by Glenn Matchett
Cartoons. When we are all young we all watch them. Sometimes we watch them because that is what our friends watch, sometimes there’s nothing better on and sometimes we watch them because they are awesome.
In my experience I have watched cartoons for all three reasons. Growing up like many kids around that age I watched whatever was popular or ‘hot’ at that moment. Fads come and go and I went through quite a few in my youth. In my first article I talked about the black and white television I used to watch programs on in the back of my mother’s newsagents after school. Since this was the 90’s the only reason the TV was black and white is because it was ancient but dependable. After school I got absorbed in various cartoons.
In retrospect some of these probably weren’t very good and probably aren’t well remembered but I remember watching cartoons like Biker Mice From Mars, Street Sharks and Mighty Max on a daily basis. The latter two are little more than poor imitations of another cartoon I watched that will be slightly better known, the Teenage Mutant Hero turtles.
This was of course back when my viewing options were restricted to UK terrestrial. Back in the 90’s this was 4 channels that each had their own special program for kids. I don’t remember any of the names apart from one called ‘Live and Kicking’ which would feature a presenter I would encounter again in a very different show named John Barrowman (more on that later).
Each of these 4 channels (later 5) showed their own cartoons and I would memorize what shows were on at what time and flick back and forth on the TV dial (it seriously was old) as appropriate. When we got Sky television (essentially the UK version of Cable) it was like a revolution to my young mind. Not only did Sky have cartoons but they had channels like Cartoon Network that aired from morning to night. I discovered many other cartoons through these channels and remember popular cartoons such as Johnny Bravo and Dexter’s Laboratory from their humble beginnings. These channels also aired older Hanna Barbera such as Wacky Races (was I the only one who wanted to see Dick Dastardly win just once?), The Flintstones, The Jetsons and many more.
One of the older shows that it aired was one about a super hero named ‘Space Ghost’. I don’t remember much about this cartoon but I do remember a lot more about its spin off ‘Space Ghost: Coast To Coast’. This was taking the characters from the Space Ghost cartoon and putting them in a chat show environment and I found it incredibly entertaining. I loved Space Ghost playing host while some of his villains acted as (reluctant) support to him and his many guests.
Of course just because I got older didn’t mean I stopped watching animation. I think animation (like comics) is just another medium of entertainment. Classic cartoons can be enjoyed by anyone and as Pixar proves on a yearly basis an animated story can just be as powerful or as emotional as any flesh and blond tale. Animated shows I’ve recently enjoyed include Young Justice and I’m very much looking forward to the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon.
However I’m mostly here to talk about the cartoons that have stuck with me from youth to adulthood. These are Four cartoons that probably defined my youth the most and three of them I still enjoy on a regular basis.
The first was one I first discovered as a rental on a whim when I was still very young. It featured a tale of a boy being bullied and put in a garbage bin every day. Eventually the young boy had enough and organized his friends into an army to fight against the bully. The episode was titled ‘Bart The General’ and it was my first exposure to the Simpsons (you may have heard of it). Over the years I’ve grown up with the Simpsons and bought every VHS tape of their misadventures I could get my hands on. With the invention of DVD they started to release (very slowly) the entirety of quite possibly the best known animated series in the world. They put a lot of effort into these DVD’s and the episodes (some of which I hadn’t seen) and the special features included are well worth the time. I still remember the cliffhanger at the end of ‘Who Shot Mr. Burns?’ and the brilliant marketing strategy they had. For a time the question was on everyone’s lips and the result was something no one expected. In recent years I’ve become more casual in my viewing of the Simpsons and just wait for the DVD’s to catch up to me. I hear people say over and over that the show is past its prime. When I have seen a recent episode I have not noticed a dip in quality. It seems to me as good as ever and the movie I found to be absolutely brilliant and was my favorite movie of 2007. I suppose I’ll see for myself but it’s a show that has stuck with me and for the record my favorite episode is ‘Cape Feare’.
Related to the Simpsons a little is another show by the same creator called Futurama. As much as I love the Simpsons I will argue the point that Futurama is a better show. I see a lot of people complain that the Simpsons never changes. I’d argue that plenty changes but simply no one ages. Futurama however moves in real time, the characters grow older and change over time. Although I thought Futurama was at first simply a show where one episode would not impact the other too much (much like the Simpsons) I would see much more under the surface. With a brilliant overarching story and really compelling character growth Futurama isn’t just brilliantly funny but often times can be quite touching and thought provoking. I’ve heard that several episodes have gained awards for environmental messages and the show also deals with issues of class and growing up and even war. It all does it in a very lighthearted way of course but some episodes really stay with me. Barring the bigger story that involves my old pal time travel a great deal episodes like the one involving Fry’s brother and his lost dog are genuinely touching. I’m glad the show is being given another lease of life and hope it continues for a long while. It might not have the success of the Simpsons but it is equally worth your attention and it is easily my second favorite animated series ever.
My favorite you ask? Well that’s rather complex and I did mention 4 cartoons. The other two are Spider-Man and Batman: The Animated Series.
Both these cartoons changed who I am, what I enjoy and made me want to be a writer. However the tale of these two specific cartoons will have to wait another day.
Next: Murder, Sorcery and destroying a ring