In Defense of Modern Cartoons

I’m working on a bunch of other blogs that’ll probably be more entertaining than this, but since someone from Twitter decided to argue with me that the updated art style in shows like She-Ra and Ducktales makes them “lose their magic” because of lazy character designs and worldbuilding, this is the blog you’re getting today. 

I wholeheartedly disagree with their statement. Honestly, after I watched Ducktales 2017, I went back to watch the original Ducktales from 1987 and I have to say, it doesn’t hold up. The animation is cheap and clunky, the writing is deeply misogynistic and racist, and the art leaves a lot to be desired. This is not to say the art is bad, I think the artwork from the original Ducktales is really good, but it really bugs me how they tend to rely on a lot of the same body type models with little to no diversity of shape.

I’ve noticed a lot of people tend to romanticize the “good ol’ days” where they pretend the cartoons they grew up with were the only good iteration of those stories just because they liked them as a kid.

While I’ll be the first person to defend any work of animation because I am so tired of people sleeping on the artistry of cartoons, I’ll also be the first to tell you your fave from “back in the day” ain’t that great. 

The first thing I noticed during my rewatch of Ducktales 1987 was that, unlike Ducktales 2017, it doesn’t bother giving you a backstory of why the boys are with Scrooge. Granted, I gave them that one, because the Ducktales 1987 series on Disney+ actually starts at episode 3 for some reason.

Now, some modern cartoons are like that too. If I take into account the sheer amount of animated shows I watch and enjoy, off the top of my head I can say Miraculous Tales of Ladybug and Chat Noir, Amphibia, DC’s Super Hero Girls, and Milo Murphy’s Law all adopt an out of order self-contained storytelling style akin to Ducktales 1987

The out of order storytelling doesn’t bug me all that much, what gets to me about Ducktales 1987—and this applies to the original She-Ra series as well—is how many of the characters lack Agency in comparison to their modern counterparts. 

More than that, the shows [Ducktales 1987 & She-Ra 1985] lack diversity and vision. Back in the “good ol’ days” as people are wont to call them, animation was less popular than it is now. We’ve come a long way in recent years with shows like Avatar the Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra, Adventure Time, and Gravity Falls paving the way for animators to explore this new age of animation. 

Going back to the original topic that sparked this rant, I’ll admit I can get pushy sometimes and be offended by people saying they won’t watch something due to the “art style”. I know it’s not always fair for me to be like that because ultimately it boils down to personal preference, but I’ve heard this argument a lot and I just want to get to the bottom of why y’all seem to hate western cartoon art styles so much and why the old art for these shows are so overwhelmingly preferred over the new ones. Is it nostalgia? Or is it something deeper? 

I’ve heard people refer to the more modern art styles for these shows as “dumbed down”, “caricaturized”, and “overly simplistic”. In recent years, this take has really started to grate on my nerves. Mostly because it feels like people are gatekeeping and demonizing really good stories because the—already overworked—animators didn’t sit down and draw everything in a hyper realistic art style and, instead, chose to use a style that would give them more variety in their models and designs. 

When people try to tell me the old art for She-Ra or Ducktales is better, I think they forget how basically every character was made off of the same model with little to no diversity in skin colour or body type. And if a character had a different model, they were more likely to be a victim of harmful stereotypes. 

I’m not going to sugar coat it, the cartoons you all love from the past are deeply racist and deeply sexist and it needs to be acknowledged. Peter Pan and Doctor Seuss are not the only properties to reinforce harmful stereotypes and I think we should continue to call out other properties that do the same thing. That way younger generations can be educated instead of being fed this romanticized drivel about people “not making them like they used to” that ignores the serious issue of inequality and harmful stereotypes portrayed in older media. 

With these remakes, the showrunners aimed to bring back the original magic of the shows for a newer generation and to also breathe new life into their old visionless storylines, actively remove harmful stereotypes, and include more diversity. 

In Ducktales, you see this with the updated versions of characters like Fenton Crackshell-Cabrerra and M’Ma Crackshell-Cabrerra, to include latinx representation and the updated designs of Mrs. Beakley and Webby Vanderquack to give them more agency and make them their own people that aren’t just there to further the development of Scrooge McDuck and “the boys”. 

More to the point, the changes they made to the personalities of Scrooge, Launchpad, Donald, Huey, Dewey, and Louie themselves, bolstering their designs and development and making them their own people just adds to the story and makes them feel like whole people instead of the flat, underdeveloped characters they were in the past. 

