Cartoons can be lighthearted

We don’t need to dig deeper for media to be enjoyable

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Moomin walking through flowers
PHOTO: Courtesy of Dennis Livson & Kindernet Entertainment Ltd

By: Michelle Young, Opinions Editor

Often, we might turn to teen or adult dramas in favour of complex stories and mature themes that resonate with older audiences. Some series, like Avatar: The Last Airbender, stay with us forever due to their emotional impact. As we come back to these series, we often have a deeper appreciation for their themes or complexities. There are countless series that have been praised for their duality of being enjoyed by both kids and adults. Typically, the argument goes that certain children’s series tackle serious issues — like racism or family life in The Proud Family and Arthur, and therefore, adults can take something from these messages, too. The assumption that themes like kindness or friendship are automatically too dull to be enjoyed by adults is flawed. Children’s series don’t need to have endless layers of depth to be entertaining. 

As a child, I loved watching TV. One of my favourite shows was Pingu, a stop-motion animation from Switzerland about a mischievous penguin living in Antarctica. Typically, an episode features Pingu trying to play and avoid his chores — sometimes with consequences. He spits out his vegetables in the toilet and cries at inconveniences. The series is chaotic, but it’s hilarious and relatable how Pingu can represent our most childish desires. There is no deeper or hidden meaning, at its heart Pingu is just trying to teach kids responsibility, and it’s still enjoyable. In high school, I binged Shaun the Sheep, another stop-motion about animals, but I had a hard time getting my friends on board.   

Throughout the pandemic, I’ve visited numerous children’s series as a form of relaxation and escapism. No real action, drama, or violence. I watched the first two seasons of Onegai My Melody — a Japanese series about stuffed animals coming into the real world to protect their dreams. There seems to be an endless hole of memes and video essays analyzing “The Stigma Against Hello Kitty Girls” and why “Everyone Hates Sanrio Girls.” This refers to an “attractive but emotionally unstable and potentially violent” girl who likes Sanrio or Hello Kitty merchandise. While there can be countless explanations for the rise of this judgement toward girls — such as sexism and mental health stigma — it also stems from being unable to believe that adults can enjoy innocent things aimed for children without some underlying meaning. While there have been countless valuable and scholarly cultural analyses of the love of Hello Kitty and other Sanrio characters, it also shouldn’t be too difficult to believe that people like something because it brings them joy, and that’s all it needs to do. 

With a sharp rise in reboots, many shows that were originally aimed toward children are trying to appeal to those same audiences, who have now become adults. While there’s nothing really wrong with that, it makes me wonder why there is a push to make something “more mature” so older audiences can enjoy it. The Proud Family reboot was criticized for mixing adult jokes with children’s humour, giving the impression it didn’t know who its audience was. As an adult, I don’t care for “adult humour” or mature plotlines all the time. Sometimes, I just want to escape adult life and jump into a world filled with stuffed animals.

Recently, I’ve started watching the Japanese ‘90s adaptation of Moomin, a series about round trolls who live in Moominvalley, where almost everyone is understanding of those around them, and the characters lay around to enjoy nature. I love being able to sit back and take a break from serious issues for a small chunk of my day. While there is lore and hidden messages slipped into the series, along with parallels to the author’s life and relationships — you don’t need to dig deeper if you don’t want to. Just like the other series mentioned, you can enjoy Moomin for what it is without doing any hardcore analysis. As I get older, I see more value in these kinds of series and actively seek them out. Adult life can arguably be more stressful and demanding than childhood, but shows like Moomin and Onegai My Melody allow us to delve into what it felt like to be a child — which is even more of a reason to be open-minded toward series aimed for children. 

Children’s series don’t need to be complex or particularly thematic to be enjoyable. They don’t need to be justified — they can be silly, cute, light-hearted, and we can still love them for being just that. 

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