When you were a kid, were you a cartoon nut? Were you that kid that got up at 5 am in the morning to watch cartoons? Or did you watch them if they happened to be on TV, but they didn't change your life.
I was definitely in the former camp. I loved cartoons (still do, though Pixar's been disappointing me lately). I watched all kinds of stuff, ranging from the classic to the truly weird, like Ghostbusters, Denver the Last Dinosaur, Heathcliff. Darkwing Duck, and some bizarre cartoon about a purple alien with a creepy floating head sidekick. Did you know there was even a Back to the Future cartoon? Yeah, I watched that. There was no cartoon too stupid or poorly drawn for me. They all had their own merits.
So anyway, the other day I was listening to one of my favorite science fiction/fantasy podcasts, Anomaly (another great podcast by women) and they did an episode on their top 5 favorite cartoons. You can guess how excited I was to hear their picks.
And their lists were fine, not what I would have chosen, but that makes sense. Cartoons are personal. They're a snapshot of your childhood. Of course my list would be different.
I've asked myself this question before: what are my favorite cartoons? Hard to say. There are so many that I have absurdly clear memories of, that I remember enjoying, but which did I love the most?
First, maybe we should differentiate between Saturday morning cartoons and the animated shows we watch as adults.South Park and DuckTales are apples to oranges; there's no sense trying to decide which is better. The one show that's kind of a crossover for me is The Simpsons, which I watched religiously as a kid and then well into my teenage years (before I eventually decided the quality had fallen off). Also, I could devote an entire blog post to anime, so let's leave that category to itself.
For now, let's stick to the Saturday morning or after school style cartoons that were clearly targeted at kids. Off the top of my head, here's just a sample of the shows I remember liking, in no particular order:
DuckTales - Launchpad was the best. Also, I loved how they would sometimes visit Donald Duck in the Navy. Bonus points for a great theme song.
Rescue Rangers - Cheeyeeeseee!!! Also, this show had an excellent female role model in Gadget, who is criminally underrated in feminism pop culture. Also had great theme song, which I believe was written by the same people who did DuckTales.
Aaahh!!! Real Monsters - So weird, loved it. In general, I loved the Stick Stickly lineup on Nickelodeon.
Classic Disney Chip and Dale cartoons - The colors! The animation! The twee little acorns!
Classic Disney Donald Duck - Again, the colors! I just love those burnt yellows, reds, and browns of the 50's and 60's.
Animaniacs - We laughed.
Batman the Animated Series - I don't need to explain why this show is awesome. I re-watched some episodes recently and it totally holds up.
Transformers - I have hazy memories, but very real feelings for this show. I was pretty little when it was on.
Rugrats - Those first few seasons were brilliant.
Doug - Sweet and pleasant. A nice way to come down from the usual frenetic cartoon pace. And who didn't love Porkchop?
Rocko's Modern Life - So weird! And faintly disturbing! And yet I loved it so much...
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Classic show. One of my earliest childhood obsessions. My babysitter's sons had ALL the action figures too, which were pretty amazing on their own.
X-Men - The extensiveness of the Phoenix saga blew my 10 year old mind. It was probably my first exposure to carton serials, which would set me up for anime later in life. Also, Gambit and Rogue 4eva. Also, hell of a theme song.
Conan the Warrior - I think this came on right before X-men, and we (my brother, babysitter's sons and I) loved it almost as much.
Gummi Bears - A bunch of bears drink gummi berry juice which makes them bounce violently through the air, helping them to either escape or beat up the bad guys. How high were the writers on this show? Regardless, it was sort of brilliant and super imaginative. I loved their underground "train" system.
Alvin and the Chipmunks - so 80's.
He-man - Again, hazy memories, but I remember loving it.
Tiny Toons (also classic Looney Toons) - Babs Bunny was the best. Also, this is the show that gave us Elmira.
Muppet Babies - ADORED this show. Loved their imaginations, especially when it put them in old movies (especially Star Wars clips).
And then there were the shows I had mixed feelings for:
Tailspin - I liked the idea of surfing on the clouds behind a pontoon cargo plain, but I disliked the Baloo character and his boss (Was her name Rebecca? Hold on, I'm going to look that up - holy shit, I was right. See what I mean about how I have this crazy skill at remembering story details?)
Woody Woodpecker - entertaining, but frenetic.
Ren and Stimpy - So weird and gross, but we couldn't stop watching it. It had this strange ability to fool adults into thinking it was appropriate for children (even my babysitter let us watch it and she was very uptight about what she let us watch on tv), but every kid knew it was deeply disturbing and we really shouldn't be watching it.
And because I'm passionate about cartoons, here's a list of the ones I really, really hated.
Scooby-Doo - So boring. Flame me all you want. I hated this show and its repetitiveness.
Jetsons/Flintstones - I hated how angry George and Fred always seemed to be. Such nasty family dynamics.
Goof Troop - Goofy creeps me out.
Inspector Gadget - The worst. I don't like shows about incompetent people. I did however want Penny's computer book.
