When I interviewed Ben Bocquelet, the creator of The Amazing World Of Gumball, he mentioned that he was fond of his cartoon’s live-action backgrounds because it gave him hope that children would watch the show and wonder, even ever so slightly, if the quaint little town of Elmore could be real; if somewhere in the world, Gumball Watterson could be going about his day, getting involved in all sorts of antics in the process. It’s a wonderful notion, and one that makes me reminisce about my own youth when I would daydream about the characters from my favorite cartoons and continue their adventures outside of their shows’ traditional settings. It amused me well enough and it kept their shows in my thoughts, but no matter how much I wanted to believe, there was little fuel for such fantasies.
It’s a different world in which we live now, where everything is connected and children have access to so much information. Yet it doesn’t appear, at least from my perspective, that much has been done to change the way in which children engage the characters from their favorite cartoons. Fortunately, that may be changing thanks to transmedia storytelling and the willingness on the part of a new generation of thinkers who believe that it’s worth applying to children’s entertainment. If you take the world of a cartoon, and have it and its characters be represented online, it opens up so much. You can tell stories that you could never tell on television, providing children with a unique glimpse into the world and allowing them to become more passionate about the show.
It’s not enough to simply have a website, although websites themselves can be an incredible asset if they’re done right. Unfortunately, most of them are too impersonal and are often limited due to format requirements. If you would take the time to compare the US website and the UK website for The Amazing World Of Gumball, it’s like night and day. The UK website has charm; it was specifically designed to appear as if Gumball Watterson made the website. It is “constructed” out of cardboard, adorned with drawings and stickers, and the user interface is a “live stream” of his living room. You can look around and see what the characters are doing, and clicking on them loads up a description that was “written” by Gumball himself. There is more to it than that, but the website engages children and invites them into the world, which is a powerful thing. The US website, on the other hand, has a catchy tune and some graphics, but it lacks a personal touch and is just basic data presentation. That is counterproductive because children have little reason to care about the website and explore it, as there isn’t really any depth to it.
I have been using The Amazing World Of Gumball as an example because sometime in the near future they are going to launch their online world for the show. Ben Bocquelet said in that interview which I mentioned earlier that they intend to have the characters be represented through social media, such as Flickr, Twitter and YouTube. I am not privy to what they have planned, but it sounds like the characters themselves will be “actively” online, tweeting messages and uploading pictures of things that have happened in their world. I find that to be fascinating and I hope that it is a tremendous success, because if it is, this sort of thing could be the next great trend in children’s animation. It promotes the show, but it’s not intrusive. It’s informative, but it’s not naggy. I believe these campaigns could do a lot of good in getting more children interested in watching whatever show they are about.
It’s capable of making the shows better as well. Rebecca Denton, Senior Producer of Cross Platform Development at Cartoon Network Europe – and the person overseeing the online world – posted an insightful entry on her website in which she reveals that the crew working on Gumball have managed to use what they learned when creating the online material in order to come up with new plots for season two and refine their skills in general. As cliché as the term may be, that’s what you call a win-win; I can’t think of a single bad thing that could come from this. I am looking forward to seeing what they have in store, and if all goes well, I hope this will be a regular strategy for Cartoon Network in the future.
And perhaps Ben Bocquelet will get his wish. Imaginations are just as potent today as they were when I was a kid, but when you’re able to watch a cartoon on television and then continue experiencing it online, it gives kids a lot to work with. They will get to know these characters; to care about these characters. To them, they will be as real as anything else.