If switching on the telly and flipping through comic impressions of talking bunnies and shape-changing dogs fail to take you on a trip down memory lane, then generational trends have indeed changed by a wider margin than initially supposed.
Admit it – as kids, we would not have elected to wake up at the first sliver of dawn, if it were not for that elusive robot or rowdy animal cartoon series on which our entire childhood seemed to revolve around. We have committed the upbeat and catchy Pokemon and SpongeBob SquarePants theme songs to mind, and giggled with anticipation at the slinky plink plink in the tune that suggests another unfortunate twist in the path of Wile E. Coyote. We have unabashedly snorted at Johnny Bravo’s antics (while loving him all the same) and almost created a cult of Arnold and his gang with our crazed kid devotion. Our little hearts have swelled at the opening tune of any Merry Melodies episode and at the searing Thundercats guitar riffs – all heartwarming and familiar and very much like home.
It is all quite tragic, really – for every math formula and family event forgotten, cartoons have selfishly hogged the limited spaces in our mental hard drives. And even if the familiar, grainy cartoon images of our past have long since drifted away and have been replaced by shiny and slick, albeit adorably senseless, characters, the slapstick silliness has remained something we have an unusual affinity for (or has it not?). If it all boils down to witty banter, timelessness and educational value, will Daria trump American Dad? Or will the hazy and mind-numbing wit of Finn and Jake’s gags prevail?
The Old: Nostalgia and naïveté
The thing about cartoons of days past – those rough-edged and bumbling characters of pale blues and blacks – is that they tie our current selves to the young and innocent souls we once were. The Rugrats reminded us of days snuggled in our safety blankets while munching on our morning cereal, whereas He-Man and his fellow Masters of the Universe are reminiscent of the first action figures we got for Christmas. We pretended to be Little Lulu with her red dress and the freckles on her chin and went on picnic trips with Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Finn. We were idealistic and naïve and very young – and these fictional remnants were our best friends.
Much like grown-up Andy, who can never bear to part with his toys, we refuse to let go of our happy childhood memories that swirl with animated figures and fantasies. These timeless cartoons will always hark back to simpler days gone by – a sure sign that nostalgia will never be passé.
The New: Exposure and evolution
As we grow up, we are slowly but surely replaced by a younger generation that takes our place as the primary target audience of cartoons; and throughout said transition, the programs on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon adapt to the newer trends and tastes of today’s youth. It is no longer enough to have episodes revolving around simple and childish ideas; as the youth of today become more exposed to mature ideas, so do the cartoons of today feature underlying themes that are more adult in nature.
The crazy antics featured in Adventure Time present a good example of how the cartoons of today have adapted to the newer generation of viewers. The adventures of Finn and Jake have tackled, albeit subtly, more mature ideas such as capitalism. Flapjack and Captain Knuckles of The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack drink and get high on candy – an allusion to alcohol and drugs. In addition, both these shows also contain a surprisingly high amount of sexual references (which may or may not be noticed by young viewers). All these are a testament to today’s youth being exposed to more mature themes in general.
The Old: Sense and sensibility
Once upon a time, Generation X had action figures that buzz with energy and wisecracks, as well as mysteries and chases that thrill and ripple with humor – all of them inevitably ending with some sort of moral lecture that claw at the tiny sparks of courage and blooming optimism in their hearts. Daria instilled in us the same kind of cool and composed wit, and Dexter and Dee-Dee’s love-hate sibling relationship taught us to be wary of huge, red buttons. Moreover, the simplicity and old-school pattern of the villain always getting the bite in the end (think Sylvester and Tweety or Tom and Jerry) is a comfort to watch, albeit repetitive.
If appearances are anything to go by, we relish in the soft, almost faded, hues of cartoon classics – never too unpleasant to the eyes with hard, squarish edges and ADHD characters that can never seem to stay still. Let’s face it: cartoons are becoming more and more one-dimensional as the years flip by – almost as if any of these overwhelmingly smooth characters can be drawn by a four year old. Most significantly, the random thoughtlessness of new age cartoon plots will leave one questioning the sanity of today’s young generation.
The New: Imagery and imagination
If there is anything that the cartoons of today do not lack, it is, without a doubt, a sense of creativity. Several of the newer shows today feature imaginative art styles – Chowder plays with the texture of certain backgrounds, while The Amazing World of Gumball creatively combines animated characters with real-life backgrounds and puppets. These unique art styles allow characters, even the ones drawn in overly simplistic styles, to become more vivid to the eye. Imaginative animation is just one example of the creativity that is evident in today’s cartoons, which is sure to promise a bright future – one that is overflowing with new ideas, potential and possibilities.
There is no doubt that the cartoons being showcased today are a far cry from the shows we adored and grew up with. However, despite our nostalgic ties to our beloved animated friends from the past, it is fair to say that the shows of today have evolved in their own right, taking on more unique and mature themes fit for a newer generation. Both eras of cartoons remain beloved, and despite differences, both deserve praise for empowering the imagination, minds, and hearts of children everywhere, and even if the pixelated blobs of today fail to appeal to our traditional tastes, the inevitability of change will always keep cartoon connoisseurs on their toes – anticipating the next animated surprise thrown their way. An additional dash of Chemical X never hurt anybody.