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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Do Cartoons Stand the Test Of Time?

Flip on the television on a Saturday morning and, unless you're between the ages of 3 and 10, you might be unpleasantly surprised. It's possible that since I'm no longer a child, I've lost that childlike wonder that allows most of us to buy into the world of animation. It's also equally possible that the cartoons today are, in a word, lame compared to the ones I remember (also, I used to walk 7 miles to school every day, in case you were wondering).

I'm sure every generation is attached to its particular form of childhood entertainment, but do the cartoons of my early 90s childhood stand the test of time beyond my nostalgia? With the help of YouTube, I revisited a few of my favorites to see if they are timeless or dated.


Original Air Date: 1990-1994

I feared revisiting this show -- what would happen if I hated it? Could it no longer be my favorite cartoon of all time? Would I find the lovable antics of that ace pilot Baloo and his anthropomorphic gang as entertaining as I did when I was 8? Thankfully, Disney was doing something right in the early 1990s when it debuted "TaleSpin" in its Disney Afternoon lineup. The show followed Baloo, his navigator Kit Cloudkicker, bossy manager Rebecca and a wacky mechanic named Wildcat at their air cargo business Higher For Hire in fictional Cape Suzette (many of the characters were taken from Disney's "The Jungle Book"). The show's "Indiana Jones" flavor -- Baloo and Kit usually get tangled up in some adventure often involving air pirates lead by the English-mangling Don Karnage or the Soviet-like Thembrians lead by a Napoleonic boar named Colonel Spigot -- hasn't lost its freshness almost two decades later. Between Baloo and Rebecca's 1930s screwball comedy relationship, Don Karnage's ridiculous escapades and the loopy but interesting plots, "TaleSpin" was and still is a great show.

Verdict: Timeless

"Captain Planet"

Original Air Date: 1990-1996

The brainchild of Ted Turner (who is apparently a thousand years old), this was feelgood environmentalism for kids before the age of Al Gore. The premise of the show was borderline hippie-ish: the spirit of the earth (Gaia) assembles a team of of planeteers from around the world and gives them rings that allows the bearer control over one of the five elements of the planet (OK, so "heart" technically isn't an element, but I guess they had to give that wimpy kid from South America something to make it continentally copacetic). When the powers of the ring combine, the planeteers can summon Captain Planet to save the earth from silly things like pollution and waste. Now a lot of about this show dates it -- Linka, one of the characters was actually from the Soviet Union -- but its message of environmentalism is pretty timeless. Still, the show's cheesy plots and villains need a little revamping to make me want to watch it again (although I still love that theme song... "Captain Planet, he's the hero! Gonna take pollution down to zero!")

Verdict: Dated (the clip below has the Planeteers in war-torn Belfast). Anyone up for remaking Captain Planet with Al Gore voicing him? "Kids, pollution is bad... here are some charts."


Original Air Date: 1994-1997

A latecomer to Disney Afternoon, "Gargoyles" was a much darker addition for the normally goofball lineup that included classics such as "Ducktales" and movie tie-ins like "Hercules." It's mix of science fiction, medieval history and literature (many of the characters were taken from various Shakespearean plays) resulted in the most complicated of the Disney Afternoon series with a convoluted mythology that spanned thousands of years. The story centered around six gargoyles, creatures who turned to stone by day and came alive at night, who were transported from Scotland to New York City in 1994. With the help of a NYPD detective Elisa Maza, the six of them protect the city from various forces while also trying to prevent the smarmy billionaire David Xanatos from hatching his Machiavellian schemes. If you were a real geek (ahem, me, ahem), you'd also delight in the fact that many of the characters were voiced by the actors and actresses from the "Star Trek" universe. Fifteen years later, the animation might be dated, but the show's storylines are still captivating -- and definitely not just for kids.

Verdict: Timeless.

"Dungeons and Dragons"

Original Air Date: 1983-1985

So, I'm not doing much to downplay my geek reputation, am I? For the record, I have never participated in any role-playing activity ever -- seriously! -- but I loved this show. The premise was pretty simple: a group of children get pulled into the "Realm" after taking an amusement park ride called "Dungeons and Dragons." They're each given unique magical abilities and characters by the Dungeon Master to help them defeat the villains in the Realm and find a way back home (I desperately wanted to be Sheila the thief -- her magical cloak was awesome). In rewatching a few episodes (there's a clip from one of the episodes below), I think I stand by my original assessment. The show's writing is comparable to "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" -- funny but cheesy -- but the plots are still enjoyable, especially if you like "Harry Potter" or "Lord of the Rings." In retrospect, though, the show's main villain Venger looks too much like a cross-dressing Maleficient from "Sleeping Beauty" to be taken seriously.

Verdict: Dated, but could easily be revamped (with a more fearsome villain) for a modern audience

Any childhood favorites you think are timeless? Let me know.

-- Malavika Jagannathan,

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I think that these shows treated children as sentient beings with thinking capacity and imagination, something that recent efforts by Disney and others do not.
I am grateful for this walk down memory lane with some of the most riveting characters in TV--and not just for children!

By Anonymous Anonymous, At May 17, 2009 at 4:40 PM  

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