cartoon masterpiece. 

From the gorgeous animation to the compelling story and characters, I enjoyed every second of it. It's a rare show that makes you feel good and also feel so much.

The show also has an incredible cast of voice actors that bring these quirky characters to life. Ashley Johnson, Kate Mulgrew, Lena Hedley, Ernie Hudson, Dee Bradley Baker, and Ben Mendelsohn lend their talents to some of the memorable and eclectic main and recurring characters. Johnson is an absolute delight and tour de force as both Tulip and MT. She deserves praise for her honest and believable portrayal of a vulnerable teenager trying to understand and compartmentalize the difficult emotions she's feeling regarding a source of emotional trauma in her life. Whether it's her parent's divorce or fighting to prove she has a right to exist, you feel every emotion in her performance.

Divorce is something that is not uncommon these days, and plenty of children, teenagers, and adults can relate to this circumstance. Even if you haven't experienced divorce or any of the traumas the show has covered, people of all ages can relate to the themes of the show and its characters. Afterall the train itself is like therapy. One's journey through the train helps them face their struggles and inner turmoil and grow as a person. If we're lucky like Tulip and MT, we'll meet some friends to support us along the way.

5 out of 5 Onions 

You can board the Infinity Train on Cartoon Network and Amazon Prime. It will also be available on HBO MAX when the streaming service launched later this month on May 27th.