Courage the Cowardly Dog is an American animated horror comedy children's television series created by John R. Dilworth for Cartoon Network as part of the network's Cartoon Cartoons block. It follows a purple anthropomorphic beagle who lives with a married elderly couple in the middle of Nowhere. The trio are frequently thrown into bizarre misadventures, often involving the paranormal/supernatural. The series is known for its dark, surreal humor and atmosphere.
Dilworth pitched the series to Hanna-Barbera's animated shorts showcase What a Cartoon!, and a pilot (entitled "The Chicken from Outer Space") aired on Cartoon Network in early 1996. The segment was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost to Wallace and Gromit's A Close Shave. Cartoon Network greenlit a series from the short, which premiered on November 12, 1999 and ended on November 22, 2002, with four seasons of 13 episodes each produced. During its run, the series was nominated for 3 Golden Reel Awards and 1 Annie Award. Spin-off media include home video releases and collectible toys.
Courage the Cowardly Dog follows Courage, an easily frightened lavender dog. He was abandoned as a puppy after his parents were forcibly sent into outer space by a crazed vet. He lives in a house with a connected garage near the fictional town of Nowhere, Kansas with Muriel Bagge, a sweet-natured Scottish woman, and her American husband Eustace Bagge, a grouchy, selfish, greedy man who constantly harasses Courage. Courage was found in an alleyway by Muriel, who took him up as her own.
Courage, Muriel and Eustace frequently run into monsters, aliens, demons, mad scientists, zombies and other supernatural perils from myths and legends that Courage must fend off to save his owners, usually unbeknownst to them. Although most of the creatures that the three face are frightening or disturbing, some turn out to be sweet and simply in distress. The plot generally uses horror conventions, common to horror films. Ironically, given his name, Courage is a genuine coward, but still goes to great lengths to protect his owners.
Although episodic in nature, there are a handful of recurring characters in the show's cast, including Courage's sarcastic, sentient computer, the family physician Dr. Vindaloo, the fortune-telling Chihuahua Shirley the Medium, Eustace's mother "Ma", and recurring villains, Katz and Le Quack.
Originally, Courage the Cowardly Dog was created as a seven-minute animated short, "The Chicken from Outer Space". Dilworth started the animated short with Hanna-Barbera, sponsored by Cartoon Network and introduced Courage. Dilworth graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1985. He became an art director and founded his own animation studio, Stretch Films in 1991, and incorporated in 1994.
The animated short was shown as one of the episodes of Cartoon Network's World Premiere Toons in 1996, a Hanna-Barbera Cartoons innovation by then-president Fred Seibert. The short served as a de facto pilot for the future series. The original animated short had no dialogue except for one line spoken by Courage, who had a more authoritative voice than in the series. It was uttered by voice actor Howard Hoffman who also provided all the other vocal sounds and effects for the short. An alien chicken was the villain in this short, who later reappears in the series to seek revenge. His sons also attempt to seek revenge too in a later episode. The short was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film at the 68th Academy Awards.
When deciding on sound effects, Dilworth tried to avoid pre-made stock sounds. He contributed a substantial amount of new material to sound designer Michael Geisler and only looked for sounds that made him laugh. The composition of the series' music relied on what was being portrayed: suspense, comedy, or action. The production crew worked together to come up with new music for the series that had not previously been used. There were a few sections on one particular piece that Dilworth exceptionally liked. The production crew was able to isolate these sections and expand them into a usable theme. Dilworth further complicated the crew's job by suggesting layering the theme with a variety of funny sounds, a strange tempo and a voice over of a crazed laugh or person singing to give the music and sound effects their own personality beyond anything else out there.
Original music featured in Courage the Cowardly Dog was composed by Jody Gray and Andy Ezrin. Classical music can be heard at times, which pays homage to classic Warner Bros. animation and the scores of Carl Stalling. In several episodes, Gray arranged various famous classical pieces and wrote up to 15 songs, such as Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries".
In 1999, Cartoon Network gave Dilworth permission to turn the short into an animated series. Hanna-Barbera was responsible for the What a Cartoon anthology and intended on developing the series. However, Dilworth insisted on taking the production to his Stretch Films Studios. The stories' plots were written by the show's head writer, David Steven Cohen, in addition to Irv Bauer, Craig Shemin, Lory Lazarus, Bill Marsilii, Allan Neuwirth, Bill Aronson and Michelle Dilworth.
Courage the Cowardly Dog originally was premiered as a short on February 18, 1996. The show premiered on November 12, 1999 and became the highest-rated premiere in Cartoon Network history at the time. It last aired on November 22, 2002, with 52 episodes produced in four seasons. The series is available for streaming on Boomerang's Website .
In total, there were 52 episodes in four seasons produced, plus a pilot episode and a special episode. The series ran from November 12, 1999, to November 22, 2002.
Alex Mastas of Lights Out Films reviewed the show gave it a grade "A-" and described it, "The backgrounds are rich and imaginative—they composite lot of the show over real photos and occasionally integrate CGI into cartoon. The look is weird and ethereal, just like the show itself."
KJ Dell Antonia of Common Sense Media gave three stars out of five with the summary, "Cult fave 'toon plays over-the-top violence for laughs." Antonia warned parents that the series contains graphic animated violence, including "exploding organs, growing extra limbs, turning inside out, you name it". Antonia said shows aimed at younger audiences "usually don't go for thrills and chills, so it's good to see a genuinely surreal and slanted series develop a decent following."
Jeff Swindoll of Monsters and Critics reviewed the first season DVD and felt a bit disappointed about its lack of the original Hanna-Barbera short "The Chicken from Outer Space." Swindoll felt that the lack of special features still should not deter fans from buying the season since the other episodes have appeared on other releases of the series.
Courage the Cowardly Dog: Season One, a two-disc DVD set featuring all 13 episodes from the show's first season, was released in Australia (Region 4) on September 12, 2007, by Madman Entertainment. On January 13, 2010, the complete second season was also released.
A Region 1 release of the first season was done by Warner Home Video (via Warner Archive) on July 20, 2010. The release is the second in an official release of several Cartoon Cartoons on DVD, under the "Cartoon Network Hall of Fame" name. The second season was released on October 14, 2014 as the fourth in the "Hall of Fame" series. The third season was original supposed to be released on DVD in Region 1 on February 2, 2016, but it was delayed to (and was released on) March 22, 2016. It is the fifth title in the Cartoon Network Hall of Fame series. The fourth and final season was released on September 27, 2016.
In addition, all four seasons of the series are available for download on iTunes. The PlayStation 2 version of the video game Cartoon Network Racing contains the episodes "Robot Randy" and "The Magic Tree of Nowhere" as unlockable extras.
Though the series has no official video games, characters from Courage the Cowardly Dog appear in the Cartoon Network games Cartoon Network: Block Party, Cartoon Network Racing, Cartoon Network Speedway, and Cartoon Network Universe: FusionFall.
In February 2012, BuzzFeed reported that a CGI special of Courage the Cowardly Dog was in development. The special, entitled "The Fog of Courage", was finally aired in 2014. However, BuzzFeed also stated that there are strong chances of bringing back Courage the Cowardly Dog in a CGI format. A Facebook campaign was launched in July 2016 to convince Cartoon Network to greenlight a fifth season of Courage. Also, it was said that voice actor Brian Doyle-Murray was assigned to voice Eustace Bagge in a potential CGI reboot of the series due to the death of Arthur Anderson in April 2016. However, no other information has been said since.