In Defense of Cartoons

A skeptical mom asked:
Can you tell me how it can serve a child if they say spend hours a day watching Scooby-Doo ?
Deb Lewis responded:
I asked my son what he thought a person could get from watching cartoons. He said he's learned a lot from watching Loony Toons and especially Daffy Duck. "What?" I asked. "I learned that you really can solve all your problems with dynamite!" 🙂
Don't panic. He was being funny.

But really, maybe hours of Scooby Doo is glorious fun. Fun is serious. Fun is important, especially for kids. Don't underrate fun. People who are not happy as children seldom find easy or lasting happiness as adults.

But there are all kinds of things a person could get from watching Scooby Doo. They are kind to Scooby, they love him and wouldn't leave him behind, he's their friend and they would do whatever they could to save him if he was in danger. It might inspire someone to think about kindness to animals.

Freddy, Velma, Daphne, Shaggy and Scoob genuinely care about each other, trust each other. Might inspire thoughts about friendship and trust.

They work together, plan and organize. It might inspire thoughts about the usefulness of cooperation.

They handle tough situations with humor. That might inspire someone to think about the value of a happy and positive attitude.

They help people who need help.
The people who need help ask for it.
These are good things.

Viewers might learn about comedic timing, setting a mood with music, foreshadowing, plot development, character development, dialog, story line, fashion, animation.

That e-mail continued, and Deb answered questions about
whether it becomes a habit, and whether it was efficient,
and what skills they would learn for life, and to function as adults,
and how it compares to schookids who learn in a variety of ways
and... here

Rabbit Of Seville (these keep disappearing, so I hope this will last a while)

Here's the original they were spoofing:

How about the Bugs Bunny, Barber of Seville cartoon?

Deb Lewis responding:

Dylan can recognize Rossini and Wagner almost instantly anywhere he hears them and that started with Bugs Bunny. Not just the pieces used in cartoons but pieces from other works as well.

Bugs Bunny led to Wagner, led to operas, led to Vikings, led to Valhalla, led to Mythology, led to religion...

The Simpsons bit (spoofing) the Bill on Capital Hill (flag burners have too much freedom) led to the still ongoing discussions of flag burning as freedom of speech, which led to discussions on political protest which led to the ever popular discussions on civil disobedience, which led to the reading of "Civil Disobedience" by Thoreau, which led to "Walden."

Those are a few examples I easily remember but there's been endless learning from cartoons. There have been so many connections to great movies and literature and music. I'm always surprised to hear people say they don't see value in cartoons. Cartoons for the sake of humor have been a delight to my son. How do you measure the value of joy? If he never learned anything from them (which is impossible) but they made him happy that would be enough. They've been an inspiration to Dylan, who draws cartoons and is designing a set now for a claymation movie he wants to make. (Spell check wants to change claymation to cremation, which is a little creepy, a cremation movie.)

Deb L

Part of a discussion from a now-defunct message board:

By Patti on Wednesday, June 14, 2000 - 12:08 pm:

Does anyone have an opinion on the educational value, if any, of cartoons? It seems to me that those unschoolers who insist that watching television has some value are talking about documentaries, history channel, animal planet and the like. Most children I know, however, really love "mindless" types of cartoons that don't seem to have the same value. I realize that pure entertainment counts for something, but I have a hard time not seeing this viewing as a big waste of time. I know Sandra has pointed out that a lot of times these shows can instigate conversations on important topics that otherwise would not be brought up. Any thoughts on this?

By Chris on Wednesday, June 14, 2000 - 07:02 pm:

"Any thoughts on this?"

Yes, lots. Let's see if I can express them well. We have two girls ages 7 and 5. They watch more TV than I would like but I think everything is educational. They do watch shows like "Kratts Kreatures," and "Popular Mechanics for Kids" but they also watch a fair share of "Arthur," "The Simpsons," and "Sailor Moon." I talked to my oldest daughter, Jennifer, about it. She loves to draw particularly cartoons and told me that she likes to watch them because she wants to learn how to draw them. Jennifer is fascinated by animation and wants to learn how to do her own cartoons. Another goal of hers is to write and illustrate her own books. She loves to draw the characters from "Arthur" and build her own stories around them. She also loves to compare the TV drawing to the book drawing and has noticed how the characters are different. Both girls frequently sit in front of the TV and draw the characters. Doing this has helped them both with their observation skills. Jennifer's drawings in particular are quite detailed.

