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The Lessons Our Cartoons Taught Us: Gen Z VS Gen Alpha

Cartoons are a big part of our childhood. How do cartoons differ between Gen Z to Gen Alpha?

Child watching TV on a retro box TV.
Credit: Shutterstock/Gorodenkoff

Cartoons are a prominent part of our childhood as they help bolster and nurture imagination and creativity.

Cartoons are a great medium for teaching kids valuable lessons. They can showcase themes about sacrifice, love, and humility. Although we may not fully understand the concepts, they solidify in our minds right from wrong from an early age.

Because cartoons play such a significant role in many people’s upbringing, it’s important to look at how they have changed from when Gen Z was watching them to now, with Gen Alpha.

A Child sitting in the living room watching Cartoons.
Cartoons play an important role during childhood. Credit: Shutterstock/Jovan Barajevec

The Remakes

Many movies and TV shows have had remakes over the years. Sometimes they’re just as good, or even better, than the original like the the new ‘Dune’ movies. However, sometimes they are not, like the 2010 live-action ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender.’

Cartoons are fairly easy to remake as new plots can easily be added without much grievance from fans. However, many cartoon remakes lose a lot of the aspects that made the original so great.

‘Teen Titans Go!’ for example, follows the adventures of the DC characters. There are many different versions of the Teen Titans members. In some adaptations heroes like ‘Blue Beetle’ and Damian Wayne’s ‘Robin’ are present. ‘Teen Titans Go!’ though is a remake of the 2003 classic ‘Teen Titans’.

The original series has a lot more depth than its counterpart, with lessons about friendship, resilience, and following your own destiny. The characters themselves had a lot more layers, promoting the idea that everyone has their own life with their own problems. Understanding this allows you to be a more empathetic and caring person.

While ‘Teen Titans’ can be fun and has its goofy moments, the show also tackles many real-world problems. This ranges from discrimination and loss to not letting your past define your future. It showcases strong female characters that young kids can look up to.

”The original Teen Titans was a marvel of storytelling for its time, finding an excellent balance between humor, drama, and maturity across its five seasons. The characters all felt real, and each of them showed that they were flawed individuals on a handful of occasions, but that never stopped them from being heroes”. 

James Harb via Quora

The remake is an ‘easy watch’ that allows you to turn off your brain. You can just sit and watch the silliness the characters get up to. While there are messages in this show, it can be easy to miss them and mistake them for the usual goofiness. It has become a parody of itself with many references to the original and the differences in the characters…well character.

The Differences

Retro orange TV with a static screen.
Credit: Shutterstock/BrAt82

Yes, ‘Teen Titans Go!’ is targeted towards kids, but so was ‘Teen Titans.’ So what has changed? Some attribute the change in cartoon themes to trying to “keep up with the rapidly shifting youth culture.” However, the success of ‘Encanto’ and ‘Puss in Boots: The Last Wish’ showcases that Gen Alpha are capable of understanding heavy themes.

On my journalism Instagram account, I asked my followers what their views are regarding how cartoons have changed. The general consensus was that newer cartoons are being made to be ‘silly’ to draw in Gen Alpha viewers. This could be because of all the different outlets cartoons have to compete with now. With 54% of Gen Alphas having tablets, it makes accessing YouTube, TikTok, and streaming services that much easier. YouTube is the most popular platform for Gen Alpha. In a 2023 survey the parents of this new generation revealed that their kids prefer to watch shopping videos.

When you factor in the accessibility the internet gave to content, it makes sense why cartoons have had to ‘modernize’.

When Gen Z was growing up we only had TV to absorb content from. It was only towards the end of our adolescence that WIFI routers were introduced. As a by-product, streaming platforms became more accessible.

The Lessons

Siblings lying on the floor watching tv together
Kids can learn valuable lessons from cartoons. Credit: Unsplash/vectorfusionart

Cartoons as a medium tend to have an educational aspect. However, Gen Alpha cartoons have been described as being less-educational.

With that said though, there are a few great new cartoons that have very powerful messages like ‘Bluey.’ The show tackles various different topics, like bringing awareness to postpartum depression. These cartoons also help in promoting imagination in kids and helping them navigate their emotions.

‘Bluey’ is one of those cartoons that even adults are absolutely obsessed with.

One of my favorite cartoons growing up was Nickelodeon’s ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender.’ Much like ‘Bluey,’ it is beloved by adults and kids alike.

Some of the most impactful lessons the series teaches is sacrifice, owning up to mistakes, being secure in your identity, and that love can come in various forms. All of the characters, both main and side, teach valuable lessons.

Even the sequel ‘Legend of Korra’ carries on the legacy of balancing light hearted moments with lessons that can help better understand yourself and the world.

Even the more silly Gen Z cartoons like ‘The Amazing World of Gumball’ or ‘Regular show’ still have episodes and plotlines that serve to educate us.

Gen Z grew up with a mixture of ‘new’ cartoons and the classic ones like ‘Tom and Jerry’ (the original) and ‘Scooby Doo.’ The latest adaptation of ‘Scooby Doo,’ ‘Velma’ was cancelled after just two seasons. ‘Velma’ was too far removed from the source material that viewers just couldn’t enjoy it, which ties in with my earlier discussion about the downfalls of remakes.

Observations

Binoculars on a light blue background.
Credit: Shutterstock/Sag stock

Since Gen Z doesn’t consume the latest cartoons, it may add to the notion that we think they’re not as good. While doing research for this article I found cartoons that are fresh and new are received better by Gen Alpha, whereas, remakes of Gen Z cartoons don’t do as good in the new generation.

Studies have shown that Gen Alpha are more concerned with serious topics such as being authentic to themselves and ‘fair representation.’ When looking at the success of ‘Encanto’ – a film about identity and family – it makes sense.

Gen Alpha are digital natives as they are the first generation born entirely in the 21st century. Being exposed to social media and technology from an early age seems to have affected what they find interesting.

We can determine that their cartoons are not their go-to content to enjoy and relax like it was for Gen Z. The times have changed, and children would rather spend their time watching YouTube videos.

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