Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends Is Truly One of the Most Brilliant Cartoons to Ever Exist

Mac being stressed out by a bunch of living concepts.
Mac being stressed out by a bunch of living concepts.
Image: Cartoon Network

While there are a number of us who pretend we didn’t have imaginary friends as children, the truth is that we did. Some of us remember those friends, while others made a point of trying to forget. Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends was a deep exploration of this reality, and it’s a show that’s worth watching again in this specific moment.

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The basic premise of Foster’s—which aired on Cartoon Network from 2004–2009—was that, in a world where people could manifest imaginary friends, there would always come a time when people aged out and needed to leave them behind. But because imaginary friends couldn’t be un-imagined, they needed a place to live, and, in the best-case scenario, be adopted by new young people in need of emotional companionship. Madame Foster, the madam of the house in which they all lived, was one of the few adults who insisted on keeping her original imaginary friend (Mr. Herriman, a stuffy English rabbit with a monocle) around, something that Frankie, her granddaughter, never quite got around to prioritizing.

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The magic of Foster’s was how consistently mundane the show was. The cast of characters was fantastical, but the bulk of their lives focused on the everyday kind of nonsense that we all deal with. At times, Madame Foster had to go to court for getting into fights with people, as old people are wont to do. Mac, the show’s main protagonist—who was obviously a cypher of creator Craig McCracken (The Powerpuff Girls)—spent his time at the home bonding with Bloo, his creation. But the more time Mac spent at the home, the more he came to understand how its residents were all trying to work through a deep sadness borne out of the fact that they’d been left behind.

Foster’s also delved into what it would be like for people who had intensely negative minds, like Mac’s brother (whose imaginary friend is a straight-up monster-monster). They were capable of creating not just things, but fully realized people who openly made it clear that their creators were not right in the head, and if left to their own devices for too long would end up becoming problems. The point was always to illustrate the importance of actively trying not to be that way. One of the ways the show makes that clear was by consistently giving the Duchess, a noted bad friend, episodes in which she was the main focus all the while not fully being able to grasp that she was was the focus.

The Picasso-inspired Duchess.
The Picasso-inspired Duchess.
Image: Cartoon Network

But characters like the Duchess also embodied what was so amazing about Foster’s. Mean as the Duchess was, she was created with Picasso (in his later artistic stages) in mind, which was reflective of the fact that her creator, at some point, was exposed to fine art. Much as that might not immediately jump out as brilliance to the casual viewer, that’s exactly what it was.

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Though there was an inbuilt sadness to Foster’s (see: being given up), what continues to make the show insanely rewatchable is that, at its core, it’s a reminder that we all would do well to hold onto our imaginations and the fact that beauty and cleverness starts with the mind. Each and every single one of Foster’s stories was about how profoundly powerful our minds are, both collectively and individually.

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io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.

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DISCUSSION

The visual style was great. Like weird Ed Emberley: