Wednesday, May 05, 2021

What Infinity Train's Cancellation May Mean for the Future of Kids Animation

Infinity Train's cancelation, allegedly due to Book 5 lacking a "child entry point," is a bad omen for future animated programming on kids networks.

Infinity Train's creator Owen Dennis has said that Cartoon Network rejected a completed script for an Infinity Train Book 5 movie because it focused on Amelia, an adult character, and lacked a "child entry point." This news has left a lot of Infinity Train fans both frustrated and confused. Cartoon Network has had plenty of successful shows about adult characters over the years, from Samurai Jack to Regular Show, so if the current management rejected Infinity Train Book 5, it makes one wonder if they would've rejected those shows if they were pitched today.

According to a Twitter thread by Kelly Turnbull, a storyboard artist who worked for Cartoon Network on the 2016 Ben 10 reboot, the answer is yes. The standards Cartoon Network and most other children's animation studios follow have grown ever more restrictive, with an increased focus on preschooler-friendly programming that would ironically have killed many of the most popular cartoons ever if they were trying to get their start now.

The list of shows Turnbull cites as likely to be rejected due to lacking "child entry points," both for starring older characters and featuring slightly edgier humor, includes SpongeBob SquarePants, Angry Beavers, Rocko's Modern Life, CatDog, The Ren & Stimpy ShowGarfield & Friends, Regular Show, G.I. Joe, and Looney Tunes. Rugrats, meanwhile, would have the opposite problem: while studios don't want shows with protagonists way older than the target audience, they also don't want protagonists younger than the target demographic either. Villain protagonists a la Invader ZIM or Pinky and the Brain are currently considered to be mostly off-limits now due to fears of "imitable behavior."

Multiple animators responding to Turnbull's thread also noted another major shift at Cartoon Network in particular: the network only wants "strictly comedy" pitches at the moment. This seems like a serious departure from the more genre-bending programming that brought the network success throughout the 2010s. While the first season of Adventure Time could be described as "strictly comedy," it evolved into something a lot more complex, and it would take amazing mental gymnastics to pitch Steven Universe, even in its lighter first season, as "strictly comedy." Infinity Train was continuing that trend of emotionally complex comedy-adventure storytelling, but it seems Cartoon Network doesn't care for that trend anymore.

Obviously, already successful franchises are excused from the current pitching standards, so SpongeBob is still going strong and RugratsLooney Tunes and Pinky and the Brain got successful revivals. Even SpongeBob, however, is being given prequel spin-offs about the characters as kids, seemingly to fit current mandates better. Already established talent also seems to get some leeway, so a proven hitmaker like Genndy Tartakovsky can pitch a more serious action show to Cartoon Network and still get greenlit. But for new ideas from new creators, things are more restrictive than ever at the major kids' networks.

In industry terms, there are three main age demographics for children's animation: 2-5, 6-11 and 9-14. Most of the "kids'" cartoons older viewers care about would be considered for the 9-14 demographic. Cartoon Network used to be more friendly to the 9-14 demo than other cable networks, but has now mostly stopped and is instead trying to expand its preschool programming while keeping its 6-11 shows safe for even younger viewers, demanding formulaic "play patterns" for merchandising purposes.

Streaming is currently the best hope for cartoons deemed too dark or mature for little kids but not dark or mature enough for the Adult Swim treatment, but there are still problems there. Moving from Cartoon Network to HBO Max didn't save Infinity Train, and if anything, it seems like the AT&T merger and the needs of HBO Max might have hastened Cartoon Network's shift to preschool shows. Crunchyroll is making original animation in the young adult space, but its release patterns have been a mess. Netflix seems to be the most reliable producer of 9-14 shows at the moment, though it has its own limits of sticking primarily to anime/Avatar-inspired fantasy action shows for this demographic.

The cancelation of Infinity Train seems to signal some disappointing shifts at Cartoon Network and in the animation industry at large away from more ambitious all-ages TV series. The good news is that if things can shift this much this suddenly, things can shift in different directions just as quickly.

Original source:

Originally published: Tuesday, May 04, 2021.

Original source: Anime Superhero Forum /@SweetShop209.

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  1. SpongeBob lacks a "child entry point" and Rugrats would be considered too young for the intended demographic?

    And if any of these shows premiered today they would likely be cancelled automatically?


  2. But I don't think all-ages shows are completely dead

    The executives just need to realize there is still a market for these kinds of shows

    SpongeBob SquarePants won't be the last truly all-ages cartoon and neither will Rugrats

  3. All ages cartoons are timeless. Everyone can resonate with them. You don’t need to do it for just one specific audience and it has more limitless possibilities.


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