Netflix recently released a new children’s cartoon for its streaming service/schedule, Spirit Rangers. I know it may seem odd to specify that a cartoon is for children, but many animated projects are not intended for a younger audience as animation has, rightfully, been recognized more as a medium than a specific genre. So, the clarification felt appropriate particularly to specify that I am very much not the intended audience for this series. I am far from an elementary age child. I have no children of my own. And even my nephews have outgrown the age where this cartoon would pique their interests. Still curiosity struck and I was intrigued by the framing and premise of this series: a Native perspective in a children’s cartoon.
Spirit Rangers follows the stories and adventures of Native American siblings: Kodiak, Summer, and Eddy Skycedar. The trio works, alongside their parents and grandmother, at a National Park taking care of and preserving the park and its wildlife. Through their “job”, the siblings, and by extension the audience, learns valuable lessons about safety, emotions, hard work, teamwork, and various other necessary and useful life lessons. Along with the siblings, there is a colorful cast of animal characters with unique personalities that join the Skycedars on their adventures. There is catchy, kid friendly music that will inevitably become earworms for the viewers. The episodes are short enough to be quickly consumed without kids losing focus or attention. In short, Spirit Rangers is very much like any other children’s show you could expect to see on Nick Jr. or related channel with equal care and production value. The difference is found in the perspective of the writing and characters that create the world and story of the show.
From the Writer’s Room to the cast to the music to virtually every aspect of Spirit Rangers, the Native American/Indigenous influence and perspective is apparent and celebrated. The supporting cast of characters from Lizard to Coyote to the other various Spirits are all based on Native American stories, folklore, and beliefs. The framing stories and adventures in which the titular trio learn life lessons are based on Native American stories and practices. The last episode of the season centers around a blatant discussion of Native American’s being forgotten or believed to be extinct. The show is unapologetically Native in its entire premise and execution and all the better for it. The diversity and viewpoint of the series is not vanity or token. It very much is intended to give insight and a window into Native American culture and stories while still being a great example of representation for Native children. And it manages to be so without alienating any other potential viewers who are not Native or Indigenous.
As I stated at the top, I am not the intended audience for this show, but it is still a series worth watching and investing in for what it is and does: give voice and agency and insight to an oppressed and ignored people.
Plus, the show does have incredible potential for toys and cross media application, so if nothing else Netflix can easily make money off it and hasn’t that always been the point, on some level, of children’s cartoons?