Continuing Stories in Animated Shows. Is it Disappearing?

Sorry for going on a bit of a rant for this post, but I feel that this needs to be addressed. A week or so back, I decided to go through my movie collection and re-watch the entire series Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra (Which I would have to highly recommend the both of them if anyone has never watched them.) After finishing up with season four of Korra, it made me think about the current state of cartoons and the shifting trend that is happening to them.

What is happening to Animated Shows Today?

For anyone who either has children or anyone who regularly watches cartoons on either Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon, you can see that television shows that once had continual story lines that were often continued after each episode are slowly disappearing to be only replaced by shows that focus on one scenario that the characters must deal with, which is never mentioned in any other episode that is shown later. This premise can technically be a good thing if it is implemented right. Television shows such as Tom and Jerry and Looney Toons were able to make a shortened premise work through keeping the jokes quick and to the point. However, television shows that try to follow the same concept of a shortened time such as Spongebob SquarePants with episodes peaking out at fifteen minutes a piece, miss the mark constantly. While half of the episodes will be dedicated to the plot or the humor, the rest of the episode can be considered to be filler. Relating this to Spongebob, an example of episode filler would be where either Spongebob or Patrick make random sounds for as long as one minute to a minute and a half. This doesn’t contribute to either the story, the characters involved, or the current situation, they just make the sounds just to do so.

The Importance of Character Development

In the past, there were several television shows that had a continual story through the series where it had shown the characters progressing through personal trauma, reoccurring events, back stories and other moments which define their personalities and behaviors. Televisions shows such as Batman Beyond, Megas XLRSym-Bionic Titan, and others would show each of the characters as they changed over the course of the season. To relate this to the show Batman Beyond, with each passing episode you see how each person changes either physically or mentally. Characters who were once head strong and quick to violence learned to think more of their actions before acting such as Terry McGinnis  who would become an aged Batman’s replacement. Bruce Wayne from the first episode would show his apathy and remorse to the declining state of Gotham City after finding that he was no longer fit to be the Batman. However with Terry taking up the mantle of the dark knight, he would return to actively becoming involved in the city’s protection, even putting his life at stake. Through showing character development over time, it allows the viewers to relate to the characters on screen and feel for them each step of the way. You feel for their losses and you celebrate their successes.

Why do Networks Stop Creating Shows like this?

Despite the critical success of shows and the welcomed reception from both critics and fans alike, more often enough, these shows are cancelled or replaced with different shows.

One of the more common reasons that networks decide to either put a show on hiatus or cancel it all together is because while the show might be loved by fans and critics, it would not get the desired ratings or achieve the wanted demographics. An example of this would be with the 2003 series Teen Titans, which had received praise for its serious and often dark themes and character development. It would be cancelled after its fifth season and would be replaced with a spin-off series known as Teen Titans Go! which follows an aforementioned fifteen minute per episode premise. The spin off would receive mixed reviews from critics and fans alike.

Another reason however that networks would cancel a series would be because it is not marketable to the masses either through toys, Direct to DVD/Blu-Ray movies, or games. Back in 2011, the media website ScreenRant would feature an article about how animation giant Genndy Tartakovsky’s series Sym-Bionic Titan would be cancelled because the show did not have the toys to sell along with the series.

My Interpretation of the Situation

As a storyteller, it is saddening to see this shift in animated shows. Animated shows that have/had linear stories are the same as any other medium, whether if it is a book series or a movie. You feel just as connected to the characters on screen as the characters you read in a book. A lot of people who would write stories for books, movies, and television shows would find their inspiration for their work from watching these animated shows as either kids or adults. In the Batman/DC Universe, the villain known as Mr. Freeze was originally just a ‘rouge scientist’ who needed to survive in cold temperatures below 0 degrees (-17.8 Celsius). But after Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski’s critically acclaimed show Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995) depicted Mr. Freeze as a scientist who’s villainous intent was to not freeze the world over, but to save his wife Nora from a terminal illness, his portrayal has changed. He became a tragic hero of sorts who would only commit crime to save the one he loves. This backstory would be later used in future work and would inspire others to create stories using the same premise. So, are animated shows with continuing story lines dead? I would have to say that while they are declining on the American airwaves, I would not give up hope yet. There are animated shows out there that have continuing story lines throughout the series, you just have to find them. Though in truth, I hope that more shows that have continuing story lines emerge in the future. Please share your thoughts and opinions below.

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