Animation is not child's play anymore and we have Netflix to thank for it
The advent of streaming services has played a huge part in the animation industry looking at adults as a huge chunk of their consumers rather than just children.
The animation industry is one of the biggest contributors to mainstream entertainment currently. Be it in the form of R-rated comedies, coming-of-age stories of young adults experiencing puberty or even in the form of deep, existential dialogues. The advent of streaming services has played a huge part in the animation industry looking at adults as a huge chunk of their consumers rather than just children.
For many years, animation programs have been equated to cartoons and therefore, as children’s programs. It is streaming services and their financial backing that has allowed animation to evolve from physical comedy and mindless schticks to appease children to a medium that can be used to convey difficult and complex topics.
Even a decade ago, it would be impossible for a show like BoJack Horseman’ or ‘Big Mouth’ to be made, let alone be beloved as it is now. Even animations that appealed to adults in the recent past, such as ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Family Guy,’ had elements of juvenility, which was meant to attract adolescents.
Ironically, though, some of the most popular cartoon shows like ‘Looney Toons’ were not even made for children. “The Only reason they started off as children’s programs is because in the 50s when television started, they needed children’s programs- so they went to the library of cartoons selected those which have been produced in the 20 years and broadcasted it on TV,” Bob Bergen, who provides the voice for iconic Warner Bros. cartoon characters such as Porky Pig and Tweety Bird tells Meaww.
As Bergen points out, we have every genre of television and movie represented in animation today as well, with shows like ‘Archer’, ‘Bob’s burger’, ‘Simpsons’, American Dad’ and so on. On the other end of the spectrum, we have the like of Disney Junior and Nickelodeon for kids for viewers ranging from preschoolers to adults. [There have] “never been so much animation product as there is today,” says Bergen.
The popularity of animations has only gotten bigger over the years, and according to Josh Weinstein, who co-wrote Netflix’s latest animation show ‘Disenchantment,’ it is because the format allows storytellers to tell both “jokes and dramatic stories - combined - and that's very appealing.”
“With shows like ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘Handmaid's Tale’, they aren't comedies, they are serious dramas that are really well done,” he told Meaww, adding, “But with our shows, it's a combination of dramatic elements and plenty of jokes - which appeals people.”
Weinstein says that for the team behind ‘Disenchantment,’ - which is coincidentally also the same group of people that brought us successful shows like ‘Futurama’ and ‘The Simpsons’ - it “was really that we like to make ourselves laugh and to amuse ourselves and, we think if that if we like it that much then even other people would like it too.”
However, it does not mean that getting an animation project greenlit is child’s play, especially when compared to a live-action project. “In certain ways, it's harder because an animated show - a good one - is very expensive. And you have to be budget conscious; you can't just commit to a couple of episodes, you have to commit to a larger bunch of them to make financial sense - and in that way, it's more difficult to get an animated show greenlit,” Weinstein tells Meaww.
It then probably makes sense to not limit yourself to a limited demographic – like children. The fact that adults are now looking at animation as a prime provider of entertainment has a lot to do with the fact that bigwigs like Netflix are churning out so many of them. However, according to Weinstein making animation appealing to adults is a not a primary concern to him or his team.
“We don't really intentionally set out to just write for adults, but we just want to make sure we like it and we're actually hoping that some of them do too, and if there are adult jokes in the show, hopefully, they'll go over kids,” he reveals. However, it does not hurt that for so many years “adult animation has been so popular - like it has been in the popular mindset.” “I think people paid attention to it, they were interested in it,” he says.
Netflix obviously picked on this popularity and offered streaming service of these shows, which in turn allowed for the storytellers to really explore the genre in a way they could not on traditional TV. “We're able to release an entire season at once because of streaming and Netflix, we're able to tell much deeper running, serialized stories. So really, we think of the 10 episodes like sort of an epic 5-hour movie that you can watch in little bits, so it definitely affects the storytelling,” says Weinstein.
In fact, Bergen claims that a good percentage of animation shows is currently made for streaming services and that number is growing by the day. "I predict that streaming will be mainstream in the next two to five years and I think that 5 is actually pushing it,” says the voice-over actor, adding, “Almost every cartoon that we are auditioning for today is debuting on streaming from Disney to Warner Bros. So it is something we the actors (from a business standpoint) are really paying attention to.”
As Bergen points out, “The streaming industry is not something that is in its infancy, it's not new media, it is now media. The entertainment industry (not just animation but films too)- the idea of streaming is a constant. Yes, that’s huge!”