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Monday, 16 December 2013

Cartoon Memories

Old Animated Cartoons
I am far from being an expert on animated movies but there was a brief period in my life from about the age of about 6 to the age of about 13 when I was fascinated by animation. I think that fascination diminished somewhat around 1960 when I was 13. That was the year that Hanna-Barbera introduced The Flintstones. Up until then, animated cartoons seemed to be mostly geared towards kids. Most of the stuff from the 50s and before was about one animal chasing another it seemed.
I never thought that The Flintstones were that funny. “The modern stone age family” in some ways was a rip off of the 50’s comedy show The Honeymooners with Jackie Gleason playing Ralph Kramden. Fred Flintstone and Ralph Kramden were a lot alike. Both had quick tempers, got involved in crazy schemes, liked bowling, and belonged to a men only club. Both characters had pretty wives who tried to steer their husbands towards some common sense and both had not too bright best friends. A later effort by Hanna-Barbera, Top Cat, pretty well ripped another 1950s TV hit, Strike It Rich with Phil Silvers.
The Flintstones
From the age of 13 on I would occasionally watch several minutes of an animated cartoon on TV like The Roadrunner and Wiley Coyote but would become bored with it pretty quickly. When I got older, I wasn’t one of those “stoners” who could watch cartoons on TV for hours.
Wile E. Coyote and The Roadrunner
Back in the 50s TV was only available in black and white. We kind of had to imagine colour. In the early 50s TV stations were desperate for cheap content. There was a lot of boxing and wrestling on the tube. Kid’s shows mostly involved puppets which may have been fine for a 5 year old but not so much for a 10 year old. The powers that be at the time quickly discovered that they could dig up old B westerns to entertain kids on TV and William Boyd who played Hopalong Cassidy became a bigger star than he ever was in the 1930s or1940s. The character, Hopalong Cassidy, dates back to 1904.
Also found in the storage warehouses where the old movies were kept were a number of animated shorts that had played in movie theatres years before. Some of them, including Felix the Cat, were from the silent movie era and someone figured out that you could run them on TV by just adding peppy background music. Betty Boop cartoons were quite popular in the 1930s but seemed a bit dated when they turned up TV in the early 50s. Betty Boop’s character was supposed to be a flapper from the Roaring Twenties.
Felix The Cat
Walt Disney
Walt Disney started his career in making animated movies in the early 1920s and worked in collaboration with a cartoonist and animator named Ub Iwerks. One of their first characters was Oswald The Lucky Rabbit. Disney lost control of the Oswald character and vowed that this would never happen to him again. In 1928 Disney and Iweks came up with a new character called Steamboat Willie who was a mouse. Their first short film utilizing Steamboat Willie was also the first animated film with synchronized sound. Steamboat Willie later morphed into Mickey Mouse.
Steamboat Willie
By the mid-1930s Disney had added the characters Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pluto to his repertoire. Over the years some have wondered about the dog characters Goofy and Pluto. Why did Goofy wear clothes and why was Pluto a pet when they were both dogs? Some also wondered why cartoon characters always had 3 instead of 4 fingers.
In 1938 Disney introduced the first full length animated cartoon in Technicolor. It was called Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. It was spectacular compared to any previous attempts at animation and appealed to audiences of all ages. Disney became the gold standard in animated cartoons.
By the time TV had become popular in the early 1950s Disney had a lot of stuff in the vault that he could edit and show on his hour long TV program that started in 1954 on the new ABC network. Originally the show was called Disneyland and was then called Walt Disney Presents from 1959-1961. In 1955 The Mickey Mouse Club first appearedon weekday afternoons on the tube. There usually was a cartoon segment. Although Disney left the animation up to others over the years he was the voice of Mickey Mouse for about 20 years. He was more of an idea guy and an entrepreneur in the 1950s and his big dream was to open a theme park in Anaheim, California called Disneyland. A lot of the capital he needed came from his TV shows and full length animated cartoon movies. Disneyland opened for business on July 17th, 1955.

