Adventure Time & Cross-Audience Appeal

| Friday, September 9, 2011
Today's Tune: Adventure Time Theme

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?


{ kirstenlopresti } at: September 9, 2011 at 7:34 AM said...

I haven't seen it. I'm excited to check it out, though, because so many kids shows do not appeal to adults. Not to name names, but Barney is one. Also Teletubbies. I can't tell you how happy I was when my kids outgrew those two.

{ Cristina } at: September 9, 2011 at 8:02 AM said...

we are BIG BIG BIG fans of Adventure TIme...= it's so freaking cute AND funny... and every once in a while inappropriate, but my kids are young enough that they don't get it.. and possibly too young for the show.. or not.

{ Lori M. Lee } at: September 9, 2011 at 8:24 AM said...

I LOVE Adventure Time. I'm especially fond of Lady Rainicorn :D

{ Phire } at: September 9, 2011 at 3:11 PM said...

This is a really great dissection of the show. I've only recently started watching the show, and even then only a few episodes, but the characters are so charming and likeable that you can't help but get sucked into it.

As a recovering anime fan, I've got nothing against watching things that may not be considered dignified for Proper Adults to watch, but I would rather the kid-tainment I consume to be genuinely good, rather than something I need to approach ironically.

{ Sangu } at: September 9, 2011 at 4:49 PM said...

I haven't seen it, but you make some really great points about genre here!

{ Jessica Love } at: September 9, 2011 at 5:26 PM said...

I haven't seen this show, but that second picture is the cutest thing ever.

{ anonymeet } at: September 9, 2011 at 5:57 PM said...

I've never seen the show, but I love your post! I particularly love the points that MG and YA lit should neither be written down nor written up. It is what it is and that's why people love it.

{ Shelley Sly } at: September 10, 2011 at 8:34 AM said...

Yes! I love Adventure Time! My favorite character is Lumpy Space Princess. :D

{ Brooke R. Busse } at: September 10, 2011 at 11:03 AM said...

I'll take Adventure Time over The Regular Show though I still feel cartoons are just going down hill. I miss my Powerpuff Girls and Courage the Cowardly Dog and Dexter's Laboratory. -sigh-

Anonymous at: February 16, 2012 at 3:41 PM said...

I agree with all of this. The show is such a good mix of children and adult entertainment. It's a good show to relax the mind, but keeps you alert for hidden jokes and references. And I find the animation and characters refreshingly creative and odd. I just hope the writers don't run out of ideas and begin making comparatively poorer episodes. I'd probably watch them anyway!

Anonymous at: May 27, 2012 at 5:26 PM said...

My 7 yr old recently got me hooked. 5 minutes in I knew there was much more to this strange, cute universe. I think the show goes even one step further than your article suggests. It's brilliance is in how it goes and rescues the inner child that is often lost in the wilderness of our adulthood. It creates 20 minutes of cathartic entertainment on 2 levels.

{ anewblogger } at: October 26, 2012 at 10:01 PM said...

What's great about the show is now it started creating this character depth, revealing this huge background story, and expanding the world a lot. Things are getting more epic and interesting as the characters get more real. I like to interpret it that way, at least... :P

{ 4fc6c2da-3506-11e2-8359-000bcdcb5194 } at: November 22, 2012 at 4:40 PM said...

I think the show also heavily appears to drug soft users and psychedelic users. At least in my case it does I dont condone drug use but the shows bright layout and open minded satirical nature is perfect for under the influence and because its made for kids an intoxicated person can follow along.

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