Animated maturity


Brendon Estridge, Author

Traditionally, animation is seen as a children’s medium by the public. While early cartoons were played in cinemas for audiences of all ages to watch, animation became stigmatized when released on the television for children. Even then, they still related to audiences of all ages, as entire families sat together to watch The Flintstones. Despite this, the stigma still existed. Though animation had an audience for adults, nothing could remove the connotation that it was for children.  

    “Adult cartoons” were formed with the desire for animation that more mature audiences could watched without stigma, though this itself created a stigma, as adult animation is stereotypically seen as crude, offensive, and disgusting. When mature animation is done without thought or care, it can become these elements appropriate with the stigma. What was meant to be mature and self-aware turns into something that is immature and ignorant. There is no rule stating mature animation must be this. Adult animation is designed to relate to adults and it doesn’t need anything more. The medium of adult animation exists with more potential than one would initially think.

    What many consider to be the basis for most adult cartoons has to be the Simpsons. There are countless shows that feature a dysfunctional family, an unintelligent or comedic father, and plots featuring social commentary with varying degrees of success. The Simpsons is one of the oldest running adult cartoons and thus many other writers and animators seek to emulate its success. With this comes emulation without understanding the source material, as most of these cartoons tend to focus on crude humor and shock value rather than what made The Simpsons good to begin with. What made the yellow family so iconic was its fusion of both the cartoon and a sitcom. The Simpsons was able to feature slapstick and jokes that were only possible in the animated medium, as well as being able to follow that with a heartwarming story or a plot that builds a stronger connection to the characters. The Simpson’s depth was in its humanity and ability to build a community of a strong interconnected cast. A more in depth analyzation can be found here.  

    Being inappropriate for children is not equal to maturity, which is why many adult cartoons suffer. Another side effect of adult cartoons basing themselves off of The Simpsons leads to them also taking the traditional sitcom plot structure of big events happening in the plot and being quickly resolved in twenty minute with little to no repercussions. A show that deconstructs this aspect of both adult animation and sitcoms alike has to be Netflix’s original BoJack Horseman.  The show presents its protagonist, BoJack, as a washed-up celebrity who formerly starred in his own sitcom. The show follows the anthropomorphic horse as he tries to find meaning in life, though early episodes share a similar style to other shock value shows such as Family Guy, though this is very brief. Once the series actually kicks in, it gets good. Life is not like a sitcom and the show emphasizes this on a significant amount of opportunities. BoJack does terrible things in an attempt to discover himself and these actions are not always forgiven by the supporting cast. The viewer begins to become invested in BoJack because he is flawed, and unlike other main characters in other shows, he does experience consequences. Viewers root for him because through this show, it is easy to see their own mistakes. They root for him because they want to believe that people can change. Whether they can or cannot is a different beast entirely.

    In the west, adult animation is finding its purpose. Many adult cartoons struggle to move past the dysfunctional urban family setting, as seen by Family Guy, King of the Hill, and Rick and Morty. Adult animation can span various genres, just as cartoons. When Samurai Jack transitioned from a standard cartoon to an adult cartoon, not that much changed. It became more graphic and intense in some aspects, but it is still Samurai Jack. It is still an action show with unique visuals and excellent direction. The great all-powerful demon, Aku, is even shown having a comedic therapy session with himself (as both the therapist and the subject), something that would be completely believable in the old show and is still believable despite the intense themes. There are many untapped genres the medium can go. In the east, anime has been able to span countless genres, and in the west, people are experimenting with genres such as science fiction (Futurama and Rick and Morty), drama (BoJack Horseman), and action (Samurai Jack).        

    In order to become its own respectable medium, it needs to be willing to break away from its stigma. Modeling the show to be just “The Simpsons” and nothing more does not equal the effect That old Simpsons episodes had. Even The Simpsons fell apart on itself, according to many critiques. In the the linked video by Now You See It, he states “While many attribute many factors towards the decline of the The Simpsons, such as bad showrunners, bland storylines, lazy writing, or overused celebrity cameo appearances, I think the problems can be summed up by saying The Simpsons lost its balance (between relatable sitcom and an animated cartoon). A slate magazine review of the show sums it up nicely. ‘Episodes that would once end with Homer and Marge bicycling into the sunset now end with Home blowing a tranquilizer dart into Marge’s neck.’” Adult cartoons are not fundamentally different from regular cartoons. If a cartoon cannot relate to a human emotion or desire, then it fails. The medium is a major aspect of culture and it should not be left under a stereotype that it can fester under. Adult animation has more potential than it needs to prove itself it is truly mature.