Funny is Not a 4-Letter Word

Let’s talk for a bit about Genre Busters, shall we?

“Who ya gonna call?”

Now that we’ve gotten that obligatory joke out of the way, GENRE BUSTERS. I’m talking about cartoons like Avatar: The Last Airbender, Adventure Time, Steven Universe, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Over the Garden Wall, shows which operate on several levels, incorporating comedy with drama, action, adventure and mystery, pushing the envelope and offering something beyond what many have come to expect from your typical ‘cartoony’ cartoons.

Now while shows of this ilk aren’t my particular cup of tea, as a lifelong devotee of art and animation I can’t help but applaud these genre busting shows for showing us all what animation is truly capable of in the hands of skillful and talented people when given the chance.

However, the success of these shows, while noteworthy and commendable, is also a…..

DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD.

On the one hand, it’s good that shows like these manage to get on the air, but on the other hand, the successes of these genre-busting cartoons has created a new subculture of animation snobs who now turn their collective noses up at straight-up ‘funny cartoons’ and deride them as somehow being “inferior” and “insulting the medium”. “Bah!” They’ll snort. “That show’s just a comedy!” As though there’s something wrong with a show being a comedy. Not too long ago, a message board poster actually laid out these words of wisdom upon viewing a brief preview clip of the upcoming Wabbit: A Looney Tunes Production:

“I am wondering who exactly is WB catering too (yeah, that’s really how he spelled it). they did an amazing job with stuff like Tiny Toons and Animaniacs but The Looney Tunes Show had little to no emotional moments or depth to their characters, they act as though literally no human being alive liked Loonatics Unleashed and this seems like a return to the shorts that were nothing but animated puppets making jokes.”

“Animated puppets making jokes??”

“Exsqueeze me? Baking powder??”

“You got a problem with puppets making jokes, pal? That happens to be our bread and butter, man!”

OK, where to begin? First, Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs were zany shows which were occasionally sentimental, not sentimental shows which were occasionally zany. Selective memory much? It’s also worth mentioning that those so-called “deep and emotional” segments such as “Puttin’ on the Blitz”, “Smitten with Kittens”, “Homeward Bound”, “Whale’s Tales” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo Clock” were not only few and far and between and the exception, not the norm, of those shows’ usual fare, but they were also largely HATED by the general fanbases of said shows. Second, why the flaming heck are you watching a clip of a show called “Wabbit: A Looney Tunes Production” expecting depth and emotional moments anyway? It’s the freaking LOONEY TUNES. The Looney Tunes are FUNNY. They’ve always been funny. If you’re expecting something akin to Sophie’s Choice from a Looney Tunes cartoon, you’re living on a different planet than the rest of us and only setting yourself up for disappointment.

This same towering intellect of our time was also displeased by the recent Sonic Boom cartoon, as it commits the heinous crime of not being the 1990’s Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon from 1993-1994. he opines:

“This show is an insult to Sonic fans. Sonic SatAM should be revived, because it had drama and sadness, like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic which is the super-duper bestest show of all time and will one day replace oxygen as the thing we need to breathe in order to stay alive. Sonic Boom has no moments of drama, sadness, tragedy or angst, so it turns Sonic into a bland character on a show for babies.”

Unfortunately, I’ve encountered attitudes like this far too often recently. I find it’s common among teens and in teen media to mistake angst for depth. They seem to think that if a character is depressed all the time, then they must have really deep thoughts about the world. It’s what we call Emo Disease.

In regards to the Sonic point (aside from the one on this guy’s head): I really get tired of this whole “characters who don’t cry or suffer a ton of angst and drama = bland and childish” rhetoric that genre-buster snobs now hold so dear. Yes, in some cases emotion and poignancy can do a lot of good, but just piling on cheap tragedies one after the other is an empty way of compensating for proper character development. There are other ways to develop characters and make your audience care about them besides just putting them through some contrived emotional wringer.

“If sadness equals character development, then I must be the deepest character ever conceived. Lucky me.”

All too often in this day and age, it seems that the wacky cartoons like Looney Tunes, Sonic Boom and Uncle Grandpa are looked down upon because they don’t meet these animation snobs’ standards of the supposed “right way” to make a cartoon, as if now every single cartoon now has to be Avatar: the Last Airbender or My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. What these chinless wonders fail to realize is that there is no one right way to make a cartoon. It genuinely angers me how people constantly want everything to be the same, and bash something simply because it doesn’t fit their narrow definitions. Cartoon creators typically make what they want to see and what they think is entertaining, which is how it should be. If you don’t like it, fine, but don’t act like every cartoon needs to follow some arbitrary checklist of your very specific desires. Seriously, get over it and yourself.

