First published in The Varsity on Dec 7, 1989, page 4
by RAY DEONANDAN
I remember waking up really early on Saturday mornings, crawling downstairs very quietly so as not to wake anyone, and gorging myself for many hours on that priceless media opiate: t.v. cartoons. I don’t slither out of bed quite that early anymore, but I still manage to ingest my weekly bolus of television candy.
Things have changed, however. The quality of Saturday morning fare and its intended audience have been altered.
I find that the last two decades of animated television readily divides into three defined phases: the Fun Dumb Adventure phase; the Video Game Sellout phase; and lastly the Unimaginative Dumb Adventure phase. Running contemporaneously alongside all three phases are the Pseudointelleciual cartoons.
The Pseudoiniellectuals include classics like The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Show, George Of The Jungle, Rocky & Bullwinkle, and the unforgettable Underdog.
There is substantial overlap with another type called Cartoons With Really Neat Theme Songs. This fifth heading honours Roger Ramjet, Rocket Robinhood, Spiderman and the first real t.v. comic book, Star Blazers.
The first phase (Fun Dumb Adventure) is what I consider to be the Golden Age of television cartoons, probably because its timeline corresponds well to my childhood years. How many of us lost sleep to watch The Superfriends, just to see how many more visible minorities ABC could hope to cram into superhero costumes?
But the undisputed heavyweight champion of cartoons at this time was the one and only ‘Scooby Doo‘ (and Shaggy, too). Imagine the state of the world without those meddling kids and their dog.
Scooby’s reign came to an abrupt end when the industry big-wigs discovered that, all of a sudden, pre-teens had lots of money to spend. The second era of television cartoons was thus ushered in: the Video Game Sellout phase.
Cartoons stopped appealing to kids’ minds and started patronizing their parents’ wallets. The microchip revolution saw some really horrible cartoon creations like Pac-Man, Pole Position, Care Bears and the truly outrageous Jem.
Japan’s domination of world economics was seen by children first, and mirrored in adult comic book stores. Japanese comics and cartoons were released simultaneously to attack the market on two fronts. Asia is still locked into this obsession with the machine as a source of power and enteriainment.
The robot ruled the second era, returning from the 1950s in a new form machines that turned into vehicles. The Transformers had arrived, along with their sickly first cousins The Gobots. For the first time ever, machines were cast as good guys, their mechanized states now enviable conditions.
Violent Japanese robots were in vogue, as were the toy counterparts to the cartoons that were now just extended commercials. An avid fan could predict next month’s episode by watching yesterday’s toy advertisements. This trend climaxed with the advent of the first animated soap opera, Japan’s Robotech.
Network officials were eager to make existing cartoons more accessible to a new breed of children with expensive clothes and short attention spans. Hence poor old Scooby-Doo was made to look like an illiterate imbecile with the introduction of his highly evolved and eloquent nephew Scrappy-Doo.
It was sacrilege.
Luckily, this annoying new type of child quickly grew larger, discovered crack and semi-automatic weaponry, and joined preppie street gangs. Cartoons were thus free to resume their normal course of evolution.
Europe’s The Smurfs did well with moralistic fairy tales concerned with characters rather than objects. It also provided a brand new drinking game (downing a shooter every time the word “smurf” is heard).
Enter the third and present phase of cartoon evolution. The shows I’ve labelled Unimaginative Dumb Adventures are cued from movies and sitcoms, but are several quantum units better than those based on video games.
The first season of The Real Ghostbusters, featuring the voice of Arsenio Hall, was a terrific romp through high fantasy, science fiction and Lovecraftian horror. It was the best campy cartoon since Underdog himself. Weekly instalments were in the flavour of the original megafilm — except with better plots.
Today’s best fares are Alf (surprisingly) and Beetlejuice, two entertaining offerings based on partly organic counterparts.
Indeed, I believe, for Young Adults, the wise-cracking Alf series consistently presents intelligent stories, reasonable animation and a moralistic edge: many of the stories are clever re- workings of traditional fairy-tales.
Beetlejuice is a rarity. Not only is purgatory the setting, as in the original movie, but its bizarreness has not been attenuated for kiddie consumption. And its hero is a bad guy, a great leap forward for producers of animated TV. Perhaps they’ve finally realized that more adults than kids watch these shows.
The mindless violence continues with Robocop and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (despite the great name). Meanwhile our jazz age hero, Bugs Bunny, has been desecrated. While Elmer Fudd still fires his gun at Daffy Duck, Daffy’s head now fails to explode, and his beak fails to spin like a gyroscope.
That’s right, folks, The Bugs Bunny / Road Runner Show has been censored.