Why we should embrace the cartoon renaissance
For a long time, when I thought about cartoons, it was only in the context of childhood memories or the Disney/Pixar empire. They were either a much beloved part of past Saturday mornings, or enormous annual releases accompanied by a flood of merchandise. However, the more I've explored, the more I've realized that we are in the midst of an animated renaissance in terms of tone, subject, and quality. Cartoons aren't just for kids, and they're certainly more than a merchandising campaign.
Disney has led the American animated market for the past 90 years, and while they have consistently created rich stories that are enduring classics, they have a distinct formula. Their films must be family friendly and approachable enough that they can pull a wide demographic. We end up with countless stories about princesses and adolescents finding their place in the world that are great, but somehow, even new releases feel the same.
There are several shows out right now that are pushing the boundaries of what we expect from cartoons. My path into the world of cartoons naturally started with "Adventure Time." Originally, I was drawn to the whimsical world of Ooo, the main setting of "Adventure Time," and the fantasy adventures of lead characters Finn and Jake. As the series has progressed, it has become more than cute jokes by establishing an incredible lore that explores nuclear fallout, alternate dimensions, metaphysical beings and spiritual concepts that would have gone way over my head as a 10-year-old kid.
If you love "Adventure Time,"check out Cartoon Network's miniseries "Over The Garden Wall." If you've tried "Adventure Time," and it was just too weird for you, still check out "Over The Garden Wall". Imagine if the brothers Grimm collaborated with Mark Twain and set their stories in the early 20th century, with a more somber "Adventure Time" animation style. Focusing on two brothers lost in the woods, each episode is a small vignette that gradually reveals more about the eerie world they find themselves in. Featuring the voices of Elijah Wood and Christopher Lloyd, it has horror, humor and enough emotional development that it begs to be watched in one sitting.
There are so many good shows right now that aren't just for kids. "Gravity Falls" provides humor, mystery and a deep lore. "Steven Universe" has incredible world building and character growth. "Regular Show" tackles mundane situations that devolve into the supernatural or absurd. "Rick and Morty" explores high concept sci-fi and existential anguish. "The Secret of Kells" and "Song of the Sea" are full-length movies that depict Irish art and folklore through beautiful animation.
This isn't an attack on Disney, or any other major animation studio. Just know that animated entertainment isn't just after-school filler, or big budget productions anymore. There's a whole world of quality cartoons out there deserving of attention.