I’ve been a kid before, a kid who loved action figures and toys. So I understand that, especially with all the resources available to marketers and businesses tech wise, that targeting young, impressionable kids who will bug their parents for them is a smart and easy demographic. But there has been a troubling trend when it comes to how companies create their cartoons entirely centered around selling toys, instead of the actual product.
Like I said before, technology is everywhere nowadays and is easily accessible to even young children thanks to the internet. So where previous generations had to wait for specific times and dates for their favorite Saturday morning cartoons, Netflix, and other streaming services allow them to be on demand. But do these cartoons need to be dumb down so much?
Before you argue that it’s a matter of perspective and shows that I watched when I was younger were just as dumb to my parents and other adults, it’s just simply not the case. There are plenty of shows from each generation that have deeper interior behind their goofy drawn on exteriors. A lot of these shows deal with topics, though far more subtly, that children have to deal with growing up like acceptance, bullying, parental troubles, and responsibilities.
Just take a look at Young Justice, a show about kid superheroes who save the day, but also goof around, crack jokes, but also have social lives, drama, and relationships. Compare that to Teen Titans Go!, an animated sketch comedy show centered around the teen superheroes, but without the storylines that made up the original Teen Titans. Instead, it’s just all of the pizza and fart jokes that took place in the original. Essentially it’s the lowest possible effort at pushing out a product, especially their script, physically possible. The shows animation didn’t even feel like there was any effort put into it, instead, it was on par with 90’s cartoons, but not for lack of technology available to create good animation, but because it was the quickest way to do it.
Teen Titans Go! Is what lead to Young Justice’s cancellation after just two seasons. On a podcast with Kevin Smith, Paul Dini – the man who created Harley Quinn and has worked on Batman The Animated Series, Superman The Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited and many more – talked about how Warner Bros. wanted the show to be more kid-friendly, and they didn’t want girls to watch it.
“There’s been a sudden trend in animation, with super-heroes. Like, ‘It’s too old. It’s too old for our audience, and it has to be younger. It has to be funnier.’ And that’s when I watch the first couple of episodes of Teen Titans Go!, it’s like those are the wacky moments in the Teen Titans cartoon, without any of the more serious moments. ‘And let’s just do them all fighting over pizza, or running around crazy and everything, ’cause our audience—the audience we wanna go after, is not the Young Justice audience any more. We wanna go after little kids, who are into—boys who are into goofy humor, goofy random humor, like on Adventure Time or Regular Show. We wanna do that goofy, that’s where we’re going for.’”
It’s ironic to see the statement regarding the humor of Adventure time and Regular show because those shows are laced with subtext as well, but at first glance, they simply seem like low effort comedy. It’s that disconnect from the higher ups that spawns shows like Teen Titans Go! In the podcast, Dini also states how the Young Justice stories fit the teenager demographic, as opposed to a lot of the newer shows who marketed to younger audiences, the ones who will buy their toys.
Another victim of this practice is Ben 10, which received a reboot in 2013. While I was never a huge fan of the original series, I know it at least had merit based on what I’ve seen, with characters with established personalities and unique stories. Ben’s ability to shapeshift made the show the perfect candidate for creating toys based on it, as his Omnitrix to shapeshift into a lot of different weird looking creatures, with a toy for each. And despite $4.5 billion in global retail sales to date, Just like with what happened to Young Justice, and in reality the original Teen Titans, the show was rebooted to target a new age group.
“We decided it was time to introduce Ben to a new generation of kids,” said Cartoon Network Chief Content Officer Rob Sorcher. “Ben 10 has been an overwhelming success story across all media platforms, and we know kids around the world will be eager to see the reinvention of this beloved character.”
That specific quote was taken from a Deadline article before it’s release before it was known the show would simply be made up of low-grade animation, storyline fewer episodes, and toilet humor. Another show with no deeper meaning or substance whatsoever, almost worst than reality television. It’s these types of shows that make parents look at cartoons as mindless enjoyment, despite loving their own mindless reality shows. Ironically it’s those very people that try to use the show as a means to make money – older executives that are disconnected from the product – by selling products (mostly toys) to its audience.
Yet you look overseas at how Japanese markets are treating anime. Instead of dumbing down their cartoons, the vast majority of their storytelling is done through Mangas and animated shows and movies. And not only are those products successful on their own, not only are kids still buying the toys associated with those comics, movies, and shows, adults are too!
A popular saying is that “I am a kid on the inside” and that seems to be even more prevalent with current generations. Not only where current generations introduced to and grew with so many entertainment products that they have the ability to feel nostalgia for past shows they watched growing up. More importantly, these same people now have expendable income. So the idea that kids are the only people buying “toys” is ridiculous. Funko-Pops, collectible comics and action figures, all of these are million dollar industries and are majority bought by adults.
While there will always be anime, and thankfully Young Justice is getting well deserved third season thanks to Netflix and Teen Titans is getting its own new series as well. I hope this practice dies off very soon.