Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle TV Eye

By Margaret Moser

NOVEMBER 17, 1997:  If you grew up in front of the television set in the Sixties, you know who your friends are: rabbits, ducks, adorable puppies, superheroes in tights, unnaturally wise and bug-eyed children. You also know who your enemies are: rabid bulldogs, bosses, evil scientists, foreigners, cats, or anyone dressed in a top hat and tux. If only life were really like cartoons. If life really were like cartoons, the cartoons of my youth, I wouldn't have had to squeeze my way into a parking space this morning. My car would have simply squeezed itself like an accordion, inserted itself in the too-tight spot, expanded to bump the neighboring cars over, and then deflated to proper size, leaving me with the perfect slot. I could carry a sack with a dollar sign on it for money when I went to the bank. If life were like the cartoons I grew up with, poor people would wear barrels if they didn't have clothes. Rich women are always big, have Ann Richards hairdos, and upturned noses; rich men are short, balding, and have white mustaches. Burglars and bank robbers wear caps and black masks. Cartoons are one of the most enduring aspects of childhood. I regarded them as strictly my domain and was inordinately picky about them; as an adult, I am even more persnickity. I love Warner Bros. cartoons but especially the pre-Chuck Jones era. (Nothing against C.J., I just divide the eras.) I particularly adore their B&W cartoons, and delight in watching the evolution of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and Elmer Fudd. (I'm not a big Fudd fan, but the various forms he took are fascinating to watch, especially where he's the fat Fudd.) Two of my dearest friends, Weezer and Al, do not share this affection for cartoons. Their parents were from the second generation of people to raise kids with television and reacted against it. Neither Weez nor Al care about cartoons. I dearly love my friends but think they have been unfairly deprived of one of life's modern joys. It was really refreshing to discover that fellow "TV Eye" viewers feel much the same way - eloquently. I had off-handedly asked for comments on being a cartoon-watching adult after a reader, Albert C., wrote saying that he rushes home to watch The Adventures of Batman and Superman (KNVA, TWC Ch 12, weekdays 4:30-5pm; Sat 9:30-10am). I wasn't prepared for the flood of passionate responses. It was genuinely astonishing. Another reader, Roshi, responded with the admission that being a CWA sounds like a "sad minority of people who didn't have the pleasures of Ritalin during those formative, pre-ADD syndrome years," and promptly confesses an affection for FOX's Sunday night lineup. What came out most in the responses resounded: We love our cartoons. Another fan of KNVA's Disney-heavy programming is Juan L, so devoted to the subject of cartoons he has a website, http://ccwf.cc.utexas.edu/~jfl/intro.html, with numerous links for Disney, Spumco, various cartoon-supporting networks, and fan pages. Chip 'n' Dale: Rescue Rangers, TaleSpin, Darkwing Duck, and Gargoyles, in particular. (Juan also reviews the Disney TV shows at alt.fan.disney.afternoon) Said Greg S.: "Beavis and Butt-Head and The Simpsons started the resurgence, King of the Hill is outstanding, but South Park has taken cartoons to a whole new level (high or low, I'm not sure). In watching the few episodes that are out there, I've probably laughed out loud more than I did during my entire childhood of cartoon watching." Stephen W. sent along his "highly subjective" Top Ten, topped by Looney Toons and followed by Space Ghost: Coast to Coast("the concept of a slightly brain-damaged space ghost is truly inspired"), Ren & Stimpy, Johnny Apollo, Tom & Jerry, Beavis and Butt-head, The Simpsons, Droopy, Johnny Quest ("so bad it is good"), and Disney cartoons. A woman after my own heart, Wendy W. flat-out claimed what I have long believed: "Hanna-Barbera... killed the cartoon industry." Woo! You go, girl! I despised HB's soulless, pinheaded characters. Wendy complains of their "tedious stories, and such low-rent animation that even as a kid I could see just how little work went into them," and I must agree, they just plain suck. Wendy goes on to cite Ren & Stimpy in a sociological light: "...are they animals that can be trapped at the pound (one episode)? Are they members of a human/animal city and can hold down jobs (Ren comes home, drops his briefcase, and yells at Stimpy for keeping a messy house)? Are they gay lovers (they sleep in the same bed, and once almost kissed under the mistletoe)? These are questions you can ask of Yogi Bear and Boo-boo, or Quick Draw and Babalooey. And just how come Goofy and his son, both two-legged dog people, can adopt Pluto, a four-legged dog, and keep him tied outside?" She, as well as Roshi, also note that Warner Bros. scored their cartoons as if they were feature films, in which "music plays a huge part in setting the tone and cluing action." (My opera-loving father was delighted when I could recognize "The Ride of the Valkyries" at age six. He was not so pleased to then hear me sing, "...kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit....") Reader Susan P. is a full-blown WB fan ("I know, I know, so much cartoon violence is bad for kids, but I haven't committed a felony yet") and gives high marks to "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," deeming it as requisite as It's A Wonderful Life for holiday fare. Overall, Bugs Bunny and Warner Bros. cartoons were the clear favorite among readers, followed (in order) by South Park, Ren & Stimpy, Beavis and Butt-head, and The Simpsons.King of the Hill, Daria, Disney cartoons, Tom & Jerry, and Rocky & Bullwinkle followed next. Honorable mention goes toDexter's Laboratory,Scooby-Doo, The Adventures of Batman and Superman, Duckman, Space Ghost, Dr. Katz,Animaniacs,Two Stupid Dogs, and Wallace & Grommit. Losers: The Jetsons, Power Rangers, Speed Racer, Rocko's Modern Life, Rugrats. Missing in Action: No one spoke up for animé, HarveyToons, or even Popeye, which might be understandable given the gawd-awful Paramount years, but the early Fleischer Brothers cartoons are artistic delights, if not as sly as Warners'. Of course, it could be argued that they are among the most politically incorrect since Robert Clampett's "Coal Black and the Sebben Dwarves"; Bluto's leering grabs for Olive Oyl can be interpreted in much more unpleasant contemporary terms - are you with me here, Wendy? Harveytoons haven't aged well, either, but the late Fifties/early Sixties artistry behind them was the strongest bolster against the inevitable loss to Hanna-Barbera's assembly line formula and the already streamlined look of WB cartoons. Another reader suggested meting out an appropriate punishment for the person who took a good idea (the Cartoon Channel) and then bloated it with crap HB series. Good idea. May I suggest tying an anvil to that person and dropping them off a cliff?


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