1956 post card sent from Disneyland-Sleeping Beauty Castle
Postcard from Shelley Unger-1956.
Here is a list of some of the full length animated cartoon movies Disney produced up until 1960.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves… 1938.
Pinocchio… 1940.
Fantasia …1940.
The Advenures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad…1949.
Alice In Wonderland…1951.
Peter Pan…1953.
Lady And The Tramp…1955.
Sleeping Beauty…1959.
If Walt Disney knew one thing it was how to pull on the heart strings of his audience.
My all-time favourite Disney Classic is The Wind In The Willows. I can still visualize the camera panning in on Toad Hall Mansion down by the river and the shy Mole, Badger, and the more assertive Ratty discussing what to do about their dear friend Mr, Toad who had developed an insatiable appetite for a new-fangled invention called a “motor car”.   Mr. Toad had a history of being caught up with the latest fad. Previously to his fascination with motor cars he had roamed the countryside in a caravan pulled by a crazed talking horse. “We’re on our way to nowhere in particular.” Other scenes of note are the takeover of Toad Hall by a group of weasels and ferrets that Mr. Toad had befriended and the police chase after Mr. Toad escapes from prison on Christmas Eve and steals another car. To me this is one of the best children’s stories ever written.
Toad Hall
My second favourite Disney offering would be Pinocchio. Was there ever a more likable animated character than Jiminy Cricket? This movie introduced the song When You Wish Upon A Star. There is something touching about that song. An innocence much like Somewhere Over The Rainbow from The Wizard Of Oz. In some ways Pinocchio was kind of a parable about principles without the sermon. Lying can get you in a whole lot of trouble. Then again being too honest with your opinions can also get you in a whole lot of trouble.
If you have ever seen Fantasia you might wonder if it is appropriate for children. My guess is that more than a few kids had nightmares after viewing this movie. For some reason Walt Disney decided to have Mickey Mouse play off character in this movie. In fact there wasn’t much humour at all in Fantasia. Mickey is a sorcerer’s apprentice and has picked up a few of his boss’s secret methods. Mickey attempts to use these powers and the events that follow turn into uncontrolled madness. Broomsticks start marching en masse and buckets of poured water turn into flooding. Layered on top of all this is a symphonic orchestra led by Leopold Stokowski compete with crashing cymbals. At the end of the movie the bearded sorcerer turns up, casts a spell and stops the madness, and Mickey sheepishly creeps away. At this point my guess is that some had a WTF moment. What the hell just happened here? And what were those dancing hippos in tutus all about?
Walt Disney wasn’t the only game in town when it came to animated cartoons back in the day. It would be safe to say however that he was considerably more sophisticated than his competitors. The story lines, at least in his full length presentations, were far more elaborate.
One thing that I found strange about the Walt Disney stuff was why Mickey Mouse was a bigger deal than Donald Duck. As a kid growing up in the 50s I saw a lot of other boys doing Donald Duck impressions but I can’t recall any of them trying to imitate Mickey. Maybe it was because Mickey kind of had a girl’s voice?
Donald Duck
Warner Bros.
“This is it. You’ll hit the heights. And oh what heights we’ll hit. On with the show this is it!”
Warner Bros. started producing animated cartoons in 1933 to accompany their feature movies in theatres. These cartoons were usually about 10 or 15 minutes long and without too much effort they could be packaged together in the 50s to provide a half hour of entertainment geared mostly to kids. Mel Blanc was the voice of many of the Warner Bros. cartoon characters for decades including Bugs Bunny.
Bugs Bunny
Here is a list of some of the Warner Bros. cartoon characters and when they were introduced.
Daffy Duck and Porky Pig…1937.
Daffy Duck and Porky Pig
Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd…1940.
Sylvester, Pepe Lepew, and Yosemite Sam…1945.
Foghorn Cleghorn…1946.
Wiley Coyote and The Roadrunner…1949.
Probably more than any other cartoons, Warner Bros. characters were the ones most often imitated by kids in the 50s. “Eh what’s up doc?” “I taught I saw a puddy cat?” “Th-th that’s all folks!”

