For Kids?

I grew up watching cartoons with my dad. I always wondered why he enjoyed it so much. As a young adult, I look back at cartoons I watched as a child, and realize that my enjoyment of them is not just limited to the rush of nostalgia. Little Nemo reminded me forcefully of just how adult children’s entertainment can be.

Clicking on a random¬†Little Nemo¬†strip is almost guaranteed to show you at least a tiny bit of not-so-childish humor. For instance, the Valentine’s strip has personified vices and insults, some of which are not exactly relevant to children (I’m looking at you, rubberneck.) This same strip also has Nemo picking a valentine, only to find that she is actually made of paper. While this plot is certainly something that children can comprehend, at least on the surface, the truly disturbing nature of it is more obvious to adults.

There is also the Candy Kid strip in which Nemo and the Candy Kid encounter some “candy loving wood nymphs.” The Candy Kid flees for for fear of being eaten, but Nemo stays, even though they want to eat him too. Maybe my mind is just in the gutter, but that little episode reeks of innuendo. Nemo’s “admiration” causes him to stay behind despite his friend’s fear of being “eaten alive.” The subtlety is nonexistent.

The existence of adult humor in children’s media is a clever way to lure the adults who are in charge of any child’s media consumption into choosing this comic or that TV show to share with their children. While it’s a great technique, you have to pity the parent of a perceptive child who will ask, “Mommy, why does Nemo want to be eaten?”

  2 comments for “For Kids?

  1. clairejmerenda
    September 7, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    I appreciated this breakdown of some of the more adult themes we encountered in the Little Nemo comics. rediscovering mature themes in our beloved childhood cartoons seems to be a common experience! I know when I re-watch Disney movies, I’m surprised by some of the crazy things I find. I definitely agreed that there were some mature innuendos in this series of comics, including Nemo’s insatiable desire to hold hands with and kiss pretty girls (in spite of the fact that he’s five years old?), his violent conquest of the glass girl, his preoccupation with the pretty princess, etc. Many of the sexual themes seem subtle enough to me that I can’t think they were written into the comic with the child audience in mind. Perhaps your rationalization that these innuendos were intended to lure in the adults is accurate — but I can’t help but wonder what parent would voluntarily share sexual innuendos with their small child. Perhaps instead, the comic sought to teach children something. We notice that when Little Nemo stays behind to flirt with the candy loving wood nymphs, he gets locked out. When he kisses the glass girl, she and all her friends shatter and he’s terrified and miserable. There’s always a consequence for his actions.

    I want to add my concern at the amount of violence in the cartoon. If the character is five, one would assume the intended audience is either young kids hearing the comics read by their parents (ages 3-5) or maybe new readers discovering the comics by themselves (ages 5-7). The level of violence is surprising (“beating” and “pounding” a giant bird in order to force him to give Nemo a ride, the collapse of the glass people, Nemo being speared by giant cactuses, chased by ravenous polar bears, etc). I suppose the violent scenes are there to teach lessons, which I believe was common at the time. The violence is almost always precedented by Nemo’s misbehavior (not listening to instructions, acting impulsively or selfishly). While I understand the desire to teach children to behave, it seems counterintuitive to use violent imagery to do so.

  2. Ren
    September 8, 2014 at 9:04 pm

    I have found a lot of adult humor as I’ve been going back and reading some of my favorite comic strips and watching some of my favorite cartoons. I remember hearing someone say ” I don’t drink” and I thought “Not even orange juice?” Or in another movie someone said “I’m not going to sleep with you” and again I thought “But what about sleepovers?” Luckily a lot of this type of humor goes right over the little one’s heads, but I find that kids today are becoming so desensitized but violence and sex that they would surely get the humor. And I see that as a bad thing because they don’t get to live in this innocent bubble for nearly as long as they should. I know plenty of 22 year-olds that would love to have that innocence back and be young again. But I also like that some of these comic strips can be enjoyed by both parent and child. I remember reading Calvin and Hobbes when I was younger and laughing for a completely different reason than why my mother was laughing. I do think that sometimes a comic can go too far and really push the boundaries, but as we age and mature, that darker humor becomes acceptable.

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