When you think of adult animation, the images that spring to mind are often of America’s favorite yellow family, a foul-mouthed robot, or anything by Seth MacFarlane. The Simpsons, Futurama, and Family Guy have been dominating the cartoon market for as long as I can remember.
As time goes by, newer creative voices will inevitably enter the arena, bringing with them fresh ideas and concepts. No longer is the medium of animation relegated to simplistic concepts for kids and gross-out humor. Instead, there is a rich abundance of computer-generated art for a variety of tastes and preferences.
However, with so much choice out there, it can be all too easy to fall victim to decision paralysis; endlessly scrolling through Netflix, unable to choose between any of the options whilst your dinner gets cold.
While I’m by no means an expert, I spend a lot of my time-consuming media in various forms. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking you through some of the recent adult animations that I’ve been watching. Maybe, you’ll discover something new to love or maybe you’ll find something to disagree with me about, either way, I get to watch a lot of cartoons.
Big Mouth – Little Disappointing
Big Mouth reflects an exaggerated caricature of the writers’ own experiences of puberty, focusing hard on the chaotic and often disturbing nature of adolescence. Each member of the ensemble cast has their suite of monsters catering to their emotional needs – from Hormone Monsters and Shame Wizards to Lovebugs and Hateworms.
The stylized art style exaggerates the features that teenagers hate most about themselves, with awkward proportions, thin lips, and overly detailed eyes – all the better to see emotions with. Since the focus of the show is on children’s puberty, this sensationalist style allows it to portray the parts of teenage sexuality that would likely offend people otherwise, as encapsulated by Connie the Hormone Monstress (Maya Rudolph): “I mean, maybe if it’s animated we can get away with it.” The world of adult animation lets the creators work through their personal trauma on-screen without veering into the inappropriate.
Unfortunately, this means the visuals are more of an afterthought instead of the driving force that they could be. Though the use of animation was necessary, the show feels written like a single-camera comedy show akin to The Office or Brooklyn Nine-Nine rather than a purpose-drawn animation.
Talking About Taboos
Though the animation itself may not be visually appealing, Big Mouth’s strength lies in its unflinching look at taboo subject matters. The show can often be exceptionally graphic, often leaning into the grotesque, highlighting the gross nature of puberty.
Creators Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett do a wonderful job of portraying the harsh realities of growing up while trying situations like teenage love, parental divorce, and the dreaded period.
Several of the episodes feel stretched out and long despite the relatively short runtimes. While not every episode knocks it out of the park, there’s more good than bad here which isn’t something that can be said of every adult animation.
Human Resources – Bigger and Bugger
New spin-off Human Resources builds on the original concept by moving further into adulthood. This time, the emotions of the adults are under the microscope as the series deals with more complex issues and different kinds of relationships. Characters experience postpartum depression, professional competition, and general workplace conflicts as we are introduced to new monsters like Dante the Addiction Angel, voiced by none other than Hugh Jackman; and Grief, a cozy and dangerous jumper played by Henry Winkler.
The series focuses on the emotion monsters and their interpersonal relationships as they go about their work, often exhibiting traits that are inconsistent with their professional obligations. The main character is a Lovebug, a job that requires positivity, joy, and an experience of true love. Instead, she is constantly critical of her clients’ flaws, usually drunk and constantly lusting after her on-again, off-again “boink-buddy,” Dante. This creates a delightful sense of tension that acts as the engine of the show, quickly moving the action along so the episodes never feel dragged out.
Seemingly unconnected stories are woven together in unexpected ways that help the world feel lived in. As the series progresses, the stakes begin to increase, leaving you wanting more at the end of every episode and disappointed when the first season ends before answering all your burning questions. It’s clear that the writers are more comfortable discussing these adult situations, likely since the events that inspired the narrative happened more recently in their lives.
Shows with Showtunes
Both Big Mouth and Human Resources are filled with catchy musical numbers that are sure to be stuck in your head for days after viewing; although the majority of the voice actors are less than musically inclined so the vocals can often be lacking. The composer Mark Rivers tries hard to ensure his songs reflect the tone of the accompanying episode, balancing the blunt language with the overall positive attitude of both shows.
The songs are often used to advance the story, leaning heavily on the lyrics with simplistic melodies. Each number is closely workshopped with the writing team to pin down the correct tonal style to match the intended vision. For Big Mouth, there was an additional challenge as the majority of the songs are sung by children, meaning he needed to avoid any lyrics that felt out of place or overly negative.
Though some fans think the songs are unnecessary, I firmly believe that any show with a musical number is better than a show without one. Clearly, I am not alone in this as Mark Rivers received his first Emmy nomination in 2018 for the song “Totally Gay” – a Queen-inspired ballad sung by the ghost of Freddie Mercury (Brendan McCreary).
I’ll be taking a look at Love, Death, and Robots, an anthology of short films from Blur Studios. This adult animation series is unique in its approach as every short is developed independently by different production teams in a variety of distinct animation styles ranging from cartoony to hyper-realistic. The episodes are all themed around a central element of the title in a range of genres including horror, drama, comedy, fantasy, and even arthouse.