Archives on TV: Amphibia, "Trip to the Archives"
Updated: Aug 20
I'm not the first archivist to tackle this episode of Disney's Amphibia, see Wading Through the Cultural Stacks. I held off because I have a long list of other properties to work through and it's important to me that the discussion of archives and pop culture isn't just this website. I don't want to tread over another archivist's analysis if I have nothing to add, but I also love animation and it was inevitable that I'd watch this episode. Let's see if I have anything else to say beyond what's already been said!
Briefly, Amphibia is about the adventures of Anne Boochuy on a quest to return home after being transported to a swampy world of anthropomorphized amphibians and others creatures. She's joined in her quest by Sprig Plantar, a young frog, his sister Polly, and their grandfather Hop Pop.
During the eponymous episode, Anne and company visit the town archives in order to find information that might help them in their forthcoming journey across the deadly wastelands. Sprig is the most vehemently against searching through dusty, old books about other peoples' adventures, but Anne is willing to do just about anything if it helps her to get home. Even research because boring, amirite? God forbid you had to prepare for a harrowing and potentially deadly journey by having some knowledge of the dangers ahead. The archives itself is a ways out of town - like a long ways - and is below ground (basically a basement) with access limited by the hours of daylight bouncing off a steampunk-esque crystal timer.
I like the design of the archives and I do appreciate that, while it's predominantly filled with books, there are records and artifacts included. That doesn't stop the characters from equating the archives to a library. In fact, when Sprig laments that they're headed to the archives, Anne comments that they're like the libraries from her world. Anne, hun, you also have archives in your world. I guarantee it. It's rightly pointed out in Burkley Herman's article (see above) that the town archives is neither archives nor library, but a repository, which is just a fancier way of saying storage. The characters treat the place like a library, but there's little rhyme or reason to the arrangement of the materials beyond what's needed at that moment in the story.
The archives itself was fashioned from the collections and former home of Mycroft Newtback, who met an unfortunate end when he left home and traveled out to the deadly wastelands, which adds some extra motivation for the group to find some helpful information. Unfortunately, there's no archivist present and, according to the log, its been three years since the last visit, so when the group gets trapped in the archives (like ya do), there's plenty of incentive to escape as quickly as possible.
Don't get me wrong, I actually like this episode and I like the show as a whole. The animation is beautiful, the characters are funny and well written, and the coming-of-age story along with the found family trope is engaging to watch. It's unfortunate that a popular show like this doesn't make a little extra effort to actually depict an archivist or verbally express the differences between libraries and archives when they have every opportunity to do so. But, I get it, if there's an archivist then someone would actually know how to get out of the archives when Sprig traps them inside. They'd probably know what materials would be useful to getting out as well that wouldn't result in rampant destruction and setting FIRE to the books! Jeez, Hop Pop, you had one job!
I will say this as a bit of a silver lining: the archives, in the end, does provide all of the tools and knowledge they need to rescue themselves. Whether it's getting the architectural plans to the former home turned repository or just piling books and furniture to make the flimsiest of support structures, they definitely find it in the archives and utilize their findings the best they can. It just might have gone better, and faster, if they'd had access to a finding aid...from an archivist.
Come to think of it, does anything ever get added to the archives? If the door is on a crystal timer and the last visitor was three years ago, does that mean the town's history has been stagnant this entire time? Do the residents of Wartwood not create records or write books or leave a paper trail at all in the course of their lives? Who organized the archives to begin with? Someone had to redesign the place after Newtback kicked the bucket? Gasp! What if there's a secret archivist and they haven't returned in three years and they're in need of rescue?! Won't someone rescue the secret archivist?!
No, I'm sure there's nothing to worry about. Everything's fine.
One fun fact of note! There's a Gravity Falls easter egg hidden in this episode! Try to find it or look it up online. Either way, enjoy yourself!