Yesterday, Shea Fontana (talented animation writer) posted over on Tumblr about how she’s finally getting around to reading the final Harry Potter book. She mentions that having gotten this far, she’s noticed that a fair amount of characters are either killed off or die throughout the series, and that got her thinking about how things are quite different in cartoons.
One S&P [standards & practices] note that has become so common that seasoned kid’s writers usually know to avoid it is that no one can die. Okay, maybe at the end of the series, the main super bad guy can die. But everyone else needs to give a good <MOAN> after they fall off a cliff to their (un)certain death so our young, impressionable viewers won’t be too sad.
This is a great observation. Death is a completely natural occurrence, we’ll all go through it without exception. Why then, do networks feel it is necessary to seclude this aspect of life from younger viewers?
Oh sure, it’s scary in some ways, and the oftentimes violent end that awaits a character is perhaps a bit too influential for younger viewers. Disney famously avoided an on-screen death for decades until The Lion King but never shied away from giving the audience a heavy hint about the character’s demise. The kids still knew what happened, they just didn’t get to see the gory details.
Why can’t we see more death in cartoons? Heck, The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy managed to feature the grim reaper himself, and he still didn’t kill anyone! Would it really have made a difference to have Grim do his job on-screen instead of off? I don’t think so, and I thought it would have made the show even funnier than it already is.
Kids are spectacularly observant in many ways. They can tell the difference between characters and how and why they die. There’s no reason to hide it from them so blatantly.
Shea is spot on in her assessment:
It’s sad and tragic! There’s real emotion because real people really die and real kids get that.
Lastly, Shea makes the excellent point that this kind of censorship only exists within the realm of the large corporation. Independent productions and novels are generally free from these kinds of restrictions, and with the advent of the internet, there’s an even greater ability for kids to see content that perhaps doesn’t attempt to hide the realities of life.
Go read the entire post, it’s well worth thinking about and there’s a cool drawing of Harry by the awesome Mike Maihack.