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Thursday, December 21, 2006

"Heavens to Murgatroid!"

This seems harsh. I was just a kid, but I kinda liked some of these cartoons:

Barberanism in cartoon land, by Martin Rowson, The Guardian: I've long believed that the cartoon shorts produced in Hollywood in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, mostly outside the baleful Disney gulag, are among the greatest achievements of western art.

These five-minute long essays in mayhem, featuring Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck..., and directed by the likes of Tex Avery, Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones are (albeit silly) symphonies of joy. Right up there at the top stand Tom and Jerry, created by William Hanna and Joe Barbera, who's just died aged 95.

When you watch those Tom and Jerry cartoons, you don't just get all the victimless violence you could ever want, but also, frequently, a beauty which can rival anything in the movies. These little films won seven Oscars, and would often take up to a year to make. The technique was painstaking and very expensive (which was why in 1956 MGM closed its animation division where they made Tom and Jerry). The cartoons of that Golden Age should stand as a fitting and enduring monument to Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna, and almost excuse their later crimes. But not quite. ...

Although everyone born in the last 60 years might imagine that they have happy childhood memories of The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound or, God help us, Scooby-Doo, the truth of the matter is that they're crap. Complete and utter crap. Worse, they're shoddily made crap, after Hanna-Barbera devised what they called "limited animation", more than halving the number of drawings from 26 per second to 3000 for five minutes... And thus they effectively destroyed animation for at least two generations, before it slowly began to claw its way back to respectability in the mid-90s.

Worse, this tat debauched not only its audience but also people within the profession. The great Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester the Cat and Porky Pig, ended his days voicing Barney Rubble. Friz Freleng, who directed some of the best Bugs Bunnies in the 40s, bent the knee to market forces and spent the 60s and 70s churning out The Pink Panther. Great theme, for sure, but those cartoons, too, were crap. ...

If you doubt me, just remember The Banana Splits. Or The Hair Bear Bunch. Or Shazam. I could go on, but I can't stand it. All I can suggest is that you get hold of Johann Mouse: in five sublime minutes it's worth more than everything Barbera knocked off in the next 40 years, and almost redeems his memory. But, as I said, not quite.

"Now hoooooold on thar, Baba Looey! I'll do the "thinnin'" around here, and doooon't you forget it!"

Okay, some of them weren't so great technically or artistically, but without cutting the frames per minute and other costs, cartoons may not have survived until the computer age brought cost-reducing technological change and turned things around. And, as the Simpson's makes clear, good writing is just as important as good animation. The best animation ever wouldn't have saved the Flintstones by the time The Great Gazoo showed up. "Touché and away!"

    Posted by on Thursday, December 21, 2006 at 01:32 AM in Economics, Miscellaneous | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (6)


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