Good observation skills are not only important to artists but to scientists as well. I read a book "Great Lives: Nature and the Environment" which profiles several people [mostly scientist] who have made a significant contribution to environmental studies. Many of these people were also skilled artists.

I realize I have made quite a leap here—watching cartoons to scientists but the point is we don't know what skills our children will need in their adult life. Watching and drawing cartoons is fulfilling some kind of need right now and that is fine with me.


By Chris on Thursday, June 15, 2000 - 08:12 am:

More thoughts from Chris.

"Sailor Moon" has captured Jessie's imagination. At least once a day she has to play "Sailor Moon" by herself. She turns around and around until she is Sailor Moon and rescues all of her dolls from evil. She's got all the lines down pat and it seems to energize her. There have been times when I have used Sailor Moon to help Jessie overcome a problem. For instance Jessie has been having a hard time getting a basketball into the net so I'll say "Dome on Jessie use your moon crystal powers, keep trying you can do it." This motivates her and she continues to work hard.

As long as you are aware of what your children watch, occasionally watch with them and talk about what they, see television will not be a problem.

By Sandra Lynn Dodd (Sandradodd) on Sunday, June 18, 2000 - 08:02 am:

I have seen kids watch TV as they might wear a sensory-deprivation suit—to avoid being in their homes because their parents are mean or nuts. I have seen that.

I assume when people talk about kids just zoning out, that they have seen such escapist attachment to the TV as a savior from the real world.

I know people who are safer watching TV than not.

In the absence of insanity, alcohol and drug abuse, TV is probably NOT the safest adult in the house.

So given that as a basis (yes I HAVE seen kids just zone, and I'm on their side even then), I can defend the following cartoons:

  • Rocky & Bullwinkle
  • Roadrunner
  • Bugs Bunny et al.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Arthur
  • Pokemon
  • Tiny Toons
  • Animaniacs
  • Schoolhouse Rock videos
  • My Little Pony
  • Simpsons

    I can even defend Power Rangers (but only know it through the first three seasons).

    Holly says DragonTales is good.
    "I wish, I wish with all my heart
    To fly with dragons in a land apart," gets them to Dragon land, she says, and then
    "I wish, I wish to use this rhyme
    To go back home until next time," gets them home.

    I choose not to try to defend

  • ...most Hanna-Barbera
  • ...the old Beatles cartoons from the 1960's
  • ...Duck Tales (although my kids could probably defend it)

    What's the real question?

  • -=- I realize that pure entertainment counts for something, but I have a hard time not seeing this viewing as a big waste of time. -=-

    Oh THAT is the subject matter.

    "Pure entertainment"? I don't think I believe in that.

    If someone is being entertained, that person is thinking. That person is analyzing SOMETHING, and every trail made in the brain is a reuseable trail, and a trail to connect to other things.

    If someone is NOT being entertained, they will be learning negative, yucky stuff--being made unhappy, learning what and who to avoid in the future.

    Whatever your children do should be unfolding in as stressfree and joyful a way as possible. THEN it will be mindful.

    If the opposite of mindless is mindful, it's not the stimulus but the thinking to consider.

    By Patti on Monday, June 19, 2000 - 05:30 pm:

    Hi Sandra-

    Why would you defend the specific cartoons you listed but not Hanna Barbara or the others?
    Do you have certain criteria?
    Just curious! :)


    From a blog I found with image search; click to go to the post, which was called "bad cartoons."

    By Sandra Lynn Dodd (Sandradodd) on Wednesday, June 28, 2000 - 10:53 am:

    -=-Why would you defend the specific cartoons you listed but not Hanna Barbara or the others? Do you have certain criteria? -=-

    I'll use another analogy first so that we're talking about judgment and defense instead of about cartoons.

    Movies: I can "defend" (justify as educational and discuss at length and get excited about) certain movies. I'l name a random selection, not my favorites in order, but different kinds of movies I've "used":

  • Singing in the Rain
  • El Cid
  • The Sound of Music
  • The Cure
  • Enemy Mine
  • Henry V
  • Guarding Tess
  • Regarding Henry
  • Last Action Hero

    There are other movies I cannot "defend," like

  • Commando (although I enjoy watching it)
  • AirForce One
  • Starship Troopers
  • Star Wars (the newest one)

    This is not to say that other people would not be willing to put in the half hour of non-stop praise, analysis and justification to defend considering those movies worthwhile to recommend to families who want their lives enriched, or who could "defend" those movies to educational specialists or supervisors who are critical of homeschooling.

