Cartoons have always been one of the most entertaining, endearing and captivating of art forms. From a long time cartoons with their colorful, unpredictable, unreal and fantastic world have a fan-following among all sections of society and all age groups .Starting from frescoes to the more recent South Park they have always been a powerful medium to both communicate and entertain.
Cartoons are used for entertainment, to pass on political messages using a humorous tone that would otherwise be impossible to handle humorously, to bring forth social issues and reach out and get noticed by a larger audience. Cartooning is an important trade in the entertainment industry and provides jobs to several. They provide artists a completely controlled environment and audiences a window to the artists mind.
Through the years cartoons have passed through a very interesting evolutionary journey. They have matured, and have been experimented on both in content and style leading to various types of cartoons being created many of which earned a steady fan-following. Some of the cartoons that have been landmarks in this evolutionary journey of cartoons are Mickey Mouse, The Simpsons and South Park.
One of the few cartoons that has stood the test of time and survived over 70 years with a steady fan base and is perhaps the most loved and famous cartoons of all times is the Mickey Mouse cartoon .Created by Walt Disney in the year 1928 it catapulted him to fame and fortune and for decades was synonymous with the word cartoon.
Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse based on an earlier character of his Oswald the Rabbit. His aim was to create a character that was cute and little and which could captivate the juvenile population .Along with Mickey he created several other characters such as Minnie the mouse which also became popular .Mickey Mouse made his debut in 1928, November 18 in a movie called ‘Steam Boat Willie’to along with sound effects which were for the first time used in cartoons and became immensely popular among kids and adult population. Mickey became so popular initially that more than a million children joined the Mickey Mouse club in a week of the TV series being aired.
The Simpsons is a cartoon based family show which mainly chronicles the adventures of Homer Simpson and his family members living in the fictional Springfield .It was created by Matt Groening and introduced on FOX TV in 1989 it is responsible for much of FOX Networks success. This brilliant satirical cartoon show also earned a lot of critical acclaim and money apart from a lot of flak for some of the issues it dealt with and the way it handled them.
Many might argue whether the Simpsons are an average American family or not and some might hesitate to identify with this family. In the Simpsons family life is not all song and dance. It sometimes hilarious sometimes wierd .It invokes all the emotions and sends out social messages. Infact we can argue that The Simpsons is inspired by families across America and is down to earth and never idealistic or perfect .It is this quality which makes it hugely popular. Ordinary family situations are turned into hilarious comedies.
South Park was created in the year 1997 by Trey Parker and Matt Stone and premiered on Comedy Central. Set in the fictional town of South Park , Colorado it focusses on the lives of 2 kids of South Park , Kyle and Cartman. South Park is one of the boldest cartoon series ever written .This cartoon series was aimed mainly at adults and deals with controversial subjects ranging from US conflict with Canada, sex, the military, religion . Swearing is a norm and graphic sexual description frequent making it unsuitable for a juvenile population.
Since its creation it has created controversies and made several enemies and even seems evil to some but it continues to stick to its rebellious stand. Inspite of all the brushes it has had with several sections of society it still has earned critical acclaim and a large fan base who enjoy it , many of them because of its nature of being the rare forbidden fruit.
Analysis and Comparison of the 3 shows
v Aim of the Cartoon Shows
Cartoons during the early phases of their introduction were meant to simply entertain or to satirize and humorize real life situations .They did not intend to make a statement on some social or political situation and were never meant to be taken seriously or come anywhere near real life.
Mickey Mouse when introduced in 1929 stuck to this aim. Walt Disney aimed to create a cartoon that provided simple, pure, decent fun and entertainment. For this he felt the need to create a cute, funny character and hence selected a mouse. Mickey Mouse is an icon of pure, simple entertainment and fun .It introduced a comfortable atmosphere of optimism, unreal fantasy and magic which children could relate to and both children and adults could enjoy. Mickey Mouse was aimed to do nothing else other than to entertain. Infact there is a slang expression ‘Mickey Mouse’ meaning small-time, amateurish or trivial.
In Walt Disney’s own words
“All we ever intended for him, or expected of him, was that he should continue to make people everywhere chuckle with him and at him. We didn’t burden him with any social symbolism; we made him no mouth piece for frustrations or harsh satire. Mickey was simply a little personality assigned to the purposes of laughter.”
