Welcome back. If you haven’t already taken an opportunity to peruse Part 1 please do so now. Take your time…I’ll wait.
Okay, so now…let’s move forward. Let me take this opportunity to give a shout out to the Big Three animation studios responsible for almost all of these cartoons. Hanna-Barbera, Warner Brothers, & Disney produced most of our long-time favorites during the Golden Age of Animation from the 1920s thru the 1960s. They played a huge role in creating fond childhood memories for multiple generations. Of course time marches on and technology evolves, so nowadays companies like Pixar & ILM use stunningly beautiful computer animation to make wonderful big screen movies like the Toy Story trilogy, the Shrek series, Aladdin, & Finding Nemo, but they owe a debt of gratitude to the folks who made the classics a half century ago. Animated shorts (the kind they used to show right before a movie) have given way to commercials (in a theater!!) & way too many obnoxiously loud previews, yet animation has oftentimes become the main attraction. I don’t watch Cartoon Network so I have no idea what is available there, but I have to assume that they weave some of the classics into their programming, and how cool is it that cartoons have a TV station all their own anyway?? At any rate, please enjoy the conclusion of this little animation pontification, and don’t hesitate to leave some feedback.
15 Mighty Mouse
Here he comes to save the day!! So I said in the preamble to Part 1 that I was leaving superhero ‘toons off this list for various reasons, but I suppose we have an exception…kind of. Mighty Mouse is indeed a parody of Superman. That’s it…that’s the hook. Simplicity at its best. And it has one of the more memorable cartoon theme songs, one that late (supposedly) comedian Andy Kaufman used to utilize in his act, most notably on the inaugural episode of Saturday Night Live in 1975.
14 Fat Albert
Hey hey hey!! I know I know…Bill Cosby isn’t exactly Mr. Popularity these days, but we can’t ignore the man’s considerable contributions to pop culture, one of which was this show that was based on his youth in Philadelphia. Albert and his buddies Mushmouth, Dumb Donald, Weird Harold, Bucky, & Russell…aka The Junkyard Gang…were inner city kids who played basketball, formed a band, & hung out like boys do, getting into various adventures and learning an appropriate life lesson in the process. Viewers learned that lesson right along with them, making Fat Albert more of an educational program than most cartoons. I suppose some aspects of the show weren’t politically correct (that again!), but I couldn’t possibly care less. Back then no one else did either.
13 Speed Racer
The Japanese have invaded our list!! Known as Mach GoGoGo in the Far East, the show was imported to the USA in the late 1960’s. Speed is an open wheel racer that always seems to land in some sort of danger. His team consists of his mother & father Pops, little brother Spritle, girlfriend Trixie, best friend & mechanic Sparky, and Spritle’s pet monkey Chim-Chim. Speed’s chief rival is the mysterious masked Racer X, who in actuality is his older brother Rex who left the family years earlier after an argument with his father. Racer X often sacrifices certain victory to help his younger brother, who for some reason is frequently the target of nefarious plots and evildoers. Speed Racer suffers from the same inept voiceover lag time thing that was a trademark of the Americanized versions of old Godzilla movies, but it’s part of the program’s hokey charm. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Mach 5, which ranks right up there with the Batmobile, KITT, & Doc Brown’s DeLorean time machine as one of the coolest fictional vehicles of all time, and the catchy theme song that you are undoubtedly singing to yourself this very moment.
12 The Jetsons
Let’s take a trip to the future. I’m not sure exactly what century The Jetsons is supposed to be set in, but it sure looks cool. Yet despite its futuristic underpinnings the show is mostly a archetypal sitcom about the life of a fairly typical family…patriarch George, wife Jane, teenage daughter Judy, young son Elroy, family dog Astro, & robot maid Rosie. Well okay…I suppose a robot maid isn’t all that commonplace. The Jetsons actually aired on ABC in primetime for a couple of years in the early 60’s. Thereafter it became a staple of Saturday mornings, with new episodes being produced in the 80’s. A live action film was discussed for years, but now I am given to understand that a big screen adaptation using modern fancy computer animation is in the works. That’ll probably be a lot of fun. The Jetsons actually prophesied some of our current technologies, stuff like flat screen TVs, Skype, the Roomba, & tablet computers. How awesome is that?? We’re still waiting on flying cars and George’s work week of three hours a day three days a week, but I suppose we’ll just have to be patient.