Woody Woodpecker
Woody Woodpecker
The Woody Woodpecker show turned up on the tube in 1957. A middle aged guy who invented Woody, n Walter Lantz, hosted the show. When Woody made his first appearance in the early 1940s Mel Blanc did his voice. Later on Lantz’s wife did Woody’s voice for close to 20 years. “Ee-ee-ee-ya-who, ee-ee-ea-ya-who!”
Mighty Mouse Playhouse
I first discovered Mighty Mouse Playhouse in around 1957. I was out riding my bike around the neighbourhood one Saturday morning when a kid from my grade school class, Ken Hutchison, invited me into his home to watch the program. “Here I come to save the day!”  Not the funniest cartoons ever invented.

Popeye The Sailor Man
Popeye The Sailor Man
Unlike other cartoons that had animals as characters Popeye The Sailor had people. Weird people. Popeye had enormous forearms one of which had a tattoo of an anchor. He smoked a corn cob pipe. His girlfriend was the very skinny Olive Oyl. There was a baby called Swee’ Pea whose parentage didn’t seem determined. Popeye’s nemesis was Bluto, a big bearded guy who also had the hots for Olive Oyl. Popeye also had a friend named Wimpy who would say “I’d gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” (In the early 1950s a hamburger chain called Wimpy’s was opened in the UK.) The basic plot of any Popeye story is that he would get into difficulty, usually with Bluto (sometimes called Brutus) and he would haul out a can of spinach that would give him strength to beat the crap out of Bluto.
Tom Terrific
Tom Terrific and Manfred
Tom Terrific was a cartoon short shown on the Captain Kangaroo Show on Saturday mornings. For some reason Tom wore a spout as a hat. His best friend was Manfred the Wonder Dog. These cartoons were pretty primitive in that there wasn’t much effort put into them. For something like 50 cents you could send away to Captain Kangaroo for a plastic sheet that you could put on your television screen and draw on the sheet an object that Tom was using but you couldn’t see. You were given a description of what this object should look like. This may have been one of the first attempts at extracting money from kids on TV. Perhaps the best attempt to get money from kids back then was when Soupy Sales once asked kids to send him some green money.
Tom and Jerry
Tom and Jerry (a cat and mouse) were created by the team of William Hanna and Joe Barbera in 1940. They spent about 17 years producing Tom and Jerry short animated movies for MGM before striking out on their own in the late 1950s. They then created Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, Deputy Dawg, Yogi Bear, Top Cat, Magilla Gorilla, The Jetsons, and The Flintstones. It was quite obvious back then even to a kid, that Hanna-Barbera cut more than a few steps out of the typical animated cartoon process. There wasn’t a lot of movement by the characters and the same scenery would go by repeatedly in the background if there was a chase scene. Characters never ran with their legs moving. The legs turned into spinning circles instead. This was all masked somewhat with clever dialogue and catch phrases like Yogi Bear describing a tree….”Looks more like a sycamore to me.”
As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and Hanna-Barbera quite often used real life TV and movie personalities’ quirks and mannerisms in creating their characters including well knowns at the time like Jackie Gleason, Phil Silvers, Arnold Stang, and Peter Lorre. They knew they had a good animated character if kids were imitating them.
The Huckleberry Hound Show
Huckleberry Hound
The Huckleberry Hound Show came out in 1958. I was about 11 at the time and in grade 6. The program had 3 segments with the first one featuring Huckleberry Hound. It wasn’t until colour TV came out that we got to see that Huck was actually a blue dog. The 2nd segment featured Yogi Bear and his pal Boo Boo. They lived in Jellystone Park. The 3rd and last segment was Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinx, two mice and a cat. It never caught on as much as Huckleberry and Yogi.
Yogi Bear and Boo Boo
Hanna-Barbera, the creators of The Huckleberry Hound Show had no problem ripping off famous people’s name or characteristics for their own benefit. At one point Yogi Berra, the New York Yankee baseball catcher attempted to sue them but later dropped his charges.
Comedy on TV in the 1950s was full of catchphrases that stuck with viewers old and young alike. Hanna-Barbera were masters of the catchphrases when it came to animated cartoons. “Hey there Boo Boo.” “I’m smarter than the average bear.” “Heavens to Mergatroyd!” “I’ll tear you little mieces to pieces.” “Exit stage right.”
Heckle and Jeckle
Heckle and Jeckle
Heckle and Jeckle were twin magpies. One of them (I don’t know which one) had a kind of British accent while the other spoke in a kind of New York accent. They sometimes called each other “old chap” or “old boy”. They were brash and antagonistic. There were a number of layers to their characters. They could be quite sarcastic at times or con artists trying to suck in the gullible. It is possible that Heckle got his name from the word “heckler”.
Rocky and His Friends