The Simpsons was created to primarily provide entertainment but it is entertainment much closer to real life than Mickey Mouse .It also did not hesitate to touch on social, political issues and real life issues making it one of a kind at the time that it was introduced.Unlike Mickey Mouse The Simpsons aims to entertain while being more realistic and not consciously avoiding controversial topics or purposely courting them like South Park and imparting humor to real life situations. It is a wholesome family entertainer which all members of the family can enjoy and relate to and infact learn from.
South Park is however not a wholesome family entertainer like The Simpsons or an out and out entertainer like Mickey Mouse that all the members of the family can enjoy .If you are looking for either of these you would rather skip to a different channel rather than watch South Park. South Park was never intended to be wholesome entertainment and never meant for the juvenile population.
South Park entertains by depicting violence, antisocial behavior, self-mockery, sick fart jokes and swearing. The audience is attracted to it and entertained by nature of its courting controversial topics that is otherwise taboo especially in cartoon shows which are usually meant for kids. People get a kick watching people being really bad and South Park cashes in on this psyche. In some ways we can say that South Park seems like a rebellious teenager who wants to make a statement and get noticed and be liked by people simply by doing controversial things.
v Social Implications and Real World Representation of the Cartoon shows
Apart from political cartoons, entertainment cartoons in general were initially not meant to have any real social implication or represent real world in any way. Most of them are entertainers meant to entertain audiences and earn money for the producers. However it is such a powerful medium that social implications could not be escaped.
Though Mickey Mouse was created simply to entertain and did not intend to give out any social messages it still impacted society in a positive way and left a mark rather than being a forgettable entertainer. It was introduced during the depression and it provided the much needed comic relief, distraction and freedom from thoughts of poverty and misery atleast as much as possible .It made life out to be one happy song and dance bordering on escapism
In Disney’s own words
“Mickey is, to me , a symbol of independence”
Mickey Mouse does not possess a social conscience or a heart .It does not represent reality in any way and serves to separate people from reality and delude them especially children but we can argue that this is better than an overdose of reality.
Unlike Mickey Mouse Simpsons comes across as a cartoon with a social
conscience and heart. Real life is not ignored completely. It seems to incorporate social, political and real life issues in each episode and makes you think without distressing you.
Comedy and satire is made use of to depict real life situations and sometimes even poke fun at the grim side of life .Many real life situations are portrayed in a comic way and while same situations in reality may not be as comic they help us face such situations with a humor that helps but does not hide..
The Simpsons show due to its real life quality has had several brushes with religious groups, political personalities , educators and even parents who dislike its in the face attitude .The show itself has spiritedly countered these attacks . When George Bush called for a society which more closely resembled The Waltons than The Simpsons Bart’s reply was, “Hey, we’re just like the Waltons. We’re praying for an end to the Depression, too.”
While these groups might be against the Simpsons, the show merely questions our values and our faiths and mocks blind beliefs that we hold in nuclear families, mass media, religion and medicine.John O’Connor, television critic for The New York Times has called it “the most radical show on prime time”
South Park goes one step ahead of The Simpsons and actively courts controversial topics at the drop of a hat thus earning a large number of enemies in the form of parents protest groups, censorship bodies and religious groups. It imparts a pessimistic outlook but the blasphemies and the lewd jokes make you feel good. The characters seem to depict all that is wrong with juvenile America today. They indulge in everything that is taboo and enjoy it, albeit they do appear frustrated and angry and what is more the audience enjoys it too
South Park also inspires and preaches occasionally although it doesn’t seem to be the sort .An SP citizen gives the following speech responding to a professor’s call to submit to the Islamist temper tantrums:
“Freedom of speech is at stake here, don’t you all see? If anything, we should all make cartoons of Mohammed and show the terrorists and the extremists that we are all united in the belief that every person has a right to say what they want. Look people, it’s been really easy for us to stand up for free speech lately. For the past few decades, we haven’t had to risk anything to defend it. One of those times is right now. And if we aren’t willing to risk what we have now, then we just believe in free speech, but won’t defend it. “
Also the show does not endorse all bad things. When Kyle is mocked for being a Jew with slurs and comments we sympathize with him and when Eric cartman’s real reason for being obese is shown to be his overly-protective mother we one again feel the genuine pity. Thus South Park has a heart and a conscience although it seems to be dysfunctional.
v Style , Theme and Content of the cartoon show
Cartoons have varied in styles, theme and content across the ages and the only way to get noticed was to experiment. Although initially all cartoons conformed to the traditional funny themes animating kids stories later on several other cartoons tried original themes and stories and as technology advanced so did the cartoons.