11 Alvin & The Chipmunks
The Chipmunks have a really interesting origin story. A guy by the name of Ross Bagdasarian used the stage name David Seville and had a few minor hits with novelty songs but was by no means a household name. In the late 50’s he began messing around with a tape recorder, speeding up tracks & such. In 1958 he wrote The Chipmunk Song, aka Christmas Don’t Be Late, which became a holiday staple that still today gets radio play every December. Out of that song an empire was built, including records, TV shows, & movies. A couple of live action films were made a few years ago and I think I may have seen the first one, but obviously it was forgettable.
10 Mickey Mouse
You might be surprised to see Mickey rated this low. To be honest I rated him this high only because he is the iconic symbol of Disney. Perhaps the reason I don’t feel as connected to Mickey as many is that I’ve never been to Disneyland or Disney World. Also, the famed Mickey Mouse Club was on television in the 50’s before my parents even met. Yes, I am aware that they did a reboot in the early 90’s with Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling, & Keri Russell. No, I never saw it (I was a college man). At any rate, despite all that Mickey Mouse is a cultural icon. Like most other celebrated cartoon legends he starred in a plethora of animated short films in the 1930’s thru the 1950’s, most notably his 1928 debut in Steamboat Willie. In 1940 Mickey was a memorable part of Fantasia, a really interesting feature film that meshes together animation & classical music. In 1983 he made a significant contribution to my beloved pantheon of annual Christmas classics with Mickey’s Christmas Carol. And obviously we can’t give love to Mickey without mentioning his gal pal Minnie Mouse, his dog Pluto, & Goofy (also a dog).
9 Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, & Yosemite Sam
You can’t have one without the others. Bugs is another cultural icon, the Warner Bros/Looney Toons equivalent of Mickey Mouse. Like his counterpart Bugs has been quite ubiquitous since 1940. He was even the first cartoon character ever immortalized by the U.S. Postal Service on a stamp. He is a rather charming & blithe fella, always chomping on carrots and asking “What’s up Doc??”, cleverly outsmarting those out to get him. One of those adversaries is Elmer Fudd, a hunter with a speech impediment (that again??) whose sole purpose seems to be “hunting wabbits”, specifically “that wascally wabbit”, aka Bugs Bunny. Of course he can never catch Bugs. Neither can Yosemite Sam, a boisterous, ill-tempered cowboy who despises Bugs. Whereas Fudd hunted with a double barrel shotgun Sam carried two six shooters, but luckily for Bugs ol’ Sam was just as inept as Fudd.
The vast majority of classic cartoon characters are anthropomorphic animals, but there are exceptions. Popeye is a sailor who gains superhuman strength by eating spinach. His girlfriend Olive Oyl (one of the great cartoon names) is constantly being wooed by Bluto (aka Brutus), a dim-witted, muscle-bound hulk who looks like he could easily best Popeye but never does. Olive is your typical damsel-in-distress, and much of Popeye’s time is spent rescuing her, although he does have time to get into other scrapes and save various folks from certain doom…as long as he eats his spinach. Popeye’s buddy J. Wellington Wimpy (simply known as Wimpy for the most part) is always around too, trying to mooch hamburgers from anyone & everyone. There’s even a fast food place named in honor of Wimpy!! The late great Robin Williams portrayed Popeye in a 1980 live action film and it’s actually pretty good.
7 Yogi Bear
Speaking of food. All Yogi really wants out of life is a picnic basket (or as he says it “pickanick basket”) full of tasty vittles. Unfortunately he usually steals them from unsuspecting campers at Jellystone Park, in the process angering Ranger Smith. Yogi’s best buddy is Boo-Boo, a mild-mannered bear who usually tries to talk Yogi out of whatever mischief he’s about to get them into. Conversely, Yogi is extremely confident, often proclaiming himself “smarter than the average bear”. Yogi may or may not have been named after baseball Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra. Berra actually sued Hanna-Barbera for defamation back in the day before withdrawing the suit. Personally I see nothing defamatory about Yogi Bear, unless you want to get all worked up about his kleptomania. Yogi’s personality IS based on Ed Norton (as portrayed by Art Carney) from the 1950’s sitcom The Honeymooners. To my knowledge Carney never felt the urge to get litigious about it though. There was a 2010 live action film, but I don’t recall ever watching it. I might have to see if it is available on Netflix.
