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The Now and Then of Cartoons
Categories: General
Originally published on May 26, 2007 on needlessly|messianic.

Recently, I got hold of the Jonny Quest theme, and while listening to it, I was sent on a nostalgic trip down memory lane–thinking about all those (great) cartoons I used to watch when I was young. Comparing those to the trash they dish out now, I feel so sorry for the present generation of kids, who’re missing out on greats like The Adventures of Tintin, The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, The Centurions, and my personal favourite, Batman: The Animated Series.

Not only did these cartoons incorporate some good animation with innovative ideas, great characters and an epic scale, but they also had a soundtrack to die for. Thinking about it now, I think that the these shows were just helped by the innovative intros with the awesome soundtracks they had. Like, in the intro for B:TAS, the name of the show isn’t mentioned even once, yet you know that the thing’s about Batman. The series was dark, it was (relatively) mature (sticking to the version of Batman created by Frank Millar and popularized by Tim Burton), yet it could be watched by kids. Shirley Walker’s music really captured the essence of Batman in just one minute.

As for Jonny Quest, maybe the Wachowski brothers got the idea for all things green while watching its opening. The black and green scenes on the Grand Canyon style thingie was as innovative as it gets. And then, the ‘Questworld’, a virtual reality created by Jonny’s father, introduced the cartoon watching public to 3-D animation.

Comparing this innovation and care with which cartoons were drawn up back then, with today’s fare, I can only think, “What the heck happened to the creativity out there?”. I just can’t get the logic behind all that Chinese/Japanese (I don’t know what, I don’t care what) programming on Cartoon Network and other cartoon channels. They all look the same, with the same chinky characters, same pathetic dubbing, crummy storylines and even crummier music. In front of the aforementioned cartoons, they look like cheap candy floss. Heck, they don’t force you to think, they don’t have edge of the seat action, and on the whole, they just aren’t any fun! True, they have taken the world by storm, but at least try exposing the present cartoon watchers to Batman and the like.

Today, it’s either that Chinese/Japanese trash or the evergreen, ever repeated Tom and Jerry and Scooby Doo. As concepts, they don’t have much wrong with them, but for how long can you watch the same cat and mouse episodes, or the inconsistent animation (on Scooby Doo. Watch carefully, the backgrounds keep changing in close up scenes and wide shots)? And then, there’s the inexplicable lack of new programming from Hannah Barbara and Warner Bros. Maybe, I’m just sore because they pulled off my favourite shows (and am too prejudiced to watch the new ones), or maybe, others too are feeling this crunch, and this really is a genuine problem. I just hope it’s the latter…

9 July 2010 edit:

People might argue a case for Japanese animes, and some of the points (mainly the mature tone, good soundtracks and kick-ass animations) are valid. But, where these suffer is in the pacing and the storylines. I’ve found these animes to be rather lethargically paced, often with too little story being conveyed per episode. Contrast that to the taut pacing of B:TAS. While the animes give the impression of placing style over substance, B:TAS placed both on an even pedestal. True, animes have longer runs than any of the above mentioned shows ever did, but again, that might be because of how slowly they are paced.

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