“It’s for Kids” Is Not An Excuse!
OK I said there was a weekly schedule and updates were on Wednesdays, but then I read something stupid and I wish to rant about it. I didn’t want to spend two weeks on the same angry topic and I didn’t want to put this on the backburner since I have plans for June and July. So here is a companion piece to “Cartoons Aren’t Just for Kids” that just sorta fell into place, because the universe is funny like that.
So it all started with this interview with Brian Michael Bendis, the creator of the Ultimate Spider-Man comic and a writer for its cartoon. In the interview he’s talking about the Ultimate cartoon and fans not liking, then he gave one of the laziest writing dodges and it’s one that I hate the most.
“I’ve had a couple of these people coming up to me on Facebook,” Bendis said. “I don’t know what to say — ‘You know, you’re watching Disney X D.’ It’s not on Showtime. I want you to like it too, but like it in the context of what it’s for. It’s for kids. We’re thinking of them while we write it.”
“It’s for Kids” is not an excuse for bad writing. It’s not an excuse for lazy storytelling. It’s not a reason why people don’t like the show or why it’s getting such a negative response. It is a dodge on why the show is written how it is and a way of saying, “hey you adults should not be complaining about a show not aimed at you.” Which, in a way, is valid since children are the target audience and thus anyone else is not where they want to get ratings from. However there’s the flip side to the argument, children’s cartoons don’t have to be dumb in order to be children’s cartoons.
You know what other Marvel cartoon was shown on Disney XD? Spectacular Spider-Man. That had a drug addiction allegory, a character with gambling addiction, had references to Shakespeare, jokes that played on Dante’s Divine Comedy, child abuse, and was smartly written as well as damn funny. The show was written for kids but it didn’t stop at just them, it was inclusive to ages above and below the target demographic. And let’s not forget Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes airs along side Ultimate and doesn’t get the same flack.
Well Spec and Avengers are action drama shows not an action comedy like Ultimate, so that must be the difference right? Nope. Batman: Brave and the Bold and Teen Titans were both action comedy shows that aired on Cartoon Network and aimed at kids. Both shows focused on comedy but knew which lines to cross in combining it with action and which ones not to cross. Brave and the Bold also did this as a response to the fans who like a “darker Batman” and may not like the show due to its lighter take on the character. It’s a very well reasoned and thoughtful response to those fans. Teen Titans also had episodes with major character death as well as episodes with alien tofu blocks that want to steal all the cows and replace meat with a meat-like substitute. Going both very dark as well as very wacky and silly, but never blending the two together.
Maybe Ultimate didn’t have someone that thought about more than, “It’s for Kids”? Bendis hasn’t worked on anything cartoon related except the MTV’s CGI Spider-Man show, and the less said about that show the better. Jeph Loeb has only worked in TV, Film, and comics, but not in animation till now. There’s the Man of Action team, a bunch of four comic writers, who created Ben 10 and Generator Rex, and while undoubtedly those shows are better than Ultimate it’s debatable if they were made with an “It’s for Kids” mindset. Then there’s the writer of the first two episodes and creative consultant, Paul Dini. Apart from writing for Batman The Animated Series, as well as every other series in the DC Animated Universe, he created Haley Quinn the Joker’s much abused girlfriend (on screen abuse as well), he’s worked on Tiny Toon’s, Animaniacs, and Freakazoid. He also wrote the Brave and the Bold episode ‘Legends of the Dark Mite!’ which was where that clip I posted above came from. All of which are cartoons made for kids that tell smart stories with three-dimensional characters.
So someone on their writing staff should know better, and the show uses a TV style writer’s room format too instead of the standard cartoon “Show Runners & Story Editors run the show” format so no real excuses there either. I’m not trying to put any blame on Dini or Bendis for why the show is bad. I think what Bendis said is spin on why people don’t like the show and probably not too reflective on his thoughts on what is made for kids. He has written a creator own comic for kids called, Takio. I haven’t read it yet but it’s probably where we’ll find out what, “It’s for Kids” truly means for him.
Children do not require dumbed down storytelling in order to find something entertaining. I thought the huge success of the Harry Potter books would have firmly established that long ago. Not to mention the Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra series, which air on Nickelodeon the network famous for Spongebob Squarepants. Just because it’s on a kid’s network does not mean it has to be dumb.
“It’s for Kids” is a reason why cartoons don’t have buckets loads of blood, decapitation, immolation, nudity, sex, swearing, or any of those adult matters. However I think the lack of those can make an animated series more mature because they can’t fall back on any of those “mature” items in an immature way. Swearing, hacking off limbs, and boobs, are an easy way to a mature rating. Having mature themes and stories are a way to get a mature show.
“It’s for Kids” is not a reason for a bad cartoon. Bad writing, direction, animation, voice acting, etc, are the reasons for a bad show. No one is expecting Game of Thrones or Dexter from a cartoon, but if you strip away the blood, nudity, and other things you can’t show on a kid’s network, you get mature stories. That is something you can show on a kid’s network and most of the highly praised cartoons are the ones that don’t say, “It’s for Kids.” They try to tell good stories and do not underestimate their audience.
If you give up and box yourself into a self-made limitation then you’re not going anywhere.