The Power of Children’s Cartoons

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“Who would have thought that child could win a children’s card game?”

— Seto Kaiba, from Episode #11 of Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series

I think a lot of people underestimate the power inherent in children’s cartoons.  When they hear the word “cartoon,” they picture something light, fluffy, and utterly vacuous, filled with loud noises and sight gags. Or they might think of the painfully awkward and cheerfully grating tones of newer “edutainment” shows, most of which are not nearly as good as classics like The Magic School Bus or Wishbone.  (Or maybe that’s just the nostalgia talking.)  Either way, cartoons tend to serve as a kind of temporal placeholder to keep little kids occupied while the grown-ups go do important grown-up-things.

This woefully misrepresents and denies the kind of narrative impact that cartoons can possess.  After all, cartoons are a staple of childhood, often giving kids their first real taste of serial storytelling.  Obviously different age groups will be drawn to different types of shows; one can’t expect a two-year-old to have the same attention-span as a six-year-old.  And to be fair, there is a place for cartoons comprised of stand-alone episodes and humor, both physical and verbal, like Looney Tunes, Rocky & Bullwinkle, or Tom and Jerry.  Such cartoons don’t require a viewer to invest a lot of time in order to get the payoff, and with no over-arching plot to worry about, it’s very easy to introduce newcomers to the show.  But I do believe that longer forms of story-telling can and should be presented to children at a young age so they can come to appreciate the art in all its forms.  Unfortunately, animated story-telling gets ignored because a lot of people still think that anything drawn, and in some cases even CGI, as a “cartoon” and therefore “just for kids.”  I have heard people refuse to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender, one of the greatest TV shows ever made (in any style) simply for the sin of being animated.  And that’s a real shame.
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Fighting for Green Lantern TAS

I had the creative wind knocked out of my sails this morning by the news that Green Lantern: The Animated Series has been canceled.

I’ll admit, I started sobbing.  When the tears faded, rage replaced them.  The utter unfairness of it shakes me to the core.  If a show is bad and gets no views, it gets canceled.  If it’s bad and gets lots of views, it lives.  If it’s good and gets lots of views, it gets canceled.  If it’s good and gets no views, it gets canceled.  Anyone notice the unfair pattern emerging?  Why does SpongeBob live and Green Lantern get canned?  I would much rather have my kids watch Green Lantern than half the shit that’s put up on television.  In fact, after watching the first season (packaged as “Season 1, Part 1”), I actually said that I would have kids, just for the chance to have them grow up watching Green Lantern.  (And that’s coming from someone who has said on many occasions that kids are the last thing I want.)

To Warner Brothers and Cartoon Network:  I can see no reason why Green Lantern: TAS should be canceled.  Both kids and adults love it, the ratings have been high, there is a massive amount of fan support, and it was even nominated for Best General Audience Animated TV Production at the 39th Annie Awards.  The characters are wonderful, relateable, and interesting.  The plots are engaging, well-written, and tightly knit.  It has breath-taking cinematography and a neat visual style.  (A lot of people complain about the “cheap-looking” CGI animation.  Really?  It’s stylized, but not bad, perhaps more reminiscent of a video game animation than traditional, but that doesn’t make the emotion less compelling or the action less cool.)  The music is beautiful.  And we love it.  WHAT MORE COULD YOU POSSIBLY WANT?!  WHY ARE YOU CANCELING THIS SHOW?!  WHY?!  IT MAKES NO SENSE!  (There is a horrible kind of sense, but it’s so materialistic and sickening that I refuse to acknowledge it.)

Right now I’m going everywhere I can find places to get the word out about this petition:  “Cartoon Network; Warner Bros: Bring back Young Justice and Green Lantern: The Animated Series.”  Please, if you hate seeing good shows get canceled, please sign this petition and pass it along.  If you don’t want to sign it, please just pass it on.  There may be friends of yours who don’t realize what has happened and, like me, don’t want to let this go without a fight.

Fighting for Green Lantern TAS

Two Movies, One Verdict

Okay, time for another rant about movies.  I know, this is a writing blog and I keep talking about films.  But really, if you want to learn how to write tight, self-contained, highly visual stories, then study screen writing.  Good screen writing, that is.  And there seems to be less and less of that out there these days, at least in the realm of Hollywood.

CAUTION!  THIS ENTRY MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS!  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!  PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!

I recently had the dubious pleasure of viewing John Carter and Green Lantern.  Aside from having a pulp fiction background and a male protagonist sent into space, these two movies might appear to have little in common.  But actually, they have a lot in common.  They suck.  They don’t suck so bad that they are unwatchable, but with such rich source material it’s almost a crime how not-good they turned out.  The visuals are excellent (as always, with the benefits of CGI) and the acting wasn’t horrible (although Carter and Dejah Thoris had no chemistry whatsoever, which made their romantic scenes laughable), but the screen plays were unfocused and muddled, like no one could decide exactly what movie they wanted to make.  There were actually several similarities between John Carter and Green Lantern that probably contributed to their dramatic failure:

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