As you’ll know by now, this season we are looking at animated cinema, but, for many of us, our first experiences of animation will have come from the smaller screen of television and home video. The following article from GeorgeGarthwaite details some of his most vivid memories of television animation as he reminisces about his favourite childhood cartoons.
It’s a great thing, being raised throughout the 1990s, to keep your old VHS tapes; particularly those that contained 90 minutes of however many episodes of your favourite cartoon they could fit on. If you had the video, you’d watch it innumerable times – that’s a given. So now, however old you are (most likely an adult, now) whenever you see the episodes contained in those video tapes, you still know every single line, every single joke and every single visual trigger it contains.
Something else happens too. You begin to notice more jokes. It’s all very surreal; you say the words that you’ve had memorised for this long out loud, but the meaning becomes warped and morphs into something new. Jokes take on new meaning due to new-found wisdom that however many years have brought you since you heard them as a kid, but they still work.
“Treehouse of Horror VI”, The Simpsons: In the first of the 3 skits in this Halloween special, Homer trades his soul for a donut. I was so engrossed in the comical depiction of hell (and Flanders as the devil himself) that I didn’t even notice for 8 years that Homer exclaims the word ‘bastard’ not but 2 minutes into the story. It was only when watching daytime reruns sometime last year that I was quoting along, when suddenly that joke was cut out. What a discovery! How did I miss that when I was a kid?
Being born in ’92, I’ll admit that Ren and Stimpy were just a little bit before my time. It didn’t stop me staying up late, in the twilight of the millennium, to indulge my curiosity and interest. I was instantly hooked. It was insanely violent (my mum didn’t let me watch Power Rangers because of the violence involved) and malevolently corrupting; it portrayed a kind of madness that only children can fully relate to. I believe that adults shun the show because they can no longer imagine themselves relating to that kind of frenetic behaviour.
All the season 1 episodes are incredible, but I’ll talk about the 5th episode: “Space Madness”. Commander Hoek and Cadet Stimpy are on a 36 year-long space mission and, after accusing Stimpy of doing so, Ren succumbs to the dreaded ‘space madness’. What ensues is potentially one of the most disturbing, wonderfully written speeches I have had the pleasure to witness in any sort of film; not just within cartoons. After this, he puts Stimpy in charge of the ‘History Eraser Button’, which in turn, Stimpy cannot resist pressing. As he presses it, the characters, then the background, then the title card disappear. As a child you’re left confused and a little dissatisfied with the ending. As an adult, you are somewhat aware of the existential issue of the erasure of history. Things become so much more complex with the wisdom of adulthood. But it still works!
That’s just a couple of examples, though there are other honourable mentions. I had a Looney Tunes cassette that included the episode “Feed the Kitty”; a heart-wrenching epic in which a bulldog thinks his newly befriended kitten has been turned into biscuits after his owner forbids him to bring anything new into the house. The expressions of the characters and the way the makers of the show deal with the idea of loss is spectacular, and features the classic triptych of emotion that a good cartoon needs: laughter, empathy and genuine sadness – with a gentle seasoning of dramatic irony.
I was also a fan of the Nickelodeon show, Rocko’s Modern Life. Granted, upon re-watching in my early 20s , it just wasn’t that good. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still entertaining but it just doesn’t have the same value as an adult. What adult understanding does real for Rocko though, is that the world that the characters exist in is highly over-sexualised, phallic and downright disgusting to look at.
My final mention goes out to “Duck Amuck”; a Daffy Duck cartoon that completely destroys the 4th wall of animator-animation relationships and made me aware, even as a child, that all of this was fabricated – constructed – and that anything was possible at the hand of the animators. It is a surreal depiction of Daffy Duck’s confrontation with the animator (who is revealed to be Bugs Bunny) and his eventual ascent into frustrated, angry madness. It is self-referential, ironic film-making at its best. And I don’t think it’ll ever lose a place in my heart. Everybody now: “Ain’t I a stinker?”
What can I say? I still can’t get to sleep on a night without at least two episodes of something or other. Saturday mornings feel empty and desolate without some kind of nostalgic mood-booster session. I still know every single word of The Simpsons episode, “Homer at the Bat”. And yes, I still have all my old videotapes and I wouldn’t give or throw them away for neither love nor money. There are some things in this world that can never be destroyed or taken away, and my favourite cartoons are just that.
– George Garthwaite
Thanks to George for such a great and personal piece. What about you guys though, what are your favourite cartoons, or animated movies for that matter, from you childhood? Which ones have stuck with you into adulthood? Let us know in the comments.