Adult Animation Revolution: Cartoon Network Studios Announces New Projects
by Tito W. James
In a recent Vulture article Warner Brothers President, Sam Register announced Cartoon Network Studio’s new slate of creator-driven shows and animated films that will stream on HBO Max. This is only the start in Cartoon Network’s new venture to explore dramatic animation for teen and adult audiences. Register had this to say about his vision for Cartoon Network’s future:
For a long time, Cartoon Network did only shows for kids — mostly boys — aged 6-11, mostly 11 minutes, with production mostly shipped overseas. It made amazing content, but that alone doesn’t work in a streaming universe. So, instead of just doing 6-11 kids’ content, we’re doing preschool content and adult content, and in different formats: making movies, making more [Young Adult] content, bringing back [animated] shorts.
The HBO Max original projects include: Driftwood by Victor Courtwright (Aquaman: King of Atlantis) a feature-length adventure about a spacefaring mouse. Invincible Fight Girl by Juston Gordon-Montgomery, an action-comedy series about a girl who wants to be a wrestler but comes from an island of accountants.
Also announced were two Craig of the Creek spin-offs titled, Craig of the Creek: The Movie and Jessica’s Big Little World overseen by Tiffany Ford. To top it all off, we’re getting a new series from Genndy Tartakovsky (Primal, Samurai Jack) titled, Unicorn: Warriors Eternal. The show follows a team of ancient heroes reborn into teenage bodies who must protect the world while also navigating their angst and emotions.
Cartoon Network began as the first channel to show animation 24 hours a day. What started as playing reruns of Looney Tunes evolved into a place to showcase new talent. Shows like Dexter’s Lab, The Powerpuff Girls, Johnny Bravo, and Courage the Cowardly Dog emerged from the “What a Cartoon!” block of animated shorts.
Even in the early days, Cartoon Network was a place that showcased action, edgy-comedy, and surrealist horror. The shows were created to appeal to boys, girls, and adults alike while pushing the envelope more than their counterparts, Nickelodeon and Disney. When Cartoon Network introduced the Toonami Action Block, many Americans got their first exposure to anime.
Since then, Cartoon Network has been home to several groundbreaking shows including Samurai Jack and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. The Network lost its identity and credibility in the late-2000s by producing a slurry of live-action reality-TV programs. After a creative dry spell, the Network reinvented itself in the 2010s with programs like Adventure Time, The Amazing World of Gumball, and Stephen Universe.
Frankly, I feel that Cartoon Network is in another creative slump with an over-reliance on quirky random comedies. Now is the perfect time for reinvention! The Network has a history of artistic innovation and pushing the envelope. However, recycling what was popular yesterday won’t stand up against the animation of today. The landscape of animation viewership has grown more varied and sophisticated. Concepts like character development, long-form continuity, world-building, and life and death consequences are boilerplate in most anime series.
For new animated programs to compete with anime and Event Series, they’ll need to utilize high concepts, cinematic presentation, fresh art styles, creative editing, unique soundtracks, and high stakes for its characters. Western animation needs to expand beyond the comedy genre and create shows that explore SciFi, Fantasy, Horror, Thriller, Slice of Life, Romance, Action, Historical, Tragedy, Mystery, and Erotica.
HBO is known for its gripping adult dramas, which makes HBO Max the perfect place to create narrative-driven animated programs for adults. Shows like Game of Thrones, True Detective, Black Sails, and Euphoria are known for pushing the envelope. It has been proven that intelligent and impactful stories can be told with explicit content. I hope creators will be emboldened to create the kind of sophisticated cinema on TV that HBO is known for.