Comparing Cartoons Across the Generations

Cartoon Network
What A Cartoon, the originator for many of the best cartoons of all time, and where a lot of great animators got their start.

In the middle of the 20th century, a new innovation was made that continues to unite people around the world, and give us some of our best childhood memories. That innovation was the television. However, saying that it has remained the same is wrong, as it has changed drastically over past generations. You can look back to television, especially animation, and see just how far it has evolved.

The first animated television show was called “Crusader Rabbit.” It followed a rabbit knight, and his sidekick, Ragland T. Tiger, in four-minute-long satirical cliffhanger episodes. From there, we saw the growing popularity of animated sitcoms like “The Flintstones” and “The Jetsons.” Both of these were produced by the first major cartoon giant, Hannah-Barbera, who also created “Scooby Doo” alongside other notable franchises.

Cartoons later became more action-centered. They seemed almost like commercials for toys, with shows such as “He-man and The Masters of The Universe” and “My Little Pony,” which were based off of toys, primarily made to sell their products. Most shows made in this period were made to sell toys, with more shows like “Voltron: Defender of the Universe”, “Transformers” and “ThunderCats” also being made. Having watched most of these cartoons myself, I can say that this did not mean a drop in quality, as they were still very entertaining at points. I do find though, that some of these have moments and characters that are laughably bad.

In 1979, the first of the three major animation channels, Nickelodeon, began, but it got its first cartoon in 1991 with “Doug”. Although Nickelodeon would not be launched into the spotlight until later that year when they got their first major show with “Rugrats”. This show followed the day to day life of Tommy Pickles and his friends, as they explore the troubles and perks of being babies. Any summary of Nickelodeon without mention of Spongebob would be amiss though, so in 1999, the late Stephen Hillenburg aired the first episode of his show “Spongebob Squarepants”. The other major creator at Nickelodeon is slightly less beloved, but still made quality shows like “Danny Phantom”. Nickelodeon also had a booming live-action world, but that is for another time.

The next animation channel was Disney Channel. It was launched in 1983, and aired its first animated show in the same year, called “Good Morning Mickey!” This show followed just about every animation troupe there was at the time and didn’t break any new ground. It wasn’t until 1987, when Disney released “Duck Tales,” that they would break new ground in animation. Before, animation was cheap and reused many scenes, but DuckTales would reshape this, and become a fan favorite along the way. It later received a remake in 2017, which is also enjoyed by many. Where Nickelodeon had Spongebob, Disney also had its own titan, Phineas and Ferb, which started in 2007 and ended in 2015. Luckily though, this was not the end for Disney, as in 2012, “Gravity Falls” was made by Alex Hirsch, which helped to carry the channel into a new era.

The final studio to join was Cartoon Network, which was the first dedicated channel that played cartoons for 24 hours a day. It launched playing replays of Hannah-Barbera cartoons, and it’s first original cartoon was “The Moxy Cartoon” in 1995. The next adaptation,“Cartoon Cartoons” was the animated original cartoons that the network made, and boy did it have some good stuff! Shows like “Codename: Kids Next Door ”, and “Courage The Cowardly Dog” aired here.

In 1995, one of the greatest eras of animation for everyone was starting with Cartoon Network launching “What A Cartoon!”, which they used to test cartoons and see how the public would react to them. Many of these cartoons were and still are some of the best cartoons ever made. Shows like “Dexter’s Lab”, “Johnny Bravo”, “Powerpuff Girls”, and so many more. Shortly after, Nickelodeon made their own version called “Oh Yeah! Cartoons” that showed off the original versions of shows like “Fairly OddParents”, “My Life as a Teenage Robot” and “Adventure Time,” which later became a Cartoon Network cartoon. Disney also had their version, but it wasn’t nearly as successful.

At Berkley High, we have staff that would have grown up with these shows, but even a fraction of them didn’t watch all of them. Ms. Blazic, our very own Algebra 2 and Computer Science teacher, was asked to give her input on it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that much of what she grew up with, was what I also grew up with.

When asked what she liked to watch, Ms. Blazic responded “I didn’t have cable growing up, so I watched PBS Kids, so like Arthur, Dragon Tales, if you have heard of that, and I think there was one called Cyber Chase”.

Ms. Blazic was a 90’s child so it should serve as no surprise that these shows came up, seeing as these are some of the most popular shows of their time. Children still watch PBS kids today, with shows like “Dinosaur Train”, “Sid the Science Kid”, and “Super Why”.
When asked if she could decide if shows were better now than they were then, Ms. Blazic said that she “doesn’t know if they are better because she doesn’t watch them”.

This answer seems to be quite common and maybe can represent something else within the past generations. Even the principal of BHS liked cartoons! Mr. Meloche grew up a little before Ms. Blazic, but still in the same animation era, so we should see that he watched similar things to Ms. Blazic, so let’s check.

When asked what Mr. Meloche enjoyed watching, he responded that “My all-time favorite was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when I was in that age range. It is still by far one of my fondest TV memories of growing up.”

My all-time favorite was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when I was in that age range. It is still by far one of my fondest TV memories of growing up.””

— Mr. Meloche

Later, when he was around that age of a freshman to sophomore, Mr. Meloche began to enjoy shows like “Ren and Stimpy”, “Animaniacs”, or “Pinky and the Brain”. Onto the big question though, does Mr. Meloche think cartoons have gotten better or worse. He responded very respectfully to both generations and did not pick a side.

He stated, “Cartoons have definitely increased in their variety. When I was a kid, there weren’t many options. With Netflix and the advancement in CGI, there are so many options for kids. I’m impressed with how much is out there.”

I also asked Mr. Meloche if he had any show that he wanted to watch, and he said “I don’t know if this counts (because it’s spanned several generations), but one day I’d love to sit down and watch every episode of The Simpsons in order. During my teen years, I watched it a lot, but there’s a ton of early and late years I have missed. That would require a bit of time though!”

It seems that most teachers and staff at Berkley High School don’t have strong emotions one way or another concerning if cartoons have improved, and the wonderful AP calculus teacher, Mr. Weingarden won’t seem to break that trend either. When asked what his favorite cartoons were growing up, Mr. Weingarden responded with some Hannah-Barbera classics such as “Scooby Doo”, and “The Smurfs”.

I asked Mr. Weingarden if cartoons have gotten better or worse, and finally, somebody chose a side (kind of ), “I don’t know because I don’t watch them anymore, but I would assume they have gotten better.”

Of course, I also asked him what he could watch if he could watch anything he wanted, and he responded that if he could watch anything, it would be “Superman”.
Finally, we have the current seniors, what did they watch? Growing up, I watched shows like “Chowder”, “Ben 10”, and “Gravity Falls”, but my opinion isn’t the only one that matters. What shows did the rest of us watch? The most common answers were “Blue’s Clues”, “Ben 10”, “Barney” and “Elmo” when we were growing up, but what about now? Some of these shows hold up like “Ben 10”, and some new faces appear like “Johnny Test”, and “Teen Titans”, but one question still looms over it all, have cartoons gotten better?

I think that there is no right or wrong answer, and the only one that I will give is that all cartoons are art, and there is not an objective better or worse. You can go by sales, and see that modern cartoons make more money, but that is because of toy sales, and increased viewership. You can go by who remembers them the fondest, but that is just what most people watched, and in a time where there weren’t as many cartoons. They will be remembered more fondly due to the smaller amount of options. The fairest is to go with Mr. Meloche’s idea that they are the same quality, just with more variety. Any way you chose to pick, cartoons are something that have and will continue to be something that people can bond over.