    I can defend Gilligan's Island.

    I can go ON and on about The Beatles—musically, lyrically, socially—but cannot go on and on about Metallica.

    Some of it is personal taste and preference.

    With cartoons, my criteria for joy is that the art is attractive, the script is jolting/fascinating/mind-expanding, the voices are not totally irritating, the plots are intriguing (or at least not total yawns), the values are either ready for adoption or cause kids to consider the characters' motives and morals.

    I'm wearing an Animaniacs t-shirt at the moment. Animaniacs has lots of historical and social reference, great music, GOOD puns and juxtapositions. It makes me think fast, and it makes me laugh, and thinking fast and laughing are good mental stimulation for me.

    Some cartoons irritated me. Yogi Bear, for instance. Morality? Voices? Characters? Who was the good guy or the sympathetic character? What were we to learn? Yuck. (Good theme song, though, I suppose.) Art? No. Half hour of light and sound? Yeah.

    Not so the Flintstones—way better than other Hanna-Barbera for me. Better voices, more imaginative plots, good vs. evil... I didn't like Fred, and didn't want to BE Fred, so as role models, it wasn't rich. But there was musical interest, anthropological interest, silliness that exposed daily modern silliness, lots of literary devices to find in a pretty sugary environment...

    But I don't spend money on old Flintstones videos, either.

    If a family really liked Deputy Dawg or Quickdraw McGraw or Magilla Gorilla, I suppose they would be able to find things to point to that had helped them—vocabulary, sweet acts of compassion, revelation of prejudices, or whatever. Those cartoons don't appeal to me.

    Some things really REALLY irritate me. The COWboys of Moo Mesa—I couldn't even watch it. Kirby liked it for a while when he was little. I was offended by the idiocy of what I saw. I've had friends similarly irritated by TMNT, though, and I could only think they hadn't actually watched any episodes. (Kind of like me with Moo Mesa, maybe?) We had much use for Ninja Turtles, the cartoons and the movies both.

    There are movies which are worth watching for certain aspects. Not award-winning things overall, but something very cool to watch. The Power Rangers Movie has the sky-diving scene at the beginning that's wonderful. TMNT III, with the time-travel to feudal Japan, similarly has some impressive athleticism. The actor/gymnast/martial artist/dancer/whatever-all playing Michelangelo rides a horse backwards, in Japanese armor, in that big rubber suit. That's as impressive to me as any Olympic trials or circus act.

    I'm not going to bring this to a summary or conclusion. I could go on like this for days, pointing at things and commenting.

    I know my opinions won't match other peoples and that's fine. What I can defend isn't what other people can defend.

    When there's someone who can defend NOTHING, though, who is so cynical or shut down that all movies seem lame and all cartoons seem mindless and all music is boring and all museums are irritating, I think there's a problem with that person's attitude and perceptions, rather than their stated opinion being damning evidence against movies, cartoons, music and museums.

    Sandra Dodd

  • By Sheri on Monday, August 13, 2001 - 07:47 pm:

    Well, this might not be educational, but it does throw in a bit. The Wild Thornberries...we love em. They "homeschool" their kids while traveling the world filming wildlife. We all like to watch it from time to time.

    We also watch Redwall on PBS


    By kelly in sc on Tuesday, August 14, 2001 - 10:35 am:

    My 5 yr old was "defending" cartoons the other day: he said that you CAN learn things from cartoons.
    Like how to be a bowling ball!

    By ecsamhill on Tuesday, August 14, 2001 - 12:22 pm:

    **With cartoons, my criteria for joy is that the art is attractive, the script is jolting / fascinating / mind-expanding, the voices are not totally irritating, the plots are intriguing (or at least not total yawns), the values are either ready for adoption or cause kids to consider the characters' motives and morals. **

    I think this is the way it works at our house. My son may watch the more cheesy cartoons, but gives them up quickly (two or three episodes and then he notices it's mostly repetitious).

    Favorites here are Zoboomafoo and Pokemon. I can defend Zoboo, and I think my son gets something "worthwhile" from Pokemon, but it would be hard for me to express what that is in words. Certainly it captures his imagination.

    He's not going to watch tired, unimaginative shows.

    But I did, after school, throughout my childhood. I think as an introvert, I was so wrecked each day by the stress of school that I needed two or three hours of vegetating in order to recover.


    Scooby-Doo, Frankenstein, and a Big Storm, by Colleen Prieto
    (and a little more Scooby)

    More on television or parenting issues for unschoolers