Infinity Train: A Cult Classic No One Can Stream, by Ethan K. Poole
Recently, American animator Owen Dennis’ Twitter bio read: “Creator of #InfinityTrain, a show that got pulled from @HBOMax and can now only be pirated. I post frogs in hats.” Dennis’ bio has changed since — possibly because his statement wasn’t 100% true — but it still raises two questions: What is Infinity Train? And what happened to it?
On Nov. 2, 2016, the now-deleted concept pilot of Infinity Train was uploaded to Cartoon Network’s YouTube channel. The story centered on Tulip, a girl with a glowing number on her hand, and her robotic companion One-One as they traveled through a physics-defying train whose cars contain different fully-realized universes. The car shown in the pilot contained a kingdom of corgis under attack by a monster.
As Tulip searched for clues about the meaning of her number, she joined the canine king to defeat the monster. The monster (revealed to be a robot with a mysterious connection to One-One) eventually flees for unknown reasons. Then, Tulip’s number suddenly drops. With more questions than answers, she is determined to get her number to reach zero.
The video reached millions of views and was received extremely well. The series was later greenlit, and the first season was released in 2019. From there, Infinity Train’s development was a whirlwind. The series turned into an anthology that follows different passengers. It faced cancellation, and then it became an HBO Max original. Still, by 2021 the series had four seasons and a thriving community.
The series was praised for its deep characters, out-there but well-executed premise, and down-to-earth storytelling. Many critics were happy to sing its praises as an exemplar of contemporary animation.
Infinity Train, however was canceled for the final time after its fourth season. Fans raised an outcry of online support for its renewal, but to no avail. Many beloved shows are canceled without being forgotten, and it looked like Infinity Train would keep its devoted fanbase. Now, that future seems less likely.
Following the recent Warner Brothers-Discovery merger, over 30 animated shows were purged from HBO Max with little reason and less warning. Among them were Summer Camp Island, OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes, and Infinity Train. Furthermore, they went full “scorched-earth” on these series, deleting any mention of them on their social media platforms. So far as fans can surmise, the reason is to cut short-term costs. Many people believe these series would have made more money in the long-run than is saved by getting rid of them, especially since Warner Brothers owned the licenses to them. The lack of a good reason is the most troubling part.
If it becomes commonplace for streaming companies to purge cartoons to save money, then the animation industry will drastically change. Animation has grown in popularity and profitability in recent years, but that may soon crash as animation companies fear the erasure of their series. Animation as a medium for artistic expression — or even as a way to make money — could become near impossible to create and distribute. With no way to predict whether a series will be cut, any series, popular or irrelevant, profitable or worthless, could be randomly erased from its most convenient source. Some series other than Infinity Train, will be cut from the only place they can be watched.
Based on the overall negative reaction to this decision, it is possible that no company would emulate it in the future. This could be looked at simply as a misstep, and that may protect other series, at least in the near future. Hopefully, that proves to be the case.
And all hope is not lost on Infinity Train either. It is still available for purchase on Google Play, Amazon Prime, YouTube, iTunes, and more. It survives for now, and as the creator has alluded to before, it’ll always be available for free if you know where to look.
Still, this move poses a risk for animation in the future. This decision proves that big corporations will gladly destroy any work of art when they think they have something to gain from doing so. In the future, nonprofit-driven media preservation systems may be increasingly important; otherwise, many series may end up lost to history in a way thought impossible in the modern digital age.
If this trend continues and more animated series are scrubbed from streaming platforms, piracy may be the only way to reach new viewers. And that comes with its own problems: It's not only illegal, but also prevents fans from financially supporting the creator's work.
Hopefully, this decision will just be a blip in the story of Infinity Train and animation at large. Infinity Train creator Owen Dennis still talks about reviving and finishing the series in some form, if possible. For now, we can only wait and see.