Mickey Mouse was exaggerated in style and idea and seldom serious, the cartoon starting from the drawings and expressions right down to the stories and the themes were always fantastic, exaggerated, and magical, out of the world and some might even say ridiculous. The cartoon’s animation and the voice styling was aimed at the juvenile population but did not fail to attract an adult fan-following .However Mickey Mouse did not have voice animation until ‘The Karnival Kid’ in 1929 for which Walt Disney himself lent voices. However on observing Mickey Mouse we realize that the main strength of Mickey Mouse is the cartoon itself and not the voice animation. Infact it can do without voice animation for many of the shows.
Although initial ideas were original the subsequent stories seem repetitive and some might even argue boring.Mickey Mouse doing anything mean or human like was unheard of and discouraged by fans and producers of the show at the slightest hint .Mickey required no censorship and was unrealistically good and sometimes monotonous.
Content of the The Simpsons unlike Mickey Mouse was more realistic and was inspired by real life characters. All the characters in this cartoon series are well etched with very good characterization .We can relate to each of the characters and identify them with a real person in life .Each character has a role of its own which is vital to the entertainment value of the show and central characters are not afraid to be bad or rather human-like unlike the Mickey Mouse show.
Also the content of the Simpsons show is such that it requires some researching and the show is infact well researched and culturally literate. Allusions to the bible and various other references are plenty and extend beyond verbal connotation.
The Simpsons animation technique is superior and although it isn’t pioneering technology like in the case of Mickey Mouse it is characterized by free movement and visual manipulation giving it a cartoon strip perspective. Time, place and movement are depicted very well through cinematic manipulation. Actual camera movements of the films it models are reproduced exactly. Dreams and memories are visualized with a lot of freedom by artists and depicted creatively creating hilarious scenes.
Also although the Simpsons is well animated the kick of the Simpsons lies in the dialog and in the delivery of the dialog. Unlike Mickey Mouse Simpsons can never survive without voice animation as it is the main soul of the show .Indeed just changing the voices can severely affect the popularity ratings of the show .Cartooning , voice animation and content of the show go hand in hand to make it a hit cartoon show .
South Park gives us an overdose of reality and ugliness unlike Mickey Mouse which is completely unrealistic or The Simpsons which handles controversies well without thrusting it in your face. The content of South Park is full of profanities, anti-religious comments and sick comments and twisted jokes that partly make you puke and partly fascinate and attract you. It gives us a view of the bad side of life without making us feel bad and is a free-thinkers paradise.
In the 2001 episode of South Park “It Hits the Fan” broke the swearing record on TV by having characters use the word shit a total of 162 times in a half-hour. The cartoon infact has an over the top and in the face attitude which sometimes just seems like a desperate attention seeking act, amateurish and juvenile.
Although the animation is not exceptional the show is innovative, funny and cool looking in appearance The sound track for the cartoon and the voice dubbing is superior when compared to the story and the animation We have tracks in the South Park movie by such famous acts as Master P, ‘Ol Dirty Bastard, Crystal Method, Perry Farrell, Devo, Elton John, and many more.
v Audience popularity of the show
Mickey Mouse has survived over the decades simply by nature of its being one of the pioneers of cartoon based entertainment and being a forerunner to several others having the same idea. Mickey Mouse was aimed to largely attract a juvenile population but earned lot of adult fans.
The Mickey Mouse cartoons appealed to all sections of the population from kids to adults and although Mickey and the characters associated with it were thought to be bordering on the violent and senseless sometimes it never warranted any serious attention.
The Simpsons is a popular family television series as families identify with it albeit many of them do it subconsciously. A father who is irresponsible and less than perfect , a mother who is somewhat idealistic and bordering on perfect a sister who is angelic and a brother who can only be described as brattish and an observant toddler, these are all characters whom we can identify in real life. This family not only entertains you it makes you love them.
The Simpsons is ultimately wholesome family entertainment . Real life situations are not ignored completely like in Mickey Mouse but handled well with humor in an easy way which makes audiences appreciate it and even learn from it.
Unlike Mickey Mouse or The Simpsons South Park was never meant for children and the show definitely has to be censored before kids watch it and much of the content can be classified as disturbing Eg. A school nurse who has a dead foetus attached to her head
Although people do feel that it is hilarious but they realize that it is so in a disgusting, perverted, offensive way. South Park has a mainly adult fan following which can’t get enough of something that is forbidden.
v Technical Superiority of the shows
Mickey Mouse also owes part of its success to Walt Disney’s technical prowess . He was the first to introduce music and sound effects in cartoons and to introduce an exaggerated style of cartooning through the Mickey Mouse cartoons. Mickey Mouse was the world’s first synchronised sound cartoons. This drew immediate public attention and became an instant hit .Mickey Mouse was a landmark in the world of entertainment.
