Why Millennials Watch Cartoons with their Kids

Classic characters from your childhood are back. Here are five franchises to watch.

By Emily Fata
Why Millennials Watch Cartoons with their Kids

Photo: Nelvana

Great news: our favourite television characters from our past are no longer just distant memories for parents; retro brands are making a comeback and are bringing us the comforting embrace of treasured childhood memories. Care Bears, Babar, Thomas & Friends, Sesame Street and The Hardy Boys are just a few examples of characters now captivating a whole new generation. The resurgence of ’90s classics demonstrates the lasting power of nostalgia in an ever-evolving pop culture landscape, where the new frequently overshadows the old.

Mellany Welsh, VP and Head of Nelvana and Kids Can Press, and Athena Georgaklis, VP of Nelvana Studios share why retro animation is back and how it’s bringing families together.

“While I think it always existed in some shape or form, the nostalgia trend has become more prevalent and is showcased more than ever before, from activities like seeing a kid-targeted movie without kids to buying McDonald’s adult Happy Meals with collectible toys. It’s a fun way to relive one’s childhood, which can bring out feelings of joy, and it can boost your mood—who wouldn’t want that?” asks Welsh.

A Bonding Opportunity

Along with enjoying the opportunity to introduce their kids to characters they once loved (and likely still do), parents and guardians are finding that shared nostalgia helps them connect with their kids on a deeper level. These characters turn into a common ground where morals are gently woven into family conversations, stories are shared and lessons are learned.

“Many of us Canadians grew up watching Nelvana-produced shows and the shows we represent,” Mellany told us. “Today, those same people are sharing these beloved experiences with their own kids, and even their grandkids. Brands like Sesame Street, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019, continue to have strong co-viewership amongst adults and kids.”

Revamped for a Modern Audience

The shows aren’t just running in reruns. There’s been a thoughtful and imaginative reworking of cherished characters to appeal to new, contemporary audiences. “If you have children in your life, you see how much savvier they are with technology and with content consumption,” Athena explained. “A preschooler today will be exposed to more media than any generation before them. It is our job to understand how stories engage them and if we need to adapt our storytelling to how they like to consume it today.”

Instead of lessening the magic of these characters, this modern adaptation strengthens it. Parents are amazed at the creativity that goes into these imaginative transformations, while children are introduced to beloved faces through new and exciting perspectives (and, typically, revamped animation styles). These characters’ enduring appeal is demonstrated by the fact that their core qualities have not changed since they were first introduced years ago.

How classic 80s and 90s cartoons have evolved for Gen Z and Gen Alpha kids

Care Bears

Why Millennials Watch Cartoons with their Kids

The Care Bears franchise, which launched in 1985, embarked on a modernized journey with its reboot in the spring of 2019. The latest rendition, Care Bears: Unlock the Magic, preserved the heartwarming themes of friendship, caring and teamwork while breathing new life into the beloved characters. This adaptation cleverly updated the animation style, seamlessly integrating it with contemporary aesthetics. Moreover, it introduced fresh faces to the Care Bears universe, ensuring resonance with today's audiences while staying true to the franchise's timeless values.

Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends

Since its inception in 1984, Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends has been a cherished part of childhoods worldwide. Originally inspired by The Railway Series books by Rev. W. Awdry, the show's reboot in 2021 marks a significant milestone in its evolution. Over the years, the series underwent a remarkable transformation, embracing CGI animation techniques to enhance storytelling and visual appeal. Notably, this modernization introduced a diverse array of new characters, reflecting a more inclusive approach in the later iterations. Now known as Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go, the show continues to captivate audiences with its timeless charm and vibrant storytelling.


Why Millennials Watch Cartoons with their Kids


Babar, the beloved elephant king, first graced screens in 1989, in a television adaptation inspired by Jean de Brunhoff's classic children's book series. The reboot journeyed into new territory in 2010, with Babar and the Adventures of Badou. This adaptation included updated animation techniques and storytelling styles, breathing new life into the timeless tales. While preserving the foundational themes of friendship, family, and leadership, the reboot appealed to contemporary audiences with its fresh approach. Through the adventures of Babar and his grandson Badou, the series continues to inspire generations with its enduring charm and valuable life lessons.

The Hardy Boys

First published in 1927 under the pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon, The Hardy Boys series has long captivated readers with its thrilling mysteries. Transitioning to television in 2020, the franchise received a contemporary makeover on Hulu. Despite the passage of time, the reboot managed to retain the essence of the original stories, focusing on the adventures of brothers Frank and Joe Hardy as they unravel perplexing cases. Through a modernized setting and storytelling approach, the series adeptly balances nostalgia with fresh perspectives, emphasizing the enduring bond of brotherly camaraderie amidst the intrigue of solving mysteries.

Sesame Street

Why Millennials Watch Cartoons with their Kids

Sesame Street, a cornerstone of children's television since its debut in 1969, remains a beacon of educational entertainment. Created by Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett, the show revolutionized early childhood education with its innovative blend of live-action, puppetry and animation. As Sesame Street evolves to meet the changing needs of young learners, its continuous relevance is evident through significant revamps over the years. The 2002 overhaul introduced updated sets, characters and curriculum, ensuring alignment with contemporary educational standards. Despite these changes, Sesame Street remains steadfast in its core mission of educating and entertaining children worldwide, exemplifying the enduring power of playful learning.

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