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Cartoon Network turns 30 and millennials are nostalgic, feeling older than ever

Launched in India on 1 May, 1995, Cartoon Network offered a bedrock for animated content to the cable TV watching generation, aka the millennials.

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With a cartoon library of over 10,000 shows, especially popular ones such as The Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, Ed, Edd & Eddy and Teen Titans, television channel Cartoon Network was a favourite in nearly every household during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Last month, the channel turned 30 and to commemorate it, the network screened an all-day marathon of cartoon classics, sending many on a nostalgic trip down the golden 90s.

Launched in India on 1 May, 1995, Cartoon Network offered a bedrock for animated content to the cable TV watching generation, aka the millennials, and has since retained a resounding brand recall in the Indian market.


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Why was Cartoon Network different 

For those growing up in the 90s and early 2000s, India had a limited selection of entertainment options and shows on Cartoon Network were a cut above the rest.

Agastya Pulapaka, a 21-year-old student of applied mathematics at the University of Washington, said the channel was a window to American cartoons.

Cartoon Network understood what was needed to capture a young kid’s imagination with its emphasis on on-screen entertainment, that was less dialogue heavy and more action packed,” Pulapaka told ThePrint.

Cartoon Network was the equivalent to my parents’ Star World night time entertainment,” Pulapaka added.

The shows on Cartoon Network were known for their whacky, individualistic sense of wit and style. Series such as The Powerpuff Girls and Courage the Cowardly Dog often had viewers from even the remotest corners of the country.

The offbeat adventures of Courage, a cowardly dog who must overcome his own fears to heroically defend his owners from danger, is one of Cartoon Network’s highly-rated shows.

John Scaria, a 21-year-old student in Delhi, recalled some of his earliest memories watching the show. Scaria said Courage the Cowardly Dog was open to all kinds of analysis — some fan theories suggest Courage suffered from schizophrenia and what he saw were manifestations of his fears.

“And as a child, that fear was symbolic of the unknown. You were either curious about this unknown realm or struck with fear,” he told ThePrint.


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Language of bonding 

John Y John, a 32-year-old service design strategist based in Florida, US, reminisced about his ‘Cartoon Network days’ while on summer vacations in Kerala. According to John, these cartoons facilitated language-building skills for children, helping them pick up English words in the most fun and engaging way possible.

“I have this fond memory when two of my cousins came to my house one evening. One knew only English and the other knew only Malayalam, but when we sat together in front of the TV, they started speaking in cartoon terms — they’d go back and forth throwing around cartoon names and terms and that’s how they bonded,” he told ThePrint.

Tejas Menon, 33, co-founder of Geek Fruit, a pop culture collective and podcast, said Cartoon Network has consistently put out top-notch content till date.

When asked how American cartoons found resonance in Indian households, Menon told ThePrint, “Cartoon Network, when compared to Nickelodeon or Disney, ranked because they made stories about suburban kids, living on cul de sacs, trying to make growing up fun.”

Menon also said how Cartoon Network, with its eclectic range of shows such as Tom and Jerry, The Jetsons and Scooby Doo, was able to offer animation education to children. The channel also helped kids accept non-verbal entertainment and gravity-defying physics as fun and normalised, he added.

And why do 90s children revel in the nostalgia of Cartoon Network? According to Menon, the network was able to find a “sweet spot”, between the post Cold War years and 9/11 terror attack. He said that it felt like “an innocent time” and the shows created then wanted to exemplify the carefree nature of growing up.

‘Ahead of its time’

Cartoon Network was one of the first TV channels that brought anime to young Indian audiences in the late 90s and early 2000s. Pokemon, Dragon Ball-Z and Beyblade had a massive popularity base of their own.

According to a survey early this year by digital entertainment company JetSynthesis, 83 per cent of Indians preferred anime over other animated content. When Cartoon Network offered anime in collaboration with Toonami, it paved the way for release of the Japanese animation series on OTT platforms today.

Cartoon Network is also fondly remembered for the diversity it brought to the table. Ahmad Rehan Shaikh, a 23-year-old research assistant based in Bengaluru, said the shows it offered were “ahead of its time”. One of Shaikh’s top watches included The Powerpuff Girls.

“If you think about it, it wasn’t the most conventional show. Not very often do you have a single father raising three superhero girls that fight a crazy monkey with an exposed brain on screen,” he told ThePrint.

Menon similarly spoke how characters in ‘Ed, Edd and Eddy’ represented the “weirdness” of millennial culture. He also mentioned ‘Craig of the Creek’ that had a Black lead character. He recognised influences and references to Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of The Shining in the popular cartoon show Dexter’s Laboratory. Cartoon Network was able to consistently create a “unique grammar of storytelling,” he said.

Dhira Rinny Singh, a 17-year-old student based in Bengaluru, said Cartoon Network always catered to a wide age group. “The animation and witty plot lines were for all age groups to engage with,” Singh told ThePrint.

On 11 October, Cartoon Network announced its merger with Warner Brothers’ animation division. While alarmed fans expressed concern and #RIPCartoonNetwork began trending on Twitter, the channel soon reassured them that they aren’t going anywhere just yet.

ThePrint reached Warner Brothers for a comment but failed to get a response till the time of filing this report.


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