By TATUM MAPES
Everyone remembers watching cartoons at a young age, whether it be “Spongebob Squarepants” or “Kim Possible.” With bright colors, exaggerated facial features and innocent plots, it was clear that children were the target audience.
In recent years, however, the line has been blurred. Many short form animated programs, such as “Steven Universe,” “Gravity Falls,” “Adventure Time” and “Avatar: The Last Airbender” started to deal with more serious topics, such as loneliness, betrayal and even death and acceptance. Characters became more developed and dealt with real-world issues, thus attracting the attention of a more adult audience. But the stigma still stands that animation is only for kids and that people who still watch cartoons are “immature” and “childish.”
In order to determine what brought society to this conclusion, one must start at the very beginning. Animation first appeared years before the dawn of cinematography. The slow and meticulous process of stop-motion, hand-drawn animation required the subjects to be drawn frame by frame, resulting in short films for few to see.
The hand-drawn animation process was refined and perfected with time and started appearing before films in cinemas across the world. Studios like Walt Disney and Warner Bros. produced these animated shorts at a time when going to the movie theater was considered a social event for the upper-class adults. Animation was originally targeted towards adults, not children. Even the first ever feature-length animated picture, 1937’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” was created for everyone to watch and enjoy, not just children. This movie proved that not only was animation a nice way to pass the time but that it could also be recognized as a successful, credible art form and a staple of Hollywood’s entertainment industry.
The very first animated television series, titled “Crusader Rabbit,” was brought to life in 1949 by Alex Anderson, who worked for Terrytoons Studios. It first aired on WNBC and KNBH, two NBC affiliated stations in the New York area. With exaggerated features and silly sound effects, the show became popular with children.
This is where the stigma began. Television executives started to capitalize on this trend. Throughout much of the rest of the 20th century, animated programming was created with children in mind, often to encourage children to spend money on their products. This was evident in the 1980s when shows like “My Little Pony” and “Transformers” were created for the sole purpose of selling toys to young viewers.
Now one might begin to ask, what about animated shows intended for adults? Of course, shows like “The Simpsons” and “South Park” would get rid of the stigma, right? It’s quite the contrary, actually. These shows are often viewed as a big exception and labeled as a completely different genre because they are not intended for young viewers. Therefore, these programs are seen as “okay” for adults to watch because they are not to be seen by children due to innuendos and suggestive content, such as sex, drugs, and violence.
This also promotes the idea that adults can only enjoy the content that contains sex, drugs, and violence. When shows are labeled as “family friendly,” that does not mean that they are only meant for children. It contains the term “family” for a reason. Adults and children can both enjoy the content together. A television program that can be termed “family friendly” but is not targeted towards children is “Granite Flats” on BYUtv, a political mystery show about a sleepy midwestern town during the peak of the Cold War. It contains mystery, drama and heavy topics without the suggestive content. The show aired from 2013 to 2015 and is currently streaming on Netflix for those curious to learn more.
The 2010s have become a renaissance for story driven, short-formatted animated television. Kids’ networks like Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and most notably Cartoon Network started to green light shows like “Adventure Time,” “Steven Universe,” “Gravity Falls” and “Regular Show.”
These shows deal with more serious themes. For example, “Adventure Time” is centered around an orphan and his dog traveling through a post-apocalyptic world. “Steven Universe” is all about a boy who must deal with what his deceased mother left behind. “Gravity Falls” deals with familial relationships, trauma, and even PTSD. “Avatar: The Last Airbender” actually starts off with a hundred-year-long war and the genocide of an entire race. If one were to read the plots of these shows without knowing they were animated, he/she might assume that these were live action shows on a major network like CBS or NBC. He or she might even be interested to watch them, but perhaps the realization that these shows are animated might turn them away.
This is not to say that animation targeted specifically towards children or adults is a bad thing, but the animation is something for everyone to enjoy, and watching these shows doesn’t make you childish. It means that one is more open to different ideas and art styles. The point of digital media is to entertain and inform, and entertainment is dependent on the watcher’s interests. Animation is an art, and art should never be exclusive to one group of people. One should be able to appreciate art no matter their circumstances.