When the cartoons of the ’90s began giving more control to their creators, as opposed to executives and toy companies, animation got a lot better real quick. But here’s the thing — modern cartoons have taken the medium to a whole new level, teaching kids and adults a number of lessons in both artistry and humanity. Modern cartoons are even better than their ’90s counterparts, and here’s why:
More Complex Storylines Than Ever
Cartoons have been taking a page from shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men to tell long complex stories. Along with that, cartoons can rely on DVR and Hulu-like streaming services to get viewers caught up if they can’t be in front of their TVs right as the episodes air. Over The Garden Wall is a prime example of this new method of storytelling, as its narrative was tightly-plotted story over its one ten episode season.
A Calmer Strangeness
The kid’s cartoons of the new era have a tone of calm strangeness — more reflective Miyazaki than manic Looney Tunes. Neither style is better or worse, but coming back from an era where creators and executives thought you had to be loud to get a child’s attention, it’s nice to see entertainment that’s more subtle and introspective. Adventure Time can be broadly goofy, but the episodes where Finn has a quiet dream or Jake becomes a brick are so very welcome.
They Benefit From a Wide Variety of Influence
The greatness of animation in the ’90s set the stage for the greatness of animation today, as the influence tree keeps growing farther and farther. Adult Swim’s weirdness can be found in Clarence, the complexities of The Simpsons can be felt in Gravity Falls, and the broad universe of video games can be felt on Adventure Time. It’s exciting to see these influence — uniquely well suited for television — working their way into this generation of cartoons.
Better Life Lessons
While ’90s cartoon characters obsessed over their love interests — think Doug and Patty, or Helga and Arnold — the concept of unrequited love was much too common in cartoons (especially considering how creepy it is in real life). But today, shows like Adventure Time and Regular Show portray their characters engaging in more healthy relationships. This trend promises to raise a generation better equipped for the world of love ahead of them.
These are Ridiculously Personal Projects
Above all else, the fact that all these cartoons are deeply personal sets the modern era of animation apart. They root back to a pain in childhood, a sense of loneliness to be explored, a queerness that even eight years ago would have been taboo, and a pained realization of our own flaws. Steven Universe is one of the most popular shows on the planet right now, and every element of its premise is specific to its creator, Rebecca Sugar (the most obvious being that Steven is based on her little brother).
Any reasons today’s cartoons are even better than ’90s cartoons that I missed? Any reasons I was a fool to include? Follow and argue with me on Twitter @alexfirer if you have strong feelings about this!