Thursday, August 18, 2005

Confessions of a Toon Head. (Click PODCAST)

As I mentioned in CHILD OF TELEVISION: O Brothers, Where Art Thou? that, "I love cartoons (In fact I’m surprised that I have not dedicated a column just to animation)". When I started to piece together this week's column I kept tangenting off to another Toon topic. I quickly realized that I had enough material for several columns. So let me start this one by repeating that I love cartoons especially the classic Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies, the old Paramount black & white Popeye cartoons and the classic MGM Tom & Jerry series that I grew watching on TV. My all time favorite cartoon is still Rabbit Seasoning (1952) where Daffy Duck says the famous line, "Pronoun trouble". These cartoons have stood the test of time. I can watch them as an adult and enjoy them on a totally different level than when I was a kid. We forget that these classic cartoons were written for adults to be seen in movie theaters and knowing that the kids would love them unconditionally. To fully appreciate the humor in some of these cartoons you must understand the time peroid in which they were made. For example when watching Rabbit Hood (1949) it helps to know who Errol Flynn was, then again cultural literacy is required to fully appreciate any art form.

About sixteen years ago I was talking to a friend and fellow Toon Head about our favorite cartoons. During this time many of the cartoons we liked as kids were being re-edited to remove some of the more violent (like the use of easily assessable sticks of dynamite) or raciest (Bugs & Elmer in Black Face) content. Sometimes the cartoon would come off looking like a bunch of set-ups with no punch line. We both felt that the stations should show the cartoon in its entirety or not show it at all if they were deemed inappropriate for younger viewers (we were yet not using the term Politically Correct). We started to talk about some of the cartoons from the World War II era that were on longer being aired. These cartoons after all were appropriate for us when we were kids. I remembered one cartoon where Bugs Bunny goes battles Hermann Georing Herr Meets Hare (1945). And another where Popeye and Bluto put their differences aside to fight the enemy Seein' Red, White 'n' Blue (1943). There was version of the 3 Pigs where the third pig is Sgt. Pork called Blitz Wolf (1942). There were a few other titles that I omitted so not to offend.

My friend found a video titled Bugs and Daffy: The Wartime Cartoons. The tape features 11 cartoons (Including "Herr meets Hare") from Warner Bros. directors Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, and Chuck Jones. Leonard Maltin narrates in between the cartoons providing the proper historical perspective.

I later found Toons At War (Featuring "Seein' Red, White 'n' Blue" and "Blitz Wolf"). The tape is not of the best quality but contains some very hard to find titles, the titles on their own could be considered offensive.

Later on I would find Cartoon Crazys Goes to War featuring cartoons that are a must for any WWII cartoon collectors including one featuring the Man Of Steel "Superman - Eleventh Hour (1942)", and three "Private SNAFU" cartoons Spies (1943), Booby Traps (1944), and Snafuperman (1944).

Although I never saw these cartoons on TV as a child, Walt Disney Treasures - On the Front Lines is also a must for WWII cartoon collectors. This DVD set features what was believed to be lost, Victory Through Air Power (1943).

I do agree that these cartoons are no longer appropriate for small children, just like I don’t think small children should see "The Amos 'n Andy Show" (1951) or movies like The Birth of a Nation (1915). I do believe that these classics cartoon, TV shows and Movies need to be preserved and even shown to high school students as part of their social studies class. In the last few years while I’m trying to add these cartoons to my own personal collection there have been others who seem to feel that these cartoons should never be seen by anyone anywhere. In the late 1990s there were a series of Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies cartoons released on Laser Disk (remember those?). On the disk that highlighted the 1940s there were some of the war time cartoons. Anti-defamation groups protested claiming saying that they were offended that these cartoons were being sold to children. I’m more offended by the narrow-minded point of view that all cartoons are "Kid Friendly". Ever hear of Fritz the Cat (1972)? If the retailers stuck everything animated in the children’s section, then shame on them. In 2001 the Cartoon Network had planed to show some of Bugs Bunny’s wartime cartoon as part of their "June Bugs" marathon celebrating Bugs’ birthday. Even though the wartime cartoons were going to be shown in the late night hours, the cable network later decided to remove the cartoons from their lineup so not to offend. The Cartoon Network was able to show Peace on Earth (1939). This cartoon looks like the supporting cast of Bambi (1942) were in a scene from All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). Two baby squirrels ask their grandfather, "what are men" when he comes in singing "peace on earth, goodwill to men". Their Grandpa tells them the story of man's last war with graphic detail. This short was nominated for the 1939 Nobel Peace Prize. Several of the animators who worked on this cartoon were veterans of the First World War, and had experienced combat similar to that depicted in the film. Ironically, they would be working on wartime propaganda cartoons two years later. Video: MGM Cartoon Christmas-Peace on (1936).

Peace on Earth

To quote Leonard Maltin from Bugs and Daffy: The Wartime Cartoons, "If we couldn't blitz Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini out of existence, well at least we could laugh at their expense. Make them look ridiculous which the animators found very easy to do. And if these lampoons seem broad or heavy handed at times, remember most American moviegoers had a big stake in this war. Loved ones and friends who were fighting overseas. It must have helped to be able to tweak the nose of the bad guy every now and then".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

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