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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Cartoons beyond kids

Illustration by Shannon DeLurio

By Andrew McClain

Cartoons aren’t new, but what is being done with them today is.

I’m a little older than the average college student, so I remember when “Adult Swim” was first taking off on Cartoon Network. A TV channel that had traditionally been for children started hosting animated shows that were more adult-oriented. From “Futurama,” to “Frisky Dingo” — the spiritual predecessor to “Archer” — and beyond, “Adult Swim” opened the door for me to see cartoons as a form of entertainment that stretched beyond my childhood.

Of course there were other shows that had already started to blur this boundary. Before “Adult Swim,” “Beavis and Butthead,” “Dilbert” and, granddaddy of them all, “The Simpsons,” were animated shows that strove for interest from demographics over the age of 18. However, outside of “The Simpsons,” few of these shows ever gained much more than a cult following.

It was only after “Adult Swim” had set the tone for adult-oriented animation in America that we started to get true gems like “the Animatrix,” which was an animated anthology that came out between the second and third “Matrix” films. It borrowed heavily from Japan’s animation industry, which already catered to a more adult audience.

Treated as just another medium for storytelling, animation was free from many of the limitations encountered during live-action filming, and directors took the opportunity to push their stories further than they might otherwise have been able. The result was often visually stunning, and occasionally entertaining.

That success, both critical and commercial, in the world of animation opened the door for the tidal wave of adult-oriented animation that we’re seeing today. There’s a wide variety to choose from, as well.

Shows like “BoJack Horseman” harken back to classics like “Daria.” They use dry, awkward or absurdist humor to tackle real issues and stare existentialism in the face as hard as any philosopher ever has.

There’s also a slew of trashy shows that make use of the animation genre to get away with the most twisted, grossly inappropriate material they can possibly think of. “Paradise PD” comes to mind.

Then there are the rare beauties like “Love, Death & Robots.” Similar “the Animatrix,” it’s an anthology, and its animation styles are varied. Some feature motion-captured CGI humans that are difficult to distinguish from the real deal. Others look like they’d be at home somewhere between “Jonny Quest” and “The Flintstones.” However they all tell a unique story, and whether the tale is grisly and depressing or stunning and hopeful, they each leave their mark.

I definitely enjoyed the show, but what I’ll probably remember more than any of the individual episodes is the fact that it was the first non-comedic animated show that my dad ever suggested to me. It was like a paradigm shift. I stopped seeing animation as being this dirty secret that I had to enjoy in private and started to treat it like any other medium.

Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but one thing is for certain: cartoons aren’t just for kids anymore.


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