bag

August 2022

Cartoons

A lot of people are asking, "say, Steve, you are really old and know everything.  Did kid cartoons always suck?"  The answer is, no!  In the 60s, there were thousands of cartoons and other media left over from theatres that could be broadcast on the cheap. So we pretty much saw the entire history of cartoonage, watching the "idiot box" after school. Meanwhile, television studios took over cartoon production and sped up production by drastically reducing the amount of art that went into animation,. There were a few small TV studios that excelled, even in the cost-reduced format.  On this page are some of my favorite cartoons, arranged in chronological order. I rate my top three entries, mostly based on how well they have been stuck in my head. If you watch these with your kids, maybe someday they will appreciate that every age had its share of "coolth". 

Betty Boop and Ko Ko the Clown, Ha Ha Ha, 1934

Here you will learn about dentistry in the 1930s, from a flapper girl and a clown. Max Fleisher produced this cartoon and many more, mixing in live shots with animation with his invention, the Rotoscope, which he patented in 1915.  Ko Ko was old enough to have appeared in silent movies!  Fleisher was a true genius.  When his patent expired, Disney grabbed the technology, produced a few memorable full length features before they morphed into an industrial entertainment corporation, kind of like what Facebook is trying to do with "Meta".  Notice there are no Disney cartoons on this page, Walt was kind of a dick.  Ha Ha Ha is one big party, fueled with nitrous oxide (laughing gas). Abusing drugs is bad, but it is good to have drugs when you really need them.  Mae Questel is the voice of Betty Boop.

Warner Brothers, An Itch in Time, 1943

Who doesn't enjoy a singing flea?  Warner Brothers were the gods of animation... and Mel Blanc was the Man of 1000 Voices, creating an unbeatable cartoon empire. Mel Blanc voices Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck and even Hanna Barbera's Barney Rubble in later years.   In An Itch in Time, Mel plays both the dog and the cat, . The theme of hunger was not lost on the 1943 audience, as the world was just recovering from the Great Depression when WWII broke out. Today's well-fed population would do themselves a favor by learning about starvation caused by Putin's villainous invasion of Ukraine: you are only one bomb away from your own personal hunger games. This is my third-favorite cartoon on the page, because of the song "There'll be Food Around The Corner". It is so cool that even Tre Cool (Green Day) sang it. In a surprise ending, the cat commits suicide. The Simpsons owe a lot to Warner Brothers.

Woody Woodpecker, Destination Moon, 1950

Woody was originally voiced by Mel Blanc, but Mel worked almost exclusively at Warner Brothers starting in the 40s.  When Walter Lantz studios needed a new woodpecker voice, Grace Stafford slipped an audition tape into the pile and walked away with the role. Grace was Walter's wife, and her woodpecker voice was so well disguised he did not recognize her. In this cartoon, Woody explains rocket propulsion to a group of scientists. The movie it is attached to (Destination Moon) is a pretty good sci-fi effort, you can find it for free with a little Googling.

Heckle and Jeckle, House Busters, 1952

Produced by Terrytunes from 1946 to 1955, the entire H&J library was sold off to CBS in 1955 and played on television for many years to the delight of fans. A theme song that pervades these cartoons is "Listen to the Mocking Bird" and dates to 1855 (pre-Civil-War!) In this episode the mighty magpies sing "Give us a House to Wreck" which will be stuck in your brain forever.  This is my favorite cartoon of all. Roy Haley voices the mismatched accents of both birds.

Give us a house to wreck, we'll tear it down by heck

We'll pull out the pipes and tear down the walls, and chop the chimney till it falls

We'll hammer and dig and pry and peck

Just give us a house to wreck!

Popeye, Ancient Fistory, 1953

Popeye teaches your kids to eat spinach, what a redeeming quality!  Even better, he gets in some pretty violent fights. In Ancient Fistory, you can learn how to speak "olde English"; for sure after seeing this cartoon myself and some close friends would count one-eth, two-eth, three-eth, even say "thou sucketh". Jack Mercer is the voice of Popeye, and Mae Questel is Olive Oyl. A grand time for all, this cartoon is my second all-time favorite. Because of Ancient Fistory, I have changed my personal pronouns to "thee/thine"...

