Stumble Into His Animated Memory | Columns
I am a baby boomer and I come to a point in my life where I think a lot about my youth. Some things about baby boomer growth were good and some bad. Mostly, it was sort of in between.
But the Saturday morning cartoons – ah, that was the height of a boomer’s childhood. No other generation, before or since, has experienced them like us.
Waking up at dawn – uninvited – and knowing the morning was endless, full of cartoons and so much junk food that you could sneak past your parents while they tried to sleep.
It was the official day of the week for children, recognized by the whole world. Oh sure; there would be chores later, or a trip to buy shoes or a visit to relatives. But morning was your time, and settling on the couch or on the floor with a large bowl of cereal watching cartoons was just magical.
I’m talking about looking at the old school here, folks: there was no remote control; there was no pause, fast forward or go back to catch a missed word.
No; you had to be careful and live in the moment.
The Flintstones, the Jetsons, Rocky and Bullwinkle. Bugs Bunny, Popeye the Sailor, George of the Jungle. You knew the theme songs and you enthusiastically (if not always skillfully) sang your favorites.
Even the stuff between the cartoons was cartoonish. A series of animated tigers, sharks and toucans paraded colorful toys, clothes and food past our little starry eyes with every commercial break.
I can understand why moms weren’t always a fan of the shows we watched. You have learned of Woody Woodpecker’s sarcasm, Yogi Bear’s greed and duplicity from the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote.
But you also learned the acceptance of the Banana Splits, the compassion of Magilla Gorilla, the love of science from Jonny Quest, and a healthy dose of jazz music from Top Cat.
Other favorites from my childhood include Speed Racer, Beany and Cecil, Atom Ant, then more obscure toons like Tooter the Turtle, Tennessee Tuxedo or Peter Potamus and his Flying Balloon.
Then in 1967 suddenly it was all about superheroes: Superman, Spiderman, Aquaman, Fantastic Four, Green Lantern, The Flash, Justice League of America were all released that year.
Like millions of other devoted Baby Boom watchers, I grew up (well, mostly) and had children of my own.
My first two children were born in 1977 and 1978, and I enjoyed introducing them to the Saturday morning lineup which now included Duck Tales, Scooby Doo, Inspector Gadget, Archie, the Smurfs, the Transformers and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. .
We’ve watched a lot of Schoolhouse Rock between the other shows – I’ll never forget my 4 year old dressing her cart while singing softly, “Conjunction junction, what’s your function?”
Both girls loved the Care Bears and My Little Pony shows, but also avidly devoured every episode of She-Ra Princess of Power and He-Man Master of the Universe. Go figure it out.
Then there were shows like The Last Dinosaur, Muppet Babies, Roger Ramjet, Jem and the Holograms, and the more obscure Danger Mouse or Thundercats.
By the time my middle three kids arrived in 1987, 1989, and 1991, cartoons had sort of become less innocent and more tired of the world, like Animaniacs, Rugrats, or SpongeBob SquarePants. Disney offered TaleSpin and Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers, and there were the Powerpuff Girls and the Wild Thornberrys.
Some classics were also rebooted during this decade: Batman Beyond, Scooby Doo, Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry, Flintstones, Jetsons, the Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, Roadrunner have all been revamped for a younger audience.
My baby, born in 1996, has watched shows like Dragon Tales, Teen Titans, Kim Possible, and the Fairly Oddparents on free TV, but his viewing experiences have been mostly through cable TV and rental and the purchase of VHS (later DVD).
Increasingly sophisticated computer techniques have transformed the look of animated shows – we don’t even call them cartoons anymore – into something that would have been mind-blowing to myself at 8 years old.
I still marvel at Sully’s fur in “Monsters, Inc.” and the water horse in “Frozen 2.”
Hundreds of shows are available on demand for my grandchildren, who don’t think about releasing a DVD at 7:30 am, watching half of it, and then picking up after lunch. The concept of having to schedule a visit is completely foreign to them.
The little ones watch Bubble Guppies, Puppy Dog Pals, Paw Patrol and the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, while the older ones enjoy Kratt’s Creatures, Pokemon and Lego Ninjago.
Saturday is just another day of the week now for the kids, and that makes me a little sad.
I know I know; time is running out, yadda yadda yadda. Technology has improved a lot. There are a lot more choices, a lot better quality, a lot more socially acceptable themes.
But, deep inside, I mourn the loss of innocence that Saturday morning cartoons once represented.
What I wouldn’t give to be a kid again, settle down on the floor with my head resting on our Great German Shepherd, Joe, with a snack in hand and a morning of unrestrained cartoon consumption.
Want to join me? Let’s jump in the Wayback Machine and take a ride.