Cartoons Aren’t Just for Kids
Animation has been around for over a hundred years, it has crossed every genre; there are BAFTA, Emmy, and Academy Award categories for it. It is something enjoyed by all ages, so why then is it still mainly considered a medium for children?
It wasn’t originally though as cartoons like Looney Toons were something for adults back when they first started, but along the way that mindset regressed. I’m not sure when or why but out culture decided that if it was animated then it was only for kids. That has been such a prevalent mindset that distinctly adult titles from Japan, such as Urotsukidōji Legend of the Overfiend and Princess Mononoke, have been shelved and sold as kids movies (the former is a porn film BTW). Parents gave these films to their children, ignoring all the age rating labels just because, “it’s a cartoon, and therefore it must be appropriate for kids.”
There are a lot of adults who are animation fans, hell everyone working in the animation industry are adults, but it’s not enough to change that cultural mindset. The only thing cartoon related that is “for adults” are the sitcoms, and most of those are pretty bad. Currently the “children’s comedy” shows, such as ‘Phineas and Ferb’ and ‘Adventure Time’, are more creative and clever than the “adult cartoons” like Family Guy, American Dad, and the modern Simpsons. The “adult” cartoons are more immature and childish than the shows made for kids. This is part of the problem because it enforces the mindset that cartoons can’t have mature storytelling. Now I’m not throwing ever show aimed at adults under the bus, Venture Brothers is a masterfully created show that is extremely funny. If only more shows were as well made.
Now children’s animation has gotten more and more “all ages” over the decades and we are getting stories much more complex than we were in the 80s. 20 years ago, in the 90s, there was Gargoyles, Exosquad, and the groundbreaking Batman the Animated Series, all of which were telling better and more intricate stories than some prime time live action shows on at the time, like Star Trek. The 2000s had Avatar the Last Airbender, Spectacular Spider-Man, and many other shows that continued to push the boundaries even further. Now we have Legend of Korra and Young Justice that are showing up 90% of the live actions shows aimed at adults by having long form storytelling that is planned out and very well crafted. Animation storytelling is becoming greater than it was 20 years ago, even 10 years ago, where some people have even questioned why shows like Korra are on a “kid’s network” like Nickelodeon.
If things are going so well then why did I bother with all of this? Because of things like this:
Jeph Loeb: … [Avengers Earth’s Mightiest Heroes] is a very serialized show, and there are a lot of characters. What we wanted to do with Spider-Man, and going forward, was to tell stories that are individualized. Obviously, we want everybody to watch the show every week, but we also know that people’s time is often taken. So, DVR the show, but if you’re not going to do that, the idea is that you will be able to catch up. I don’t ever want anybody to sit down on Sunday mornings at 11 o’clock and suddenly feel like, “Well, I lost the last three episodes, so I don’t really know what’s going on.”
That was from the current head of Marvel’s TV division, Jeph Loeb. Despite the fact that TV as a whole has moved into more serialised storytelling, where every show must have several ongoing plotlines at once no matter what, and cartoons have also been moving in that same direction for 20 years now. Jeph Loeb seems to want to move animation storytelling back to the 80s and early 90s. The thing is we don’t live in that time period anymore, we have dozens of legal streaming sites, cable on demand services, iTunes, Networks even upload whole shows to their websites and to Youtube, and that’s not getting into the hundreds of illegal ways to watch shows. This day and age it is almost impossible to miss an episode of any series you want to watch. That’s why storytelling has evolved to become more serialised, because being able to catch up on old episodes became easier and easier over time.
It is that kind of attitude that says “we’re making a kids show so no intelligent stories allowed.” Animation has to prove itself, and keep proving, that there is more to it than just being “for kids.” Making series that are for all ages, that can be watched and enjoyed by parent and child alike, does push that idea that animation is something more than the limitation our culture has put on it. The medium is still being pushed forward with all those other shows I mentioned, despite the current shortcomings of other series.
I still don’t see the cultural mindset changing soon and we won’t see a hit non-comedy adult orientated prime time animated series on a major TV network until then. We have come so far in 20 years I wonder how far we will go in another 20.