6 The Smurfs
Are they hobbits?? Dwarves?? I don’t know. Kind of. Smurfs are tiny blue human-like forest dwellers that live in little houses that resemble mushrooms. They are reminiscent of Snow White’s pals because of their descriptive names that often define their personality or occupation…Brainy, Lazy, Handy, Hefty, Farmer, etc. The village patriarch is Papa Smurf, although I don’t think he was actually the father or grandfather of the rest of the group. The only female is Smurfette, who, despite the fact that she is a cartoon character with blue skin, seemed vaguely sensual to a prepubescent grade school lad in the early 80’s (I’m not mentioning any names). Smurfs are constantly in peril from grotesque wizard Gargamel & his cat Azrael. Gargamel is determined to capture smurfs and somehow turn them into gold. Unfortunately for him Papa Smurf seems to be a wizard as well and always defeats the bad guy. The Smurfs always somewhat reminded me of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The protagonists are little people that live in a pleasant village. Their leader, Papa Smurf, is similar to wise Gandalf, while evil Gargamel is a bit like Saruman. Maybe it’s just me…does anyone else see the parallels?? Anyway, two live action films came out not that long ago but I’ve not seen them either. I just don’t think these live action movies retain the charm of the animated originals.
5 Beavis & Butt-head
Going from the bucolic wholesomeness of Yogi and The Smurfs to Beavis & Butt-head might create a bit of cognitive whiplash, but I gotta do what I gotta do. The show debuted on MTV in 1993 and ran for four years. I have such fond memories of my buddies Greg, The Owl, Phil, & others coming over to my college apartment as a prelude to late night bar-hopping. We’d consume adult beverages (of course), sometimes grill out (once during a driving snowstorm, another while shooting fireworks at unsuspecting boaters on the Ohio River), occasionally watch movies, & often tune in to Beavis & Butt-head. Good times. At any rate, the two titular heroes are mindless teenage delinquents who like to sit around and watch music videos. Actual music videos are shown and the twosome react to them. If it’s a hard rock band like Megadeth or AC/DC they might opine that it “kicks ass” or “that’s really cool”. A slow ballad or some kind of otherwise terrible song elicits a “that sucks” from Butt-head and an “Aaaaahhh!!! Change it!!” from Beavis. When the duo do get up off the couch and go to school or amble around the neighborhood they interact with characters like Tom Anderson, a curmudgeonly old neighbor that Beavis & Butt-head often take advantage of, Stewart, a nerdy milquetoast who wants to be cool, and Mr. Van Driessen, a hippy teacher that likes to talk about feelings and play his guitar. An animated feature film was made in 1996 called Beavis & Butt-head Do America, and it was fine. MTV briefly revived the show a few years ago, but after the initial excitement I quickly lost interest. I suppose I’ve grown up & moved on, which is probably a good thing, but I will always cherish the fact that these two morons were a hilarious part of my collegiate experience.
4 The Flintstones
While The Jetsons takes us to the future The Flintstones takes us all the way back to the Stone Age. However, just like TheJetsons, The Flintstones is, in many ways, a typical sitcom centered on a nuclear family and their day-to-day life. The show ran for six seasons on ABC primetime in the 1960’s, but has been on TV ever since in some form somewhere. The premise is obviously loosely based on The Honeymooners, and Jackie Gleason pondered the idea of filing a lawsuit but never did. Fred Flintstone is reflected in so many modern fictional Dads…hard working, well-meaning, often blundering, with an outward bravado that hides a tender heart. His dutiful & patient wife Wilma, young daughter Pebbles, best friends & neighbors Barney & Betty Rubble with their son Bam-Bam, & and family pet Dino (a dinosaur…obviously) complete the picture. The Flintstones never fails to amuse with a plethora of geologically pertinent puns like Cary Granite, Rock Hudstone, Stony Curtis, & Ann Margrock, and it is really funny how they had modern conveniences like cars, dishwashers, telephones, & washing machines despite having no electricity. A couple of live action films were made about 20 years ago but I never bothered. How could they possibly measure up??
