I have a strong tendency to overanalyze my daughter’s cartoons. That being said, however, on occasion a television show’s subtext becomes so expansive that I cannot seem to think of anything else; and if it is perverse of me to contemplate the unsettling implications of a show that takes mudpies and finger paints as its subject matter, then so be it.
Because Toopy and Binoo is an existentialist fairy tale.
“Magic Mirror” is my favourite episode of Toopy and Binoo, because it is both dark and uplifting. In this episode, Toopy is admiring himself in the mirror, claiming that he is “the best Toopy of them all.” However, when Toopy enters the world within the mirror, he is confronted by the myriad possibilities of dozens of other cartoon mice who seem to be better than he is. One can tie his shoelaces; another can do cartwheels; yet another can remove his nose. Toopy despairs more and more, his self-confidence dwindling, until Binoo lunges into the mirror world to embrace him, and he finds himself greater than the shades of his shortcomings because he has Binoo.
Yet Toopy still does not yet enter the “real” world when he returns to the right side of his mirror, for again this is a show that does not recognize a distinction between imagination and reality. Toopy is the only character in the show; everyone else is a product of his fertile imagination.
Toopy and Binoo is a monologue — except in some more recent episodes when secondary (and patently imaginary) characters will speak — for Toopy is a continual tide of talk, and no one ever answers him. Binoo is forever silent. He is also a stuffed cat, with a set of stitches on his stomach. The longer you watch the show — and bear in mind that I’ve endured it hundreds of times — the more it dawns on you that no one in Toopy and Binoo has a reality that persists beyond Toopy’s fancies. The Three Bears, the mountain goat, the forest animals — all have their correlates as toys in Toopy’s bedroom, as seen in “The Big Parade.”
There is not a single character in Toopy and Binoo who is unambiguously real, except for Toopy himself, since he is the prime mover in the show’s universe. Everyone and everything else has reality only through him; they appear as he picks up his toys and disappear when he puts them down. He is their god, and yet so broad in his imaginings that many of his creations scoff at him, ignore him, or begrudgingly tolerate him. Toopy’s imagination reproduces a whole spectrum of reactions and personalities.
Unlike all the others, Binoo is persistent; he does not dissolve into the ether when Toopy is finished playing with his other toys. This persistence subverts the distinction between fantasy and reality, so that in the long run this distinction collapses. While sometimes the transition from one to the other is made clear, often the fantasy simply creeps into the story until it strays far into the absurd.
Binoo is a creation of Toopy’s mind, and yet experiences the world entirely separately from Toopy; eg. “Sock Puppet.” Binoo often surprises Toopy and in many instances seems smarter, or at least more attentive to his surroundings, than his hyperactive friend. Binoo is Toopy’s self-generated and ever-present “Other,” another consciousness within the world of the show who orients Toopy and keeps him afloat through his adventures. Toopy is forever happy, energetic, and excited, and this is only possible because of his self-created Other. Loneliness and despair, as seen in “Magic Mirror,” is the only alternative.
Mature and reasoning adults place a high premium on truth, and yet as one animated commenter has noted, “But the truth can be harsh and disturbing! How can that be considered beautiful?” Children have the luxury of drawing their fantasies into the world and acting upon them precisely at that time of life when they are everywhere restricted by parental authority. There are no parents or authority figures in Toopy and Binoo. There are no limits. Toopy’s imagination is wide enough to encompass worlds within worlds, which he will presumably carry with him, as we all do, when he grows up and is prepared for the outside world.
I sit down and watch the show with my daughter.