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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Saturday Morning Cartoons

Remember when you'd get up early to watch cartoons on Saturday morning? Of course you do. You pine for those days like a mealworm for... meal. I'm out of analogies.

Anyway, I long for the old days when I'd look at the TV guide for reasons to lose sleep. The Tick, Pinky and the Brain, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Real Ghostbusters, The Smurfs, Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Adventures of Tintin, Garfield and Friends, The Transformers, Tazmania and many more would drag me out of bed when I normally wanted to snooze. It was a time when the Saturday morning cartoon was at a transition period, where the last vestiges of the Rocky and Bullwinkle American pride and history could be seen in shows such as Animaniacs (the president song in particular) and Histeria. Also, it was time when animation quality was beginning to improve over the Hanna-Barbera tripe that had been peddled to kids since the seventies. You know, Josie and the Pusseycats, Scooby Doo, that kind of crap.

Now I get up on Saturday to be greeted by Japanese shows that can loosely be described as "animated." Perhaps I need to be Japanese, but I just don't get them. There must be an ancient tradition going back to the Muromachi period where warriors would do battle with small creatures (that can only say their own names) trapped in red and white orbs. In order for the brave samurai to face off, they would have to shout, "I choose you [name of orb-trapped creature]!" The creatures would battle to the death, and whichever samurai warrior owned the winning animal would get the merchandising rights to sell the creature's likeness to American children in the form of cheap, yet very complicated toys.

I also wake up to see that every show I was convinced would be cancelled mid-pilot is nearing its tenth season. How on earth has the awful Ed, Edd, and Eddy survived? It's animated in faux squiggle vision, but doesn't have the wit or charm of any squiggle vision show. Ed, Edd, and Eddy's main downfall is that it's steeped in neverending frustration. I don't care for a single character, yet we are forced to watch their borderline psychotic lives.

How is it that Courage the Cowardly Dog, Invader Zim, and Dave the Barbarian fizzle like cheap seltzer, but Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends thrives? First, it's animated with Flash. Unless your name is Mike or Matt Chapman, you'd best stay away from Flash. Foster's looks as flat and bland is its namesake, Foster's Lager (at least, it would take me several cases of Foster's Lager to enjoy this show, and, ironically, it would take several cases before I enjoyed the Foster's Lager, too). I had high expecations when I heard that Craig McCracken, of Powerpuff Girls fame, was making a new show. It's rare that my disappointment transcends vague metaphorical feeling to become a tangible entity, but it happened as I watched the one and half hour too long one and half hour pilot/movie. My disappointment oozed out of my left ear, grabbed its hat and coat, and left its first cousin despair to keep me company. After the first strike, the show's use of Flash, the second strike whizzed by home plate in the form of an abusive older brother who never gets caught doing bad stuff, but convinces the parents that the innocent younger brother is the culprit. This is a tired plot device that was worn out the moment it was invented. It's frustrating. It's easy to write. It sucks. Foster's continues, in nearly every episode mind you, to use the "I need to cover up what I've done by lying, though in the end of the episode I'll confess and find out it wasn't that bad in the first place" writing technique. I know my dryer will fold my laundry for me before any of the people who make Foster's ever read my blog, but I need to say it: You can do better, guys.

Honestly. I could explain, in boring detail, all the cartoons I hate and those I love, but I'd prefer to leave you with some numbers to explain my feelings:

The merchandise generator Digimon is still on after 8 years.
The laugh a minute Freakazoid lasted 2 years.
The painful Hey Arnold! lasted 8 years.
The brilliant and hilarious Invader Zim lasted 2 years.
The show that most makes me feel like I've been kneed in the groin, Ed, Edd, and Eddy, lasted 8 years.
The gut busting Dave The Barbarian lasted 2 years.
The spectacularly horrid South Park is still on, after 10 years.
The awesome Megas XLR lasted 2 years.
The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy has been on for 6 years and is inexplicably growing in popularity.
Sonic The Hedgehog (Satam) was dead after 2 seasons.
Pokemon will never die, no matter how much I wish it would.
The Tick, which features the best one liners any cartoon has ever dared to air, was cancelled after 3 seasons.
Catdog somehow lasted for nearly 7 years.
Duck Dodgers in the 24th and halfth Century was too funny and well written, so it had to go after 3 seasons.
Yu-Gi-Oh! hurts, and yet it lives.
Sheep in the Big City apparently didn't cut the mustard and was put to pasture after 2 years.
How long did Scooby Doo run? Decades?
Joe Murray's excellent Rocko's Modern Life left our world after living 3 seasons.
Doug got 7 seasons and a movie.
Futurama got 4 seasons and the boot.
The awful and poorly written Rugrats lasted a baffling 13 years.
Sam and Max, which I consider to be the height of cartoon hilarity (outside of the classic Warner Brothers animated shorts) received only 1 season.

And there are plenty more deserving shows that never got to go to series: Space Usagi, Bloo's Gang, The Ignoramooses, Mina and the Count, Snoot's New Squat, Uncle Gus, and countless others. As much as I complain, there are shows that have slipped through the cracks and managed to last. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was, until the Simpsons overtook it a few years ago, the longest running cartoon ever made. Spongebob Squarepants continues strong, and some of the show's best episodes came from the last couple seasons. The Fairly Oddparents is doing well, despite its quality. The Angry Beavers and Kablam were granted 4 years, pretty good runs for Nickelodeon programs. As it should be, The Powerpuff Girls stayed on for a good 8 years. Other shows that deserved instant death, received it, like the spectacularly awful Atomic Betty and the confusing Yakkity Yak (the confusing part is that it exists, it had to be green lit by somebody). I don't know that anyone was sad about Capitol Critters and Fish Police getting the axe, though I have bit of nostalgia for them because they premiered just as I was getting interested in animation as a separate entity from live action.

In short, the majority of the cartoons that defined my Saturdays were the ones that were either too old fashioned to last in this era of politically correct nonsense and trendy commercialism, or were to quirky and imaginative to become mainstream. A shame, because it means quality alone does not guarantee success in the world of television production.


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