Liberty's Kids is a PBS series created by DIC Entertainment, the producers of Strawberry Shortcake, that follows the adventures of three teenagers, two of whom were in the employ of Benjamin Franklin's newpaper/publishing business, as they find themselves witnesses to the The American Revolution from the Boston Tea Party in 1773 to the signing of the US Constitution in 1787.The major characters are:
James Hiller, a young reporter who is an enthusiastic supporter of the colonial resistance who has to learn that there are hard realities in the events around him that fly in the face of his ideals.
Henri Richard Maurice Dutoit LeFebrve, a young French orphan troublemaker who finds himself swept up the politics of the day.
Sarah Phillips, a dignified British girl who is initially a staunch Loyalist determined to present her side's perspective of the conflict as a reporter under Franklin, only to ultimately side with the Revolution.
Moses: An African-American ex-slave who works in Franklin's printing business. A self-taught engineer, he serves as a respected adult authority over the kids.
Although the series was created for a juvenile audience (ages 7 to 14), it nevertheless takes a relatively sophisticated look at the American Revolution, which highlights not only the heroes and achievements of the independence movement, but also its less palatable aspects such as the role of slavery, mob violence and the privations the Native Peoples of America suffered in this conflict.
Tropes employed in this series include:
Adobe Flash: The "Liberty News Network" segments are clearly animated in flash, while the rest of the show is traditional animation.
Bait-and-Switch Credits: Somewhat. The lyrics to the intro are pretty fitting, but the song itself is a pop tune with brief Aaron Carter rapping, a little out of place for a historical cartoon that does take itself seriously.
Been There, Shaped History: The premise, basically. The kids are involved in every event of the Revolution that could form the plot of a show.
Bloodless Carnage: For a show that talks a lot about killing and wounding people, there isn't a whole lot of blood shown. Then again, it is a show aimed at kids seven and up.
Boyfriend Bluff: A variation on this trope makes for a Crowning Moment of Funny in "One Life to Lose." When British sailors attempt to kidnap James and press him into service, Sarah and Henri show up just in time and demand they let him go. When the sailors ask for a reason to let James go, Henri gleefully pipes up and says Sarah and James are engaged. Hilarity Ensues as Sarah immediately picks up on the lie and launches a dramatic tale of their love and how James is eager to join the English navy, but she demanded he "hold on just a little longer, dearest" until they were married. She begs them not to take "her love" away, not after all they'd been through (at which point, even Henri is rolling his eyes). When asked if that was true, James awkwardly smiles, clenches his teeth and says that yes, she is his fiance and they are "very much in love." The sailors buy it hook, line, and sinker and even have a nostalgic moment for "young love" as the James and Sarah shuffle away hand in hand.
Broken Pedestal: As it did in Real Life, this trope concerns itself with Benedict Arnold. He is a revered war hero at first (he's the soldier whom Sarah looks admiredly at in the show's intro), and as such many are struck by his Face-Heel Turn.
Chained Heat: James is imprisoned with a Hessian deserter, and the chained-together pair have to cooperate to escape.
Character Development: James and Sarah. James starts out as a jerkass who accepts all the Revolutionary rhetoric without any opinions of his own, while Sarah is an Ice Queen who is solidly British and can't understand why the colonists would want to rebel. They both get better.
Fake Brit: Sarah is voiced by native Nebraskan Reo Jones.
A Father to His Men: A bunch of the officers are this way: George Washington repeatedly calls his circle of officers his family, Baron von Steuben encourages inspiring devotion in the men and at one point spoonfeeds a sick soldier, and Lafayette charges into a battle to calm the retreating Continentals down. Benedict Arnold also counts, which actually makes his inevitable Face-Heel Turn more of a Tear Jerker than it is normally portrayed.
Felony Misdemeanor: The soldiers are outraged at Baron von Steuben for demanding such unreasonable things as drilling for battle, having discipline, keeping the camp clean, and winning the devotion of their underlings.
Frozen In Time: In a weird way — the historical events progress at a reasonable pace, spanning about fifteen years, but the kids don't age.
Confusingly, the passage of time is mentioned occasionally, such as in the penultimate episode when Sarah mentions it's been ten years since the Declaration of Independence. She looks exactly the same.
Sarah becomes a Patriot in "Not Yet Begun to Fight."
Happens to a Loyalist couple when some British soldiers ransack their food and supplies for their own needs while the Revolutionaries had passed by an hour or so back and didn't take a thing. The commander even ordered them not to harm the land at all.
Historical Villain Upgrade: Averted very well with Benedict Arnold, who is shown to be an invaluable part of the colonial army before he switched sides. The section of the series that focuses on him explains the events surrounding his turn better than a course on American history is likely to.
One of them black. Along with every inn and house they stayed at on their travels.
Karma Houdini: Sarah's guide to Ohio would count considering what he does.
Kick the Dog: Various historical characters get their own moment. However, one of the most obvious is during the American siege of Yorktown. In order to conserve supplies, Cornwallis leaves the blacks who joined his army to fend for themselves.
Limited Wardrobe: In the 14 years that took place, the main characters went absolutely everywhere wearing the same outfits. Even when crawling through the mud and forests Sarah would still wear her dainty little gown.
Actually, this is accurate, as folks of the time only would have 1-2 sets of clothes. Still, you'd think in 14 years they might grow.
Made a Slave: Moses and Henri in their backstories. Yes, Henri, a white boy, and it's specifically said not to be indentured servitude. Try finding a high-school textbook that makes the distinction.
