A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.
I enjoy watching shows that are targeted at children, or at least the more mature end of the children spectrum. Some may consider this immature but after thinking about it, I realized a lot of these shows are covering deep topics that adult shows rarely cover. Other than reproduction, there aren’t many topics adult shows cover that children’s shows don’t cover.
This is another reason I often stick with the “children’s” shows. I don’t like the romantic tension taking center stage and characters having extremely sinful romantic relationships. Some of these “children’s” shows even go deeper than the average adult show. In the Green Lantern the animated series, it even talks about how love is sacrifice instead of romance.
The kid’s shows are also chalk-full of well rounded characters with decent motivation and flaws. Some of these shows have episodic plots but that’s a problem in adult shows too. Luckily, it seems to be becoming a trend in some of these shows to have a two-part plot arc, which helps to combat the episodic issues. (I think the internet is to thank for this.) They’re also very good at season or series long plot arcs.
Here, I’m going to discuss the shows that are aimed at kids. I’m not discussing the Japanese Anime or other animated shows that are not aimed at kids.
Spoilers from The Clone Wars, Green Lantern TAS, and Avatar the Last Airbender!
These shows are not black and white.
Often, especially in older media, the line between good and evil is very clearly drawn. The bad guys are bad, the good guys are good.
Not so in Avatar. The whole third season showed that the Fire Nation civilians were far from evil. They were just people who happened to be living under an evil ruler. It even showed that they suffered from this. There were also bad people of every nationality. Earth Kingdom soldiers kidnapped children, and freedom fighters attempted to murder civilians.
Turns out in the Green Lantern TAS, the leaders of the Green Lantern Corps had destroyed more planets than the Red Lanterns.
In The Clone Wars, the bad guys were mostly bad, but the Republic was an extremely corrupt system that grew soldiers in test tubes and generally treated them horribly. Many people were also were terrified of their planet being occupied by the Republic.
The show also introduced Lux and his mother, who were both moral Separatists. (For those who don’t know, Separatists were the bad guys.)
Lux: Well, I mean, you think we’re all the bad guys. But how many of us have you actually met? And droids don’t count.
Ahsoka: Well, other than military officers like Grievous and Ventress… none, I guess. You and your mother are the first.
Terrorism is explained.
Rather than showing terrorists who are all basically insane or religious fanatics who make no sense to the average person, terrorists in these shows can have realistic motivation, even if some of them are evil.
In Avatar, Jet was a terrorist. He tried to destroy a whole town to get some Fire Nation soldiers who invaded. Why? He’d lost his family to the Fire Nation. What he did was wrong and he eventually realized it. Interestingly enough, he was portrayed as a sympathetic character, though he was wrong.
In The Clone Wars, the most of the terrorists aren’t quite as sympathetic as Jet but they do have proper motivation. One suicide bombing is carried out by droids. This attack, though carried out by machines, is supported by bankers who are profiting because of the war. In another case, the terrorists want Mandalore occupied by the “good” Republic so the people of Mandalore can be radicalized and join Deathwatch.
When there was a terrorist that may have been crazy, the terrorist said she’d committed the bombing because of what the Jedi were doing. The interesting thing was, she’d seen a truth the other Jedi had ignored.
In Green Lantern, the Red Lanterns were angered at the Greens’ leaders because they had destroyed the Reds’ homes with killer robots. What the Reds did was wrong, but they had a good reason for their hatred.
Leaving a group is done for reasons other than falling in love.
Many shows have characters switch sides for love. (The Avatar film with the blue aliens is a good example of this.) In some shows for kids, the reasons for switching sides normally has more depth and thoughts on morals.
Ahsoka could have left the Jedi Order for Lux, the romantic interest, but instead, she left because of the Order’s actions toward her. (And considering how corrupt they were at this time, I’m guessing that may have had something to do with it.)
In Avatar, Zuko left his girlfriend, his chance at the throne, and his messed up family. While many shows have a character switch sides to get the girl/guy, this show had the character dump a girl he loved because he had to do what was right. This took sacrifice. He had worked for years to be accepted in the Fire Nation and he threw it all away to join a group that he’d antagonized so much they didn’t trust him.
Real life parallels.
The Clone Wars was full of other real life issues like as what was the acceptable course of action, violence, or pacifism/isolationism. There were episodes where farmers had to learn to defend themselves instead of relying on others and also episodes related to how military spending can hurt civilians. It even dealt with the question of funding terrorists/freedom fighters. (The Onderon Arc was basically the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in space.) The entire show mirrored tons of real-life issues, to the point that I felt like I was watching something set in the real world.
Avatar had the issue I already mentioned that showed how people can be radicalized into terrorists. It also dealt with children who had parents die or were separated from them due to war.
In Green Lantern TAS, one character deals with a severe amount of guilt he’s borderline suicidal. (Of course, most people don’t have to deal with blowing up a planet but they can still relate to having regrets about something.)
Questioning orders and deserting.
In The Clone Wars, the morality of a soldier questioning orders is brought up. The ones questioning orders are soldiers who have been taught their whole lives to follow orders.
In the same vein, one episode dealt with a deserter who had left the “good” army. Unlike most portrayals of people like this, he was shown to be a brave man, not a coward or traitor. In another episode, a real traitor did what he did because he’d realized how the Republic had used him as a slave.
Many characters in these shows go through a huge amount of growth. This isn’t just limited to kids’ shows but it’s worth mentioning since the older shows, which could be aired out of order, didn’t have much growth.
In Avatar, Sokka started out as the comedy relief chauvinist. At first, I thought the show was going to have a moral of “Girls are better than guys and can take care of themselves.” As the show progressed, I realized that there was no anti-guy message. Sure, the girls were all more than capable of taking care of themselves but as this became obvious, Sokka grew. He went from being pathetic and getting thrown head-first into a snowdrift to becoming a warrior. He even broke his girlfriend and his dad out of a prison that was said to be impossible to escape. If anyone was leader of the Gaang, it was Sokka.
All the other characters in the show had a ton of growth as well.
In The Clone Wars, Ahsoka went from an inexperienced kid to a warrior who could deal with pretty much anything the galaxy threw at her.
Good and evil don’t always look it.
This one still isn’t used as often as it should be but it is becoming more common to have a good looking villain and a hero who isn’t exactly the most attractive person around. It is rather common for these characters to start out as bad guys, but it is nice to see a bit of unpredictability with looks related to goodness.
In Avatar, Zuko, who is terribly scarred, is the more sympathetic character. Meanwhile, his sister, who is the good-looking one, is evil.
In the Green Lantern TAS, Razer also doesn’t look much like a good guy. The only “nice” thing about the guy is his eyes are blue instead of a “bad” color like yellow. Kilowog isn’t exactly the prettiest specimen either, and he even has the red eyes.
“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
This quote isn’t just true for books but also TV shows. Of course, books for children and young adults deal with so many serious issues that I couldn’t even begin to list them. Maybe it’s my idealistic side coming out but I’m hoping, with these well-thought-out and mature shows, maybe they will help these kids grow into adults who think about things.
What are some shows you like that deal with serious issues?