Trope Talk: Cartoon Characters who act much younger/older than their age

TheMisterManGuy

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Have you ever been watching a cartoon and start thinking to yourself "wait, this person is __ years old, yet he's overly excited for a petting zoo?" Because the main demographic of most American animated series is kids ages 6 to 11, characters who are above that age range tend to act more like the target audience as opposed to their actual age, or act way older than that age to create aspirations within kids. TVtropes calls this a kiddie kid.

The most famous example is SpongeBob SquarePants. He's a working adult with a house, a job, and a life. Yet, the yellow sea sponge often acts like someone much younger, perhaps more like the children who are his target audience. This is not necessarily a bad thing mind-you. Child-like characters who are "old" can be done right, and SpongeBob (at least early SpongeBob) is one such example.

Another such example would be the title character of Disney's Pepper-Ann. The show says she's 12, the show says she's in the 7th grade, yet Pepper-Ann herself doesn't look, act, or feel 12, nor a 7th grader. She acts more like an overgrown 9-year old most of the time, with her loud neon-colored wardrobe, and low-stakes problems. While it's not uncommon for kids to still want to be kids for a little while longer, a most of actual 12 year olds look act and talk much closer to teenagers than young children (since they're only a year away from being official).

Generally speaking, any cartoon where the protagonist is 12-13 years old is often (not always) going to act much younger than that age. Middle schoolers are that weird age where they're a bit older than the 6-11 target demographic, but still young enough to appeal to that age group, which is why Middle School is a very common setting in children's media.

The same can also apply vice versa, where you get characters that act a bit too old for their age. All Grown Up! is a perfect example of a show that is the exact opposite of Pepper Ann. If Pepper Ann acted a bit too young for a 12 year old, then the AGU! Rugrats act a bit too old for their ages of 11-13, especially the main 6, who act more like mini-16 year olds than the 12 year olds they supposedly are. Arthur is another good example where our 8 year old protagonists often roam around unsupervised and speak with adult-level vocabulary.

Then there are cases where characters act very much their age. Not too young, not too old. The Powerpuff Girls ironically, very much act like real Kindergarteners. Sure they have supper powers, and fight crime. But their problems, thought processes, and attitudes are very accurate to real 5-year olds.

What other characters can you think of that acted too old or young for their age, and do you think this trope is a bad thing?
 

Red Arrow

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Arnold from Hey Arnold and Otto from Time Squad come to mind, but I like to believe that there actually are some children who do act like that. Otto was also forced to grow up since he didn't live in a child-friendly environment.
 

Dr.Pepper

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I’m going to have to disagree with Pepper Ann. I will admit, it’s been a while since I’ve seen the show, but I never felt she was too childish. In fact I found her incredibly relatable when I was in middle school.

I always thought Dee Dee from Dexter’s Lab was about eight, but she’s in sixth grade. Her behavior is extremely childish.
 

Red Arrow

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I always thought Dee Dee from Dexter’s Lab was about eight, but she’s in sixth grade. Her behavior is extremely childish.
Dee Dee is 11 for most of the series but isn't she even older in season 4? It looks that way in Beau Tie.

She indeed acted childish for her age. It was a little bit the premise of the show.
 

JoeMabbon

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Teen Titan Go! usually has the cast behave like children, but then have them discuss things like student loans and retirement plans, things actual teenagers are only dimly aware of.
 

LinusFan303

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Have you ever been watching a cartoon and start thinking to yourself "wait, this person is __ years old, yet he's overly excited for a petting zoo?" Because the main demographic of most American animated series is kids ages 6 to 11, characters who are above that age range tend to act more like the target audience as opposed to their actual age, or act way older than that age to create aspirations within kids. TVtropes calls this a kiddie kid.

The most famous example is SpongeBob SquarePants. He's a working adult with a house, a job, and a life. Yet, the yellow sea sponge often acts like someone much younger, perhaps more like the children who are his target audience. This is not necessarily a bad thing mind-you. Child-like characters who are "old" can be done right, and SpongeBob (at least early SpongeBob) is one such example.

Another such example would be the title character of Disney's Pepper-Ann. The show says she's 12, the show says she's in the 7th grade, yet Pepper-Ann herself doesn't look, act, or feel 12, nor a 7th grader. She acts more like an overgrown 9-year old most of the time, with her loud neon-colored wardrobe, and low-stakes problems. While it's not uncommon for kids to still want to be kids for a little while longer, a most of actual 12 year olds look act and talk much closer to teenagers than young children (since they're only a year away from being official).

Generally speaking, any cartoon where the protagonist is 12-13 years old is often (not always) going to act much younger than that age. Middle schoolers are that weird age where they're a bit older than the 6-11 target demographic, but still young enough to appeal to that age group, which is why Middle School is a very common setting in children's media.