To be fair, it's not as if Moses and other black people had a choice but to be this. It was the 18th century. Just being friendly with white people (specifically, a teenaged white ''girl'') was pushing the envelope of society's tolerance. It's lucky he wasn't lynched on the spot at that slave auction as a buyer. Had he been an Angry Black Man or a Malcolm Xerox, he wouldn't have lasted long. Real-life characters like James Armistead and Elizabeth Freeman are evidence of this.
Man Hug: Lafayette and Washington are very fond of these.
Meet Cute: James getting struck on the head with a book-stuffed pillowcase by Sarah... in the midst of the Boston Tea Party.
No Hugging, No Kissing: Lots of hints dropped, but James and Sarah never did end up as anything more than friends.
Not Allowed to Grow Up: Although the events of the series span 14 years of history, the show featured kid characters who never appear to age even while the adults around them do. After all, by the end of the series, the trio should have been entering their late 20s. Henri doesn't even get Character Development!
Officer and a Gentleman: Sarah's father, a major of the Seven Years' War, Ohio territory explorer, and even a friend to the Indians sheltering him.
Opposites Attract: James, the poor, orphaned, American patriot, and Sarah, the rich English loyalist.
Parental Abandonment: None of the main teenage characters live with their parents. Sarah is the only one whose parents are still alive.
Politically Correct History: Mostly averted. Although the kids are friends with Moses, most of society still treats blacks the way they were in the 18th century, albeit in a way that children's programming can swallow.
The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Not that it dwells on it for very long, but the show doesn't dismiss that the American Revolution was initiated by angry colonists who were mostly seen as radical idiots at the time. Not to mention the tar-and-feathering...
The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: Monkeywrenched. Although generally the American Revolution is portrayed as a good thing, the British and Loyalists are allowed to express their points of view and even look like the good guys on occasion, what with the Brits offering freedom to slaves and the Continentals, especially slaveholders like George Washington, refusing to do so. It even shows the colonists as actual bad guys at some points, especially considering the mob violence against the Loyalists and the privations the Native Peoples suffer in the war.
Not that it justifies anything, the Native Americans weren't exactly innocent themselves. Joseph Brant, to the show's credit, mentions that he fought on the side of the British and lost. He didn't like what happened, obviously, but he was not surprised by the results of his defeat.
Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: In The New Frontier, after pacifistic Shawnee chief Cornstalk and his son are wrongfully executed by Patriots at Fort Randolph, Sarah quits her job as a reporter and outright leaves the colonies and returns to England. She comes back though three episodes later.
Shown Their Work: Some elements of Politically Correct History aside, the show is a rather insightful look into its time period and gives several facts about its prominent figures that most U.S. history books would leave out.
Sick Episode: Sarah contracts Smallpox in "An American In Paris."
More accurately, she gets innoculated for smallpox and has a reaction, most likely a mild form of the disease. But yes, she gets better.
Slap-Slap-Kiss: James and Sarah's relationship can be interpreted this way.
The Smurfette Principle: While at first glance this appears to be Sarah's role, her being female is more of a bonus; her main purpose in the story is to be a loyalist contrast to the rest of the revolutionary main cast.
Sympathetic P.O.V.: In many of the episodes, a good deal of time is spent seeing the conflict through the eyes of the British, and showing the reasoning and justifications of their actions during the war.
Providing this is actually Sarah's job in the newspaper.
Tagalong Kid: Henri at times, although he certainly has his uses.
Tar and Feathers: James watches as an innocent man is tarred and feathered by a mob and joins in their mocking. This lasts until he is later informed how horrific the act can be and meets the man being treated for it, near-death.
Later in the series, he stands up to a mob of angry laborers who want to tar-and-feather a wealthy Tory, delaying them long enough for soldiers to arrive and restore order.
Traveling at the Speed of Plot: Played with. The characters mention roughly accurate travel periods for the time, but often, news makes it to faraway places way faster than it should have.
True Companions: The three kids eventually form this amongst themselves, with Ben and Moses.
Tsundere: Sarah is often a Type A towards James throughout their story arcs, and this element to her personality brings the underlying UST in their relationship.
Vague Age: The characters' ages are rather unclear, considering how many years are passing during the context of the show despite everyone's appearances not aging at all.
Viewers Are Morons: Both played straight and averted. Anyone old enough and smart enough to even follow the surprisingly advanced analysis and description of the complex issues surrounding the American War of Independence is highly unlikely to enjoy or be even remotely challenged by the ridiculously juvenile games and puzzles they use in place of commercial breaks when shown on PBS. "Continental Cartoons", for example, is a stupendously easy set of rebus-style puzzles. These are omitted when the show is aired on other networks.
The DVD release thankfully takes the same route but includes them in the extras.
The actual cartoon itself surprisingly averts this trope. Considering it's a kids' show, it's very detailed and takes time to show the motives and reasoning for many events and characters.
Vocal Evolution: While the three kids' physical designs don't change, their voices do sound somewhat more mature with the show's progression.
They probably didn't think they looked older and that's why.
What the Hell, Hero?: The basic plot for Sarah visiting Thomas Jefferson's home and discovering that the writer of "All men are created equal" is a slaveholder. Sarah also calls out Washington after the Siege of Yorktown when he says that the slaves who fought for the British would be returned to their masters.
Wide-Eyed Idealist: Befitting their age, James and Sarah are initially blind to their patriotism toward their respective home countries, though it doesn't take long for them to see the truth of things.