When I was a kid, a typical Saturday afternoon was spent at the Strand Theater with several hundred more of my ilk. For the price of admission, 12-cents, I was treated to five cartoons, a news reel, a cliff hanger serial (Rocketman, etc.), and a double feature, usually westerns. I grew up with the Durango Kid, Hopalong Cassidy, Lash LaRue, Whip Wilson, and Smiley Burnett among others. |
But lately I’ve been thinking about those old-school movie cartoon characters; not including the “human” types, you know, like Casper, Cruela DeVil, Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto. There’s nothing wrong with them, but I prefer the animal characters. Exceptions are Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam. I got off on this mental beam when I accidentally clicked by the Cartoon Network on my way to the Science Channel. Talk about disappointing! Many of the subjects were either poorly animated, had moronic dialogue, overtly evil, or ridiculous; and (MAINLY!) not funny. Wasn’t the original intent of cartoons to make us laugh? (Thank God for SpongeBob SquarePants.) Now I will admit much of the cartoon humor of my youth was of the Three Stooges variety—hammer to the head or toe, “bowling ball” type bombs, etc.—but even as children we knew better. It was the reaction of the victim (who always had it coming) that delighted us. Even little side comments were well written; for instance Bugs Bunny referring to a knight in armor as “boiler boy”.
There were bullies like Sylvester Pussycat who always picked on Tweety with the intent of making a meal out of the cute widdle bird. Of course, Tweety always outwitted the cat who received endless pummelings from Granny or Spike the bulldog. Same thing with Tom always after Jerry, Mr. Jinks after “those miserable meeces”, Lucifer after Cinderella’s mice helpers, and Wile E. Coyote attempting to snag the roadrunner. For the latter, it always struck me that for all the money Wile E. spent on ACME products he could have afforded an endless banquet. Hey, how about turning the table on the roadrunner? In nature the roadrunner’s favorite meal is rattlesnake. How about having a cuddly, cute rattler outsmarting the bird? Probably wouldn’t sell—snakes are universally considered too creepy to be perceived as an underdog. I also put Donald Duck in the bully category for always picking on his nephews, picnic ants, bees, and Chip and Dale. However, there was one bully/smart aleck I rooted for, namely, Foghorn Leghorn. The loudmouth rooster always used the barnyard dog and chicken hawks as his foils. He aggravated them just for sport. The best bully name? For me it was Oil Can Harry who was always harassing Mighty Mouse’s girlfriend, Little Nell. Other than that, the operatic (Here I come to save the day!) Mighty Mouse cartoons were incredibly cheesy, and (for some inane reason) featured a lot of sword fighting.
ASIDE: When it comes to villainy names, I have to mention a few TV characters, namely: Snidely Whiplash, evil foe of Dudley Do-Right, Boris & Natasha, and mad scientist, Isotope Feeney. BTW, was there a better cartoon theme song than Dudley Do-Right’s?
Cats seem to play the roll of villain most of all. Remember the evil Siamese cats in “Lady and the Tramp”? Maybe it’s their devil eyes or that ubiquitous smart-ass cat look. I saw a show on Animal Planet about owls, which are always portrayed as harmless, wise, and friendly in cartoons. Turns out they’re much more effective at killing and eating rodents than cats. This one barn owl caught 47 mice in 25 minutes. Don’t think owls look like killers? Check out those talons.
Then there were the (mostly) innocent fall guys. They didn’t want to harm anyone—just wanted to be left alone. This group included the favorite foil of Heckle and Jeckle, Dimwit, a sad sack hound who always began every sentence with, “Duuhhh…”; Pluto who was a sap for everyone including ants, bees, and Donald Duck (a basement air hose even got the best of Pluto); and Wally Walrus who just wanted to eat in peace. Then there was not-so-innocent hunter Elmer Fudd (exception to my earlier “no humans” rule) who always got bested by that wascal wabbit and Daffy Duck.
I never figured out what was up with characters like Porky Pig and Mickey Mouse (including their girlfriends, P-P-Petunia and Minnie). They seemed, well, rather irrelevant; that is, neither bullies, fall guys, smart alecks, troublemakers nor heroes. Mickey would appear with Donald and Goofy, but he was mainly “filler”. It was Donald’s anger and Goofy’s stumbling mishaps that provided the entertainment.
Can you imagine the whining outcry of the politically correct crowd now with a stuttering pig, a dog named Dimwit, the accent of Speedy Gonzales, the speech impediment of Elmer Fudd, and the spit-spraying lisps of Daffy and Sylvester? Someone would be sued for sure. I’m surprised some self-righteous special interest group hasn’t brought suit retroactively. Mel Blanc would be a pariah.
My personal favorites were the troublemakers; mainly Woody Woodpecker, Heckle & Jeckle, and Bugs Bunny. I think their popularity stemmed from because they were always doing something we’d (in our own secret heart-of-hearts) like to do. And I’m not just talking about them giving a bully his comeuppance. For instance, there was Fauntleroy Fox and Crawford Crow, who perhaps you remember from the old “Fox and Crow” comic books. They made very few cartoons for the screen, but those they made illustrate my point. Unlike those of Aesop, this fox was a vacuous ninny always the butt of the cigar-smoking, street-wise crow who’d steal his food and wreck his stuff. Wally Walrus and Woody Woodpecker had a similar relationship.
Sigh. I’m still waiting for a “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” sequel. (Shave and a haircut: two bits!)
Th-th-th-that’s all folks!
Gene Myers (Didn’t bother to copyright this one.)
Author, speaker, and all-around good guy.
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