The same can also apply vice versa, where you get characters that act a bit too old for their age. All Grown Up! is a perfect example of a show that is the exact opposite of Pepper Ann. If Pepper Ann acted a bit too young for a 12 year old, then the AGU! Rugrats act a bit too old for their ages of 11-13, especially the main 6, who act more like mini-16 year olds than the 12 year olds they supposedly are. Arthur is another good example where our 8 year old protagonists often roam around unsupervised and speak with adult-level vocabulary.

Then there are cases where characters act very much their age. Not too young, not too old. The Powerpuff Girls ironically, very much act like real Kindergarteners. Sure they have supper powers, and fight crime. But their problems, thought processes, and attitudes are very accurate to real 5-year olds.

What other characters can you think of that acted too old or young for their age, and do you think this trope is a bad thing?

With PepperAnn I think she fits in well with that age range she's being, middle school from an elementary schooler point of view looks like everyone would be all mature, but then you are in middle school and there's a mixture of being childish because 11 -13 is still pretty young in the scope of things. Kind of like when I was growing up and the shows with teenagers on Fox and WB and before realizing they were played by 30 somethings made me think HS students looked like that, when they don't, in general.

On Arthur, there's a factor of it's source material comes from when young kids would be able to just walk around a city like that, especially a small town. That's a thing you do anyway in these shows because having the kids ask for ride to go somewhere forever plot wouldn't be very fun. The vocab things is because it's PBS Kids and it's a way for kids to learn words. Like Word Girl's writing , which is well done, is done that way on purpose.

anyway.

I will enter in the Peanuts characters in a way act older than kids do in some respect. Like Linus is able to quote Bible versus and other texts with out ease. Schroder is able to play a toy piano (nice way to balance) at the caliber of an expert pianist. It's balanced out for each character by giving them a child like wonderment and attachments like Linus' blanket. Peanuts is a good example of using this trope and mixing it in.

On Hey Arnold, I mean Helga of course, but mixed in well because of her home life. The sixth graders on this show ,wow, they seemed more like High Schoolers.
 

Fone Bone

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With PepperAnn I think she fits in well with that age range she's being, middle school from an elementary schooler point of view looks like everyone would be all mature, but then you are in middle school and there's a mixture of being childish because 11 -13 is still pretty young in the scope of things. Kind of like when I was growing up and the shows with teenagers on Fox and WB and before realizing they were played by 30 somethings made me think HS students looked like that, when they don't, in general.

On Arthur, there's a factor of it's source material comes from when young kids would be able to just walk around a city like that, especially a small town. That's a thing you do anyway in these shows because having the kids ask for ride to go somewhere forever plot wouldn't be very fun. The vocab things is because it's PBS Kids and it's a way for kids to learn words. Like Word Girl's writing , which is well done, is done that way on purpose.

anyway.

I will enter in the Peanuts characters in a way act older than kids do in some respect. Like Linus is able to quote Bible versus and other texts with out ease. Schroder is able to play a toy piano (nice way to balance) at the caliber of an expert pianist. It's balanced out for each character by giving them a child like wonderment and attachments like Linus' blanket. Peanuts is a good example of using this trope and mixing it in.

On Hey Arnold, I mean Helga of course, but mixed in well because of her home life. The sixth graders on this show ,wow, they seemed more like High Schoolers.
Peanuts and Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes all have kids' passions and adult psyches.
 

TheMisterManGuy

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With PepperAnn I think she fits in well with that age range she's being, middle school from an elementary schooler point of view looks like everyone would be all mature, but then you are in middle school and there's a mixture of being childish because 11 -13 is still pretty young in the scope of things. Kind of like when I was growing up and the shows with teenagers on Fox and WB and before realizing they were played by 30 somethings made me think HS students looked like that, when they don't, in general.
I'd say Pepper Ann is written as if it was an 8 year old's interpretation of Middle School. Like you said, when you're 8, middle schoolers seem way older than they actually are, but still have the same problems you do (that's what I always though when I was 8). In reality however, Middle school kids are a mix of child-like and teenage qualities, some falling on either extreme, and most being squarely in the middle (hence the name). There's countless stories of Middle schoolers fooling around with drugs, alcohol, sex, going through goth/emo phases, and other situations commonly associated with high school kids. But the way you deal with those problems at 12 is very different from how you deal with them at 15.

Pepper Ann would fall more towards the younger end stylistically. It has no drugs, no sexual content, most of the plots focus on simple, grade-school level problems, and the tone is very light and whimsical. Ultimately, it's a show about middle schoolers, aimed at an audience who wasn't even in middle school yet.

Conventional wisdom dictates that kids want to watch shows about kids older than them. So 6-11 year olds want to watch cute stories about middle schoolers, actual middle schoolers want to see edgy dramas about high schoolers, and actual high schoolers want stories about twenty somethings and young adulthood. So usually when kids shows are set in middle school, the characters act a bit younger than actual middle schoolers, as they're aimed at an audience that's often nowhere near that stage of life.
 
