Kid Stuff: Cartoons

by Doug Muir on April 4, 2024

Thesis: in the English-speaking world, the last 50 years has seen a dramatic increase in the quantity *and quality* of text and visual mass media intended for children.

Let’s define some terms.  I’m talking about books, cartoons, TV, and movies. Music is not included; comics and graphic novels are a special case. When I say “intended for children”, I am talking about mass media that is targeting children aged 4-12 as the primary audience. So, yes Disney movies are included here, no the original Star Wars movies are not. Kids absolutely watched Star Wars — I watched it as a kid — but they weren’t the primary audience.

Stuff aimed at the youngest children is excluded here, as is Young Adult stuff. (I agree that the boundaries of the latter category are very slippery.)

Detail to the thesis: this transformation was not smooth. To simplify, from the early 1970s to the late 1980s, text and visual mass media products for children were generally mediocre to bad. There were individual works that were good or excellent, but the average was dismally low. And the quality was not much better at the end of this period than at the beginning.

But starting in the back half of the 1980s, kids movies, TV, books and cartoons suddenly started getting /better/. And they got steadily better and better for the next 15 or 20 years, until by the middle 2000s they had reached a new plateau of excellence, from which they are perhaps only now just starting to descend. The period 1970-1985 was a dark age of kid stuff; the period 2000-2020 was a golden age. There was a massive cultural transformation here.  And it happened fairly quickly, and it’s been discussed much less than you might expect.

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