Many parents are relieved that their children are back in school and not sitting in front of television watching cartoons that are violent, illogical, sprinkled with crude language, and send bad messages. Ditto for Internet animation.
The so-called “objectionable” cartoons are relatively mild by Western standards, and some of them contain positive messages, such as environmental protection and the importance of loyalty, determination and team work.
But there are negative elements as well.
Some parents, including those who work and cannot supervise their children, worry about the quality and quantity of the cartoons and fear their children will imitate the worst actions of cartoon characters.
Many children do imitate what they see in TV cartoons, says Song Wei who has taught at Xiaohonghua kindergarten in Shanghai for 32 years.
“Some children are violent both verbally and physically. They hit each other and say things like ‘I’m gonna kill you’ because that’s what they see in animations. Young children cannot distinguish reality with fantasy, and these kinds of programs can be misleading.”
Her colleague Qian Yueshui, who has taught for 24 years, says the cartoons use many idioms and slang that make it difficult for children to learn proper Mandarin.
“There aren’t many good Chinese animations on TV now,” she observes.
The objectionable works are mostly Chinese, avidly consumed by uncritical young children who can’t yet distinguish between good and bad influences, parents and teachers say.
The cartoons are aired on CCTV, the state television station, and many other local channels. “After watching ‘Boonie Bears’ for two years, my son sometimes tells me to ‘go to hell’ and ‘go die’,” says high school teacher Wang Yongqin.
The TV series revolves around bears trying to save a forest from loggers.
Parents see violent acts such as people being set on fire and a man waving a deadly chain saw. Illogical events also concern some parents, one of them citing goats beating up a wolf.
What parents want are fun and educational cartoons designed for younger children, toddlers up to children around age 10.
Some want to see more old-fashioned Chinese cartoons and imports such as “The Croods” about prehistoric people.
The most popular productions with children are Chinese cartoons such as “Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf,” “Boonie Bears” and assorted films and Japanese animation about monsters fighting robots.
High school teacher Wang limits her 7-year-old son to watching TV only Friday and Saturday nights when school is not in session. During summer break he can watch more, but there’s a constant loop of the same films.
“He watches them repeatedly on TV, as well as cartoons and animations on the Internet,” Wang says. “He has watched many episodes of ‘Pleasant Goat’ and every time I watch it with him he says he still thinks it’s fun. It’s really a waste of time.”
“Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf” is one of the most popular Chinese animation TV series since it was first aired in 2005. It is about a group of goats living on the Green Pasture who are threatened by a clumsy wolf who wants to eat them. Characters include a goat named Pleasant, and a wolf pair Gray Wolf and Red Wolf.
The wolves are always trying to eat the goats but fail, because the goats are clever and manage to find ways out. The goats sometimes beat the wolves up.
Most popular cartoon
Produced by Creative Power Entertaining, a Guangdong Province-based animation company, the series contains 1,050 15-minute episodes. It is praised as one of the best original Chinese animations in the past 10 years. In 2010 it was shown overseas on Disney affiliate Buena Vista.
The franchise has released five successful films, the latest being “Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf — Happy Sheep Before the Year of the Snake.” It was released in January and the initial box office was 124 million yuan (US$20 million).
Spin-off products, such as dolls, clothing and books, are popular.
“My son sometimes says ‘I’m going to hit you with a saucepan,’ — that’s what Red Wolf always says to the husband Gray Wolf,” Wang says. “He also asked me if a saucepan can actually kill someone.”
In an extreme example in May, a 9-year-old boy in east China’s Jiangsu Province, set fire to two brothers, aged 5 and 8, acting out a scene from the “Pleasant Goat” TV series. They suffered severe burns. The victims’ parents are suing the filmmakers and seeking an apology.
Tina Dai’s 4-year-old daughter has been watching “Pleasant Goat” for a year and sometimes imitates the characters, her mother says.
“She did not learn positive things. She said the Gray Wolf is very stupid and gets tricked by the goats. I have to teach her that real wolves are actually very smart. That confused her. This sort of thing is common.”
Professor Wu Gang at East China Normal University said that more people should create appropriate animation and films for children with social responsibility in mind. He is an expert in education and film.
“Young children are in the period of learning language, so the animations should be educational, have accurate language, and help children’s psychological development,” Wu said.
Liu Jian’s 5-year-old son has been watching cartoons for two or three years and Liu says it’s mostly fun but not particularly educational.
“Foreign animations like ‘The Croods’ are better. They can teach and at the same time they’re still funny,” Liu says.
Dai agrees with Liu. She prefers foreign animations such as “The Lion King” and “Ice Age.”
Fun and educational
“These are fun for parents too. There’s nothing negative. It’s simple and logical and both inspirational and fun,” Dai says. “A big problem with Chinese animations is that they mix too many elements of the adult world.”
Another popular series with children is the comic “Boonie Bears” — about protecting a forest from logging — created by Fantawild Holdings in Shenzhen, Guangdong. The first 104 episodes were aired on CCTV in January 2012. Now there are 312 13-minute episodes.
The main characters are a logger named Vick, two bears named Briar and Bramble as well as a squirrel named Warren. The story focuses on the battle between the logger and the bears as Vick wants to cut down the trees and harm the forest. The animals try to protect their home.
The animation is very well made with vivid visual effects, but many parents say it’s too violent, including many fight scenes and bad language, as when Vick the logger frequently waves a chain saw and shouts “Bad bear, I’m gonna kill you!”
Dai asserts that old Chinese animations such as “Black Cat Detective” are much better, and that’s also her daughter’s favorite.
“Black Cat Detective” released five episodes in 1984 and 12 in 1993. The main character is a black cat sheriff who stops villains in the forest. He is one of the most beloved cartoon figures in China.
“We don’t have a choice of what to watch on TV now, but they could bring back these better-made old animations like ‘Magic Brush’ and ‘Little Tadpoles Looking for Mummy’,” Dai says.
The cartoons do have their defenders who point out positive messages — environmental protection, loyalty, team work — and suggest that parents exercise guidance.
Li Bin, general manager of Fantawild Holdings, emphasizes “Boonie Bears” positive message. He has a verified Sina Weibo account using the ID of Logger Vick.
This month he posted an article saying: “The idea of creating ‘Boonie Bears’ was to use the theme of protecting the forests and stopping excessive logging, which is the concept of the entire series. We hope to teach the children to protect the forests and love the environment.”
Li also said the series is exported and welcomed by many viewers. To develop the story, the series uses diverse language and varied action to boost the humor. He acknowledged that there are different views and said the filmmakers welcome feedback. He also said children need parental guidance in watching TV.
• TV operator
The reason the animations are played over and over is because repetition makes it easier for young children to consume information, according to Ye Chao, deputy general manager of Toonmax Media, a subsidiary company of SMG that has two channels for young people in Shanghai, Haha TV and Toonmax TV.
Different episodes of shows like “Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf” and “Boonie Bears” may seem the same to parents, but they are changing all the time, introducing new stories, Ye says.
The channels not only show popular animations, but also produce their own. This year they are showing a new production “Rabbit Gang” that’s adapted from the cartoon by Wei Chengeng, who goes by the name of 19Van.
“We choose the content for broadcast based on the target audience,” Ye said. “Haha TV has both animation and non-animation programs. Some are also related to science.”
He suggested that parents spend some time watching programs with children and guide them.