What is it about cartoons that enthrall kids and (sometimes) adults alike? I recently took my children to see a free showing of Looney Tunes at our local Grandin Theatre, one of the last non-chain grand old theaters in our area. It may actually be the last, I'm not really sure.
So, anyway, while I was sitting there, holding my squirming not-quite-two year old and trying to introduce the characters to my nine year old, I realized something. These cartoons are very different from what my son watches on tv nowadays (there, now I sound old, huh?). I began to wonder if the other mothers I was with were perhaps offended by the subject matter I had invited them to go see. Now, I don't really think that they are sticks in the mud, but you just never know. Some moms don't let their kids play with guns. Some moms don't like superheroes. Some moms are offended by Looney Tunes. Yes, seriously. I have met them before.
Today's cartoons aren't violent. They portray kids being gross, disobedient, flatulent, ill-mannered, and just plain rude, but they aren't really violent. Not like Looney Tunes, it turns out. However, I would prefer my son to cuddle up with Bugs Bunny than to idolize Phineas and Ferb any day. The same goes for Spongebob and all those other popular kids programs.
Why, you ask? Because Looney Tunes (and other cartoons like them) are just plain funny. They make you giggle. They portray silly animals getting into and out of all sorts of situations. They instill a sense of thriftiness and utility. Need to off a neighbor? Don't bother bringing out the big guns, unless you're that crazy red-headed cowboy, just use some simple engineering to drop a piano on his head. Ate too much cheese and now you have a tummy ache? Beg your neighborhood cat to devour you. Need to rid yourself of a pesky road runner? Well, then you'll have to call up Acme to deliver the proper non-working gadget to your door. But, that's the exception to the rule.
The kids throughout the theater were laughing their asses off. The parents were, too. Does Nickelodeon actually bring families together the way Warner Bros. does? Are parents willing to sit down and watch disgusting characters do weird and revolting things? No, I don't think so. At least, I'm not. But, we can bond over some comic violence, just like in the good old days.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating cartoons in which the characters blow each other's heads off. I'm not a big proponent of violence directed at entertaining children. But, I don't think it is going to harm our kids if we let them watch Bugs get squashed by a giant once in a while. After all, laughter is the best medicine.