Cartoon Musings II
Back? Good, now prepare yourself for my disjointed and long-winded thoughts.
I find it interesting and amusing, but ultimately frustrating the mild stigma our society puts on cartoons as something almost synonymous with "childish." No one over the age of 15 would readliy admit to watching cartoons, except with the caveat that they are a parent and thus cannot escape them. As a high-schooler or college student, it's embarrassing to say that you like the Cartoon Network (though if you liked it in its first incarnation showing nothing but horrid, rejected Hanna Barbera cartoons that had not seen the light of day for 30 years than you should rightly be ashamed of yourself). Despite, everyone watched cartoons as a kid, and everyone likes cartoons, even adults, but most are too chicken to admit it. It's when everyone starts opening up about them, like in the comments on Tim Blair's site, you realize that everyone else enjoyed them at some point or still does enjoy them it's suddenly okay to admit your affinities for animation. Of course, if you're an Olympian wordsmith and cultural junkie like James Lileks, it's okay at anytime.
I consider myself lucky that by the time I was in college, it was cool to like cartoons once again, thanks to anime, Toonami, and Adult Swim. When you're sitting around with friends watching Sealab make fun of GI Joe, or Shrek skewering The Little Mermaid, suddenly everyone remembers all the Disney movies they loved as a kid, their favorite Looney Tunes shorts, and all their Transformers or Care Bears toys (the former for me, I swear).
As the comments progressed in that thread, they inevitably turned to lamenting the decline of cartoons after the heyday of Disney and Warner Brothers, not to mention their PC-ification (yet another thing to blame liberals for... okay, overreactive conservatives too). The height was "Duck Season/Wabbit Season," and even the Flintstones and the Jetsons, though they were more sitcoms than anything else, but soon the decline was clearly evident in Scooby Doo followed by the criminally bad cartoons (usually from Hanna Barbera) of the late 60s and 70s, inlcuding Jabberjaw and the Chan Clan, down to Captain Planet which was, without a doubt, rock bottom. Of course, this vile indoctination device was the spawn of Ted Turner himself (known for his association with other evil entities such as the United Nations and the Atlanta Braves), so perhaps the industry deserves a bit of a break. During the 80s, there were flashes of intelligence and entertainment, in episodes of Transformers, He-Man, Heathcliff, and some others. I believe, though, that the turning point for American cartoons was the release of Disney's The Little Mermaid in 1989.
Here was a truly family movie, in the spirit of Snow White and Bambi, with catchy songs that was also able to entertain the parents. And yes, I count myself as a fan of this movie, along with some of its successors. (Admit it, you liked this movie, too. You can hum some of the songs to yourself right now. Come on, the French Chef was too funny...) The Little Mermaid revived things at Disney, and they soon followed with Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Aladdin, some of the best movies they've ever made (though I never really liked Beauty). Unfortunately, Pocahontas followed and I don't think those movies have ever recovered (though The Emperor's New Groove was surprisingly funny). Despite the Disney movies' decline, US cartoons soon recovered, producing some real gems. This started with Tiny Toon Adventures, which was entertianing enough for kids, but clever enough for teenagers. This was followed by one of the best cartoon shows ever made, Animaniacs. The show was incredibly clever, had fantastic songs, and just plain funny stuff. It was followed by the less popular and clever Freakazoid, but I know many people who liked it.
It was only a few years after this that the Cartoon Network finally realized that their lineup was mostly Hanna Barbera garbage (though there was plenty of Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry, and Popeye) and decided to showcase up-and-coming cartoonists in a half hour show named, "Cartoon Cartoons". At first I thought this was just a whole bunch of mediocre cartoons the channel got just to have somethign different, but in retrospect it's apparent it was really an audition for potential shows. Cartoons that appeared on that show eventually became CN staples, like the Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Laboratory, which were both good, and then the more mediocre Johnny Bravo and the horrendous Cow and Chicken. Still, the good shows and even some of the bad ones became very popular and eventually took over the network. Though still producing some vacuous tripe like Ed, Edd, and Eddy, CN also introduced Codename: Kids Next Door and the very good Samurai Jack.
Between, the new CN shows and Animaniacs, though, the Saturday morning gurus did discover the power of a good story, good characters, and exciting shows in the various superhero cartoons that dominated during that period. Cartoons based on Spiderman and X-Men were very good, but the best of all was the re-imagining of Batman. Batman: The Animated Series is probably one of the best superhero cartoon shows ever. It did away with the campy nonsense of the 60s and went back to the Dark Knight. Using stories from the comic books and coupling them with some talented voice work, the show took off. I had never been a big comic book fan, but all of the shows engrossed me in these superhero stories, and I discovered something new and very entertaining, that even teenagers could like, and it was on Saturday mornings.
After the success of Batman, the same groups recreated Superman in the same way, but it was never quite as popular. Subesquent efforts fell short as well until Batman: Beyond and the revamping of Justice League. The original Justice League cartoons were absolutely horrendous (though they make excellent fodder for Harvey Birdman) but when redone in the mold of Batman: The Animated Series, they were simply outstanding. Another outgrowth of this is the new Cartoon Network show Teen Titans, which takes its inspiration from both these shows and anime and the result is quite entertaining.
And, of course, while all this was going on, some networks discovered that cartoons could appeal to adults, thanks to the smashing success of The Simpsons. I don't think I have to go into much detail here, but it certainly led to many, many attempts to duplicate the show's success, but few have succeeded. King of the Hill did well at first, but it has declined since (as has the Simpsons, unfortunately). One of the best animated shows ever, though, came in this generation: The Critic. If you haven't seen this show; you're missing out. It was one of the funniest, most topical shows of the 90s and I highly recommend you pick up the boxset. Later shows that tried the Simpsons thing did not do as well, such as Futurama and Family Guy. In syndication, though, they gathered a cult following and are now two of CN's highest rated shows, both for adults. Family Guy has become so popular that new episodes are being created and will air next year. I certainly count myself among the fans of both shows, which are extremely funny.
So, all in all, I think we're seeing a cartoon renaissance in this country, much of it centered around the Cartoon Network. This post has become exceedingly long, so I think I'll end here, but tomorrow or Sunday I'd like to continue to talk about Toonami, anime, and Adult Swim.
Hmm, maybe I just needed to write about something other than politics for a change.