“The Day The Smurfs Died,” by Rick Carroll

This is part of a series of blog posts cranked out by my adoring proselytes — erm, I mean, faithful readers. I’m in Utah (er, presumably — maybe the plane crashed, or maybe I was forced into white sexual slavery somewhere in Dubai), so the task of entertaining you froth-mouthed moppets falls to others.

Today’s post is by Rick Carroll.

I am twenty-eight years old (actually, I am thirty-three but this is my fantasy so fuck off).  In my few decades, I’ve witnessed people kill, steal, rape, and commit every atrocity conceivable to another human being.  It gets to me – hey, it gets to us all, right?  Just when we think we’re unaffected… BAM!  Reality wakes us up with the sickest shit imaginable, shoved up our eyeholes through HD Surround 3D Mobile iAltars of Media (closed captioned for the hearing impaired).

At what point did I choose to be like this?  I was a fucked up kid, but I was also happy.   I spent my days singing and laughing and skipping and all that other Pollyanna shit.  So what happened?  What did I do then that I don’t do now?

I watched me some motherfucking cartoons.

When I was a kid, shit was happening all over the place; tragedy is not confined to a single decade.  I remember watching Cable in the Classroom as the Challenger exploded, and somewhat recall the chaos of natural disasters like Hurricane Fredrick and the Oakland Quake.  While I was subjected to it, I wasn’t really affected by it because, every afternoon, I escaped into worlds that captured my imagination.

I like to sit and watch my kids enjoying their programs.  I don’t watch the show itself, but seeing them enjoy it gets me in the heart.  After a time those shows seep in; you become aware.  Spend any time with older kids or chat with them on the Intertubez (Stop it – I talk to them in Warcraft, you sick bastard) and you hear all about their cartoons too: the Digirutovartaremon Generation.  All of this exposure has sparked one question…

What in the name of Robin’s tight ass happened to cartoons?

When I was a kid cartoons were awesome, balls-to-the-wall-blow-a-pigeon-up-with-Tums awesome.  We had the most powerful characters in television delivered to us all in the name of selling toys, and by god did we ever guilt our parents into purchasing (I owned every single Transformer, even Omega Supreme).  People bitched that cartoons were only produced to sell toys, and they were certainly right, but that doesn’t change how fucking awesome they were.

Cartoons are different now… still made with an eye to toy sales, but different.  Gone are heroes that fight villains simple because they’re villains; that shit has been replaced with moody antiheroes and subtext.  Forget bad guys that blow things up just because, evil now doubts its wounded snowflake soul.  Evil wants to be understood, even redeemed.

What the fuck happened to American cartoons?  In the ‘80s, we owned that shit.  We were the Pimp Daddies of Cartoonography, and you didn’t edge in on our turf.  If you even tried, we’d buy your ass out, rebrand it, and make it fight for freedom.  Now, Japan has the cartoon market cornered just like the electronics industry.  Today’s cartoons are yesterday’s VCRs: cheaper, flashier, and harder to figure out.

Addicting the Next Generation

In 1980 I was three and not exactly looking for theater in my entertainment.  Mom plopped my smelly ass down and let me watch whatever kept my interest.  I was a huge fan of Inspector Gadget; that shit was funny as hell and still is.  Sometimes I bust out my Dr. Claw impression (I’ll get you for this Gadget, NEXT TIME!) and kill with nostalgic laughter.  Who do kids have to replace the Inspector?  You know who… that little bitch and her fucking monkey.

Gadget’s lessons were simple: do something stupid and a bumbling idiot will catch you through comedic circumstance.  When I’m being chased by cops, I watch for any little girls with dogs and take them out first; they are the true threat.  Gadget didn’t notice things in his environment because he was dumb – Dora doesn’t even bother looking.  The lazy bitch just stares at you, letting you do all the work while she incites your kids to riot.

The ultimate kid cartoon was the Smurfs, and they were all about lessons.  They taught us our place in society (fuck identity, you are reduced to a profession), how to talk to our parents (are we there yet?), to avoid creepy old men with cats (still valid), and how to speak a foreign language (tu parle smurf?).  Where does the modern child go for these important facts of life?

Toopy and Binoo.  Yeah, go Google them.  I’ll wait.

What Toopy and Binoo lack in worth they make up for in horrendous stereotypes.  Toopy is just about the worst gay caricature, ever.  They’re the masters of simple goals that need a whole lot of pandering explanation.  They are without a doubt the worst nightmare ever inflicted on parents – short of the Wonder Pets.

The Value of Catch Phrases

Now we get to where today’s kids really get the shaft.  I will not invoke the Best Cartoon of All Time.  Modern shows can’t hope to withstand the awesome that is the Transformers.  Instead, I chose He-Man, because he has the power.

He-Man is the best example of what happens when you strap a doll to a brick and beat an animator to death with it.  There was no hidden agenda here: Mattel wanted to sell some toys.  Skeletor is the perfect example of an ‘80s villain; he could be the fucking leader of the Evil Union.  His schemes were so complicated that even he didn’t know how to work them.  If he had a clear goal, it just involved killing He-Man.  In a twist of irony, the best cartoon of the modern era to put it up against was…

He-Man.

In a ploy to sell plastic to the children of their fans, Mattel rebooted the franchise in 2002.  Prince Adam became a whiny bitch, Skeletor dreamt up plans with a purpose, and don’t get me started on that twat the Sorceress.  By giving the show a story arc and a villain that wasn’t boneheaded, they took all the fun out of the series.  The show didn’t allow itself any room for stupidity; it limited its creativity.

