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?”