'The Prince' And How To Do An 'Adult Baby' Cartoon Right
Look, I’m not one for conspiracy theories, though the Moon landing was totally shot on a soundstage … on Mars; that’s why they call them Universal Pictures. However, I’d have no trouble believing that the new HBO Max cartoon comedy The Prince originally planned to focus on just the titular Prince George and only threw in the rest of the British royal family as supporting characters at the last minute. Why? To piss people off and generate some sweet controversy after everyone on the staff realized their main character just wasn’t funny.
I just don’t get how that came as a surprise to them since they never actually tried to make him funny. Instead, they made the 7-year-old Prince George a precocious/pretentious, self-centered, social media addict, but that’s less of a joke and more an accurate description of every rich kid in Manhattan with a hyphenated surname and a weirdly-spelled WASP-y first name. No one’s tuning in to watch that. You need more. Like, say, Queen Elizabeth II dropping F-bombs, or Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey playing an idiot momma’s-boy Prince Charles and his zombie father, or Orlando Bloom voicing Prince Harry who doesn’t even know what a fridge is.
Yeah, that will get both fans and opponents of the royal family watching, the former out of anger and the latter out of curiosity, to see what the show does with them next. The problem is that that’s it. There are no more jokes about George’s family in the entire series, almost as if someone had to come up with these characters on the spot because, for the longest time, they were just so sure that a baby acting like an adult would be enough to carry an entire series.
Now, “adult babies” have been done many times before, but the story only ever works when that’s where the joke starts. In The Prince, that’s where it ends. In that regard, the show shares a lot of similarities with Allen Gregory, a forgotten 2011 adult animated comedy about a 7-year-old precocious/pretentious, self-centered, social media addict voiced by Jonah Hill. Today, everyone involved with this series is so ashamed of it, you could make good money by fabricating evidence that they couldn’t have worked on Allen Gregory because they were secretly living in the attic of an assisted living facility at the time to watch old people go to the toilet. What we can learn from the failure of Allen Gregory is that “adult” themes aren’t the secret to the success of an adult baby story.
The Prince merely had a bunch of royals swearing (and the occasional mutant mass-murder). Allen Gregory had the titular character being sexually attracted to his elderly, heavyset principal. The series went HARD on disturbing content. But that’s not what people ultimately want.
As weird as it sounds, Family Guy and The Boss Baby were the ones that got it right because their adult baby characters are not one-note jokes. Stewie Griffin started out as a toddler mad scientist, and if he stayed that way, he’d probably have been forgotten by now. But he actually grew and evolved into a somewhat complex character with insecurities, likes, and a personality, which actually lent themselves to some truly dramatic moments on the show (yes, really). Similarly, The Boss Baby was also more than its basic premise, focusing on such themes as sibling rivalry, etc.
In the end, we sort of want stories about children to not be too dark and to be kind of hopeful. Maybe it’s evolution tricking us into caring for all human crotch-gremlins, even the cartoon adult ones, or maybe humanity isn’t as bad as we thought. Probably not, though, since we made a cartoon where Prince William is voiced by Ramsay Bolton/Barry from Misfits himself, and we did NOTHING with it like a bunch of goddamn comedy criminals. Screw humanity.
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Top Image: HBO Max