I don’t have vivid memories of eagerly getting up on Saturday mornings during my childhood to watch cartoons all morning long, but I’m sure that at some point I did just that. Didn’t every red-blooded American kid once upon a time?? The older I get the more reflective & appreciative I become of that childhood. Was America a safer, more innocent Utopia back then?? Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps most any time in history, no matter how turbulent & perilous, seems more idyllic thru the eyes of unimpeachable youth. That is the nostalgic appeal of a special time in our lives, before the world begins heaping upon us grown-up misery, confusion, loss, & regret. And so, with that thought in mind, I began pondering cartoons. Which ones did I like back then?? Which ones hold a special place in my heart even now??
Most of my choices have been around for decades, pre-dating even my own birth. A few are more modern selections that I encountered as an adult because that was indeed the target audience. I should note that I am purposely leaving out superhero ‘toons and those that were based on other TV shows or movies. Superheroes (Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, etc.) are the progeny of comic books, have found new life on the big screen, & have been presented in such a plethora of iterations that I think it best to just leave them on their own special island. And as much fun as shows like ALF Tales, Real Ghostbusters, Fonz & The Happy Days Gang, and Hulk Hogan’s Rock n’ Wrestling may have been during a specific moment in time they don’t stand up over the long haul. My preference is for shows & characters that are enduring, as potentially entertaining to new generations of youngsters as they were to me.
Animation has expanded its reach these days. As a matter of fact it actually seems more prevalent in film than on television. October 4, 2014…just shy of a year ago…was the first Saturday in more than a half century that there were no cartoons on television. Perhaps that is because one cannot exceed perfection. Animated nirvana seemed to reach its peak back when I was a kid (although I might be just a tad biased), and it is only now that I can truly embrace the awesomeness with grateful wonder. Sit back, relax, & reflect with me. Enjoy.
25 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Turtle Power!! How can anyone not like crime fighting turtles named after four of history’s most celebrated artists (Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, & Donatello) whose martial arts teacher is a rat?? TMNT ranks this low on the list because it didn’t pop up on TV until the late 80’s when I was in high school…probably a little too old to be watching cartoons and certainly too cool to admit it. I vaguely recall seeing the first live action feature film, but kind of lost interest after that. Cowabunga dudes!!
24 King of the Hill
When the creator of Beavis & Butt-head teams up with a writer from The Simpsons one would expect the result to be good. King of the Hill was a prime time show on Fox for more than a decade beginning in the late 1990’s. Unlike most of the more traditional cartoons we’ll be talking about this animated series was definitely targeted to adults. The focus of the show was Hank Hill, a regular Joe Sixpack living in small town Texas and making a living selling “propane & propane accessories”. He is married to simpleminded Peggy, a substitute Spanish teacher who doesn’t seem to understand her subject matter all that well. Together they parent son Bobby, an unathletic mama’s boy who, according to his father, “ain’t right”. And of course there are wacky neighbors/sidekicks like Dale Gribble, a gun loving conspiracy theorist, and Boomhauer, a bachelor who sings & speaks French clearly but in normal conversation mumbles unintelligibly. In many ways King of the Hill was an old-fashioned, run-of-the-mill sitcom other than the fact that it was animated.
23 Woody Woodpecker
That laugh is ringing in your brain right now, isn’t it?? Woody hasn’t been quite as…prolific…as many other longtime cartoon characters. He originated in animated short films during the 1940’s. Those shorts were repackaged into syndicated TV shows…the kind that kids watched on Saturday mornings…in the 70’s & 80’s, which is when I first became acquainted with him.
22 Mr. Magoo
I wonder how playing a disability for laughs would be received in the hypersensitive 21st century?? To be honest probably a lot of our most treasured cartoons (and other entertainment for that matter) might wither a bit under the heat of political correctness, but since I hate that kind of stupidity those shows just become more endearing in my eyes. Oh, yes…speaking of eyes…Magoo (whose first name was Quincy…bet you didn’t know that) is a well-to-do geezer whose vision impairment gets him into various predicaments. It’s kind of a one note joke, but it’s fun. A live action film starring Leslie Nielsen (of Naked Gun & Airplane fame) as Mr. Magoo came out about 20 years ago. I’ve never seen it and from what I understand I’m not missing much. Perhaps Magoo’s most notable contribution to pop culture is the 1962 Christmas show Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, the first of many animated specials that we still have the privilege of enjoying every holiday season.
21 Donald Duck
Donald is one of the oldest & most beloved cartoon characters of all time and has been in more films than any other Disney character. As a matter of fact, unlike the majority of the subjects we’ll be focusing on, Donald is primarily a big screen star versus a television presence. He brings with him an extended family consisting of wealthy uncle Scrooge McDuck and nephews Huey, Dewey, & Louie. Unfortunately for Donald he most often plays second banana to another Disney star we’ll discuss eventually.
20 Road Runner & Wile E. Coyote
They go together like peas & carrots. They have kind of a Moby Dick/Captain Ahab thing going on, with WEC obsessed with catching RR. Of course it never ends well for Mr. Coyote, and the cagey bird always gets away. It’s another one-note premise that really works, atleast enough to entertain children.
19 Porky Pig
Here we have another un-PC character…and I love it. Porky, of course, has a speech impediment (he stutters), and that is pretty much his hook. It seems like Porky is what comedians would call a “straight man”. He plays the sidekick role a lot and over the years has interacted with many other cartoon characters. He doesn’t necessarily stand out by himself, but he’s always around and one never knows where he might pop up. As a matter of fact, he appears in more animated shorts than any other Looney Tunes character except one (who’ll we’ll get to later).
18 Daffy Duck
It is because of Daffy Duck that I associate succotash (a mixture of corn & lima beans) with suffering. Maybe many of us of a certain age do, so when your friendly neighborhood physician tells you that you don’t get enough protein in your diet blame ol’ Daffy. Much like Porky Pig, Daffy is a versatile character that is often paired with other cartoon creations. Sometimes he’s the good guy, sometimes he’s the antagonist. He also has a speech impediment (a lisp) that is played for laughs, making me wonder more & more if cartoons would have even become a thing if America had been such a slave to political correctness 80 years ago. Timing really is everything, right??
17 Droopy Dog
While Warner Brothers created the majority of classic cartoons in “The Golden Age”, MGM got in on the action too. I feel like Droopy is too often overlooked. How can you not love a dog that is so chill?? Of course you don’t want to make Droopy mad…you won’t like him when he’s mad (atleast not the one who is on the receiving end of his anger). Maybe I am projecting, but I feel like Droopy is an interesting social commentary. He’s a quiet, laid back, slow talking guy (well, okay…basset hound) who others underestimate and take advantage of, and then they find out that he’s quite shrewd & resourceful, not to mention tough as shoe leather. I always root for the underdog.
16 Huckleberry Hound
Who doesn’t love a southern drawl?? It just makes one feel all warm & fuzzy. Paula Deen could probably be racist to someone’s face and they’d still want to like her because the accent sounds so darn friendly. Much like Droopy Dog good old Huck is just so easygoing & pleasant that it’s almost impossible not to think he’s awesome. He’s always persistent in his mission and seems to overcome obstacles without getting upset or frustrated. If we’d all approach life like Huckleberry Hound there’d be no need for gun laws, blood pressure medication, or psych evaluations.
This feels like a good place to pause. Curious about what ‘toons will make my Top 15?? Stay tuned. Part 2 will be published soon.