I'm always amazed when Saturday Morning cartoons end with an ethical lesson. I mean the cartoon itself is often incredibly unimaginative and intellectually deadening. It's pretty clear that this celebration of mediocrity is the real message of the show, regardless of what's tacked on at the end.
TV producers aren't the bad bad guys. They're just putting on what they think the public wants. It's the public that needs to be educated about cartoons and I think I'll take a shot at that right now. Sorry if I appear to be preaching to the choir.
Good, funny cartoons don't need a message at the end. The whole cartoon is a positive message.
First and foremost, a good cartoon always stimulates the intellect of the viewer, even when the subject matter is stupidity. In the cartoon above Rube Goldberg makes everybody look hilariously awkward but he manages to convey real sentiment as well. The two friends at the top and the married couple below are genuinely touching. This is the power real cartooning has. It can convey deep meaning at the same time it clowns around.
Even the color in a good cartoon is educational. I look at this creek BG above and I'm filled with wonder about the beauty of nature, and of shadow and silhouettes and hidden places. I'm reminded that spots of color in relative darkness can be awesomely mysterious and satisfying. Backgrounds like this remind us of the ability of subtle things to amaze.
Good cartoon color is immensely stimulating, all by itself. An artist will deliberately take two colors that clash and make them work together by adding a third color that relates them. When you first see them you rebel and want to say, "Hey, you can't do that!" but before you can get the thought out, you realize that the color does work. Improbable as it is, the darn thing works. That means the picture has educated you, made you more graphically sophisticated.
It's silly to take a cartoon (above) that never even attempts to do anything like that and praise it to the skies because it has a single positive message tacked on to the end. The cartoon itself is the message. By the time the fake message comes at the end, the real message has found its mark, and that message is sometimes: "Kids, never try to achieve. Do the easy thing. Let your mind go to sleep."
Funny cartoon drawings are often the most stimulating. The dog above is silly and hilarious for sure, but the hilarity forces you to pay more attention to the animal, and when you do you realize that the dog is the very essence of playful good will, energy and loyalty. The drawing exudes life force and seems to say, "Isn't it great to be alive?" It makes you want to be happy and make others happy. It may take a writer a whole book to achieve that, but a cartoonist can do it in a few strokes.
Cartoon drawings often get their effect by innovating or calling our attention to something we'd overlooked before. Here (above) the artist reminds us of the graphic nature of our own bodies, how we ourselves are designs which can be manipulated. Just thinking about this makes me want to draw. Good cartoons create artists, and people who appreciate art.
Can good cartoon drawings make kids think? You bet they can! The two hand drawings above certainly make me think. They increase my awareness of hands as an expressive instrument and fill me with awe to think that the human mind can find such a wealth of possibility in such a commonplace thing as a hand.
This drawing (above) isn't just lampooning one individual. It asks questions about the nature of femininity and beauty. It applies sophisticated design to a joke, and because the drawing is funny the questions it brings up stick in our minds.
There's something about this picture (above) that's...I don't know what to call it...mischievous. It makes me want to acquire skill so I can play jokes on people too. The skill of the humorous artist makes me want to hone my own skill, even if it's not related to art.
It's the job of artists to raise the bar in society. Our achievement in a public forum like TV should inspire others to be good at the things they do. But you can't inspire people if the cartoon is bland, even with a message tacked on to the end.
This (above) is a complex drawing disguised as a simple one. Here two worlds collide. It says a lot about the gulf between different types of people, and encourages us to see the clash of worlds in a humorous light, which is not a bad lesson to teach a kid. The little guy is made to seem rigid and ridiculous for disdaining the offer of friendship. No lengthy lecture. It's accomplished painlessly, in one funny drawing.
Should cartoons have messages tacked on? I can't imagine why. Good cartoons by their nature are already full of messages, even before the end comes along, and they're more nuanced and sophisticated than the phony, tacked-on kind.