Do you remember them? Those albums featuring cartoon characters singing familiar and original songs in their wacky voices? They seem to have disappeared in recent times, but why?
There was a time when they were commonplace. Cheap vinyl records put out at an unfettered rate by studios to satisfy the hungry masses. Alvin and The Chipmunks is the most famous example, but there are many others from Disney, etc. Besides being a cheap (and profitable) novelty, they endeared kids to characters in an audible way outside of the visual programming of the cartoons themselves.
Time have changed though, and while Mickey Mouse still releases albums for preschoolers, any kid that’s graduated from that group has been left relatively high and dry, or to the mercy of tween stars and the top 40.
This is partly the reason for the decline in such records. Kids today don’t seem to have the same attachment to cartoons as their predecessors, and music seems to be one area in particular where the encroachment of the adult sector of the industry has seen fit to kill it off. Kidz Bop is still about, but they take adult hits and make them suitable for kids.
There are exceptions of course. Frozen (and Disney feature films in general) have long produced albums for the younger members of their audience. Yet such albums are almost always tied to an existing film. There doesn’t seem to be any appetite for releasing a standalone original album aling the lines of Simpsons Sing the Blues.
Changing tastes and changing markets have combined to make such records uneconomic. Cartoon characters find it difficult to undertake the world tour that makes contemporary albums profitable. Creating and producing an original album is, ironically enough too expensive these days without such a strategy, and in any case, studios have found alternative revenue sources that are easier to exploit.
Which is all rather disheartening, because we’ve seen increased collaboration between the music and film/TV worlds, and the amount of crossover between the two has never been greater. Animation remains out in the cold though; singers are more than willing to enter the world of an animated film or TV show. Yet such actions are almost never reciprocated.
Do viewers and fans simply perceive no need to listen to an original album by a cartoon star? Has whatever value that used to represent evaporated as the industry has increased in size? If not, why hasn’t the concept been exploited by someone else? It wouldn’t even need to be in the form of a TV show based around a singing group, just take a character that can sing, and give them another reason for fans to love them.
Both Gorillaz and Japanese vocaloid star Hatsune Miku are proof that fans can enjoy a musical experience from an animated character or characters. Surely in this day and age, animation music has graduated from cheap vinyl 45s for kids to more mature compositions aimed at teens and adults. The industry has done so in other ways and perhaps it’s time for the music to catch up.