Illustration by Lucinda Drake

Cartoons have always been associated with children, regardless of their use of mature themes. Even so, there has been a rise of adult cartoons since the 2000s: South Park, American Dad, Rick and Morty. This pattern developed with the concept that cartoons are the only way in which to input exaggerated storytelling; an anvil could never be believably dropped on a person’s head in a live action film.

The newest installment to the growing accumulation of adult cartoon entertainment is the Netflix Original series Big Mouth. Loosely inspired by the childhoods of creators Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg, Big Mouth depicts pubescent children discovering themselves and their sexualities throughout the emotional and physical process of puberty. Big Mouth uses the techniques of exaggerated storytelling and animation to better represent this chaotic and emotional time. For example, when the characters Jay and Andrew’s heads explode after the “mind blowing” realization that girls have hormones. Clearly, this dramatic event is significant, but it is treated as an everyday occurance to emphasize the intention rather than add a plot point.

Big Mouth’s goal is to be relatable and to represent the feelings and the thought processes that come with growing up. It wants to represent the feelings and the thought processes that come with this transition without necessarily being realistic. Because of this, there are several main characters who each have their own issues with the process of puberty. Through its characters, Big Mouth covers underdevelopment, overdevelopment, mood swings, family dynamics, masturbation, shame, acceptance, sexual harassment, contraception and more.

Throughout Big Mouth, there is explicit language and imagery even though the characters are  drawings of children. This is because it is illustrating a time where someone transitions from innocence into what is considered crude. Sex can be considered unclean and impure, so when children transition into this time they can experience confusion, fright, and shame. But by approaching it directly in the most explicit and crude way, Big Mouth humanizes the reality of puberty.

One of the biggest elements of Big Mouth is their technique in which they create characters to represent elements of puberty. These include the Hormone Monster, the Shame Wizard, and the Depression Kitty. These concepts are taken from their abstract state and personified in order to make them understandable, basic, and easily relatable. Additionally, each child in the show interacts with all of these creatures, but not all in the same way. While the Shame Wizard and the Hormone Monster affect every child, the Depression Kitty only interacts with one character. In Season 2, the Depression Kitty takes the character Jessi within its hold, and as none of the other children had experienced the Depression Kitty, they do not understand what she is going through. By having these creatures interact in different ways with different people, the viewer can more understand their experiences and strongly empathize with the characters’ experiences.

Big Mouth uses these techniques in a comedic fashion in order to expose a topic that is often more private than public and make it less daunting. There are currently two seasons, both with a score of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.