For some peculiar reason, many an adult turns up their nose as if a cartoon is unworthy for adults. I’ve never really understood why. A cartoon is just a story, told with artwork in sequence. It’s not guaranteed even to be rated for kids, some are actually rated mature. Even those with a kid friendly rating are not free of true storytelling excitement. Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves had a wicked queen trying to kill the beautiful girl. Those stories are very tame compared to their original counterparts. The original fairy tales are a good deal more frightening. But the timeless tale of good versus evil still is clearly represented.
Adults create these stories. They usually write the stories, do the artwork, and ‘act’ the voices. True, if the cartoon is for kids, they have to get inside a child’s viewpoint. But look at it from an adult one and there are things about the stories one rarely notices when one enjoys it as a child. They have meanings: for good or bad, even if they are unintentional.
I always identified more with Road Runner and Tweety as a kid when watching Looney Tunes: but they weren’t always nice. While I didn’t want the Wile E Coyote or Sylvester to win, now I see that they were dreamers chasing the impossible dream. One might – from a pessimists point of view – say they suffered greatly for their ambitions. They were dropped off cliffs and smacked with frying pans on a regular basis. Well, really can you blame them for just being what they are? They were predators and hungry. And would you really want your kid to drop his adversary off a cliff? Or even develop Bugs Bunny’s sarcasm? I suppose he might encourage carrot eating. I’m not trying to bash Looney Tunes. They were great fun. But don’t tell me these were really written with kids in mind!
On a more modern basis, I’ve watched Ben Ten grow up. Ben found an awesome device called the omnitrix, which turns him into a variety of aliens. These enable him to battle evil alien invaders, under guidance of his Grandpa ( a ‘plumber’ a code name for a secret group that defends earth against aliens) Aside from being impressed with how many imaginative aliens they invent, they also show Ben regularly learning (often the hard way) about cooperation, appreciation of family, and thinking ahead.
Transformers have been recreated a few times. The impressive computer animation goes along with the timeless tale of friendship and loyalty between very different beings. My Little Ponies also have such tales for a younger set – but even adults have refused to give up their hopeful message.
As for Star Wars the Clone Wars, the tales are anything but dumbed down for kids. The original Star Wars tale dealt with Anakin’s fall – becoming Vader and his redemption by his son. Now we see him as the hero he was meant to be. But we also witness the trauma of warfare. It’s a confusing era in the Star Wars galaxy. His apprentice wrestles with the responsibility of losing men in battle. Even the villain Ventress searches for a place to belong. But the timeless values of loyalty, honesty and friendship are there. But only for kids? There are episodes that might give some nightmares. The answers aren’t always so clear. Tell a lie to save lives? Sacrifice a few to save many? These are not stories where what the right answer is comes easily. And since we know it ends where Revenge of the Sith begins we already know, to our dismay, that not all of our favorites survive the conflict.
As for style, there is something for everyone. We’ve come a long way from the hand drawn art of Snow White and early Mickey Mouse. Now we have computers to allow smoother animation and programs to make them appear almost three dimensional. Where does ‘animation’ begin and live action end in stories where an alien being is created entirely on computer but yet still interacts with humans?
Cartoons for kids? I’d rather have those then much of what is passed off as adult programming. I want a story, I want characters that make me want to root for them and scrambling to tune in when they are in trouble. I want stories with heroes. I love the animation: it makes it complete. I want the cake, the icing and even the ice cream. And why not? If I have to go to a kids channel to get it, fine. Their stories are still often resonating with the messages of myth and legend, of heroism. Kids aren’t perfect – not pure innocence, for they can be greedy and bullies and violent too. But they are still learning and growing. And while the stories often come attached to toy promotions, at least those toys promote the same values. (Except perhaps, for encouraging greed.)
So down with this absurd notion that cartoons are for kids. Cartoons are for everyone. If you can’t find one you like, I’d bet you haven’t looked too far.