Cartoon Network launches Cartoonito, a preschool block

Cartoonito logo

On September 13, Cartoon Network launched Cartoonito, a preschool block of programming. The name “Cartoonito” was previously used for a similar block for Cartoon Network’s UK version, as well as a stand-alone channel in parts of Europe.

While Cartoon Network had two previous attempts at a preschool block (one in the 90s, another the mid-aughts’ short-lived “Tickle U” block), this is their most aggressive effort by far. Below, I look at why I think Cartoonito is worth the effort for Cartoon Network.

Cartoonito summary

Little Ellen

“Little Ellen,” plus Cartoonito’s educational summary “badge.” (Warner Bros.)

Cartoonito will run from 6 AM to 2 PM (ET/PT) on weekdays, and from 6 AM to 8 AM (ET/PT) on weekends. As such, Cartoon Network-proper on weekdays is down to just six hours, 2 PM to 8PM (ET/PT), while Adult Swim keeps its 8 PM to 6 AM (ET/PT) block. Checking, the Adult Swim-to-Cartoonito switchover keeps tamer shows in the 5 AM to 6 AM hour (such as “Samurai Jack”). The ads (from the switchover clips I saw on YouTube) also seem tamer, but there’s still a few promos for Adult Swim’s lineup near the 6 AM switchover. Something for any parents up early and tuning in early to keep in mind?

Cartoonito has its own unique (and cute) bumpers and mascots. Interestingly, the mascots (named Nito, Glob, Wedge, and Itty) all use gender-neutral (they/them) pronouns.

The block launched over two weeks with a handful of shows, including: “Lucas the Spider” (originally a YouTube series); “Esme & Roy” (from Sesame Workshop, of “Sesame Street” fame); and a “Thomas & Friends” 2D animated reboot. The block also brought back classic series such as “Baby Looney Tunes” (which has aired off and on over the years on Cartoon Network-proper) and “Caillou.” The last one was a surprise; “Caillou” got attention when PBS finally dropped the series earlier this year, plus the fact many adults dislike the series. (But again, kids like “Caillou,” which is why it’s here.)

The Cartoonito branding is also extending to HBO Max, where a few exclusive shows for that streaming service will air. This includes “Little Ellen,” an animated series starring a grade-school aged version of Ellen DeGeneres. While Ellen’s talk show is finally ending amidst some controversy, I assume this won’t affect “Little Ellen.”

Upcoming programming

Batwheels human cast

“Batwheels” human cast. (Warner Bros.)

Also interesting is the upcoming programming. Cartoonito plans to launch new shows featuring Warner Bros. and DC Comics’ classic characters.

“Bugs Bunny Builders”

Featuring the Looney Tunes as bumbling construction workers. The character models look like younger versions of “The Looney Tunes Show”’s models; the animation I saw looks excellent.

“Tom and Jerry Time”

A somewhat educational take on the cat and mouse duo.

“Batwheels”

The oddest one of the bunch. It’s a show about the Batmobile, which here is sentient (a la “Cars”/“Knight Rider”) and fights crime in Gotham City with the other also-sentient Bat-vehicles. A trailer suggests the Jokermobile (the Joker’s car in older comics) is an arch-nemesis.

While I’m sure it’ll be an interesting series to watch (and I do want to see what this looks like), it still sounds bizarre. That, and it draws attention to how over-reliant DC/Warner Bros. is on Batman, if they’re making a show about his car. I’ve not seen the film, but heard “Teen Titans Go to the Movies” has a joke about Warner making a movie about the Batmobile. I gather Cartoon Network took this idea seriously…

On the plus sides, the human cast includes Cassandra Cain as Batgirl; maybe Barbara will be Oracle in this series? “Batwheels” also is using Duke Thomas as Robin, marking the first African American Robin on a TV show or movie; Duke’s a newer Batman family character, but usually has his own heroic identity, “the Signal.”

Trailer

Here’s a trailer highlighting some of Cartoonito’s shows, plus the block’s theme song/logo:

Cartoon Network’s current state (and the reasons for Cartoonito)

Cartoon Network booth

“ComicCon2006-011” by woolennium is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Flickr / cropped from original)

As for why Cartoon Network’s showing an interest in the preschool space? In my opinion, they need to try something new and make major changes.

Ratings on Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network, plus their sister channels, have been declining for years, thanks to the rise of cord-cutting. That said, Cartoon Network’s ratings have fallen well behind Disney and Nick… not to mention, as of 2020, behind Disney Junior and Nick Jr.

Cartoon Network has also been heavily reliant on the same few shows for years, particularly “Teen Titans Go.” Looking at Monday’s Cartoon Network-proper schedule, it’s literally just three shows: “Amazing World of Gumball,” “Craig of the Creek,” and “Teen Titans Go.” Two of these date back to (or almost to) a decade ago. While these shows are popular, it also indicates a lack of new and/or successful programs. That said, I imagine they’ll eventually pare back Cartoonito’s time slots and return them to Cartoon Network.

Another possible factor: until now, it feels like Cartoon Network has mostly skewed to, or appealed to, older viewers than Nick or Disney. Nickelodeon emphasized “Nick is kids!” as a slogan for years; Disney Channel, being Disney, has “family friendly” as its built-in appeal. Cartoon Network, meanwhile, has emphasized their shows as more “irreverent,” “edgier,” or “hipper” in comparison (Looney Tunes, “Cartoon Cartoons,” the DC superhero cartoons, etc.).

Adult Swim, which debuted in 2001, seems like the culmination of this approach: a block that’s aimed at older teenagers or adults. Adult Swim’s been very popular, with ratings that eclipse Cartoon Network-proper by a good margin (though with “Family Guy” departing Adult Swim, I’m wondering how its ratings will be impacted). The Adult Swim block also takes up a whopping 10 hours of time, or almost half a day. Overall, it feels like younger kids haven’t been as big a priority for Cartoon Network, versus Nickelodeon and Disney’s preschool blocks becoming major cash cows and ratings grabs. “Paw Patrol,” “Dora the Explorer,” “Doc McStuffins,” etc. have been big hits.

It helps that Cartoon Network already has a successful preschool block/channel on their European versions, providing a model to do the same thing stateside. Cartoon Network’s also experimenting with a family movie/TV block (albeit mostly live action) on Sunday evenings, “Acme Night.” Cartoonito might also help build support for Cartoon Network long term: older Cartoonito viewers, or kids that age out, might stick around to watch Cartoon Network-proper?

Conclusion

Given all of the above, Warner Bros. and Cartoon Network wanting in on the preschool space via Cartoonito is understandable. Ratings are already mediocre, even accounting for cord-cutting; Cartoon Network already has an audience of older viewers (and “Teen Titans Go”/Adult Swim aren’t going anywhere); they need new ideas and material instead of just relying on the same few aging shows; Cartoon Network already has a successful preschool block/channel overseas; and preschool TV is lucrative.

The bumpers for Cartoonito look creative, and the block seems well thought out. Tying into HBO Max also helps with cross-promotion efforts (and Warner’s focus on streaming). Also, Warner is bringing in the “big guns” with Batman and Looney Tunes spin-offs, which suggests they’re quite serious. Hopefully, Cartoonito is a successful endeavor, even if it doesn’t end up as big as Nick or Disney’s own preschool blocks.

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