How Courage The Cowardly Dog Took Inspiration From Jaws And The Exorcist Movie

Throughout the 52 episodes aired out of the four seasons, Courage the Cowardly Dog paid homage to classic horror films with satirical references in the show like 1975’s Jaws and 1973’s The Exorcist.

Published on Jun 04, 2024  |  09:42 PM IST |  32.9K
Courage the Cowardly Dog (YouTube/CartoonNetwork)
Courage the Cowardly Dog (PC: YouTube/CartoonNetwork)

It all started with The Chicken From Outer Space. The 1996 sci-fi short film later on served as the pilot episode of one of the most iconic horror cartoon shows, Courage the Cowardly Dog. The Cartoon Network show that aired from 1999 to 2002 made history by becoming the highest-rated premiere in the network’s history back then.

Creator John R. Dilworth’s love for the horror and thriller genre inspired the show. But there’s more. Throughout the 52 episodes aired out of the four seasons, Courage the Cowardly Dog paid homage to many classic horror films with satirical references in the show. 1975’s Jaws and 1973’s The Exorcist are to name a few.

The inspiration behind Courage the Cowardly Dog

While animator John R. Dilworth’s, 61, passion for the genre gave way to Courage the Cowardly Dog, the many horror hits from the ‘90s helped him maintain the thrill and spookiness of the cartoon, in a fun way. The references made were essentially parodied bits of plots from classics like Jaws, Village of the Damned, Forbidden Planet, and The Exorcist, per SlashFilm. 

For a pink beagle named Courage, yet very timid, who is loyal to his owners Muriel and Eustace and protects them from eerie and paranormal activities at their farmhouse in Nowhere, Arkansas, the references were quite fitting and became fan-favorite episodes. It inspired a whole generation of horror-loving viewers and the cartoon’s ode to the classics aided its eternal popularity. 

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An entire episode, titled, The Demon in the Mattress was inspired by The Exorcists’ plot, where Muriel takes on Linda Blair’s Regan MacNeil and showcases parodied scenes from the movie like Muriel rotating her head a full 360 degrees, or levitating from her bed with the demon-possessed mattress. 

Besides that, other episodes paid tribute to the Victorian tale of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, featuring Muriel’s nephew Fred, who is a barber and speaks in rhymes. A seeming inspiration from the uncanny animation of 1973’s Fantastic Planet also presented a humongous, blue girl called Tulip.

Courage the Cowardly Dog is a torchbearer of horror-comedy cartoon shows, and while reboots seem like the first choice owing to its popularity, creator Dilworth said he’s been waiting for one to be greenlit despite four failed attempts, per Vulture. 

Did Courage the Cowardly Dog win an Oscar?

The direct answer is no, but it certainly came close to winning one. The Cartoon Network show originally premiered as a short, sci-fi film, The Chicken From Outer Space in 1996. It was later developed into a show that premiered three years later in 1999. Sponsored by Hanna-Barbera Cartoons and CN, the short film was a huge success. The Chicken From Outer Space earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short Film in 1996.

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Although it lost to the short film, Wallace and Gromit, the recognition set Dilworth on the map. He served as the show's executive producer, co-writer, and director and even voiced several characters. 

The intense imagery and terrifying stories exposed kids to a new cartoon genre amid the rise of pop-style shows like Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, and others. In the golden era of Cartoon Network, Courage the Cowardly Dog became the silver lining. 

ALSO READ: Top 5 scariest episodes of Courage the Cowardly Dog

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