There’s something about special cartoons. Only limited by the creator’s imagination, there are almost endless possibilities as to what a cartoon can be. Unfortunately, cartoons have a reputation of being aimed solely at children. The shows hold their hand throughout the stories they tell and never push the boundaries of what could be. It wasn’t always like this; back in the 90s there were several cartoons that in many ways pushed the envelope with their characters and subject matter. It’s as they say, they don’t make them like they used to.
But while that’s certainly true; that they don’t make them like they used to, in the last few years we’ve had slews of shows that are once again showing us the power of cartoons. From Adventure Time to Rick and Morty, we are now in an era of animated shows that resonate with us in two different ways. On one hand they’re designed to make us laugh, but on the other they’re discussing subject matter that even most regular TV shows won’t address. Even shows that are at face value gear towards children have strong adult followings because of their tackling of subjects such as gender, death, race, and family, to name a few. With all this animation that appeals to both children and adults, I’d be tempted to say that we are in a new golden age of cartoons.
My main justification for the argument is the number of shows that bridge the gap between age groups. I know that seems like an odd starting point, but an important aspect to the success of a great animated piece is it’s ability to move beyond its intended audience. Adventure Time combines a kid friendly story with subtle, almost dark overtones that will keep teens and adults hooked. Steven Universe does the same thing, but also keeps the plot enough of a mystery to keep us guessing. In addition, through Steven Universe’s diverse characters we explore themes of gender, homosexuality, parenthood, and death. Most children might not understand these aspects, but that’s the beauty of it. A child who exposed to these ideas in this kind of environment can better understand them as they grow older.
On the other hand, there are adult only cartoons that break the mold of what we expect. Two notable examples are Bojack Horseman and Rick and Morty. Both shows have several things in common. They’re intelligent, hilarious, and most importantly brutal. Bojack’s story foten deals incredibly harsh life lessons that many of us don’t want to hear, while Rick and Morty is unapologetic in it’s use of graphic imagery to show insane the world is. Unlike the Simpsons and South Park which have also dealt with mature subject matter, the lessons learned are often cruel and honest. This is stuff you can’t accomplish normal TV and only possible with a little animated magic.
I could go on and on about what shows have been release in the last fews year which help contribute to this new golden age. But it’s better to say that if you’ haven’t seen these shows because you think they’re too crude or juvenile, then I’ll say that you should. You’re missing out on shows that will make you laugh and cry. Hell, they might even change your life. While the golden age will end eventually, these shows and more will held as examples of truly amazing animation. Even if they were originally just for kids.