The canned villain of the week, minimalistic overarching plot of past animated properties has had its time and place. These types of stories were told because people assumed children couldn’t process or follow more complex storylines so every episode had to be its own thing with only the occasional call back to previous adventures. This is not the case, children need diversity and complexity in storytelling the same way adults do and modern animated properties understand this and are changing the way they tell stories for this reason. 

While She-Ra 1985 and Ducktales 1987 had a better grasp on plot and storytelling than something like Looney Tunes or Scooby Doo, they still lacked complexity and representation shown in the remakes. 

Yet y’all wanna sit there and act like the inclusion of different body types and different races to make the art more diverse and fun is robbing you of your archaic same-model art style from a hundred years ago. 

When, in reality, the artwork on these new shows is much more complex than it’s given credit for. Especially when it comes to fight scenes, adventure scenes, and body positivity. Too many of you see the flat colours and smooth lines and think ‘this is just dumbed down for the lazy, uncreative children of today’ and not that the style they’re drawing in is something unique and special that gives the artists room to create stories in a meaningful and beautifully animated way. 

These modern cartoons you’re avoiding for arbitrary reasons like “the atwork is too simplistic and cartoony compared to the original” have rich worldbuilding and realistic portrayals of interpersonal relationships. They break down difficult emotional issues to make it easier for children and adults to process and understand them. They’re full of hurt, heart, and love and I will defend them with my whole self because these storytellers deserve a voice and a platform to tell newer more inclusive stories. 

So, sit down, shut up, and listen

Ducktales: 3 Theories on how the species of Duckburg evolved

I never set out to write academic essays. That’s not the sort of platform I thought I would have as a washed-up author in my 30s, but when I truly, genuinely love something, I start to pick it apart scientifically.

Recently, during my stay in a very nice facility for helping me with my bad brain, I was exposed to the wonders of Ducktales (2017) where Scrooge McDuck is voiced by David Motherfucking Tennant and Huey, Dewy, and Louie are voiced by Danny Pudi, Ben Scwartz, and Bobby Moynihan respectively. 

I’d been putting off watching this show for ages. It’s been out since 2017 and, as someone who adores cartoons, I should’ve been drawn to it immediately, but I largely ignored it. I think it’s because I was done with new Disney remakes. I’d been burned one too many times by their endless stream of lackluster reboots and money grubbing cartoons and I wasn’t willing to give a remake of a TV show that had shaped my formative years a chance. 

This was a massive mistake on my part. I watched five episodes while I was in the hospital then came out and finished the entire series in two days and now I’m rewatching it. Again.

One of the Hallmarks of my personality (besides rambling on forever) is using science (especially the theory of evolution) to make sense of fictional worlds. I did with Doctor Who, I’ve done it with several Marvel Comics, I did it with Wizards of Waverly Place. 

Now, I’m doing it with Ducktales. This all started with a conversation I had with my best friend, Lisa Stapleton on the basis of if the multiple species in the Ducktales universe (of which we’ve seen several) could cross-breed. Now, if any of you are giant genetics nerds like me, you know that most crossbreeding in animals produces either 1) unviable offspring or 2) sterile offspring. So, I was operating on the understanding that since we don’t see many interspecies relationships, that this would be the case in the Ducktales universe.

The various species seen in Ducktales

What if it wasn’t? What if, there are interspecies relationships where we see viable and non-sterile offspring? How would that shape the Ducktales universe? Given the vast scope of the universe and the multitude of species present, it’s likely there have been several interspecies relationships (As seen with Launchpad and the unnamed couples shown below) and some of those species may have tried to reproduce. 

It also stands to reason that with these species having similar body shapes, a bipedal walk or waddle, similar capacity for language, and opposable thumbs, they would have to be incredibly similar genetically, with only superficial and (some) reproductive differences (as we see with Della on laying eggs instead of giving live birth).

Before we can examine the potential of cross-species reproduction, we first have to understand how the species in Ducktales evolved to become the type of consciously sentient beings they are today.

I have three theories on how they could’ve evolved, based on my knowledge of evolution and three articles I read to try and make sense of my conclusions, which I will link below. 

