Did you know cartoons were not created for kids? Did you also know initially the meaning of cartoons meant something different from what they mean today? That may sound crazy because today when we think about cartoons, even though adults also watch them, we associate them with children. So it wouldn’t be crazy to assume they were for them from the get go.

The origins of cartoons

Nowadays according to Merriam Webster cartoons mean “a humorous drawing,” “comic strip,” or “animated film or TV show,” but originally cartoons were “a design, drawing, or painting made by an artist as a model for the finished work.”

Noah Webster’s definition in 1828 in his dictionary defined cartoons as:

“A design drawn on strong paper, to be afterward calked [rubbed] through and transferred on the fresh plaster of a wall, to be painted in fresco,”

So initially, cartoons were what we call art, not to say today they aren’t, but back then art meant things like paintings to mosaics. That is very different to what we consider cartoons today.

Merriam Webster also says that the meaning began to change around 1843 to “a humorous drawing”. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the change in an announcement from the British humour magazine Punch from 1843:

“So cartoon began in Italian as the word for the material on which a drawing is made, then became the word for the drawing itself. Next, it came to mean a comic drawing, a series of drawings, or animation. The final stage in this progression is a metaphorical use meaning “caricature”

Why are cartoons an important educational tool?

Last month we wrote an article about the different ways people learn. We are unique as human beings as such it would make sense that we absorb information in different ways. English is not my first language, growing up I struggled with speaking it but through cartoons, I was able to improve my language and social skills.

According to Mash and co, colours are among the external factors that stimulate children before emotions. This is because there is evidence claiming that colours can send specific messages. For example, soft and pastel colours, commonly used in children’s rooms, convey a sense of calm, while bright colours such as red and yellow stimulate activity.

Cartoons use colours to communicate something. In fact, coloured moving images first capture children’s attention before they understand any message, providing them with a world full of symbols that reflect complex concepts to explain to a young child.

Maurizio Brasini, child psychology authority, explains that evils and orphans in cartoons have a real specific purpose:

“Fairy tales face problematic aspects of the child’s life and suggest solutions symbolically. For example, a stepmother represents the “bad part” of each mother: the relationship difficulties, misunderstandings, the feeling that the child feels that he has suffered injustice, fear of punishment, etc. Similarly, the orphan is a condition in which children are going to do without the parent, to tolerate their absence and face life without their support to win independence.”

When kids are young it’s hard for them to understand the heavy burdens of life and how to deal with them, but cartoons are the reassures that they can find solutions for themselves no matter how hard the obstacles may seem.

The downside of cartoons

Like anything else in life, there are pros and cons to cartoons as well. As much as there are educational cartoons, not all cartoons are for kids. In addition, channels nowadays don’t have parental guidance warnings so parents can know what to monitor. Which is why it’s vital to take the time and monitor what children are watching and decide whether it adds value to their knowledge or not.

For example, many people don’t enjoy cartoons like Cinderella or Rapunzel because these women were portrayed as helpless girls that waited for a man to come save them. That is not a message we want to tell young girls anymore and Disney has always been known to push the princess in distress narrative but they are also changing it. That’s why we see strong princesses like Moana and Elsa who don’t even have romance in the film anymore and they don’t wait to be saved, they save themselves.

Here are some random facts you might not know about some of your favourite cartoon characters

Elsa from Frozen was first written as a villain.

Pocahontas is the first (and so far only) Disney princess to have a tattoo.

Sulley from Monsters, Inc. is the hairiest Disney character.

Ursula in The Little Mermaid is based on a famous drag queen.

The Beast from Beauty and the Beast is a combination of seven different animals.

We all grew up watching cartoons; we have memories associated with specific cartoons. That’s how impactful they have become in our lives which is why it’s important to understand what they mean. So when you enjoy your favourite cartoons, try to understand what they are trying to tell you.


A novel without the letter ‘e’ actually exists. Read here to find out more.

Tell us: What are your favourite cartoons and why?