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Strange cartoons find a diverse audience

February 2nd, 2012

Cartoons have never been solely for children. Television programs such as “The Simpsons,” “South Park” and “Family Guy” are made with adult audiences in mind. But most would assume that shows on channels like Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon are made for kids.

Then why does it seem that the shows on these channels are drawing in massive audiences of college students and adults? Clever writing?  Terrific animation? Heavily disturbing subtext?

Sometimes it’s all of the above.

A cartoon with one of the bigger followings is “Phineas and Ferb” on the Disney Channel. The show is about two kids whose adventures consist of constructing grand inventions aimed at a singular goal of having fun that day. They also have a pet Platypus named Perry (pictured above). Perry the Platypus also doubles as a secret agent who must stop the “evil” Dr. Doofenshmirtz, whose round about plans on attaining dominance of the Tri-State area occasionally pose a minimal threat.

It’d be difficult to find a residence hall that didn’t have a poster of Perry the Platypus somewhere inside of it. Phineas and Ferb memorabilia and clothing are constantly selling out, and not just in the children’s sizes.

The reason for this show’s popularity is obvious: it’s a show made for kids with the occasional humor that adults would love. The writing is witty and constantly clever. It’s appealing for all ages.

Other shows are a little more perplexing. Shows like “Adventure Time,” “The Misadventures of Flapjack” and “Regular Show” on Cartoon Network have a darker side, and are experts at getting things past the radar. On paper, “Adventure Time” is the story of a boy and his dog and the adventures they share.

It seems harmless, except that they live in a surreal world where bizarre fantasy death traps are around every corner, lonely witches threaten to swallow people with their butts and the dog can stretch his limbs into infinite space. It’s all very hilarious, but it’s also dark.

Parents might find it a problem when they catch their kids watching a show where talking balloons fly into the sky cheering, “Hooray! Finally we can die!”

In “The Misadventures of Flapjack,” a young sailor boy and his friend Captain K’nuckles go on adventures looking for candy. Except that candy is often used as a metaphor for drugs, and that the show has used a creepy old man dressed as a little boy and an eyeless stray cat for laughs. It’s brilliantly hilarious and more than a little disturbing at the same time.

“Regular Show” manages to subtly be even more horrifying (and hilarious) than both the previous shows combined. In it, a blue jay and a raccoon work for a gumball machine as groundskeepers at a park.

The humor is so dry and offbeat that it just doesn’t seem like a children’s cartoon. The characters regularly drink beer and sometimes get drunk, and words like “pissed” and “screwed” are often used. Not to mention talking hot dogs walk around and occasionally eat humans.

Erik Vesnick, the VP of home entertainment of Cartoon Network has claimed that these shows attract two kinds of viewers. “The 6 to 11-year-olds who typically comprise a cartoon audience,” he said, “and older animation fans who grew up with ‘The Simpsons’ and similar shows.”

What about these shows is attractive to college students? The shows have a fair share of humorous pop culture references and many of the jokes are very YouTube-friendly, allowing them to reach new audiences in short periods.

To put it simply, they’re very funny shows for all audiences. One user comment by a parent about “Regular Show” on commonsensemedia.org stated, “Don’t you dare let your kids watch this show!” Another simply said, “Best. Show. Ever.”

Are you watching yet?