Posted April 9, 2014, By Keisha Herbert, Researcher
Children’s characters are prone to regular adaptations to meet social, technological and cultural trends that can either enhance or hinder the brand.
Here’s a list of the top ten children’s characters we perceive to have experienced the most interesting evolutionary change.
Sonic the Hedgehog has undergone a large-scale makeover for the rollout of the new Sonic Boom game and TV series. The emphasis is now on the adventures and relationship between Sonic and his comrades Tails, Knuckles and Amy. In an attempt to reflect this and meet the needs of the vast fan base, Sonic is now an older, bolder and more intrepid version of his former self.
The digital revolution has demanded a CGI version of the classic Beatrix Potter character, Peter Rabbit. It’s been met with some steeped opposition from parents due to its steer away from both the key storyline and traditional look and feel of the original books. Nostalgia remains a defining role in character inheritance!
The same is true of the Mr Men collection, which has been culled from its original 83 characters to a more selective 25 characters for a digital TV adaptation. Furthermore the collection has undergone a number of gender changes to alleviate the apparent imbalance.
Contrastingly the Disney adaptation of Winnie the Pooh has been positively perceived due to its complementary, timeless and simple take on the 1920’s original created by A.A Milne. Nostalgia for Pooh by both parents and grandparents has been kept!
When ‘Coloured Francine’ was introduced in 1967 as the follow on to ‘Francine’ Barbie’s cousin, there was a lot of uproar. People perceived her to be far from a figure of association for young black girls, as she looked nothing like them. The inauguration of Michelle Obama as First Lady played an impactful role in the drive for more appropriate black dolls and the ‘So in style’ Barbies were born. Their features, hair and physique have been designed to be much more realistic for young black girls to relate to.
Merida was the first Disney Princess to deviate from the stereotypical princess demeanour and unattainable beauty. She showed young girls the importance of remaining true to yourself. This positive message appeared to be stripped away when Merida was added to the Disney website’s Princess collection. She was no longer her tomboy self, but instead a glammed up, sexier version. Is beauty more important than authenticity?
The cute and round original My Little Pony undertook a revamp in an attempt to represent My Little Pony’s’ teenage years. She was replaced with a slender, longer legged and wide-eyed successor which was a large step away from the aura of innocence she used to allude.
The young, playful and bouncy Angelina Ballerina undertook a major change in the CGI adaptation for the TV series ‘Angelina Ballerina The Next Steps’. Older Angelina has enrolled in a prestigious school for the performing arts and exerts a thinner, daintier and more mature image to reflect this life change.
Strawberry Shortcake has also grown up. Her innocence, cuteness and short locking curls have been replaced with a more mature image. She now dons long wavy hair, a trendy fashion sense and carries a mobile phone.
Finally, Dennis the Menace had an image revamp in an attempt to exert a more positive message to young children, but this was met with backlash from older and more avid fans! Funnily enough, the North American Dennis the Menace bears a more passive appearance with blonde floppy hair and over-sized red dungarees.
Many of the character changes highlighted above have been motivated by the digital revolution, maturation of characters and cultural trends. Brands are particularly intent on maturing characters with an aim to target a wider audience and provide more aspirational adaptations for children to look up to and emulate.
This however, proves to be particularly true of female character brands such as Angelina Ballerina and My Little Pony, who have both steered away from their youthful innocence and now embody thinner and more sensuous versions of their former selves. Is this reflective of society or the values of the brand?
We believe cultural shifts in society will and should demand something new and inclusive from the character brand world. And brands should provide positive and realistic character revamps to reflect these trends as expressed in the introduction of the 'So in Style Barbie'.
Additionally the phenomenon that is the digital revolution has demanded an evolutionary change in our character brands. It is important, however, for brands to understand the importance nostalgia plays in character inheritance, which is evident in the passive take-up of the CGI adaptation of Peter Rabbit.
Character evolution success requires brands to be astute to digital and cultural demands whilst remaining true to the core values and nostalgic appeal of the original. This retains brand loyalty, child engagement and most importantly appeases parents and grandparents alike - the gatekeepers to children's character brands.