Technically and artistically Mickey Mouse cartoons were far superior to other contemporary cartoons of its age and gave life to an entire family of animated characters: Minnie Mouse, Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar, Goofy, Pluto, Donald Duck, Peg-Leg Pete, and many others.
The artistic success of the animators was honored in 1932 when an Oscar was presented to Walt Disney for the creation of Mickey Mouse. In Walt Disney’s words
“He provided the means for expanding our organization to its present dimensions and for extending the medium of cartoon animation toward new entertainment levels. He spelled production liberation for us.”
While technically The Simpsons may not be superior to other cartoons of its time like Mickey Mouse, the cartooning is extremely good in style and is appreciated. Expressions in the cartoon and the characterization are excellent. Strength also lies in its voice animation which is done very well and story line which is well researched.
In South Park while the voice rendering and the dialog delivery can be said to be hilarious if it wasn’t crude most of the time, the cartooning is not worth mentioning. This infact highlights the voices more. The drawings are crude and the backgrounds are lifeless, static and dull unlike Mickey Mouse or The Simpsons. This seems to have been done purposely as beautifully depicted surroundings would spoil the crude effect rather than enhance it .It is far off from Disney’s beautifully animated backgrounds and colorful scenes that fascinate kids.
v Marketing of the cartoon
Disney and Co marketed Mickey Mouse and cashed on its popularity to make it an ageless brand name. T-Shirts to Fantasy Park characters were created based on Mickey Mouse. It became a part of the World War 2 efforts and also clubs, TV series were started based on Mickey Mouse.
The Simpsons show creators were less into marketing but most of the merchandising was self sparked. In the 1990’s at the height of their popularity Simpsons T-shirts, toys, buttons, golf balls and other licensed materials were everywhere. The fact that approximately 1 million T-Shirts were sold every week shows us how popular the show was.
While South Park is also not being marketed as aggresively as was Mickey Mouse we can say that it does not need publicity as most of it is self generated. However kids who are the main targets for goods and merchandise of cartoons are not in the main audience group of this show so South Park merchandise is not very sought after. Whether it turns out to be an unforgettable show is yet to be seen.
Simpsons the Wholesome Family Show
Although each of the above cartoon series has its own faithful fan-base what can be said to be universally appealing and enjoyed across all sections of society and which I am a personal fan of is the Simpsons Show. Its humor and satire makes us laugh and think at the same time. It makes use of intelligent humor for knowledgeable audiences rather than making use of the frivolous humor of Mickey Mouse or the trashy humor of South Park
Its real life depiction helps us identify with it. It is well researched and culturally literate. Simpsons show does not hesitate to handle life as it comes in a light hearted way making us laugh. It does not slink from making bold statements. Life is not one song and dance like in Mickey Mouse but it is not in the dark ages as it is made out to be in South Park. Life is still interesting and good.
This cartoon was created for and can be viewed by all age groups unlike Mickey Mouse created for children or South Park created for adults. It is truly a wholesome family show with characters inspired by real life that everybody can relate to. Technically the animation, styling and the voice animation is guaranteed to draw attention and retain it. The technical superiority, the well researched storyline, voice animation and the brilliant real life characters go on to make this show one of the most wholesome, popular entertainment sho
Today all entertainers have to cater to an intelligent audience. There is no room for sub-standard run of the mill stuff due to the huge competition and audience literacy. In such a scenario cartoons such as Mickey Mouse, The Simpsons and South Park have all carved a niche for themselves in the world of entertainment and have to be appreciated for their unique styles.
These cartoons entertain their audiences through their own unique methodologies. While Mickey Mouse uses naïve humor and brilliant animation and sound effects to regale its audiences, the Simpsons uses a brilliant, humorous, and well researched story line and content. Similarly South Park entertains its audiences by using crude humor which is sometimes intelligent sometimes disgusting.
Cartoons will continue to entertain as well as evolve to keep up with the changing audience and times using the evolving technology. Cartoons are here to stay, to entertain, to communicate messages, to regale audiences and to make an impression on society. It is upto us to make use of this powerful medium in the right way to entertain, educate and communicate.