It should come as no surprise that I am an avid consumer of movies, but I’m guessing not many people reading this will be aware that one of my favourite types of movie is the animated kind.I am personally a huge animation buff. Whether it’s 2D or CG, Disney or Dreamworks, nineties or noughties, I feel that the animated side of movie media is a good source of some incredible artistry.
Unfortunately, animated movies are one form of movie that is often not taken seriously enough, if at all.
The answer to that may seem simple at first. I’m sure many of you are thinking “it’s because animation is for kids, and media aimed towards kids is often not taken as seriously as animation aimed towards adults.” And, yes that is a good point. While you do get the odd adult oriented animation like Persepolis, Akira, or the recently released Sausage Party, animated movies are for the most part always made with the younger demographic in mind.
However, in my opinion, that’s not the real problem here. The real problem is the “it’s just for kids” excuse.
What is the “it’s just for kids excuse”, you ask? Well, unfortunately, when it comes to children’s media, there are many writers, executives and and other creators out there who assume that, because their audience is generally less mature and intelligent than the adult audience, then it’s perfectly acceptable to be as lazy as possible in terms of writing and production. The writing might be sloppy as all hell, the production values might be non existent, but the creators behind it all can easily hide behind the excuse that “it’s just for kids, and kids are stupid, so we don’t have to put in any effort, because those dumbasses will just watch it anyway.”
So, is this argument actually valid? I mean, it’s true that kids generally are less intelligent and mature than most adults. Showing them something overly complex, or that deals with subjects they likely won’t understand, is likely not going to prove successful. While I think the “it’s just for kids excuse” can sometimes be valid in a different sense (more on that later), quite often the rebuttal to this argument is “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
There’s no doubt about it, a lot of incredibly brainless cartoons like Teen Titans Go! have proven successful. But at the same time, cartoons with good writing that actually put in a great deal of effort like Adventure Time or Avatar: the Last Airbender have also proven successful. And while Nickelodeon’s sacred cow of a show, Spongebob Squarepants, may be a mindless zombie of a franchise nowadays, it no doubt reached its massive popularity due to being actually pretty funny in its earlier seasons.
Media aimed towards kids can be well written. Some of my favourite tv shows of all time are cartoons for children. If anything, I dare say there are proportionally more examples of good kids’ cartoon shows than good adult cartoon shows.
But that’s a story for an entirely different post.
In other words, yes, kids’ cartoons can be successful despite being lazy and stupid, but considering they can be incredibly well written and also gain the same amount of success, the argument of “well I don’t have to, so why bother” is a little thin.
When it’s not creators running on this logic, it’s the critics. I have heard many a tale of animation critics being bombarded with counter arguments that “it’s just for kids bro, who cares?” when they happen to call out terrible shows like Teen Titans Go! It seems odd that despite the fact that kids are far more impressionable than adults, and are likely to be more affected by the media they consume, people seem to care less if the media they watch is mindless trash. If you have kids, or can imagine yourself having kids, would you rather they watched something as dumb and vapid as the 2016 Powerpuff Girls reboot, or something well written and meaningful as the original 90s cartoon?
See, there’s a reason why kids shows often have more obvious morals and messages. TV shows do play a part in most kids’ lives when it comes to learning about the world
Now that’s not to say all children’s media needs to be deep and intellectual. On the reverse side of the coin, there are people who criticise certain parts of children’s media for not being as insightful or as appealing to the adults as possible. Yes, while children’s media should be taken seriously, given the fact that it’s just for kids, I think we can give a pass to the kids’ shows that have good writing, but are simplistic and silly and, you know, for kids. I may criticise something like Prometheus for its complete disregard of the laws of science, but I’m not going to criticise something like Dexter’s Laboratory for it. While shows for kids should not be written off as automatically stupid, they shouldn’t be held to the same critical standards if they’re not trying to go above and beyond, and are simply aimed primarily towards kids. When it’s just for kids, you can forgive some of the sillier aspects that don’t come up in entertainment for adults.
And this is why the argument is not all bad. The “it’s just for kids” excuse should be applied in situations when people are judging a kids’ show based on the standards they hold to serious adult aimed shows and media. It is not an excuse for writers to lazily try to put in as little effort as possible because who cares what the kids are watching.
The thing is, people don’t use the “it’s just for kids” excuse on crappy adult entertainment. People complain all the time about trashy movies and shows like the works of Michael Bay becoming huge hits despite terrible writing. If we want to get rid of such trashy hits for adults, then maybe we need to raise our audience’s standards from a young age.