Friday, March 25, 2016

How Cartoons Have Really Evolved: A Look at the Last 30 Years


It’s amazing how cartoons have really evolved over the last 30 years. We’ve gone from the weekly ritual of Saturday mornings to now being able to watch on-demand, virtually 24-7.

TV cartoons have also evolved for specific audiences, and are no longer just considered ‘kiddie fodder.’ Let’s take a look at how cartoons have really evolved through the past 3 decades:

TV Cartoons in the 80s

You might be too young to remember it, but there was a certain magic in the 80s to watching TV cartoons on Saturday mornings. It was roughly 5 hours straight of TV meant for children, but it was only once a week. A staggering 20 million viewers watched those cartoons.

A lot of the 80s cartoons were tied to toys, like Transformers and Care Bears for younger children, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the ‘tweens. Reagan’s repeal of toy advertising regulations allowed for tons of TV cartoons to be created for products.

At the same time, MTV videos started experimenting with cartoon crossovers for teens and adults. Money for Nothing by Dire Straits, for example, or A-ha’s Take on Me.

It wasn’t until ‘89 though, that a cartoon managed to unite the family as a TV-watching unit. The Simpsons hit the right notes for every age, from child to adult. And 25 years later, they’re still going strong.

TV Cartoons in the 90s

One of the biggest changes the 90s brought to TV cartoons was cable and satellite TV. Children of all ages were now able to watch cartoons daily, without waiting for Saturday. Families, too, were changing. With divorces becoming almost a norm, weekend visits were too important for 5-hour watch-a-thons of cartoons. Video games surged, taking up free time, while the Internet began growing at an astonishing rate.

It started in 1991, with FOX Kids airing TV cartoons 2 hours daily. NBC and CBS had drastically reduced cartoons. Then cable and satellite TVs trifecta (the Disney Channel, the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon) began airing cartoons and shows geared to children and teens almost non-stop. MTV also drifted away from a purely music video focus and began to add regular shows.

The 90s were good and bad for cartoons. They offered a lot of diversity and creativity in programming, but the overload also led to a large amount of ‘filler’ cartoons and poorer quality (My Little Pony Tales). They also added more ‘realism,’ with fast action, blood-and-guts and adult humor.

Cartoons for children included Pokemon and Rugrats; ‘tweens tastes went from Batman: The Animated Series and The Ren and Stimpy Show to Powerpuff Girls or Daria; and adult cartoons really expanded. The Critic, Family Guy, King of the Hill, South Park and Duckman, to name a few, were all popular.

TV Cartoons 2000s to Now

TV cartoons have- and are undergoing- another evolution in the 00s to now. Cable and Satellite TV are still used, but the Internet has taken over and improved on the cartoons 24-7 model. It’s also decreased the amount of viewers, because the audiences are so spread out.

Being able to stream, download entire series to watch at your convenience and binge-watch has almost brought watching cartoons full-circle from the 80s. It used to be a treat to watch cartoons Saturday mornings; now we can decide when to block a chunk of time to ‘treat’ ourselves.

Many people feel that children’s cartoon programming has been watered and dumbed-down, lacking educational value (Dora the Explorer is cited as an exception).

‘Tweens and what cartoons they watch have evolved differently. They’re much more discerning and individual with their choices, opting for smaller niches and mixing in a large dose of reality shows. Samurai Jack, Kim Possible and Ed, Edd, n Eddy are a few examples.

Teen and adult cartoons have morphed even further, into a cartoon channel of their own: Adult Swim. It offers some touches of nostalgia with Hanna-Barbera relaunches, anime series like Bleach and original series like The Venture Bros.

What's Next for TV Cartoons?

Looking back, it’s interesting how TV cartoons have really evolved over the last 30 years. We’ve gone from one specialized morning to non-stop cartoons, to being able to choose the tone, quality and amount of watching we (or our children) do. Who knows what the new form of cartoon evolution will be?