Haasch: Cartoons are great and merit your indulgence

All-ages programming is actually — surprise — meant for all-ages.

Palmer Haasch

Last Friday, I stayed up until 6 a.m. to be one of the first to watch the first nine episodes of “The Dragon Prince,” a new Netflix original cartoon. This is about as on-brand as it gets for me. I’ve spent the vast majority of my life immersed in cartoons like the timeless “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “The Legend of Korra.” 

Cartoons are a critical part of who I am as an individual and are also the reason that I get told so often, “For the love of God, please shut up.”

However, in a world where live-action hits like “Stranger Things” or “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” — or whatever fits your preference — are so prolific, it’s easy to give animated series a pass. While certain shows, like “Avatar”, may hold a special place in the hearts of many from our generation, for others the cartoon fever hasn’t carried on to adulthood. Given that animation is so strongly associated with all-ages programming, associating live-action with adult programming is logical.

This isn’t to say that we are missing a strong niche of adult animation content. Quite the opposite, actually. “The Simpsons” is the longest-running prime-time scripted series, and “Bob’s Burgers” is a long-running cultural phenomenon. Series like “Bojack Horseman” tackle serious topics like addiction with anthropomorphic animals. Matt Groening’s (of “The Simpsons” and “Futurama” fame) new Netflix series, “Disenchantment” is a twist on the classic fairy tale where the princess would rather binge drink and gamble instead of getting married.

However, I’m here to advocate for animated series that aren’t geared to adults — rather, ones that aren’t chock-full of adult humor. It’s easy to forget that all-ages programming doesn’t just mean “for kids,” but “for all ages.” While I don’t see myself staying up in anticipation of a new season of “Peppa Pig,” it’s a no-brainer to decide to wake up at 6 a.m. for the newest season of “Voltron: Legendary Defender.” I did this twice just this summer.

Series like “The Dragon Prince” or “Avatar” deftly balance humor and action while managing serious topics, like death and war. With fantasy world-building on par with “Game of Thrones” and the genuinely funny charm of all-ages programming, series like these have the best of both worlds when you’re not looking for too much grit and gore. 

Ultimately, animated programming is just a whole lot of fun. While a series like “Voltron” has its heavy moments, it’s complemented by quality goofs and endearing characters. Furthermore, the animated medium allows for visual elements that would be much more difficult and expensive to achieve on a live-action show. If you’re curious, compare the elemental manipulation in the cartoon and movie adaption of “Avatar.” One is very, very clearly more visually successful than the other. 

Cartoons carry a certain stigma and likely aren’t high on many adults’ priority viewing lists. However, animated series can be just as beautiful, heart-wrenching and harrowing as any live-action program, and we shouldn’t dismiss them right off the bat as being too childish. Rather, we should embrace and revel in their youthful spirit. While I don’t expect everyone to stay up the entire night to binge something like “The Dragon Prince” in one go, I do think it’s well worth everyone’s time to give it a chance. It’s what animated programming and the artists that create it deserve.