It was cancelled after a season and a half.

With all the anime that waded through the Pacific, the modern era should absolutely trash the ‘80s for Japanese cartoons – it shouldn’t even be a contest.  Pokemon, Digimon, Sailor Moon, Bakugan… the shit is endless, and the new millennium wins, right?

I have five words to say to you: Voltron, Defender of the Mother Fucking Universe.

I absolutely could have invoked Robotech, but it was only released in parts of the States.  Voltron was everywhere (even the stupid car version).  You may not be able to tell Rick Hunter from Matt Striker, but you sure as shit could yell out Voltron’s assembly order.  Now kids have garbage like Chaotica (which I’m not sure is a Japanese show but they fucking try).  They run around screaming random crap at the top of their lungs, either because they have some neurological disorder or because events are just that intense.  From what I understand, these kids found some cards, and they make themselves really big.. or small… or…  Fuck! I have no idea.  The show is completely unintelligible.

They may have screamed on Voltron, but at least what they were yelling made sense.  Form blazing sword!  I get that, even if I don’t know why they didn’t just press the “make big fucking sword” button.  Voltron had a million goddamn buttons in his head, one them had to do something other than activate OnStar.

Get to the Point, Asshole

I could go on comparing this shit for hours.  Is G1 Optimus Prime more believable than his Armada counterpart?  Could Lion-O defeat Mewtwo, and could Diego shut down Cobra Commander’s slaughter farm before the Bobos stopped him?  Those are the questions ‘net nerds debate; its fun and engaging, but beyond the scope of this post.  The question remains: why do the cartoons of today suck?

The answer is simple: because they are not our cartoons.  As a kid, we see the world with wonder (as long as our environment doesn’t brutalize that splendor into nightmare).  Childhood is a better time.  We didn’t see plot holes when Mother Brain captured Captain Nintendo, we didn’t need to compare Scrooge McDuck to Count Duckula.  They were our cartoons, and they were sacred.  They were the fables that gave our world context.

The cartoons of today aren’t any worse.  They just aren’t ours.

Decades from now, some self-important asshat will be setting up a MegaPost on his Turbolaserblog to bitch about the same subject.  I hope he arrives at the same conclusion: his cartoons are the best.  Just like mine were.  Just like yours are.

Except G1 Transformers. That shit’s the motherfuckin’ bomb.  Fuck you, future man.

8 comments

  • When I was in school I got my ass home every day in time to see Star Blazers. Yeah, it was Japanese. Yeah, it had a lot of adult themes. But you did NOT come near me while I was sitting on the bed in my mom’s room watching that show. I dreamed in animation as a kid, and I would cavort from one universe to another.

    When I was in my early 20s I set the VCR to record every episode of Batman: The Animated Series and Animaniacs. If I was off from work I would sit on the bed gaping at them in real time. Otherwise I would come home, feed the cats, toss my keys on my dresser, and eat popcorn for dinner while I just sat there basking in coolness.

    In my opinion, those two shows were the last excellent American animation to hit the screen.

    Mainstream anyway.

    Justice League was ok, but it doesn’t touch the relaunch of Batman. Nothing pissed me off more than when the FOX censors decided it was too dark and they wanted Robin added and every episode to be lighter. For fuck’s sake, I knew a 3 year old back then who watched it, and he grew up to be a fairly awesome member of society.

    I often sit and watch Boomerang now because I can get myself a Hong Kong Phooey fix or get off on Top Cat.

    Actually, I need to correct myself. The Powerpuff Girls was an excellent addition to American animation. I was hooked as a consumer (a um, chick consumer) as well, and damn if I don’t have a jelly watch, a lunch box, and a small metal purse.

    This was an excellent piece.

    I don’t allow Dora in this house.

  • Danny Phantom is an outstanding cartoon. Invader Zim is possibly my favorite cartoon of all time. Spongebob keeps my attention on a regular basis.

    I tried watching some 80s cartoons as an adult. I can’t. I just can’t.

  • Everyone’s cartoons are the best :)

    I am going to completely agree with you on Batman and Animaniacs, those shows were amazing. I will also say that the most recent Spiderman gripped me pretty hard.

    I keep hearing great things about Invader Zim, but I never checked it out. I giggle at Spongebob when I hear it, but my wife hates it with a passion.

  • January 16, 2010 at 2:19 PM // Reply

    Transformers is definitely my favorite cartoon of all time. That being said, I have never let the newer reincarnations effect my love for the original. Yes…these newer things are not ours and I refuse to let them taint the memories left that I can’t seem to repress.

  • Yeah, I can’t handle Spongebob either.

    Which is good, because my kid doesn’t know him from Adam, or most of the crap on TV, so I don’t have the toy begging.

    Unfortunately, she’s in love with M-I-C-K-E-Y…

  • Scionic: Watch Zim. It’s really, really brilliant. Being designed by the creator of the most fucked up indy comic out there (Johnny the Homicidal Maniac,) it’s basically that without the profanity. It’s deeply disturbing, while being wildly hysterical.

  • I loved the Smurfs as a kid. Bought the Season One DVD and was like WTF? But no one can take away the memory of them being awesome! Voltron was top of the list, though, and it still holds up.

    I can’t stand most of the toons my kids like, but Stormhawks was kind of awesome and my son and I both got into it; even bought a few of the toys. Of course, it seems to have disappeared from Cartoon Network!

    Clone Wars is also solid, and one my son and I can still watch together.

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