As a kid my life centred around cartoons; every day before taking the harrowing steps to school, watching Cartoon Network’s fantastic line of programming would fill me with determination. The vibrancy of creativity in the shows would constantly blur the line between ‘child-friendly’ and ‘adult content’. In recent years I have watched episodes of Courage the Cowardly Dog via Netflix and realised the extent complex themes are covered. However, although cartoons continue to tread that line, with recurring jokes and themes that children could not possibly understand, there remains a taboo about being over the age of around fifteen and admitting you enjoy cartoons.
I mean there are cartoons that are acceptable to watch as an adult, most frequently you’ll find these are family-comedies like The Simpsons, or Family Guy; although personally the former has run out of steam over the past few years and the latter never appealed to me. I think a lot of this stigma has to do with the network it’s run on, for example the aforementioned cartoons plus Futurama, American Dad, South Park etc. all run on Comedy Central, Sky or BBC. Whereas if a cartoon is showcased on a ‘kids’ network it may predispose an individual to write it off as poorly written or too immature. A further point is that at their essential core, all of the mentioned cartoons are also comedies. Cartoons have been the staple of slapstick and insane humour since their inception into the mainstream by Walt Disney in the 1920’s. This ingrained representation of cartoons isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it works with programmes like Archer, Rick and Morty and The Regular Show which have sought to make mature humour more accessible in cartoons to those who are initially sceptical. However it detracts from a cartoon’s ability to tell a story that is written well with engaging characters and artistic merit, and still be taken seriously.
I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love the freedom that cartoons give a creative mind. You’ll find within the realms of live-action productions there are such huge restrictions on what a story-teller can do. In a sitcom like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air there is such a grounding in reality with the occasional break of the fourth-wall via running through the studio. But with something like Adventure Time there is no limit to the amount of surreal humour and extraordinary visuals that can be conjured up. I’m fairly certain there’s been no cameo appearance of an anthropomorphic dog with the ability to shape-shift on an episode of House. Now don’t get me wrong, by saying these things I by no means wish to deride any other forms of entertainment for their inability to create dream-like worlds and characters, sometimes we need to be grounded by reality with serious entertainment imitating life. But even this can also be made with a cartoony spin, Bob’s Burgers infuses the repetitively bland family sitcom formula with renewed energy.
But I suppose in the end, all of these reasons cannot fully explain what make cartoon’s so compelling even into our twilight years. The true answer to me anyway, lies in the feeling of nostalgia reminiscent of a gleeful reunion with an old friend I get when I see the magic of a few drawings and lines being brought to life. A feeling that transcends age, and unites many.