What works for children works for adults as well.
Cartoons are often considered infantile, as its roots in animation associate it with immaturity. Given that the target demographic of shows like Strawberry Shortcake and Dora the Explorer are young children, it is unsurprising that adults and even teenagers tend to eschew cartoons.
However, there are cartoons which appeal to adults despite their simplicity. For example, Avatar: The Last Airbender; It had a certain childish charm about it, and was very clearly made for kids, yet it appealed to adults because of the themes discussed.
These cartoons may have young children as their primary audience, but also attract viewers widely outside this demographic. They neither pander to nor patronise their young audience, but instead showcase topics that both children and adults are able to relate to. In a similar vein they do not overflow with pop culture references to score points with its older audience, but use the show as a medium to discuss experiences that are relevant to people of all ages, not only kids. In essence, they respect their child audience as intelligent people in their own right.
Let us take a look at the current trifecta of modern cartoons that meet these standards:
Touted as one of the most creative shows in its genre, Adventure Time is a cultural phenomenon that makes very little sense to the uninitiated. The show revolves around Finn and Jake – a human and a magical stretchy dog – in a land filled with everything and anything you could think of, from vampire princesses to anthropomorphic androids. Written by Pendleton Ward and drawing inspiration from Dungeons & Dragons, it explores the themes of growing up, self-identity and puberty, among others. Little wonder that it is often called a bildungsroman of epic proportions.
Dipper and Mabel Pines are siblings staying with their uncle for the summer in a town called Gravity Falls. It is a strange town, with supernatural entities and artifacts cluttering the place. The show establishes its mythology in a way that critics have compared to Lost or The X-Files, creating an immersive experience across the progression of the episodes. Much like Adventure Time, Gravity Falls uses the monster-of-the-week format to explore themes revolving around the growing-up process.
Rebecca Sugar hailed from Adventure Time, and now helms her own cartoon. Steven Universe features three magical gems that guard and raise the titular character, a little boy named Steven. These gems identify as female, and they are presented as Steven’s role models, a radical step forward for Cartoon Network. The show has been lauded by critics to be one of the best new cartoons on the network, in part due to its rich character diversity. From queer characters to people of colour, it is inclusive writing at its finest, without coming off as forced.
So get out there and check these cartoons out! You may be pleasantly surprised.
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