I watch a lot of things. I’m passionately dedicated to my NBC comedies, my FOX supernatural shows (about they only thing they do right), and my HBO medieval dramas. I love anime and its ridiculousness, its magical elements, its absurd humor and its exaggerated designs. Movies of all kind interest me, especially superhero and animated films. I’m looking forward to The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises just as much as ParaNorman and Brave.
And I also love cartoons.
I’m not just talking The Simpsons, Family Guy and Adult Swim. In fact, I’m not really a fan of Family Guy. A lot of things on Adult Swim honestly just look like they were created for and by stoners. I am ridiculously dedicated to FX’s Archer, though, and I honestly don’t know why I don’t own all the season of The Venture Bros. on DVD. But I’m talking about cartoons made for children. I’m talking about things like My Little Pony.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is the latest iteration of the popular franchise, thanks, in large part to Cartoon Network veteran Lauren Faust. She took a line of toys made for four year olds and turned it into the most popular thing on the internet since… well, I’m not sure I’ve seen anything this popular, something so well-crafted, that it has caught the interest of everyone from the four year olds it’s intended to entertain, to grown men in their 20s and 30s.
I’m also talking about things like Young Justice. Part of Cartoon Network’s DC Nation Saturday morning programming block, Young Justice is a complex and often dark story about many of the DCU’s major players’ sidekicks. Though I have very different thoughts about DC’s comics, their animation department almost never disappoints. From the grimdark Batman: The Animated Series to the retro comedy Teen Titans, the studio has produced some amazing television aimed at children. Young Justice is no different. Named for the 90s comic series about a team of teenage heroes, YJ is clever, and never speaks down to its audience. The target demographic may be children, but the narrative is rich, smart and layered. They don’t shy away from more adult concepts, such as death and psychological trauma. In short, Young Justice remembers that its target audience aren’t just young children, but people, as well.
One last show I’m particularly fond of is the newest incarnation of the long running Scooby-Doo series. Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated brings the fun and mystery of the older Scooby series and injects them with actual plot and character development. Instead of Fred being just the fearless leader of the gang, he is obsessed with traps and has a complicated home life with his mayor father and missing mother. Daphne is no longer brainless bait, but a smart, crafty girl with strange allergies and a trio of accomplished older sisters whose accomplishments she isn’t sure she can live up to.
If you know me at all, you know I’m not kidding you with these recommendations. I love children’s cartoons. I grew up on television; when my mother slept through the day so she could work at night, and when my dad was too exhausted after his 9 to 5, I parked myself in front of the television, and I learned. Oh, I read and eventually succumbed to the lure of the computer, too, of course, but my formative years were spent watching Nicktoons and Cartoon Cartoons, classics – like Looney Toons and Charlie Brown – and everything in-between. Children’s television is what originally taught me how to be a good person. It taught me that all people are people, and they should be treated as such. (Of course, somewhere along the way I missed the memo that said “It’s okay to forget all that stuff kid’s media taught you about being a decent human being.” And thank goodness for that.) It taught me that the world was diverse, and has made me critical of adult shows that don’t have actors of color, or women, or differing sexualities, or disabled representation. (And I’m also critical of those who do have all those things. I’m looking at you, Glee.)
As someone who grew up on TV, I’m glad children’s cartoons are getting smarter. I’m not going to try and convince everyone that all of the shows I watched as a kid are the best. Some of them were great, some of them were terrible, and most of them fell somewhere in-between. The shows I really appreciated, though, were those that didn’t talk down to kids, to me. Television is a medium that is often used purely for profit, creating shows for kids just to sell toys, like the original My Little Pony. Some have tie-ins, like Young Justice, with it’s own comic series and years and years of comic book back issues. And still others are one in a long line of rebooted and reworked versions of a classic, like Scooby Doo. That all of these shows could have easily been thrown together for make a quick buck is really what makes them stand out. All of them could have been terrible, but instead the right team of writers, producers, character designers, animators and fans made them happen. Yes, many of the people who worked on these cartoons for children were and are big fans, and that’s what makes them so great.