Ok, that's not an exhaustive list, but now that I have one I can make my decision. Here we go, top five:
1. Ducktales/Donald Duck Cartoons (it's my list, I get to lump the cartoon universes if I want)
2. Rescue Rangers/Chip and Dale Cartoons
4. Batman: the Animated Series
5. Muppet Babies
Why DuckTales? Proportionally speaking, I think I enjoyed it the longest. X-men and Batman were amazing shows, but I didn't watch them for as long as DuckTales. Also, for a show about a bunch of ducks, it was pretty weird and had a fun range of story lines. Wasn't there an episode about vegetable-shaped aliens? (Yep)
In retrospect, I think my cartoon obsession is where I learned the rudiments of story-telling. Were all these shows great stories? Maybe not in an academic sense, but they certainly entertained me and pulled me in to what was happening (i.e., "losing myself" in the story, which I think is such an interesting, but hard to define idea). Enjoying myself and losing myself, that's really all it takes to make a good story.
Sometimes my parent friends complain that TV turns their kids into zombies, but what's really so bad about your kid becoming engrossed in a good story? Isn't that preferable to mindlessly clicking at some pointless cellphone game? I think you'd learn loads more from a goofy little cartoon than how many points you get on Angry Birds. But that's just my opinion.
Were you (or are you still) a cartoon lover? What's your top-five?
When I was little, my parents both worked, so I went to a home day-care. This was the late 80's, so our toys and books were of that era and I remember.there was this one Teddy Ruxpin book (Grubby's Romance) that still nags at me to this day. It nags at me because one of the rotten kids at the day-care had ripped some of the pages out! And even though I knew better, I used to read that book over and over and hope that somehow those pages would reappear so I could finally read (and understand) the whole story. I'm not kidding. I still think about this book.
It's just the way my brain works. I'm totally obsessive about stories. I remember whole episodes of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Duck Tales. If something is told to me in the form of a story, I pretty much won't ever forget it. But that means I can't stand to listen to or read fragments of anything, because I'll remember those fragments and the missing pieces will bother me. Badly. I just want to know the whole story, it's really not that weird if you think about it.
For example, if I'm in the car and This American Life comes on the radio, I can't leave the story half-way through. I mean, technically I can. The car-ride ends, I have to get out of the car and turn off the radio, but I hate doing it. I hate having this catalogue in my head of all the stories I've heard on This American Life without ever getting to hear the end. Podcasts have solved this particular issue for me, but the theme continues through my life.
For instance, even though I love comic books, especially Marvel characters, I've never been able to get into the Marvel comic series because the story-lines are so expansive, I can't stand the thought of just jumping into the story midway. I want to start at the beginning and that's basically impossible at this point. Even if I bought every trade paper-back, I don't think it could be easily done. (Nor would it make a lot of sense. There's a mountain of discontinuity in those series which would drive me insane.) No, I find it easier to buy complete collections of manga, which begin and end in very discrete intervals. That's doable. But a part of me is always going to be sorry that I can't get over this little quirk in order to enjoy some classic American comics. Like Spiderman. I would LOVE to get into Spiderman. But it's never going to happen.
Same goes for cartoon shows, especially animes. Fox was the worst at this. They would show episodes out of order or skip episodes for whatever reason. Why did they do that? Just tell me the whole story!
This is why when I want to read a comic or watch a TV show, I usually just go ahead and buy the whole series. It's not cheap, so I have to be pretty selective, but I find it so much more enjoyable to read/watch a story from beginning to end. When I first started making a little money from my summer jobs, the first thing I did was buy the Dragon Ball Z manga one by one, all 26 books. It was awesome. Finally, after all those years of Cartoon Network yanking my chain with the incomplete DBZ anime, I finally had the whole story.
Do you feel this strongly about stories? Do gaps bother you as much as they bother me?
I'm going to come right out and say it: I didn't think Pixar's Inside Out was very good.
The three "human" characters were normal. Nothing interesting going on there. The emotions were caricatures of emotions and definitely not well-developed characters. And the scenes featuring Joy and Sadness navigating long-term memory were so slow that I fell asleep, woke up having no idea how much time had passed, but it didn't seem I had missed anything important that affected the story-line so I was able to keep watching. I feel like you shouldn't be able to tune out of a movie for extended periods and still be able to follow along, but you could with Inside Out because there just wasn't that much going on. It was, I think, a rare example of a story that was too simple.
That last Pixar movie I saw was Brave and I feel like my criticisms of Inside Out could be equally applied to it as well. I saw Brave in theaters and regretted that choice. So much money to spend to hear a story that I feel like I've heard a hundred times before, and got bored with by the time I was in the second grade.
What happened Pixar? You used to be the king of great storytelling! The last Pixar movie I saw and really liked was Up; not a perfect movie, but still pretty good. The last really great Pixar movie, in my opinion, was the first half of Wall-E.
The next Pixar movie, The Good Dinosaur, looks like it's going to have the exact same issues as well. These are just not very good ideas, they're too simple. The characters are one-dimensional, which makes them hard to emotionally invest in. I have some theories as to why Pixar has been trending in this direction and a lot of it has to do with internet PC homogenization. Compare Toy Story to Inside Out and I think you'll see the difference. Toy Story was irreverent, the characters were naughty, they sometimes hated each other a little. But no one is even bad in Inside Out. There's no villain. There aren't even competing interests. The message in fact seems to be that every emotion is valuable. You can't argue with that, but that doesn't mean it makes an interesting story.