Adventure Time ThemeToday's Tune:
Can we talk about the cross-audience appeal of Adventure Time? Because I think we should.
I generally avoid comparing television or film to novel writing because they're drastically different mediums. There are elements that work very well on screen that don't work so well in prose, and vice-versa. But sometimes I think we can find the connection and relate it in a way we can apply as kidlit writers. Once such connection is the script writing of Adventure Time and how it can appeal to both children and adults.
If you're unfamiliar with Adventure Time, you may want to check it out. It's a short cartoon show on Cartoon Network (at least here in the States), but you can find many snippets and episodes online. At first glance, it seems like your typical silly "Saturday morning" (actually Monday evening) cartoon about a 13-year old boy who goes on adventures with his magical dog-pal.
However, if you watch the show for any length of time, even adults may find themselves sucked in to the irreverent humor and sly under-the-radar jokes.
I find Adventure Time strikes a remarkable balance between genuinely kid-friendly entertainment and appeal for older audiences without sacrificing the fact that, at the end of the day, it's aimed at children. Many writers aim for cross-audience appeal in their kidlit without actually hitting the mark. So, what's different about Adventure Time?
The writers never forget their target audience. You can't have it all. You have to pick your audience, especially where kidlit is concerned. Harry Potter was written for fantasy-loving children, Twilight was written for teenage girls. Rowling and Meyer selected their audience and tailored their work to appeal most to that one audience. They didn't try to fit the kitchen sink into their work so it would appeal to everyone in the world. However, they happened to create characters and stories that resonated with people beyond their target audience. Usually when authors actively try to write for both children/teens AND adults, the story flops. It can't decide what it wants to be.
The writing isn't dumbed down. While Adventure Time is not actively written for an adult audience, neither is the show poorly written. Many times, people assume entertainment for children needs to be simple and superficial because kids can't understand or relate to anything else. Not true. Kids can think a character saying "ALGEBRAIC!" in place of "AWESOME!" is just as hilarious as adults. This is writing that doesn't assume kids are too dumb or adults are too experienced to think it's entertaining.
The humor is varied and doesn't try to be too much of any one thing. Adventure Time doesn't shy away from either poop jokes OR dry sarcasm. No, I'm not implying that every work for kids should contain satire AND fart jokes. It doesn't have to contain either of those things. The point is that the writing doesn't think too highly of itself, but it doesn't go for cheap shots only, either. It strikes a fitting balance between low brow and high brow. Something very different audiences can enjoy.
Likeable, entertaining characters. This is a big step to crafting something universally loved: people have to connect with the characters. If there's a variety of interesting characters who are fleshed out and have desirable traits (WITHOUT being too perfect), people of all ages can feel a connection.
It's easier to make something for a younger audience appeal to an older one. This depends entirely on a person's attitude -- some adults refuse to have anything to do with children's entertainment because they feel it's beneath them. Oh well. But in the end, adults have been children before. They remember what it's like to be that young, and those feelings of newness and excitement can be brought out in them again. Adults don't read YA or MG literature for the "adult appeal." They read it because it's intended for a younger audience. It speaks to the child that still exists inside them.
What do you think? Have you seen Adventure Time? Do you like it?