Rocky And His Friends
Rocky, the flying squirrel, was the star of this half hour of cartoons but not to kids who watched the show. Bullwinkle, the moose, was far more loveable. This program kind of took kid’s animated cartoons to another level. In some ways, other than the bits with Rocky and Bullwinkle, the show was a parody. Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale were 2 Russian spies. Fitting in with the Red Scare of the 1950s they were depicted as evil characters who were totally inept. Dudley Do-right was a rock jawed Canadian Mountie played to stereotype.

Peabody’s Improbable History took us back in history with a kid who wore thick rimmed glasses named Sherman along with his dog. Odd explanations that had little to do with facts or reality were used to explain events. Fractured Fairy Tales was narrated by Edward Everett Horton who spoke in a droll voice. Horton was second banana to Fred Astaire in a number of 1930s movies. William Conrad, who later played Cannon on TV, was also one of the narrators on the show. The content on Rocky and His Friends probably went over the heads of a lot of the kids who watched it and more and more teenagers and adults started tuning in.
Crusader Rabbit
In doing some research about animated cartoons on TV in the 1950s I came across Crusader Rabbit. I guess this cartoon character was a big deal, at least for part of the 1950s, but I don’t remember the character or the program at all.
Later On In Life
Beany and Cecil

As I said earlier my interest in cartoons kind of waned in the early 1960s. Back then we didn’t have clickers to change the channels but I would make the effort to get off my ass and switch channels if Beany and Cecil, George of the Jungle, The Jetsons, Mr. Magoo, The Mighty Hercules, or Roger Ramjet were on.
What brought me back to animated cartoons was the birth of our twins in 1989. I went out and purchased a whole whack of Disney classics when they were about 2 years old. I wanted to share with them what I had seen as a kid. Videos were also a great baby sitter and having 2 young kids in a house one does need a break every now and then. During that time I also discovered Disney’s Jungle Book and got to know all of the characters and the lyrics to the songs. I can still hear Phil Harris as Baloo the Sloth Bear singing “The Bare Necessities” in my mind. I may be wrong but I think Dean Martin stole a bit of Phil Harris’s character in the 1960s. They both sang and they both were known to walk around with a drink and a smoke in one hand with an attitude that they weren’t concerned about very much.

Jungle Book
When my kids were very small we had a den where they watched TV and videos. One day I tried to open the door to the den but it wouldn’t budge. It turned out they had stacked about 100 books or so against the door. Another time I opened the door to the den to find my son up on a stool with some kind of stick in his hand and pretending he was directing the orchestra in the animated cartoon Fantasia. I can’t recall if we cut back on his sugar intake around then.
There was also a brief time in the mid-70s that I revisited cartoon animation. I went to see both Fritz The Cat and Heavy Traffic at movie theatres. The movies were kind of a combination of social commentary, soft porn, and anti-establishment humour. These kind of movies had a hard time getting into movie theatres and it seems to have been a short-lived venture for the most part. Personally I think there is still room for these kind of films because we seem to be living in pretty ridiculous times even more than back then.

Fritz The Cat
Heavy Traffic
I know they have done some amazing things with digital imagery over the past number of years but I have to confess I haven’t seen much of it. I once saw a bit of Polar Express and was a bit blown away by the special effects. For some reason I just never got around to watching the whole thing. Not only have I not seen a number of animated movies that have come out in the last 20 years I also didn’t have much interest in sci-fi. Star Trek bored me to tears on TV particularly. I guess I’ve always preferred reality. Still I have a feeling I might have missed out a bit. Maybe I will take a gander at that penguin movie, whatever it is called. I like penguins.

Oh yeah. Yes I've watched the Simpsons from time to time and it is pretty funny but I find it is kind of like eating an apple. I need to take that first bight and I'm not always inclined to but once I'm into it I really like it. On the other hand, the voices on South Park drive me crazy. I can't watch it.

The Simpsons


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