‘Spongebob’ to ‘Adventure Time’: when and why the cartoons were no longer for children?

The scene of Tito Yayo is far from “normal”, but is completely common in the Cartoon Network series. Throughout the more than 150 chapters of Tito Yayo, the series has explored all kinds of surrealist resources, from characters like an animated tiger with photographs to subversive moments like the presentation of the protagonist to his creator, a geek who discovers Nirvana.

Tito Yayo seems like an unusual series. It does not want to convey any specific message to the children to whom it is addressed. Nor does it comply with any classical structure of audiovisual narrative, but it comes directly from the imagination of its creator, Peter Browngardt. But despite its quirks, it is no exception in today’s animated fiction.

Adventure Time, the popular series that ended last September with more than 17 million fans and eight Emmy Awards, used resources as strange as Tito Yayo’s. Gumball’s amazing world, which has triumphed on Cartoon Network since 2008, does the same by mixing animation styles and presenting characters far away from the formal. Even Spongebob, one of the greatest animated successes of the century, presents crazy subtexts so that it can be enjoyed by older audiences.

Hanna-Barbera: the first stone

Long before the cartoons presented talking fanny packs or pizzas with a life of their own, the Hanna-Barbera animation studio laid the first stone of what would eventually become adult animation. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera dominated the market since the 1960s with series such as Tom and Jerry-which brought slapstick comedy to television animation-, The Flintstones-which established the customary humor so well taken advantage of by The Simpsons – or Scooby-Doo-that proved that terror could also be directed at Children.

The Hanna-Barbera series followed traditional episodic structures, but already had elements that allowed them to go far beyond the “normal”. In The Flintstones, dinosaurs made appliances, and in the Supersons they allowed themselves to play with physical laws such as gravity. They also began to integrate anthropomorphic animals of the strangest, fleeing from Disney realism to advocate a mood according to Magilla the gorilla or the Yogi Bear. Thanks to their few taboos, they paved the way for exploration of the limits of animation as much as Looney Tunes and Goofy short films.

But, as these series were very defined for the children’s public, the exploration had concrete limits. Censorship had raged in previous decades, especially in studios like Warner, so Hanna-Barbera measured her jokes very well so as not to generate controversy in her millions of viewers.

Ralph Bakshi, rebellion in the service of animation

“Honey, I’m the most important cartoonist in history, and that’s all I’m gonna say.” With these words, Ralph Bakshi appeared in an interview for The Onion A. V. Club. Of course, the cartoonist was exaggerating his fame to generate controversy, but he was not far from reality.

In the early seventies, the then young man from Haifa (Israel) had been working on animation series as a colorist for a few years. But his fondness for the cat Fritz, a character Robert Crumb had turned into an underground comic star, led him to direct the 1971 film of the same name. This film, which symbolized the leap from the most subversive comic to the cinema, presented very old elements of thread. Rapes, murders and other crimes appeared Uncensored in a film that stretched as much as possible the possibilities of animation.

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