Cartoons, once primarily the domain of children, are increasingly becoming oriented toward an adult audience. In a quest to relive their youth, adults are turning more and more to programs such as The Simpsons, Family Guy, and the Adult Swim line-up, which are loaded with gags and dialogue that only adults can appreciate. Adult cartoons often present a parody of American life, once intended for children and a young audience, are now provocative one may say. In the 1930’s we had characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck by Walt Disney and shortly after; movies were introduced, such as Snow White and Pinocchio. As time went into the late 50’s Hanna-Barbera debut with Tom and Jerry, that pesky cat could never get the mouse. Then The Flintstones Bed-rocked the cartoon world in the 60’s. All the antics moved animation into the start of our pop culture movement that has led to adult cartoons. So as you will see from this timeline of cartoons and animations growth, clearly cartoons have become more geared towards adults.
Cartoons have been around for decades, and those animations were once made for kids but are moving more and more in their nature to appeal to adults. Even from the beginning adults could also enjoy cartoons and that’s probably why the adult world is taking them over. There are less situations for kids to relate to and more parents wanting to post up with a bowl of cereal and veg out to SpongeBob, Adventure Time or some good old Hanna-Barbera reruns. Cartoons and animations are available in various forms and give social messages in a fun-filled way. Cartoons provoke ideas and help adults to relax and regress. Watching and enjoying cartoons is definitely our inner child refusing to grow up. Life is so stressful and busy, so why not enjoy some cartoons instead of passing your time with News or crummy reality shows. Seth MacFarlane is on to something with his Family Guy sitcom. There is story-line and comedy that can’t be obtained with real life actors that are being achieved in animations. This is an art and creators like MacFarlane are definitely on to something good. You can see this transition with the adult humor, adult situations and language that are being portrayed in so many of today’s cartoons. The wave of this pop culture movement started with the Simpsons, an example of what’s meant when a parody of American life is thrown out there. In “Vanity Fair” John Ortved claims, “when The Simpsons had premiered on Fox, in 1989, prime-time television was somewhat lacking in comedy . . . The Simpsons planted its flag. Prime time had not seen an animated sitcom since The Flintstones, in the 1960s.” (“Simpson Family Values”) This adult intended sitcom has won a Peabody Award, Emmys and Time magazine named The Simpsons the best TV show of all time back in 1999, along with being TV’s longest running sitcom. Ortved attests that “The Simpsons has been so influential, it is difficult to find any strain of television comedy that does not contain its DNA. And yet the show’s footprint is so much larger. Homer’s signature “D’oh!” has been added to the Oxford English Dictionary. There is even a “Simpsons and Philosophy” course at Berkeley (for credit), not to mention the hundreds of published academic articles with The Simpsons as their subject.” (“Simpson Family Values”) The wave of this pop culture cartoon movement for adults pretty much began with The Simpsons, which is still running strong today with season 28 airing on none other than Fox. This goes to show just how thoroughly adult cartoons have become integrated into our culture.
The influence of adult animation is evident in the integration of the adult cartoons that have swarmed TV networks especially Cartoon Network with their infamous, yet tantalizing Adult Swim line up. For example, there is South Park where nothing is off limits amongst this quad of friends in Colorado. Other shows in this genre include King of the Hill, Futurama, and Family Guy, oh yes, this animated series is another Fox masterpiece just trying to follow in The Simpsons footsteps. Let’s not forget American Dad in this dog pile of shows, which is another creation of Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy. These adult cartoons are all a nuance of each other in their own daft and quirky way. There is an art to this kind of comedy and this is just a handful of what pop culture has produced and in a sense subjected us to. The Nielsen Company which is a global information and measuring company has the viewing numbers to prove that Cartoon Network’s late night line-up is what adults are watching and drawn to. This humor has been a growing trend consistently for years and Becky Ebenkamp affirmed this in 2004 with her “Cartoons Pull Adult Tricks” piece, claiming “Adult Swim is in the enviable position of being a cult favorite among super-fans while still managing to attract a mass audience. . .” (pg. 23-24) It’s obvious that for 30 years, give or take, the diversity of the animated films being released year after year definitely attract lots of attention from all ages. This adult cartoons trend has only been growing and paving the way. It shows by ratings, viewers, and the momentum cartoons and animation carry, they are making way for bigger and better things to come.
Granted there is PBS Kids, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon where there is still a clear divide in the adult cartoon world and the children’s cartoon world. Certain networks keep this dynamic with the times of day and specific genres they allow on their channels. They cater to their audience and keep the young and innocent at heart. That’s why Adult Swim airs from 6pm to 2am. “The best TV happens when no one is looking” (Peters, Toon In). It’s specifically geared towards adults and young adults and there has been a huge shift in cartoons to where they are becoming more geared towards adults then children and kids. Look at the animated movies being released and it started with Toy Story in 1995. There is no denying its pull on adults with jealousy and rivalries that are obviously not intended for kids since it goes right over their heads. Let’s look more at how this pop culture movement of adult cartoons and animation has mixed into even more movies, like Shrek and Megamind with adult humor, these movies are both for adults and kids. All the big film companies have jumped on board, everyone from Pixar to DreamWorks, and as always Disney with this mix of awesomeness.
Families can enjoy these animated films together and who wouldn’t with movies like Despicable Me, with Steve Carell, Russell Brand and Kristen Wiig as the voices of the zany characters. How can adults not relate to these cartoons and animations that are supposed to be deemed kids movies. The same things have been seen all along with grown-up dialogue, adult jokes and it’s not slowing down. If anything its kicking into high gear with the newly released Sausage Party, and Julia Browning couldn’t have said this better: “It is no secret that animated productions are no longer just for children. . . but Seth Rogen’s “Sausage Party” will certainly be one to hide the children from”. If it keeps going at this rate, cartoons will no longer belong to children as it was once intended. Regardless it’s a win-win for any animation film production company to gear cartoons and animation towards both kids and adults especially since adults are the ones flipping the expensive movie theatre experience bill and paying to add the DVD to the home movie collection.
Browning, Julia. “For Adults Only: A bizarre, funny Sausage Party” Eagle News
Ebenkamp, Becky. “Cartoons Pull Adult Tricks.” Brandweek,
vol. 45, no. 32, 2004, pp. 23-24.
Ortved, John. “Simpson Family Values.” Vanity Fair, Aug. 2007, http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2007/08/simpsons2007
Peters, Justin. “Toon In.” The Washington Monthly, June 2004