Cartoons have changed since The Flinstones and The Jetsons were the be-all-end-all animation offerings on television.
Like audiences, cartoons have grown and matured, expanding upon the basic idea of what a cartoon series, thought to be targeted solely at children, could accomplish. Samurai Jack creator Genndy Tartakovski addressed the change in the cartoon industry during an interview with Polygon. Tartakovski said when he brought Samurai Jack back to Adult Swim he was worried that he would be viewed as the old man in a room full of younger talent and that audiences would find his work boring.
Tartakovski said cartoons have begun to feel like independent cinema; a move he considers positive. That also means, however, that the cartoon landscape has become weirder. More avant-garde cartoons are common and, with the growth of networks like Adult Swim, the audience is ready to embrace more abstract series. The comedy in cartoons has become more absurd and Tartakovski was concerned that after more than a decade of being off the air, audiences wouldn’t want a show like Samurai Jack.
“There’s a very different style of storytelling now where things just kind of happen,” Tartakovksi said, pointing to series like Adventure Time and Regular Show. “It’s this stream of consciousness, whereas we focused on more of a classic story structure. It’s all great, but that’s the biggest change I’ve experienced. I remember thinking, ‘Am I the old man?’ People aren’t telling stories the way I’m telling stories. I believe in what I do, but I wondered if it was boring. Look, a director’s role is to always question yourself. Is this going to be good or is this going to be bad?
“You try to have a stupid confidence and convince both yourself and everyone around you that you know what you’re doing.”
Part of the reason Tartakovski was concerned is because Samurai Jack runs a little slower than most shows. There isn’t much dialogue; the show relies on painterly, Stanley Kubrick-style static scenes. The combination of music and artwork, Tartakovski said, is used to evoke emotion from an audience that dialogue often can’t. Tartakovski relies on the audience paying attention to what’s happening around Jack’s journey to get the full experience.
“We use music, sound effects color and the right composition to tell a story,” Tartakovski said. “You can have a person sitting there and the use of the right color temperature, lighting and music can be more powerful than filler dialogue. After Jack is wounded and he’s just moving through the forest, we had this music cue. It was so powerful and what’s great about animation is that it gives you the idea of the emotion he’s feeling. Because it’s not a realistic act, you can read more into the scene and it hits you deeper because you’re filling in the gaps.”
Despite Tartakovksi’s fears, the reaction to most of Samurai Jack was positive. Complaints about the finale were some of the strongest fans had, but those had nothing to do with the stylistic qualities of the show. Now, Tartakovski works in feature films, currently prepping for Hotel Transylvania 3, but he told Polygon Jack was one of the biggest artistic endeavors and is damn proud of how it turned out.
The fifth season of Samurai Jack will be available to purchase on Blu-ray on Oct. 17.