In Defense of Modern Cartoons
I’m working on a bunch of other blogs that’ll probably be more entertaining than this, but since someone from Twitter decided to argue with me that the updated art style in shows like She-Ra and Ducktales makes them “lose their magic” because of lazy character designs and worldbuilding, this is the blog you’re getting today.
I wholeheartedly disagree with their statement. Honestly, after I watched Ducktales 2017, I went back to watch the original Ducktales from 1987 and I have to say, it doesn’t hold up. The animation is cheap and clunky, the writing is deeply misogynistic and racist, and the art leaves a lot to be desired. This is not to say the art is bad, I think the artwork from the original Ducktales is really good, but it really bugs me how they tend to rely on a lot of the same body type models with little to no diversity of shape.
I’ve noticed a lot of people tend to romanticize the “good ol’ days” where they pretend the cartoons they grew up with were the only good iteration of those stories just because they liked them as a kid.
While I’ll be the first person to defend any work of animation because I am so tired of people sleeping on the artistry of cartoons, I’ll also be the first to tell you your fave from “back in the day” ain’t that great.
The first thing I noticed during my rewatch of Ducktales 1987 was that, unlike Ducktales 2017, it doesn’t bother giving you a backstory of why the boys are with Scrooge. Granted, I gave them that one, because the Ducktales 1987 series on Disney+ actually starts at episode 3 for some reason.
Now, some modern cartoons are like that too. If I take into account the sheer amount of animated shows I watch and enjoy, off the top of my head I can say Miraculous Tales of Ladybug and Chat Noir, Amphibia, DC’s Super Hero Girls, and Milo Murphy’s Law all adopt an out of order self-contained storytelling style akin to Ducktales 1987.
The out of order storytelling doesn’t bug me all that much, what gets to me about Ducktales 1987—and this applies to the original She-Ra series as well—is how many of the characters lack Agency in comparison to their modern counterparts.
More than that, the shows [Ducktales 1987 & She-Ra 1985] lack diversity and vision. Back in the “good ol’ days” as people are wont to call them, animation was less popular than it is now. We’ve come a long way in recent years with shows like Avatar the Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra, Adventure Time, and Gravity Falls paving the way for animators to explore this new age of animation.
Going back to the original topic that sparked this rant, I’ll admit I can get pushy sometimes and be offended by people saying they won’t watch something due to the “art style”. I know it’s not always fair for me to be like that because ultimately it boils down to personal preference, but I’ve heard this argument a lot and I just want to get to the bottom of why y’all seem to hate western cartoon art styles so much and why the old art for these shows are so overwhelmingly preferred over the new ones. Is it nostalgia? Or is it something deeper?
I’ve heard people refer to the more modern art styles for these shows as “dumbed down”, “caricaturized”, and “overly simplistic”. In recent years, this take has really started to grate on my nerves. Mostly because it feels like people are gatekeeping and demonizing really good stories because the—already overworked—animators didn’t sit down and draw everything in a hyper realistic art style and, instead, chose to use a style that would give them more variety in their models and designs.
When people try to tell me the old art for She-Ra or Ducktales is better, I think they forget how basically every character was made off of the same model with little to no diversity in skin colour or body type. And if a character had a different model, they were more likely to be a victim of harmful stereotypes.
I’m not going to sugar coat it, the cartoons you all love from the past are deeply racist and deeply sexist and it needs to be acknowledged. Peter Pan and Doctor Seuss are not the only properties to reinforce harmful stereotypes and I think we should continue to call out other properties that do the same thing. That way younger generations can be educated instead of being fed this romanticized drivel about people “not making them like they used to” that ignores the serious issue of inequality and harmful stereotypes portrayed in older media.
With these remakes, the showrunners aimed to bring back the original magic of the shows for a newer generation and to also breathe new life into their old visionless storylines, actively remove harmful stereotypes, and include more diversity.
In Ducktales, you see this with the updated versions of characters like Fenton Crackshell-Cabrerra and M’Ma Crackshell-Cabrerra, to include latinx representation and the updated designs of Mrs. Beakley and Webby Vanderquack to give them more agency and make them their own people that aren’t just there to further the development of Scrooge McDuck and “the boys”.
More to the point, the changes they made to the personalities of Scrooge, Launchpad, Donald, Huey, Dewey, and Louie themselves, bolstering their designs and development and making them their own people just adds to the story and makes them feel like whole people instead of the flat, underdeveloped characters they were in the past.
The canned villain of the week, minimalistic overarching plot of past animated properties has had its time and place. These types of stories were told because people assumed children couldn’t process or follow more complex storylines so every episode had to be its own thing with only the occasional call back to previous adventures. This is not the case, children need diversity and complexity in storytelling the same way adults do and modern animated properties understand this and are changing the way they tell stories for this reason.
While She-Ra 1985 and Ducktales 1987 had a better grasp on plot and storytelling than something like Looney Tunes or Scooby Doo, they still lacked complexity and representation shown in the remakes.
Yet y’all wanna sit there and act like the inclusion of different body types and different races to make the art more diverse and fun is robbing you of your archaic same-model art style from a hundred years ago.
When, in reality, the artwork on these new shows is much more complex than it’s given credit for. Especially when it comes to fight scenes, adventure scenes, and body positivity. Too many of you see the flat colours and smooth lines and think ‘this is just dumbed down for the lazy, uncreative children of today’ and not that the style they’re drawing in is something unique and special that gives the artists room to create stories in a meaningful and beautifully animated way.
These modern cartoons you’re avoiding for arbitrary reasons like “the atwork is too simplistic and cartoony compared to the original” have rich worldbuilding and realistic portrayals of interpersonal relationships. They break down difficult emotional issues to make it easier for children and adults to process and understand them. They’re full of hurt, heart, and love and I will defend them with my whole self because these storytellers deserve a voice and a platform to tell newer more inclusive stories.
So, sit down, shut up, and listen.