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JoeMabbon

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Rick Sanchez is supposed to be in his 70s, but in terms of interests and behavior, he's acts more like a 90s kid.
 

Goldstar Neo

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TheMisterManGuy said:
Pepper Ann would fall more towards the younger end stylistically. It has no drugs, no sexual content, most of the plots focus on simple, grade-school level problems, and the tone is very light and whimsical. Ultimately, it's a show about middle schoolers, aimed at an audience who wasn't even in middle school yet.

Are sex and drugs really things that kids deal with at age 12? Admittedly, it's been a while since I was a child, but I don't know of any 12-year-olds who are doing drugs and are sexually active. And was anyone really expecting there to be drug use and sexual content on a Disney produced kids show?

The opposite can be said regarding Rugrats: All Grown Up. The main characters (Tommy, Chuckie, Pil, Lil and Kimi) were supposed to be around 10 or 11, but they all acted like teenagers who were around 14-16 years of age, while the only central characters who were teenagers were Angelica and Susie, who were 13.
 
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TheMisterManGuy

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Are sex and drugs really things that kids deal with at age 12? Admittedly, it's been a while since I was a child, but I don't know of any 12-year-olds who are doing drugs and are sexually active. And was anyone really expecting there to be drug use and sexual content on a Disney produced kids show?
12 (and to lesser extents 11 and 13) is a super weird age in that it's a transition between being a kid and a teenager. You get a lot of kids that age who still look and act like they're 9. But then you get just as many who look and act like they're 14. Puberty affects kids at different times during middle school, so it's not uncommon for 12 year olds to be getting a year head-start on doing teenage mischief.
 

Dantheman

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Rick Sanchez is supposed to be in his 70s, but in terms of interests and behavior, he's acts more like a 90s kid.
Kind of reminds me of how in The Venture Brothers, Colonel Gentleman once referred to Brock Samson as "Price Adam", and in his diary listed 1970s/80s toys and board games he wished he had as a kid.
 

Red Arrow

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Are sex and drugs really things that kids deal with at age 12? Admittedly, it's been a while since I was a child, but I don't know of any 12-year-olds who are doing drugs and are sexually active. And was anyone really expecting there to be drug use and sexual content on a Disney produced kids show?
When I was 7 year old, I remember some 11 year old boys smoked in my school (which was forbidden). I remember thinking they were criminals :D
 

AnimatedFan01

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Luan Loud in The Loud House is 14 at the start of the series (15 as of currently) and she both acts and looks like an 11-year-old. Her penchant for pranking people and telling bad jokes are behavior expected of a much younger child. The first thing I noticed when I started watching TLH after a few episodes where Luan had the spotlight was how she stood out from her teenage sisters and was an extremely rare example of a childlike teenage character in animation (or fiction for that matter).
 

The Overlord

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Adults acting like children is often played for laughs or horror:


 

Goldstar Neo

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Luan Loud in The Loud House is 14 at the start of the series (15 as of currently) and she both acts and looks like an 11-year-old. Her penchant for pranking people and telling bad jokes are behavior expected of a much younger child. The first thing I noticed when I started watching TLH after a few episodes where Luan had the spotlight was how she stood out from her teenage sisters and was an extremely rare example of a childlike teenage character in animation (or fiction for that matter).
14-years-old is a child. It's only one year older than 13. One doesn't typically jump from being a child to practically an adult in just one year. Legally, you're not considered to be an adult until age 18. Also, I don't see the desire to tell jokes and pull pranks as something only younger children would do. How many class clowns and jokers have any of encountered in junior high (and senior too, for that matter)?
 
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Silverstar

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Elmyra Duff from Tiny Toon Adventures, she’s meant to be 13, but she looks and acts like she’s between 5-9.

A couple of things to keep in mind regarding Elmyra's age and maturity levels: First, that she's the Tiny Toons equivalent to Elmer Fudd, who's also known for being a bit of a numbskull and likewise prone to 'man-baby' moments (note his mode of speech and habit of breaking down crying when things get too hard for him); second, that the producers set Elmyra at age 13 mainly so it would make sense for her to attend Acme Looniversity with the other Tiny Toons, who clearly are teenagers. (Though characters like Sweetie Bird and Li'l Sneezer clearly aren't teenagers and they attend Acme Loo, but I digress.)

Basically, I tend to think that Elmyra is whatever age a script or a gag calls for her to be; if it's a adolescent based plot like "Prom-ise Her Anything" or "My Dinner with Elmyra", then Elmyra's a 13-year-old, whereas in other stories like "Elmyra at the Mall" or "Take Elmyra, Please", she's a younger kid. Elmyra's performance in How I Spent My Vacation clearly called for a small child rather than an adolescent.
 
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