Theory #1: The Common Ancestor Theory

Due to the consciously sentient species in Ducktales evolving to display the same or similar understanding of language, the same bipedal walk or waddle, the same capacity for problem solving, and similar bipedal with opposable thumb ape-like shapes there is (or has to be) a marked event in the evolution of species, where each species in the ducktales universe evolved from a similar ancestor (Aka a missing link, Lucy).

Theory #2: The Absence of Humanity Theory

Due to the fact that humans do not exist in this universe, save for the singular “Quack Pack” episode showcased in Ducktales season 3, animals in the ducktales universe adapted the same way homo sapiens did due to the same evolutionary pressure to populate the earth.

This secondary factor (ducks et al evolving to fill the homo sapien gap) seems less likely because according to Robin Dunbar, professor of Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Oxford (and several of their colleagues in this article on Gizmodo) it is highly likely that single species would rise to the top (in this case, ducks) and create a society consisting solely of consciously sentient ducks or, if they were feeling particularly merciful, a society of all avian species.

According to Robin Dunbar et al, because humans evolved to this level of intelligence, we’re preventing other species from evolving to conscious sentience alongside us by hunting them to extinction.

So, it stands to reason when we’re examining Ducktales and the duck/avian-centric storytelling, it’s likely they could’ve developed the same or similar need to destroy any species similar to them in adapting intelligence. Such as, but not limited to: Mammals, other avians, marsupials, reptiles, etc., but as mentioned above, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Based on the multiple species present in Ducktales. 

Theory #3: The Human Involvement Theory

This theory is based on the research of Steven M. Platek from Georgia Gwinnett College who cites domestication and training as a viable way to aid in the evolution of non-human species. 

In this theory, I expect humans could’ve played a massive part in the evolution of these species. Maybe in the future, humans domesticate animals to the point of understanding the concept language (like the pets you see on tiktok using the buttons) giving them the ability to communicate with us. 

Then those pets using buttons have children and since children tend to imitate their parents, they also learn to use the buttons to communicate with humans. Then those pets have children and so on. 

Perhaps they would eventually develop past the need to use buttons to communicate by mimicking the sounds the buttons produce. This could cause them to gain a very rudimentary grasp on the human language to express their wants and needs. 

Then perhaps, over time, this could cause these animals to develop a more complex understanding of themselves and the world. While most animals have an impressive grasp on the concepts of community, hierarchy, and use of tools, they lack the ability to understand conscious sentience and use human language. So, I theorize that as their brains develop human language through rewards and eventually mimicry, they would also begin to gain consciousness to a level bordering on human intelligence in bridging communication gaps as examined in this article on The Atlantic.

The same could go for humans domesticating apes and species with the ability to communicate via sign language. It’s already been proven that once apes and monkeys learn sign language, they teach others how to use it (especially their children) in order to communicate their wants and needs to humans.

So, what if over time these animals developed their understanding of human languages to the point of rudimentary communication (similar to parrots, starlings, and magpies). Then humans have a mass extinction event and die off. Leaving room for these animals to grow and adapt with the ability of creating their own society.

The languages between these animals could die off without humans to communicate with them, similar to how when you’ve learned a secondary language you can forget it over time with disuse. Or, the languages these animals used to communicate with humans would become essential in them communicating between different animal groups in order to create the complex society we see in Ducktales today.

This third theory, I believe could be argued as the correct theory. If nothing else than seen the in Timefoon episode of Ducktales (Season 2 Episode 21) when Huey observes Bubba the Caveduck and is surprised to see him being far more advanced than he should be. 

The episode writes it off as him being a part of the McDuck line and being advanced due to being “sharper than the sharpies” and all that jazz, but it’s very likely it could be due to Bubba being raised by a human society that had gone extinct. This would explain his understanding of their adapted language (human English) and his love of chilli dogs (humans tend to feed their pets all manner of unsavory things while training them).  

I understand that applying scientific concepts to cartoons tends to ruin the mystique or disprove the fantastical and magical elements involved in these properties, but it is my belief that applying scientific understandings to children’s TV shows can help us in creating stories of our own and uplifting STEM careers. 

All three of these theories may very well be wrong and the ducks et al in Duckburg could’ve been zapped by the intelligence ray as seen in Double-O-Duck in You Only Crash Twice (Season 3 Episode 3) and adapted the way (I assume) Gidget adapted the Rescue Rangers or they could just simply be, but by examining all parts of a story, we can draw our own conclusions and create our own fantastical worlds with a better understanding of how they’re built.