Are Cartoons Just for Kids?
By Lisa Barker
It was only a decade or two ago that the term ‘cartoon’ conjured up images of Walt Disney classics, of a cat and mouse displaying the classic signs of playful sibling rivalry, of dogs falling in love over a bowl of spaghetti, and of stone age cavemen dealing with their cheeky and unruly pet. Cartoons were exclusively designed for kids, for both entertainment purposes and to deal with children’s issues in a fun yet educational manner. Yet the same cannot be said for the animation of today. Not only have cartoons become somewhat crude and risqué, appealing to adults looking for a little light-hearted relief to enjoy with a cold beer after work, there’s also been a huge increase in the number of seemingly child-based animated TV shows and movies with decidedly adult themes and concepts. Can cartoons really still be classed as kids’ entertainment?
The Rise of Adult Cartoons
One of the earliest forms of ‘adult’ cartoon was The Simpsons. However, when the show first began in 1989, it was relatively tame compared to the themes viewed today. The show has effectively moved with the times, catering to the changes that have happened in what is considered to be good adult entertainment. Once a story about a mischievous schoolboy, the show has, in more recent years, covered topic areas ranging from kidnappings and street crime through to alleged murder and untimely death.
The Simpsons laid the groundwork for the arrival of many other adult cartoons, including South Park, with its toilet humor and blasphemy, Family Guy, with its sexual references and look into America’s obesity crisis, and American Dad which can be broken down into sexual conduct, illegal immigration, and poor parenting. All of these cartoons have received more criticism from families, from corporations, and even from the government, than you can possibly imagine, but why? It’s simply because these cartoons don’t fit the mould – they don’t fit into the cartoon stereotype. With the exception of early years The Simpsons, none of these cartoons have ever marketed themselves to the younger generation. If they were live action shows, there’d be no problem. After all, shows like Two and a Half Men, Friends, and Anger Management, all of which deal with sexual exploits (sometimes with underage participants), behavioral disorder, and violence, don’t receive nearly half the criticism that adult cartoons do. Quite simply, the only difference between these shows and cartoons is that the characters are portrayed in an animated format, and this makes families automatically assume that they’re kid-friendly.
Adult cartoons are consistently being blamed for aggressive behavior displayed by youths, but this is because children are permitted to watch entertainment shows that are not suitable for their age and maturity. Parents wouldn’t let their 10 year olds head to the theater to watch an R rated movie, so why are they letting them sit at home and watch lewd scenes in cartoons? It’s not the animation that’s to blame, it’s the inability to expand on the belief that cartoons are just for kids.
Adult Themes in Kid-Centric Animation
Things take a turn when looking at cartoons that are specifically marketed to children, and yet still maintain themes and concepts that are not age-appropriate. Here lies the problem. It’s this sort of animation that is contributing to aggressive behavior in children, and which is making kids grow up before their time. What happened to the days of a mouse sailing a steamboat, of chipmunks helping to decorate a Christmas tree, and of a duck dealing with his energetic and adventurous nephews? Even movies produced by Disney and Pixar, well-known for catering to the younger generation, are presenting themes that not all parents would be happy about.
Some of the most common adult themes seen throughout popular cartoons are death, cognitive impairment, and the mistreatment of children – all things that kids shouldn’t have to experience during what should be a light-hearted movie night complete with soda and popcorn, for example. It’s actually quite unsettling to see how these ‘kids’ cartoons are filled with sensitive and serious issues which have been turned into trivial entertainment. Take Disney’s Finding Nemo, for example. Within the opening scene of the movie, viewers are presented with a mass murder – the largest death count in any Disney film to date. Following this, poor parenting results in the kidnapping of a child, and later on viewers are introduced to a character with significant memory problems that are portrayed as funny but actually show the classic signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. Now look at Disney’s Up. The same themes can be seen throughout this movie, with the death of a beloved character, and the unusual behavior of the long-isolated Muntz, who’s actually quite violent due to the paranoid and unreasonable thoughts that run through his head.
The Changing Audience
It’s quite clear that the target audience of animation has changed within the last couple of decades, with more and more cartoons aimed at an older generation, but it seems like the innocence of child-centered cartoons is being lost. Rather than having distinctive child cartoons and adult cartoons, there seems to be a current trend for combining the two. It’s safe to say that cartoons are not just for kids, but are they suitable for kids at all anymore?