By: Caroline MacLellan
August 22nd, 2023
Animated TV shows and movies have long been stigmatized as childish or “just for kids.” But animation really isn’t just for children, it is an incredibly versatile medium capable of tackling adult issues and topics. It also provides adults with a different kind of entertainment besides live action movies and TV shows, and shouldn’t be something we categorize as only for kids.
The stereotype that animation is for kids stems from the fact that so much animation really is made for kids. Early animations, for example Mickey Mouse and Looney Tunes, were geared towards children. The strong association people have between animation as a genre and children’s entertainment can partly be attributed to the success of these two franchises.
The thousands of other animated shows and movies that people have grown up watching over the last few decades have also contributed to this mindset. These shows and movies were certainly made for kids, something lighthearted and brightly-colored to keep them occupied and entertained in the early morning. From a kid’s perspective, they’re not as dark and boring as live action TV series and movies may seem.
Entertainment companies certainly capitalized on the popularity of cartoons, resulting in media giants like Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks, releasing hundreds of animated children’s movies. There’s a reason why so many people’s minds immediately go to Disney when they think of cartoons and animation. While certainly targeted towards children, even those movies have their hidden sides, often containing jokes or references that their adult audiences can enjoy.
While animation may have started as something for children, it’s clear that it’s evolved into something larger, something different. The hidden jokes in kids movies is just one side of that. There’s also a multitude of cartoons and animated series that are clearly not for kids.
One example of such shows are adult comedy cartoons, like “Bojack Horseman,” “South Park,” “Bob’s Burgers,” and “Rick and Morty.” Cartoons in this genre are chock-full of adult jokes, and discuss political conflict and social issues in inappropriate but comedic ways, almost all of which are not suited for children. While all these shows are animated, it’s clear that their target audiences are adults rather than kids. The existence of shows like this emphasizes the fact that animation isn’t just for children.
Cartoons and animated series outside of the adult comedy genre are unsuitable for children for other reasons. They also cover issues like politics and social strife, but without the comedic touch. “Castlevania” is a great example of an adult animated series that discusses things like war and discrimination. While it certainly has its funny moments, “Castlevania” is teeming with gore, foul language and violent scenes not suited for children’s eyes.
Many Japanese animated series, commonly known as anime, are inappropriate for kids for many of the same reasons. “Attack on Titan,” for example, follows a group of people fighting massive, man-eating humanoid monsters called titans. Not only is the show incredibly bloody and violent, it features complicated political conflict and other themes, like genocide, that many children wouldn’t understand.
Other anime have similar features, like “Berserk,” “Chainsaw Man,” “Hell’s Paradise” and more. The adult themes and images shown in series like these set them apart from American cartoons and anime that are actually created for children.
Just like American cartoons, anime has plenty of shows that are child appropriate. Notably, Studio Ghibli‘s fantastical films contain the perfect mixture of childlike wonder and serious themes. Both children and adults alike can enjoy films like “Spirited Away,” “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “The Secret World of Arrietty”. Other anime suited for kids may include series like “SPY x FAMILY” and “Sailor Moon,” neither of which are extremely violent or delve into serious issues or topics.
Aside from the content of animation, there’s other reasons why the childish stereotype surrounding it should be eliminated. Animation is a flexible medium that has a lot of potential. It allows for storytelling to become more robust and unique, and allows creators to explore things that aren’t possible in a live action setting.
While we have advanced VFX and CGI that have expanded possibilities for movies with real life people, there are still some things that animation can probably do better. Creators should be able to use animation to tell the stories that live action can’t do as well, and shouldn’t be limited to children’s content. It can be a great way to explore meaningful stories meant for adults too.
There’s also the fact that animation is a very difficult medium to work with, and perfecting one’s craft takes a lot of practice and skill. It can be demoralizing to have to fight against the “only for kids” reputation that animation has received. The label has often caused people to discount the medium, only seeing it as something low-effort and immature, with little hard work required.
For example, animation, especially animation for adults or with a unique style or approach, has struggled to win at popular award shows. Rarely is an animated film in the running for Best Picture. Though animation has its own category, many creators would like to see animated films competing with live action ones more regularly and not dismissed as “children’s art ,“ like it was at the Oscars in 2022.
Ultimately, animation should not be labeled as childish and pushed to the side. Animation is an art form that satisfies a multitude of audiences, including both adults and children. In all its forms, it’s a valuable medium that should be appreciated for its intricacies, not ignored for the simplicity that some entries in the medium contain. As a powerful tool that can appeal to multitudes, people need to shed the mindset that “animation is childish” and take time to appreciate the stories that animation has been used to tell, whether they’re for kids or not.
Caroline MacLellan is a senior studying Professional and Public Writing, with a minor in Japanese. In her free time, she loves watching Korean dramas, reading manga and creative writing.