Spiderman Gets Parents! (But Do Cartoon Characters Need Moms and Dads?)

Mom and Dad! Are you watching?

Have you heard the news?  Spiderman is going to get a mom and dad! In the next Spiderman movie! You’ll see them! Not that your kids will for some time, because the new Spiderman movie, like Batman 3, won’t be for kids.

Eventually Spidey’s parents will probably make their way into Marvel comic books and those “I can read!” books (level 1, 2, and 3).  That’s where we get most of our superhero information in our house.  As a superhero acting in the world, he really shouldn’t have parents around. They usually don’t.  Cartoon characters, well, they’re a mixed bag but parents are rarely central. We’re just not the point of cartoons. Adventure! Good and evil! That’s what counts.

So let’s look at the superheroes. We know that Peter Parker lives with his Aunt May.  Wonder Woman was an Amazon princess who won a contest setup by her mother the queen and then arrived in Washington to save us mere mortals for ourselves. And Superman, well, the man of steel was just a wee little thing when he was sent from another galaxy to our own.  So, superheroes don’t have parents.  Like orphans and step-children of fairy tales, they get to head out into the world, confront evil and come out on top.  Only superheroes have to do it in their underpants.

Now, if we look at cartoon characters, and I mean characters from the 70s and 80s shows, like those burning a whole through Facebook right now, sometimes there are parents, sometimes there aren’t, but they’re definitely more about family.  Take the old school Flintstones and Jetsons – intact families living in spaced out or rock hard circumstances. (Bam!)  The smurfs clearly had a parent around -Papa Smurf, although whose papa he was exactly is kind of up for grabs.  Babar doesn’t have parents, but he and Celeste sure do make a cozy royal household.  And Strawberry Shortcake, like Holly Hobbie, she must have had parents, but did we ever see them?  As with superheroes, for Holly and Strawberry Shortcake, parents don’t matter.  Adventures do!

Which is to say there’s all kind of lessons to be learned through both superheroes and cartoon characters. Sometimes there’s a parent around to distill them and put dinner on the table, sometimes there isn’t. If there isn’t, there’s usually an older, kind person to guide our young hero or heroine.  But the backstory for superheroes and cartoon characters is never the point. The point is the story the kid is watching on Saturday morning. It’s a world where kids go off on their own while parents sleep in and it’s a lot less terrifying than a lot of the old school fairy tales. As kids imagine themselves going out into the world on their own and figuring out who’s good and who’s bad and where they fit in, parents are really an afterthought. (So much for all that overparenting.) So it’s nice that Spiderman’s getting some parents.  It means two more actors will get jobs!  But as far as the kids are concerned, they’re doing all right without them.

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