3 Tom & Jerry
It is literally a game of cat & mouse. That’s the whole gag…a cat that is obsessed with catching (and presumably eating) a mouse. Of course in CartoonLand we know how these things go…the thing being chased is never caught and almost always outsmarts the pursuer. It’s the foundation of many classic ‘toons. A couple of things make Tom & Jerry stand out though. First of all there is rarely any dialogue, atleast between the main two characters. Music plays a huge part in telling the story. Secondly, it is the epitome of what we’ve come to refer to as cartoon violence, in which characters get beaten, run over, dropped off cliffs, blown up, and all kinds of crazy stuff but always survive to fight another day. Now I don’t have any children (that I know of), but I am well aware of how times have changed and that in the touch-feely, overly sensitive, politically correct 21st century cartoon violence is looked at very differently. A show like Tom & Jerry probably wouldn’t even make it on the air now, let alone become a legend within its genre. To that I can only say that I am thankful that I grew up when I did, before everyone was so uptight and started getting sand in their vajay-jay over every little thing, almost seeking out things to be offended by. I am also aware that in recent years folks have been in an uproar about some other things about Tom & Jerry, specifically its depiction of smoking and a character named Mammy Two Shoes, a large black woman whose face we never saw and who was either Tom’s owner or the housekeeper of the owner. Look, I get it. I’m not stupid or totally obtuse…I’m just not easily offended, and I think we have to be cognizant that many things are representative of the values & traditions of their era. The fact that society has grown beyond many of those beliefs is great, but we need not sanitize history or minimize the joy that something brought about because of one questionable element. Tom & Jerry is a great show that put smiles on lots of little kids’ faces, and I’m willing to bet that very few of those kids grew up to be racists or prone to violent behavior.
You’ve got a dude wearing a cravat, a closet lesbian, a beatnik with the munchies (I wonder why), & a talking dog (who also constantly has the munchies). What’s not to love?? Add in the fact that the group drives around in another awesomely cool vehicle (a van called The Mystery Machine) solving weird mysteries (kind of like a traveling tribute to Sherlock Holmes) and foiling nefarious plots. It is almost the perfect cartoon show. Unlike many of the programs we’ve discussed thus far, Scooby-Doo didn’t premier until 1969 (just a few years before my glorious birth). Therefore it doesn’t have many of the outdated, corny, potentially offensive elements present in several of the ‘toons originally produced in the 1930’s & 40’s. The worst thing anyone can say about it is that Scooby & Shaggy might be potheads, and in this day & age of meth labs, crack houses, & pillheads marijuana use almost seems quaint. I’ve been a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes since I was in grade school, and I think the mystery element is a real game changer for Scooby-Doo. It isn’t just cartoon violence & wacky characters with slight handicaps to laugh at. There’s intrigue & problem solving. Scooby & Shaggy are funny. Fred & Velma are smart. Daphne is cute. The bad guy is always caught. Order is restored and the good guys win. The human characters were based on the 1960’s TV show The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, while Scooby-Doo’s name was inspired by Frank Sinatra. Unlike the majority of classic cartoons, Scooby-Doo didn’t originate in theatrical shorts or even comic books…it was made for Saturday morning television, which is where it stayed for decades. A couple of live action movies were produced about a decade ago. I think I may have seen part of the first one. I don’t recall. Anyway, I could still vegg out and watch a whole day of Scooby-Doo even now, which is a testament to its eternal charm and entertainment value.
I’ll be honest…I debated whether or not to include Charlie Brown and his pals in this project at all, let alone crown them #1. I’ve always said I wasn’t a comic book kid so this idea was never about that. Neither is it about comic strips that we all still see in newspapers, stuff like Beetle Bailey, Blondie, Hagar the Horrible, and The Family Circus. The idea was to focus on cartoons. However, at the end of the day I just couldn’t ignore Charles Schultz’s Peanuts. Yes it is undeniably the best comic strip of all time, and no it never spawned a regular Saturday morning TV show. However, there have been numerous animated television specials, which is the loophole I’m utilizing for inclusion. Two of the specials…It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Christmas…are amongst the finest shows ever broadcast on TV in any genre. It is rare in modern society to appreciate much of anything a year or two after its debut. Everything is disposable and we have the collective attention span of a gnat with ADD. So those rarities…whether they are books, music, TV shows, or anything else…that last multiple decades become that much more appealing. Kids connect with Charlie Brown because he has many of the same quirks, foibles, & neuroses that they do. They might not understand that’s why they like him, but someday they will. Kids like Snoopy because…well, he’s a cute little dog that flies airplanes. How cool is that?? Kids like the rest of the gang because they see little pieces of themselves & their friends in the various characters…Linus, Lucy, Peppermint Patty, Pigpen, Sally, Schroeder, Franklin, Marcie, etc. Grownups love the whole deal partially because it takes them on a sweet ride down memory lane, but also because thru the prism of adulthood we get it. We see that Schultz had something to say and appreciate the subtle & fun way he made his point. It’s a shame that Peanuts never made it to Saturday mornings. I have to believe that the option was on the table and Mr. Schultz turned it down for some reason. He was indeed a man of strong faith & principles, so I respect his decision. There is a big screen movie coming out soon using fancy schmancy computer animation, and I am almost as excited about that as I am for a certain sci-fi film popping up just a few weeks later. Thank you Charles Schultz…you did good.