As children, many of us would gravitate towards shows such as Scooby-Doo, Sponge-Bob, and other classics that you know and love. However, we are experiencing a new age of children’s television. It is drawing in not just children, but adults who are excited to see better representation for the next generation. Netflix has heavily contributed to this Golden Age, with shows such as Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts (2020), She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (2018-2020), and The Dragon Prince (2018-); to name a few gracing the small screen in the last few years. Whilst they all follow broadly the same children’s TV moulds (“you must follow your destiny” and so on), they bring an optimistic air that is rarely found in shows aimed at a more mature audience.
I cannot talk about the importance of children’s television without mentioning Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008). The creators, Michael Dante Dimartino and Bryan Konietzko, have dedicated the majority of their careers to this world. For me, this shows that this is a passion project, giving both adults and children the chance to experience the earth-shattering stakes of Avatar Aang defeating the Fire Nation. They were unafraid to explore darker themes that previous shows had shied away from, such as inequality and genocide. Dimartino and Konietzko introduced an inspiring level of inclusivity (we don’t talk about the white-washing of the live-action film remake). From this breaking of tradition, however, other creators were encouraged to step outside of the usual boundaries and create something equally as personal. Often in these shows, villains defect to the ‘other side’. Not for selfish gain, but because they recognise the mistakes of their past and want to rebuild what they have broken. This increasing trend sees shows moving away from creating characters that seem completely beyond redemption, such as the literally black-and-white portrayal of Cruella de Vil in Disney’s 101 Dalmatians (1961). Through genuine character change and healing, the new age of children’s television defies the usual stereotypes of what constitutes a villain.
"There is often an emphasis on the importance of friendship, which may seem a little cheesy but we are reminded that, no matter our age, kindness and understanding are at the forefront of human life."
In addition, these stories can only be told through the medium of animation. Not only does it allow for creative visuals that appeal to young and old audiences alike, but it has become its own breed of storytelling. It harkens back to a nostalgic time of child-like simplicity through cartoonish visuals, allowing older viewers to remember that compassion is key. When there is a minority group represented in these shows, they are treated fairly. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, for example, features many LGBTQ+ characters. However, there is not a moment of judgement from the other characters; each person’s characteristics are celebrated instead of questioned. There is often an emphasis on the importance of friendship, which may seem a little cheesy but we are reminded that, no matter our age, kindness and understanding are at the forefront of human life. It is refreshing to see a world where discrimination based on race, sexuality, disability, or gender no longer exists. This makes us reflect on our current reality, and the medium of animation highlights a compassion that most television lacks.
When my housemate and I sat down to watch The Owl House (2020-), we did not think that it would affect us creatively and personally the way it did. To see such a kind and empowering portrayal of love and family in television was a much-needed breath of fresh air. We came for the owl-based puns, and we stayed for the emotionally affecting core about found family. All of these shows allow the younger generation to see themselves reflected in the media, even if they do not recognise it at first. And for us, the older viewers, we can be reminded of the simplicity of kindness that is often forgotten in the modern world.
There is still a long way to go in terms of positive representation for minority groups in media, but I believe that children’s television is leading the way for other mediums. Nicole Gromadzki adds to this in ‘The Odyssey Online’ (2019) that “now more than ever before, we need children to see diversity on all levels, in order to be educated and empowered”. Hopefully this new age means the next generation will pass on the shows’ message of compassion and understanding. And an appreciation for owl puns, of course.