With Adventure Time being finished and shows like Steven Universe and Gumball seeming very much like they’re in endgame territory, it’s felt a little bit like the time has come for a new Cartoon Network series to rise up, capture our imaginations, and take us on a wild ride to faraway worlds of magic and wonder.
Last year, Cartoon Network announced that former Regular Show writer Owen Dennis’ newest project Infinity Train was finally becoming a full-fledged series years after first premiering as a curious animated short. Aside from saying that it’s meant to begin airing sometime in 2019, the network has yet to set an official premiere date for Infinity Train. But, as we roll into the new year, it feels like a good time to look back at Dennis’ original short to remember just what it is about Infinity Train that makes the idea of a series so promising.
Infinity Train tells the story of Tulip (originally voiced by Ashley Johnson), an analytical teenager with a fondness for order and solving complex puzzles. While it’s never exactly explained how she got there in the short, Infinity Train follows as Tulip makes her way through the titular locomotive and its seemingly infinite cars, each of which contains entire worlds that, for some reason, are in desperate need of her help.
Despite being joined by her sophisticated, bifurcated robot friend One-One (voiced by Jeremy Crutchley and Owen Dennis), the only information Tulip has about her predicament comes in the form of an ever-changing, glowing number etched into her hand that’s trying to give her directions she doesn’t understand. Being the logical person that she is, being trapped on the Infinity Train is uniquely frustrating for Tulip, as there’s no apparent rhyme or reason to how any of it actually works. While some cars are perfectly normal, others contain dimensions that are filled with nothing but farts, and others are inhabited by intelligent, speaking corgis. No matter how many cars Tulip journeys through, however, she can’t quite make sense of what it is she’s meant to do, or why the number on her hand keeps changing.
Storywise, there’s a near-limitlessness potential baked into Infinity Train because of its premise alone. But the thing that really makes the short shine is the way it centres Tulip’s distinct personality. Unlike the wide-eyed, awestruck heroes of so many other animated series, who see their adventures as inherently delightful and fun, Tulip sees the train as a larger-than-life problem that must be solved and understands that her life is very much in danger. As fun as it is to give the corgi king belly rubs, it doesn’t make it any easier to ignore the train’s ghoulish, robotic workers that are hellbent on hunting Tulip down.
It’s impossible to watch the Infinity Train short and not be reminded of Leiji Matsumoto’s Galaxy Express 999, a manga (and anime series) detailing the travels of a young orphaned named Tetsuro and his stoic, though loving companion, Maetel, as they ride an interstellar train in search of immortality. Rather than making periodic stops on distant planets and spending time becoming entangled in their cultures before learning important life lessons the way Tetsuro does in Galaxy Express 999, Tulip is, for all intents and purposes, stuck on her vehicle, which is actually a vessel for disparate universes unto itself.
Galaxy Express 999’s Conductor (the train’s only staff member) consistently encourages Tetsuro and Maetel to disembark and explore in order to fully experience just what all their trip has to offer. The Infinity Train, by comparison, is infested by murderous automatons hellbent on forcing Tulip to return to her assigned seat. As much as one can see the shared narrative DNA between the two series, though, Infinity Train never comes across as derivative because of the sharp, brooding energy that’s present throughout the short and (hopefully) will be part of the series.
For all the fantastical whimsy that Infinity Train is infused with, Tulip never wavers in her understanding of the danger the train presents. No matter how much whimsical fun she finds herself having while moving from car to car, she, like all of us watching, knows her actions will have consequences and that she had to be smart if she wants to survive. She’s got the kind of drive that makes for a fascinating lead character who could very well end up telling one of the most compelling animated tales this year.
Infinity Train is meant to begin airing later this year, but you can watch the original short on YouTube right now.