 

 

The early 1950s pretty much ends the Golden Age of Cartoons, but let's look at a few notable efforts in the early TV years...

Felix the Cat, Master Cylinder captures Poindexter, 1959

Felix animations date back to 1919.  Produced for TV in the 1950s and 1960s by Famous Studios, what engineer would not want a Bag of Tricks? The association of the name "Poindexter" and "nerd" comes from Felix the Cat episodes. In case you didn't know, a "master cylinder" is part of the hydraulic braking system in your car (if you own a electric or hybrid car, a second electronic breaking system recovers kinetic energy to charge the battery).  The only master cylinder difference between 1959 and today is that cars are required by law to have two master cylinders so there is no single-source of failure.  In 1959, it was rare to own a color TV, but a lot of shows (and cartoons such as Felix) were thankfully being produced in color right from the start. Ann Bennett provided the voice for Felix's theme song. If you listen to her do a dozen radio jingles and more on Sound Cloud while you work, you will get a bigger raise and/or your grades will improve.  Jack Mercer voiced all of the main Felix characters.  Righty-O!

Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse, The Case of the Flying Saucer, 1961

This cartoon was produced for television by Trans Artists and is a Batman spoof. I really don't have a favorite episode of this one, but I love the intro music. They were obviously looking for a Peter Gunn vibe with that beat. Henry Mancini composed Peter Gunn in 1958 and set the standard for television musical accompaniment. Courageous Cat's theme was composed by Johnny Holiday.

Krazy Kat, Quickest Brick in the West, 1963

The entire premise of Krazy Kat is an abusive relationship. Ignatz (the mouse) throws bricks at Crazy Kat to get rid of her, but each time she is hit she seems to love him more. Were we emotionally damaged by watching this? No one asked at the time, and I only knew of one childhood acquaintance that tried to kill a girl with a hammer when she told her parents he had stolen a bike. I think there were other problems in his family that were not related to animation. The Quickest Brick in the West is a tribute to the Movie High Noon, filmed in 1952. In High Noon, the song Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling was sung by Tex Ritter.  I cannot find who sings the equivalent song in the Krazy Kat cartoon, but it is pretty good.  Paul Frees is the voice of Ignatz, he had a storied career and at one point was the voice of the Pillsbury Dough Boy. Penny Philips is Krazy Kat, and voiced a few other cartoons as well. Brickbats Brannigan's first name refers to either a piece of brick, or a uncomplimentary remark, take your pick.

By the mid-1960s, cartoon production for television became a huge industry with lots of mediocre material.   It is notable that Speed Racer was the first Japanese Anime (introduced in 1967), but I can't say I am a huge fan. During the 1960s, Hanna Barbera studios created a virtual monopoly with Yogi Bear, Flintstones, Top Cat, The Jetsons, Underdog, Quick Draw McGraw, Huckleberry Hound,  Magilla Gorilla -- Heck, we even had a gay star, Snagglepus, the pink lion. Quantity trumps quality, and as the years went by the cartoon situation deteriorated until "modern" shows like the Simpsons breathed some life back into the media. 

Clutch Cargo (Cambria Studios, circa 1959) is worth a mention, as it was a weird mix of live film and illustrations in a process they called "synchro-vox".  If you have little kids now, it is possible they will grow up and never know what a clutch is.

Last, we need to include an animated commercial: Sugar Bear! Last we checked, the voice of Sugar Bear, Jerry Mattthews, is alive and well in Walla Walla, and runs an eclectic museum of sorts where he purports to have a wooden copy of Napolean's left testicle.  His Sugar Bear voice is a first-rate imitation of Bing Crosby's crooning voice.  Granny Goodwitch was voiced by Ruth Buzzi, who was one of the star players of Rowen and Martin's Laugh-In. and won a Golden Globe for her work. She lives in Texas but recently suffered a stroke.  Not a "stroke of luck", she points out, keeping her sense of humor..

Check out the Unknown Editor's amazing archives when you are looking for a way to screw off for a couple of hours or more!

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