Right now I’m collaborating on a new cartoon show that I hope can get made one day, but it’s not going to be the next Avatar: the Last Airbender, Adventure Time, Sonic SatAM or Steven Universe. Quite frankly I’m just not interested in making that kind of show. Depth, pathos, drama and heart are fine if that’s what you’re into, but we can’t all be Miyazaki. Someone’s gotta just provide the belly-laughs, and that’s what I plan to do. Some people are going to like the kind of cartoons I plan to produce and some aren’t. I know not everyone out there is gonna share our tastes, and that’s ultimately going to be what we build our show around: OUR tastes, not those of a perceived majority. You can’t please everyone, and you never need to.

I can’t think of better words of wisdom than those of J.G. Quintel, creator of Regular Show, who said this:

“Make the things you want to see, not what you think other people want to see. It’s way too much work to be making something that you’re not even into.”

Well said, man.

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2 Comments

  1. I agree with the above commentary. Apart from the “genre-busters” and the action snobs, when did liking comedy cartoons suddenly become uncool? Comedy has it’s place, just like any other genre. Yeah, it’s OK for a cartoon to have depth and heart or action or intensity and all that stuff, but every cartoon can’t be “Avatar: The Last Airbender” or “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic”. I am so sick of fans of action cartoons and fans of drama or mystery cartoons writing off any and every animated comedy as being “for kids”. If you think that having a sense of humor equates to being just for kids, then maybe you need to develop one yourself. And even if it is intended for kids, so what? That doesn’t mean that it can’t be entertaining and well written.

    It’s one thing if you prefer cartoons with action or drama or whatever, but don’t turn your nose up at a cartoon that’s funny or even silly. We NEED silly sometimes. Personally, I don’t need for every cartoon to deal with real word issues and drama. I have to live in the real world and deal with real world issues every day and it sucks! After a long, hard, grueling day, a little silly and zany humor is just what the doctor ordered. I’d rather watch something like “Looney Tunes” than some angst fest any day of the week.

    For anyone who thinks that comedy cartoons are “just for kids”, you may not know that the reason why Warner Brothers canceled “Animaniacs” back in 1999 was because more adults were watching the show than kids at that point. And by the way, “Animaniacs” was always best when it was funny. I didn’t care for the mostly dramatic stories like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo Clock” or “Puttin’ On the Blitz”. I always skip those shorts when I play them on my DVD. And “Smitten With Kittens” just plain sucked.

    Also, I re-watched Sonic SatAM on DVD, and I have to say that series did not age well. Most of the so-called drama and angst on that show now comes off to me as being either horribly pretentious or unintentionally hilarious. I can’t comment on “Sonic Boom” because I haven’t seen it yet.

    Like

  2. The following comments have been moved from “About” to a more appropriate destination:
    Joseph Bradley wrote:
    I wasn’t sure where to put this but what are your thoughts on the fact that shows like Clarence, Regular Show, Adventure Time, Phineas and Ferb, and Gravity Falls have either ended or are going to end?

    Silverstar wrote:
    All shows end at some point. I’ve seen plenty of toons come and go. If it’s a show that you like, then it sucks when that happens, but you’ll find something else to watch. Personally, I’d rather see a show go out while it’s still relatively strong then linger on and become zombies that refuse to die. As for those shows themselves:

    Clarence = Don’t watch it. Not my cup of tea. I don’t like shows that are too grounded. Won’t miss it ’cause I never got into it.

    Regular Show = Liked it up until they went into space.

    Phineas and Ferb = Liked the idea more than the show. Only watched it sporadically.

    Adventure Time = Was never a fan. Sorry. Plus, I read somewhere that Pen Ward checked out from it a while ago.

    Gravity Falls = Enjoyed it, but Alex Hirsch had no plans for it go on for years and years; his plan was for it to extend across only one summer and have definitive, middle and end, so while I liked the show, I shed no tears for it ending.

    Yours Truly wrote:
    Gravity Falls and Regular Show both had a good run, the latter in particular, so I’m not sad that they’ve ended. I’d rather these shows end while they’re still good than keep running for years and years until everyone other than the most hardcore fans have stopped caring about it.

    I’ve only seen one episode of Clarence, so I have no strong feelings for that show. I could never get into Adventure Time or Phineas & Ferb, although the latter had an interesting premise, so again, I’m not sad that they’ve ended or are ending.

    And yeah, I’m moving these last few comments to “Funny Isn’t a 4 Letter Word”. The “About” section really isn’t the best place for general talk about specific shows.

    Like

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