I was faced with a problem whilst watching the children’s cartoon, SpongeBob SquarePants, with my seven year old niece. SpongeBob rapidly crossed his SquarePants and changed the channel on his TV when Patrick Star approached. She asked me why. I’m used to answering difficult questions and believe honesty to be the best policy when it comes to the facts of life – but this was more than I could handle. I changed the subject. This got me to thinking – what separates children’s cartoons from animation for adults?
Anyone who has ever re-watched TV from their childhood can’t fail to notice a whole lot of innuendo that was invisible to us in our innocent years. My niece either ignores references she doesn’t understand, tries to discover the meaning by asking or, increasingly, Googles it. If the innuendo is targeted at children, do we really want children to understand innuendo? Should we be teaching them, to find it humorous? Is this an appropriate way to learn about adult life?
If the innuendo was not meant for the children watching it, who was it intended for? Surely not adults, as I can’t say that it increased my enjoyment of the cartoon, or tempted me to watch it without the presence of a child. In my opinion adult references in cartoons are really targeted at that subculture of teens to adults who refer to themselves as ‘geek cool’ – the ones with the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles rucksacks and glassless glasses.
Politically and socially satirical cartoons such as Family Guy and South Park seem to draw a clear line – this is animation for adults. No one could mistake these for ‘after school, watch with mother’ programs. But why must this division exist? Why can’t we have a genre, which explores our reality in a way which both excites children and enthuses adults (and not only those of the ‘geek fad’ variety)?
I would argue that little known animators such as Julian Antonisz fit the bill. Antonisz, a Polish filmmaker, is best known for his short animation ‘How does a Sausage-dog Work?’ (1971).
In this film, narrated by an elderly lady, we are shown examples of how simple machines work. This is compared to the way a sausage-dogs organs function. The drawings are simple and have an intrinsic charm; the sausage-dog is very long, blue, has hair and wears glasses. The action is fast paced, full of twists of surreal humour. A giant man tramples down trees as the narrator appeals to us to treat nature with care; the value of an animal is calculated in a surreal allegory – did you know that if we were to make a machine that works like a pair of a butterfly eyes it would cost us £600,000?
So why are cartoons of this type not broadcast on television? I am disgruntled to conclude that it is the fault of producers of children’s television. No part of SpongeBob SquarePants aids children’s learning about the environment and world around us. The inclusion of innuendo, which has become the acceptable standard, when coupled with the lack of interest in reality, leads me to believe that children learn little, apart from stereotypes, from cartoons such as this. I worry that animation for children is becoming censored to include only pastel colours, stereotypes, and the victory of good over evil. Because of this, the possibility of broadcasting animations which bridge the gap between adult wit and entertainment appropriate for children, is being eliminated.
Watch ‘How does a Sausage-dog Work?’
By Hannah Kemp-Welch of sound-art-text.tumblr.com