I remember once in High School, while studying in the cafeteria, I decided to put on an episode of a new anime called Attack On Titan. While I sat there, enjoying my lunch, a girl from my class came up and hovered over my shoulder for a bit before asking:
“Why are you watching a kids’ show?”
Now, if you’re in any way familiar with Attack On Titan, you’d know why that question is odd. I looked from her to the screen where a giant, humanoid creature was biting the head off a main character while bloodied soldiers attempted to kill it with force, and then back at her, confused.
“It’s not for kids..?” I said and pointed at the gory scene.
She shrugged and said, “well it’s a cartoon and cartoons are childish.”
I hope, from the description I gave of the scene she was looking at, that you can understand why her statement made no sense to me. I was not an anime expert, but I had watched enough to know that most of these shows were definitely not meant for kids, and I didn’t understand why she would think so.
I suddenly felt bad about enjoying a well-written show, just because it was animated.
Why is animation seen as childish?
I’m sure most adults have fond memories of snuggling up on the couch to watch the Saturday morning cartoons. Finally! TV for kids instead of all the boring, real-life adult shows. The cartoons we watched as kids depicted these colorful, fantastical and wonderful worlds that we could dream about and escape into. Indeed, most of us in the western world were likely introduced to the medium of animation through these cartoons, and many seem to assume that, as we grow up, we need to grow out of certain types of entertainment. You need to stop watching silly cartoons and start watching more grown-up things like Supernatural or Riverdale. You know, shows grounded in the real world.
Sarcasm aside, animation is a medium used often for media targeted at kids. I don’t think anyone would try to argue that the target audience of the Disney Channel, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon is much older than teenagers. There’s a reason why kids are drawn to cartoons and why many people stop watching these channels as they grow up and the storylines become less relatable.
However, we need to keep two things in mind:
- There are plenty of live-action shows and movies targeted at kids.
- There are plenty of animated shows and movies that are very much not targeted at kids.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover” as they say: calling something ‘childish’ simply because it’s animated implies that the plot doesn’t matter. This might be why my mom didn’t say anything when I accidentally traumatized myself by putting on Happy Tree Friends as a kid.
Disney movies: a form of modern torture for adults
While announcing the winner of Best Animated Feature at the 2022 Oscar ceremony, Lily James, Halle Bailey and Naomi Scott joked about how kids would watch these movies “over and over and over…” while parents kindly sat and endured. Host, Amy Schumer, added that the only animated film she’d watched was the winner, Encanto, solely because of her kid.
Saying this at one of the largest award ceremonies watched by millions made it sound like all of animation is nothing more than mindless plots and explosions of color that parents put on to occupy their screaming kids, which understandably garnered some backlash from the animation industry.
We spend years pitching, writing, storyboarding, designing, directing, and rewriting only to have our medium spoke down to and publicly mocked at less than half the price of our colleagues in live-action
(Shannon Tindle, co-writer of Kubo and the Two Strings)
Alberto Mielgo, who won Best Animated Short for The Windshield Wiper, used his acceptance speech to declare that “animation is an art that includes every single kind of art you can imagine […] animation for adults is a fact. It's happening. Let's call is cinema!”.
We respect good drawings and beautiful paintings, we respect interesting plotlines and great acting, we can even respect bad CGI every now and then – so why can we not respect these art forms when they are put together by capable adults?
Why would you assume that people working in animation wouldn’t want to create something that they also enjoy?
Age doesn’t actually matter
So, let’s get one thing out of the way: some media is absolutely made for kids, and this includes some animation. You’ve got cartoons like Peppa Pig that speak slowly so children can pick up vocabulary, and you’ve got movies where the only goal is to be loud, silly and entertaining. And that’s okay – in fact, it still doesn’t prevent some people outside the target audience from watching it.
The Australian kids’ show, Bluey, got massively popular over the pandemic: it’s a show about a family of dogs and their daily life with a target audience of probably 4-10 years old. However, Bluey doesn’t speak down to the kids, it talks to them. It’s honest with them and, despite its short episodes, has been known to make parents cry on more than one occasion. It might not be something Mom puts on for herself, but she might just stay to watch when it’s on.
Another example could be Encanto. Disney’s smash hit from 2021 had the quirky characters, colorful environments and memorable songs that we expect from a Disney movie, but the story of Encanto deals with more than just magical powers; it’s about generational trauma, fear of failure, feeling pressured and yearning for approval. The movie is not just meant to be relatable for kids – it’s meant to represent those who created the story and connect with those who understand what that means. It’s for those who care. Songs like Surface Pressure, sung by big sister Luisa about the pressure she feels while trying to accomplish everything her family expects of her, resonate with those of us who grew up as over-achieving big sisters. Luisa teaches kids that even big, strong girls can struggle, and Surface Pressure offers some comfort to those burnt-out older sisters.
Is all animation made for kids?
Quick and easy answer: no.
In fact, one of the nominees for Best Animated Feature at the 2022 Oscars was Flee; a documentary-style film about the true story of a man fleeing his home in search of safety. It’s a deeply heartbreaking and human story that depicts politics, cultural differences and struggles with sexuality – if you think this was made for kids, you might enjoy other family movies like Saving Private Ryan or Moonlight.
We can also look at anime; Attack On Titan is one (seriously, do not watch that with your kids, it will traumatize them) of hundreds if not thousands of animated shows and movies that do not specifically target kids. Even anime shows that look like they’re for kids might just be out to fool you (watch Madoka Magica at your own risk).
And obviously, it would be silly of me to try and make this point without mentioning the still growing genre of ‘adult cartoons’. These animated sitcoms became one of the most popular types of American TV in the 90s. In fact, one of the OG adult cartoons, The Simpsons¸ is still ongoing in the year of our lord, 2023.
I could mention Rick and Morty, Bob’s Burgers, Family Guy, Futurama, American Dad and many more. These shows are as much ‘for kids’ as shows like How I Met Your Mother or Friends – which is to say, they’re not made for kids.
Watch what you like, you bastards.
There are shows and movies that I find childish – certain tropes I dislike or plotlines I find silly. This goes for all genres, live action and animation. I would rather watch Avatar: the Last Airbender than Netflix’s Emily in Paris; however, I don’t look down on those who enjoy that show. I might personally feel like they’re missing out on great worldbuilding and storytelling, but we can’t all have the same interests.
I don’t personally watch Steven Universe, but I can understand and respect why people enjoy a show like that. I might no longer be the target audience for most of Disney’s movies, but I’ll still allow myself to enjoy the stories and the worlds they create.
Animation as a medium allows for so much creativity: animals can talk, humans can fly – if you can draw it, it can become real. If you compare How I Met Your Mother to The Simpsons, you’d quickly realize that while HIMYM could probably be animated, The Simpsons couldn’t be live-action.
Really, my point is just this: watch what you like and respect all forms of art and those who enjoy it. And if you've ever decided against watching something simply because it's animated, maybe give it a chance.