Friday, September 21, 2012

When Cartoons Were Good

I grew up watching cartoons on TV—a black and white TV until I was a teenager. While I would watch any cartoon, it didn't take me long to decide that Looney Tunes cartoons were on average a cut above the rest, at least when it came to cartoons developed after the early 1940s. The quality of the story lines, dialogue, humor, hand drawn art, vocal talents, and music put these cartoons in a class of their own.

I very much liked other cartoons as well, especially the original Jonny Quest series. I was a fan of the original Scooby Doo series too; although, both of these were in different genres than Looney Tunes. But most of the cartoons in the broad Hanna-Barbera universe were, at least to me, of decidedly inferior quality to Looney Tunes. I frankly never cared for Tom & Jerry. And the 1973 Yogi's Gang series was among the most awful things ever done. Ditto with the addition of the Scrappy Doo character to Scooby Doo.

We own a lot of Scooby Doo DVDs, mainly because my younger kids quite like them. I think you could go on buying these things forever, since the franchise has spawned 11 series and some live action movies. We own a lot of other DVDs as well. Most of them are aimed at kids—Disney, DreamWorks, and the like. (Yeah, I know that actual ownership of video disks is destined to go the way of VHS tapes.)

I have a handful of DVDs in my personal collection—mostly history documentaries and a few 'classics' that were popular in my teen and young adult years. But I own some cartoon DVDs as well: all six of the Looney Tunes Golden Edition collections (yes, that's 24 full length DVDs), another Looney Tunes disk, and the entire original Jonny Quest series.

I know that the shorts made during the Looney Tunes golden era are full of material that is horridly politically incorrect nowadays. As noted by Wikipedia, these shorts are filled with violent gags, "racial and ethnic caricatures," and "questionable vices." It isn't possible to remove insensitive factors without destroying the original art. It should be understood when watching these cartoons that some elements are clearly offensive by modern standards. Other material that today's professional victimology industry considers taboo is still funny and still offers valuable cultural and social commentary.

You can see a lot of different cartoons on TV and on the Internet nowadays. Some of the offerings are pretty good. But others are pure garbage. Some of the so-called art (computer enhanced, no less) looks like it was drawn by Kindergartners on drugs. And I have yet to understand how infusing cartoons with endless streams of body function gags, potty humor, and all things icky offers a moral improvement over Elmer Fudd shooting Daffy Duck in the head in a slapstick scene.

The 1990s the Animaniacs and Tiny Toon Adventures series tried to recapture some of the magic of the classic Looney Tunes while modernizing and taking it to a new level. Although not devoid of decent humor, the delivery was choppy and often annoying. The shows' frenetic paces frequently suppressed the magic rather than enhancing it. More recent offerings featuring the classic Looney Tunes stars don't quite capture the magic of the originals either.

I don't often sit down to watch the cartoon DVDs I own. My kids watched them a lot when we first got them. But not so much any more. Still, the classic Looney Tunes shorts comprise a unique artistic and entertainment achievement that will probably never be repeated.

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