KidScreen asked programmers where kids animation is heading (post-anime mania). As to what constitutes The Next Trend, many seem to be intrigued by unique-looking animation, hybrids that stand out at first glance. While graphically distinct shows may have an immediate edge over the competition, compelling content continues to be crucial; good character and plot development remain deal-clinchers. Also, anime isn’t over; many programmers predict it to increase in volume on kidcaster skeds.
Animation has reached a juncture whereby it is becoming increasingly difficult to pinpoint The Next Big Thing. It is a world that simultaneously boasts colossal hits in such crudely animated shows as South Park or the simple anime stylings of Pokémon, while at the same time garnering a lot of attention for CGI hybrids like Decode’s Angela Anaconda. Because technology continues to develop at break-neck speed, animators are finding that the software has finally caught up to their artistic visions, resulting in a noticeable increase in more experimental toons.
With the proliferation of this type of animation, more programmers are becoming open to it. While unique-looking animation can help to attract the attention of buyers and kids alike, this does not change the fact that one still needs strong stories and characters to maintain that attention and curiosity once piqued.
According to Linda Simensky, director of programming at Cartoon Network, style is secondary to how good a show is overall, and sometimes producers will place emphasis on style at the expense of the other elements. Simensky does not discount the importance of style, but cautions against it being the be-all and end-all: ‘For years, people just worked in the same type of style-you look at TV from the ’80s, and hardly anything looks different. There are a lot of companies that discovered early on that style was a personal thing, or that it was something that you could have fun with and the show could still work. Other companies have just discovered this, or are finally willing to take that risk. Now everybody knows that style is important, but when people put it ahead of good writing or strong characters, that’s when style works against you.’
Joel Andryc, executive VP of children’s programming and development at Fox Family Worldwide and Fox Kids Network, agrees that with hundreds of channels available, an unusual execution will likely get a kid to stop surfing and check a toon out, but whether they return and help build an audience for the show goes back to how the series was written and developed.
Andryc foresees the continued variety of animation styles as technology continues to advance-and at a price that was never affordable in the past. As PCs become more sophisticated, so does the accessibility of animation techniques that were not available 10 years ago. Fox Family has been airing both Angela Anaconda and Weird-Ohs, two examples of visually distinct shows using CGI animation. However, while Angela Anaconda has been picked up for 26 more episodes, Weird-Ohs has not. ‘We were very excited about the animation and the look and style of [Weird-Ohs], but it really didn’t take off in the ratings for us. Then take something like Angela, which also has a unique look, but the writing and the characters were there-it was a cleverly and intelligently written show,’ says Andryc.
Even though CGI and other experimental toons are having their day, it does not look like we have seen the end of the anime phenomenon. Cartoon Network’s Simensky predicts that we will see shows that are influenced by the anime style, but that aren’t part of the action-adventure genre as anime has traditionally been. Because of the North America-wide embracing of the Japanese animation style, Simensky sees people starting to look to other countries that have their own unique animation styles for inspiration.
Donna Friedman, director of programming at the Kids’ WB!, also forecasts more anime on everyone’s schedules come fall, and feels that more toon product will come from countries outside the U.S.
The question remains though, with more experimental, sophisticated animation, is product content also aging up? Fox’s Andryc thinks so, citing the ever-pervasive Getting Older Younger theory, but also making the point that children today are exposed to much more prime-time television than they were in the past. While these are shows that may not wholly be meant for kids, kids are watching them nonetheless. ‘Look at [shows like] The Simpsons or Malcolm in the Middle. Kids are exposed to subject matter that they weren’t 15 years ago. We unfortunately have to compete with prime time because that is the level the bar has been raised to,’ says Andryc.
Simensky makes the point that with a wide range of outlets geared to varying levels of ‘edgy’ content, age-appropriateness should be less of a problem. If you are an animator who wants to create edgier fare, then you can go to MTV, or Fox, which are known for pushing the edgy envelope. ‘The motivation to produce for kids TV is that you have to actually want to make stuff that works for kids or an all-ages audience, so there is no longer that `I’m going to make cartoons, but I am going to sneak edgy things into it because there is no other outlet’,’ says Simensky.
As a producer of commercials as well as TV shows, Cuppa Coffee Animation has always focused on cutting-edge style, however in the past, this has not always meant series doors opening for the Canadian prodco.
With more universal acceptance of boundary-pushing animation, Cuppa finds itself in a bit of a `flavor of the month’ position. In terms of Cuppa’s style now becoming a new trend, Adam Shaheen, the shop’s founder, does see more willingness to push boundaries, but is not sure if the people who are going with the trend are really committed to adventures in animation stylings for the long haul. ‘For the longest time, the design and look of kids animation had been very dry and lacking in variety, and that does seem to be changing, but how long that will last?’ wonders Shaheen. ‘I’m not sure.’