overthinking the idiot box

February 13, 2006

Animation on television, child-safe and otherwise.

'tooning to the Oldies

by Adam Lipkin

And even the few true clunkers over the years ... are way more palatable than, say, Jabberjaw or the original Sealab 2020 (whose only saving grace is the fodder its provided for the current parody on Adult Swim).
Anyone who has read this column for any period of time is surely aware of my bias towards more recent cartoons. Beginning with 1990's Tiny Toon Adventures, the last sixteen years have given us dozens of truly wonderful cartoons in all genres, from the zaniness of shows like Freakazoid and Spongebob Squarepants to the better-than-the-comics heroics of X-Men: Evolution and Justice League Unlimited. And even the few true clunkers over the years (the '90s era X-Men on Fox, the contemporary Coconut Fred's Fruit Salad Island) are way more palatable than, say, Jabberjaw or the original Sealab 2020 (whose only saving grace is the fodder its provided for the current parody on Adult Swim).

All that might lead you to assume that I don't spend much time watching or writing about older cartoons. Today, we're going to take a look at three great things for fans of the older classics:

  1. The Vintage Tooncast. There are a handful of good podcasts (and tons of blogs) that talk about cartoons, but this is one of the few video podcasts/video blogs out there that focuses on showing old toons, focusing on classic cartoons from the '30s and '40s that have fallen into the public domain (not every 'toon has had its copyright artificially extended by Disney and their lobbyists). Each week, the folks behind this vblog release a new cartoon, and although some of the toons haven't necessarily aged gracefully, there are some true gems here. Recent weeks have seen classics featuring Bugs Bunny, Felix the Cat, and Woody Woodpecker (whose cartoons used to be a lot funnier than the more recent incarnations of the character). For those lucky enough to have an iPod Video, you can configure iTunes to automatically load up your iPod each time there's a new cartoon, but even if you can't watch these on your iPod, iTunes can still download them for you to watch right on your computer.

    Of course, if you'd prefer not to wait a week between cartoons, there's the Classic Movie Collection at Archive.org where you'll find over fifty classic cartoons, including Betty Boop, the Fleischer Superman cartoons, and more.

  2. Classic DVD sets. I've criticized Disney before (and I'll continue to do so as long as they continue to squeeze every last sad nickel out of their classics and release crap like Bambi II), but give them credit for producing some great DVDs that actually honor their older material. The Walt Disney Treasures line, featuring classic (and still amazingly fresh) collections of Donald, Mickey, and Goofy cartoons, are some of the best sets on the market for fans of all ages. Although some of the sets are, sadly, already out of print, they're still worth hunting down. And if you're the type to prefer Bugs and Daffy over the Disney characters, the Looney Tunes Golden Collection series just can't be beat. Like the Disney cartoon collections, each set here puts together a huge set of classics featuring some of the best work Mel Blanc and Chuck Jones were involved with.

    Sometimes lost in the shuffle are the less hyped, but just as enjoyable, 'toons that followed the Disney and Looney Tunes golden ages. I've never made a secret of my love for Jay Ward's various Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, whose simplistic animation style belie the incredible amount of sophistication slipped into each and every strip. Each of the three volumes released on DVD features over 700 minutes of truly hysterical material. Likewise, the minimalist superhero parody Underdog has been available on DVD for years, and is still surprisingly fresh. Other classics on DVD include the older Tom and Jerry sets (another toon that was, believe it or not, genuinely funny before it got mired down in repetitive jokes), the classic Pink Panther cartoons (released as a result of some sort of synergy with the new and insultingly unnecessary Steve Martin film), and The Complete Yogi Bear, another underappreciated classic.

    When I was growing up (walking in the snow to school, uphill in both directions, of course), I might have gotten lucky enough to see an older Looney Tunes episode used to flesh out one of the existing Saturday morning cartoons, but most of these shows were simply unavailable to me. Even the occasional trip to a sci-fi con and the "sure, these are legal copies" video dealers there couldn't get me nearly enough of these episodes. For fans of classic cartoons, whether you're a fan of contemporary stuff or not, these are halcyon days in terms of being able to find most of the great shows on DVD and watch them whenever you'd like.

  3. Finally, Boomerang, a network I've had my own share of love and hate for in the past, seems to have really found a nice niche for itself showing older cartoons. As I've mentioned previous columns, they certainly have a few toons (like Batman: The Animated Series and Dexter's Laboratory) that seem a little too new for them (although it's hard to complain much about either of those shows), and there are still shows like The Smurfs and Tom and Jerry Kids that represent the nadir of cookie cutter '80s animation. But a typical day of Boomerang programming now includes everything from The Pink Panther to Secret Squirrel to Wacky Races, and even episodes of The Banana Splits. They've come a long way since the early days of nothing but Flintstones/Jetsons/Tom and Jerry reruns(although you can still find those shows in the mix), and the network now nicely complements the online and DVD resources for classic cartoons.

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