Saturday, February 9, 2013

It snowed, I'm Bored, Let's Get Down With Cartoons

So, it snowed 3 feet in my town last night and I have literally nothing to do.  So of course, I've spent the day on the internet, mainly imgur, just trying to pass the time.  Somehow I started an argument as to whether Cartoon Network's Adventure Time is a kids show or not ( my username is burtongirl).  I understand the argument, there is definitely adult humor on Adventure Time but it is not an adult cartoon in the way that Family Guy or Metalocalypse which are both literally written for adults.  So, I of course made the argument that the cartoons that 90s kids grew up with were way more adult and disturbing than anything on kids TV now.  Then I thought... I'm going to blog about cartoons.

It's always been a dream of mine to write a book about the cartoons of the 90s because I see them as a second golden age in cartoon history.  Of course, Looney Tunes broke the mold, defining what cartoons should be, followed by Hana Barbera in the 50s... but then things got a bit boring.  And while the 80s hold a their own notable place, the animation began to get stale and cookie cutter-ish.  All of the shows started to look and sound them same, not to mention that almost all of them involved the same comic book super-hero style plots.  But then the 90s came, the face and look of animation changed and things go really, really weird.

Now, believe it or not, Nickelodeon launched their network in 1977 which promptly failed.  They relaunched in in 1979, but it wasn't until they opened their studios in 1990 and launched Nicktoons that we got the cartoon gold of the 90s.  The first Nicktoons animated were Doug, Rugrats and Ren and Stimpy.  Eventually they were followed with Nicktoons like Ahhh! Real Monsters, Rocko's Modern Life, Angry Beavers, Hey Arnold, CatDog and on and on.  Now most of these cartoons were super G rated, especially  Doug, The Wild Thornberry's and Hey Arnold.  Okay, Hey Arnold had a little weirdness with Helga's Arnold head shrine.  But most of these nicktoons were totally fucked.  They would never make it on the air today without parents having riots.

Cartoon Network was developed as an answer to Nickelodean's success, at first playing reruns of Hanna Barbera cartoons.  They had a few of their own series, but Nickelodeon was killing them in ratings.  That is, until What A Cartoon came around.  What A Cartoon.  This show gave independent animators a platform to showcase their work, and those lucky enough were given full contracts.  Believe it or not, the first breath Family Guy ever took was on What A Cartoon as a short called Larry and Steve.  What A Cartoon gave us gems like Cow and Chicken, I Am Weasel, The Powerpuff Girls, Courage the Cowardly Dog, and my least favorite Johnny Bravo.  Cartoon Network really found its niche in 2001 when they created Adult Swim, but we'll stick to the 90s.

Possibly the most underrated network of the 90s, producing some of the best cartoon shows was The WB.  Animaniacs was arguably one of the greatest 90s cartoons, taking a page from Looney Tunes with a large cast of characters and a series of vignettes, birthing spin-offs like Pinky and the Brain and Freakazoid.  The WB also had The Tiny Toon Adventures.

Now I can ramble on about Saturday morning cartoons and after school cartoons, Bonkers, Gargoyoles , Beetlejuice and Talespin, but they were all very G rated shows that would easily make it on the air today.  By today's standards Adventure Time and Regular Show have parents knickers in a twist.  I can't imagine how they would react to Rocko's Modern Life, that show was hilarious but totally disgusting.  Rocko's next door neighbors The Fatheads were constantly insinuating an active sex life, Heffer went to Heck and their favorite superhero Really Really Big Man had nipples of the future.  His nipples attached to your eyes and showed you the future.  HIS NIPPLES!  And Ren and Stimpy?  Forget about it!  The episode where Ren becomes a hermit and makes friends with an earwax sculpture of stimpy and the corpse of a hanged man scarred me for life.  Or what about Cow and Chicken... their parents were just legs!  And that devil character's ass was always out... and shiney

Of course, even at the time parents got upset about these shows.  I remember being the only girl in my girl in my girl scout troop (not my choice) that was allowed to watch Animaniacs.  Their parents thought the show was too violent.  But hey, that show was at least educational!  Yakko sings a song with every country!  I didn't learn it, but he did it.  And the Warner Brothers (and sister) helped Einstien come up with E=MC2.  Ok it's not factual, but I learned Albert Einstien came up with it.  Okay it was a silly show, but it wasn't that bad.

Look, I'm not trying to knock today's cartoons, they are great and I watch them, but they are just a lot more watered down then the cartoons we had a kids.  I can't say whether we were helped or hurt by the semi-disturbing cartoons we grew up with, but I do know we love them passionately.  So here is to 90s cartoons, the networks that housed them and their weird, slightly disturbing nature.