I, like the rest of you, grew up watching cartoons. Frankly, cartoons still play an important role in my life but today’s cartoons are quite a bit different than the ones I remember watching, and the ones that made a huge impact. I recently watched an interview with Genndy Tartakovsky over at Cartoon Brew and it made me think a lot about how the business of cartoons has ruined a bit of the magic and a lot of the history.
A childhood of reruns
The part that struck me in the interview was how I grew up on reruns. While I’m not sure I was aware of it then, a lot of the cartoons I watched growing up were already 15 years old or more. And I’m not just talking about the Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry that date back to the mid-1940s. Sure, I watched the popular cartoons of my day, like GI Joe, He-Man and Smurfs, but most of my cartoon diet was recycled from the 60s and 70s. The cartoon as a business hadn’t yet hit its stride so I was left to watch gems like:
- Space Ghost
- The Herculoids
- Thundarr the Barbarian
- The Hair Bear Bunch
- Blue Falcon and Dyno-Mutt
- Captain Caveman
- The Galloping Ghost
- Speed Buggy
- Jabber Jaw
…you get the idea. And this doesn’t include all the “standard” Hanna-Barbera fare like The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, Yogi Bear and so on. The cartoon landscape was pretty diverse even though they were all reruns. The thing is, I love all of these cartoons. Some of them are good, some of them are bad and many of them are good-bad. Nonetheless, they laid a foundation of cartoon appreciation that I still carry with me today. These cartoons are the measuring stick by which I measure cartoons I see today, whether it be action, comedy or somewhere inbetween. Life was good…and then came the 1990s.
A good time for cartoons
Despite my 1980s upbringing, I’m a 90s guy. The movies, the music, the games…I remember more about the 90s than any other time and cartoons at that time started to get a little more interesting. Cartoons were still more or less “for kids” but more, new and original cartoons were getting produced. Nickelodeon had its fair share of new cartoons with the like of Ren & Stimpy and Rugrats, but along the way the Cartoon Network was born and helped push cartoons into new, fruitful territory.
The Cartoon Network turned 20 years old this month which made me smile but also made me ponder its impact on cartoons. When the CN first aired it was basically Saturday morning cartoons 24-hours a day, which meant the same lot of recycled cartoons I had be watching for years. Of course, by then Saturday morning cartoons on network television had become less of a thing so if you wanted cartoons, the CN was the place to go. It was maybe a slow start but eventually the Cartoon Network started pumping out a new generation of cartoons and showed that there was once again money to be made in cartoons and merchandising. By the late-1990s we saw the next great set of cartoons in the form of Space Ghoast Coast-to-Coast, Dexter’s Lab, Powerpuff Girls, Johnny Bravo, Courage the Cowardly Dog and so on. Again…some of these were good, some were bad and some where good-bad. By this time the rest of the cable television world had also caught up as cartoon-centric stations starting popping up and more of them started making their own original cartoons (I need not mention the name Spongebob).
The end of an era
Cable television had successfully killed Saturday morning while also burying the previous generation of cartoons. By focusing on merchandising, the art of the honest cartoon had seemingly been lost. I’m not saying the cartoon landscape wasn’t in need of change – it was – you can only run off recycled material for so long before it gets stale (and even older), regardless how good they are. I’ll argue that Tom & Jerry and Tex Avery cartoons are still some of the funniest cartoons ever produced but even then you only watch them for so long. The Cartoon Network had helped refresh the television animation world but now, 20 years later, I’m thinking it’s time to re-integrate some of the old cartoons…and even some of the modern cartoons.
There are all sorts of original cartoons out there now on lots of different channels. It seems every major network has their cartoon channel or at least a good chunk of time every day/week dedicated to them. It’s safe to say that there’s a cartoon for every taste out there but where are the reruns? You might argue that reruns are a bad thing but there is nearly 70 years worth of cartoons to pull from so why not give us a good mix? There’s no reason you can’t show Adventure Land followed by Dexter’s Lab followed by Jabber Jaw. Or how about Tron Uprising with Samurai Jack and Thundarr? It’s one thing to ignore the Yogi-era cartoons but I can’t believe these channels don’t rerun cartoons that are barely 15 years old. There’s a good chance that I missed a few cartoons during that time, so why not make it easy for me to find them? Now if you want to watch “old” cartoons you have to get the old cartoon channel, Boomerang. I think the networks are doing the viewing audience a huge disservice by segmenting cartoon viewing in this way.
If it wasn’t for all the reruns I watched when I was a kid, it’s safe to say I wouldn’t be the person I am today, nor would I have any sort of reference for what would be the future of cartoons. Those golden era cartoons laid the groundwork for everything in the 1980s and on to today. I can watch just about any cartoon and find some thread of Looney Tunes. I can watch just about any cartoon and smell Space Ghost a mile away. Just like movies or music, the history and influence of cartoons over the years is important, but unlike music specifically, it’s hard to watch a modern cartoon and go backwards if you want to learn about older cartoons. And I really shouldn’t have to mention that airing reruns is a lot cheaper than producing brand new cartoons. I’m not saying we eliminate new cartoons, I just want to be able to watch classics along with my new favorites.
It’s a good time to love cartoons. There are more cartoons on the air now than ever before and there’s something for everyone. The selection is vast but the effort required to watch them is now staggering. A lone Saturday morning just won’t cut it anymore. Services like Netflix may help in the long run but ideally I just want a channel that shows all-era cartoons. I’d really like to see Cartoon Network be a true cartoon network but I guess that’s too much to ask.