Saturday, August 9, 2008

Saturday Morning Cartoons

Watching cartoons on Saturday morning with my grand daughter, I ruminate on the evolution of the Saturday morning cartoon, and other children’s programming and animation.
The Saturday morning cartoons and children’s programming have changed quite a bit over the years. I watched Crusader Rabbit, Winky Dink, and Uncle Gary’s Fun House. My grand daughter watches Spongebob, Ben-10, and Chowder, among others.
I loved the Warner Brothers cartoons – “Ki-ill the wab-bit! Ki-ill the wab-bit!” – cartoons that had been produced for movie theaters, and really for an adult audience, from the 1930s through the 1960s. I know now that almost all the voices of those characters (Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam) were done by one man, Mel Blanc, who also worked with Jack Benny in radio and later in television. Man, that guy had an ear. The Warner Brothers cartoons were the funniest, and the most sophisticated at the time.
MGM made the Tom and Jerry cartoons. We still watch those sometimes.
The Disney cartoons were magical, but let’s face it, they were turned out for children, and the writing was aimed at children, not adults as in the Warner Brothers and MGM toons. The stories were cleaned up quite a bit for childish consumption, unless you counted the death of Bambi’s mother. It wasn’t all milk and sugar, but it sure wasn’t Grimm’s fairy tales.
The Disney animation was incredible in its complexity and depth. I was taken to see Snow White, Pinocchio, Cinderella, Bambi, Peter Pan, Dumbo, and Fantasia (tip: pack a lunch if you’re going to watch Fantasia).
My favorite was Peter Pan, but I never wanted to be Wendy, who was kind of a snore. I wanted to be Peter. I wanted to fly. Looking at the movie later from the feminist perspective, the movie was a horror. Nobody wanted to be Wendy, the responsible woman who picks up all the pieces and does all the mending for those irresponsible boys. Growing up in the 50s, girls were pretty much taught to be responsible women picking up after irresponsible boys, and by the 1970s that was out of style. It was confusing for a lot of us. OK, now I’m not supposed to get married and have a family and that’s not the greatest career a woman could possibly have? The confusion persists to this day for young women who would really like to get married and have babies. They were raised to believe there was something shameful in that. Wouldn’t it be great if children could be raised without making them ashamed of their natural impulses?
OK, I’ll stop talking nonsense and get back on topic.
There were a lot of local children’s shows back in the early years of television. Where I grew up we had Uncle Gary’s Fun Club. Truth to tell, Uncle Gary kind of gave me the willies, but that’s what was on when I got home from school, and I watched it. Uncle Gary ran old cartoons you never heard of and never will hear of because they featured a lot of racial stereotypes. He also showed the Little Rascals, Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chase and other silent comedies. Yup. We grew up in the 1950s entertained by the stars of the 1920s and 30s. It wasn’t so bad.
I haven’t even mentioned Rocky and Bullwinkle, George of the Jungle, Super Chicken, Tom Slick, all clever creations of Jay Ward productions. Then there was the Hanna-Barbera empire, which grew out of MGM: Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Deputy Dawg, etc. H-B ruled animation for decades.
There was Superman (DC comics), and Spiderman (Marvel Comics). Beavis and Butthead, a parent’s nightmare, and South Park, which I occasionally watch and laugh at in spite of being shocked to my socks. Computer animation: Shrek, Toy Story, etc. Anime and manga and I don’t know what all other Japanese animation, some of it downright pornographic.
So when I sit on the couch with my grand daughter watching Spongebob or Chowder, I think about all these animated entertainers who have danced across the screen over the years. Some people think cartoons are only for children, and childish, and beneath adult consideration, but I think that many are well written and great entertainment, and I am amazed how many of the cartoons tell moral tales: right against wrong, good against evil. That apparently has not changed since the 1950s.
But then, I’m a goofy goober. Rahdle rahdle rahdle.


daughtertoo said...

Dear Mary - It's good to know that someone else had a misspent youth. I watched Saturday morning cartoons from before I can remember until I was old enough to stay out too late on Friday evenings. By that time, though, the cartoons were run at about 30 frames a minute - much less expressive. I, too, was/am a Warner Brothers fan, particularly Bugs Bunny and Martian X-12, now sadly known as "Marvin the Martian." Instinctively - although I could not have articulated it then - I loved the social commentary contained in cartoons of vending machines dispensing Instant Martians. Just add water. Or the time Bugs Bunny defended his rabbit hole against the construction foreman building a highway. Ultimately, the highway detoured around Bugs' home. I am not a fan of the cartoons illustrated in the Japanese style, although I admit I have not paid close attention and couldn't tell you about the story line or any underlying philosophy. I didn't see any mention of a modern cartoon group that I have enjoyed a lot, and that's Steven Spielberg's Animaniacs about the Warner Brothers and the Warner Sister, and Pinky and the Brain, two white lab rats, one of whom is determined to take over the world and the other who is his not-too-bright sidekick. I'm sorry about your mono - I'm sure you're tired of being told "this too shall pass," but it will. Love, Suzanne

Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?