When Good Cartoons Go Bad
The phrase ‘Jumping the Shark’ has become quite the common piece of terminology in today’s lexicon. Basically, in its most basic sense, it’s when, typically, a TV show begins to grow stale and attempts are made (generally quite disastrous attempts) to freshen it up. Sometimes it’s adding a baby to the cast. Or, perhaps it’s having one of the more popular members die or move. Then, maybe, a long lost relative shows up. Or, in the case of the definition itself, it’s allowing one major player to do something so completely out of character (see Happy Days and Fonzie’s actual shark leaping) as to make it full-on ridiculous.
Well, sadly, it’s not only live-action shows that suffer the indignity and injustices of unnecessary growth spurts, if you will. When a beloved cartoon isn’t allowed to be put to pasture among applause and tearful goodbyes, but made to stagnate and rot, even the best intentions are met with rancor and unforgiving glances. Now it is true that of these ten examples, a few are what many refer to as ‘new adventures,’ which is just a fancy way of saying, “We know you used to love this show, miss and remember it fondly, so we’re bringing it back the way we think you ought to like it now.” Look, ass-hats, nobody likes zombies in any incarnation, even in ‘re-animated’ (har har) cartoons. So, let’s take a trip down a memory lane few of us wish to trod, and take a look at when good cartoons went bad. Hey, think of it as an injection: necessary evil.
As the Japanese and their beloved Toho proved time and again, it’s tough to go wrong with a giant, marauding lizard. And since Americans are just big old copy cats, we figured taking a well-stabilized rampaging monster and animating it with a more kid-friendly style in mind, we’d have a big hit on our hands. Go USA! So in 1978, Toho and the geniuses at Hanna-Barbera brought forth the wonder that was Godzilla… the cartoon! But, all was not peaches and cream, and the lightheartedness they were going for wasn’t quite there. Enter: Godzooky. Oh yeah. Just a few episodes into the series, Godzilla’s nephew made his glorious screen debut as friend to the little boy, Pete. Oh Godzooky, how incredibly irritating — albeit sickeningly cute — you were what with your smoke rings and half-assed flying ability. Suck it!
Fairy Tale critters that are kind to humans and really cause little harm to anyone are big favorites of little kids and girls. So it was a forgone conclusion that bringing Peyo’s Smurf-folk to TV as a cartoon was sure to be a hit. And it was. (On a little aside here, Smurf is actually a bastardized French word for salt, which Peyo called ‘schtroumpf’, and then translated to Dutch as Smurf.)
Anyway, I digress… the Smurfs, adapted for TV by Hanna-Barbera, were a huge success and ended up spawning everything from cereal to earrings. Alas, as good cartoons often do, the ratings began to fade and interest waned. So what did those sadistic pukes at the HB headquarters do? Introduced two new elements into the show that quickly marked its imminent downfall: a baby and little kids. The baby, delivered by stork no less, had a magic-powered rattle. Yeah. Oh, and the kids were Nat, Slappy, Slouchy, and Sassette, the former three having been retro-aged adult Smurfs. Oh the Smurf-anity! Death soon followed.
The year was 1970. For some odd reason, the year was also ripe for a new cartoon idea based loosely on the ‘Kids and a Caper’ plot structure that Hanna-Barbera was famous for… because we really need another one of those shows. Oh but look, these kinda hot chicks are in a band dressed as kitties! Now we’re getting somewhere! And, this cartoon was a sure-fire winner thanks to its adaptation from the original Archie Comics series! I see no wrong here at all! Josie, Melody, Valerie, Alan, Alexander, and Sebastian had their wacky adventures and arbitrary plot devises all day long and it was good. Until one day, when it really, really wasn’t. In 1972, after two solid years of doing what a bunch of pussycat dolls do best, it was decided that the next logical step was to (sarcastic drum roll please) send the entire crew to space! Why not? Going to space for some reason is always a great idea? Right? Hello?
Long before The Simpsons and their reign as the longest-running prime-time animated show, The Flintstones were America’s first toon family. The show, during its original run, aired from 1960 to 1966 and focused primarily on a work-a-day duo in Fred and Barney and their stay-at-home wives, Wilma and Betty. Each had a child; Fred and Wilma’s Pebbles and Barney and Betty’s Bamm Bamm, and they too were friends. It was your regular, happy-go-lucky family doing regular family shit.
Oh, but things can go so very wrong so very quickly. After The Flintstones finally performed their swan song (we’ll get to that later), it seemed that we’d never see the families again doing what they did best in Bedrock, and we were all perfectly fine with that. Until, those meddling kids at (you guessed it) Hanna-Barbera got their barbs in the crew and delivered us the evils that were: The Flintstone Kids (1986-1988) featuring the quartet as horrendously annoying children, and The Pebbles and Bamm Bamm Show (1971-1973) with the remaining two family members as grown ups in the ’50s. Yes, these were largely considered spin-offs rather than continuing plot ‘repairs’, but they are evil enough to be considered an act of kicking a dead horse.
After many successful years as just the Dynamic Duo, and through hundreds of adventures in both comic books and animations, Batman and Robin found themselves part of another series. In 1968, Batman and his sidekick teamed up with another show featuring Superman and Super Boy, eventually even dropping the ‘Men of Tomorrow’ all together allowing Bruce and Dick free reign of their own show. But, this too soon would fade. This time, now in 1970, the show was to be all about them, no unnecessary ‘And Friends’ or ‘With Superman’ add-ons to take the limelight away from the Dark Knight and the Boy Wonder.
The show’s title, The New Adventures of Batman and Robin, starred the voices of Adam West and Burt Ward of the original, uber-campy Batman live-action TV show! This was going to kick acres of ass! But hey, guess what? It didn’t last because, thanks wholly to a character straight out one of the worst comic ideas of all time, Bat Mite. This is what happens when a tried-and-true group of superheroes somehow manages to lose a little of its footing and something needs to be done to spice it up a little. Bat Mite was the kind of idiotic addition that specific levels of animators’ Hell are created for: mischievous, fucking irritating, and perpetually in the damn way. Bat Mite sucks.
Sometimes it doesn’t necessarily take a new character or location or tweaking of age to really put the kibosh on a cartoon. Sometimes all it takes is removing the one key element in the show that made it exactly what it was for years. In the case of Tom and Jerry, the dynamic was deceptively simple: Tom was the cat and the rightful possessor of the home, or homestead (whichever the case called for), and Jerry was the intruding mouse typically just there for either the food or to look after another, smaller and less feisty critter (see: baby mouse and duck).
This balanced perfectly and the universe was in alignment and everyone was happy with their brutal beatings and laugh-out-loud violence. It was golden. But sometime in the early ’80s, lots and lots of the proverbial shit hit the fan and one of the newer studios in charge of T and J, possibly Filmation and MGM, decided that the two ought to work together in many instances, even becoming a recurring theme spreading into the movie. Tom and Jerry… friends? Hell and No. This inevitably led to far worse incarnations, specifically Tom and Jerry Kids. And the cartoon Gods wept.
I have yet to decipher the twisted riddle regarding what was wrong with a great line-up of DC Comic superheroes teaming up to fight the Legion of Doom and various evil-scheming scientists and stuff. It was a kick-ass show featuring the likes of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Robin. They’d get into adventures ridding the Earth of bad guys and pretty much just kickin’ it in the Hall of Justice. It was all gravy until one day, for some bizarre reason, Wendy, Marvin, and Wonderdog showed up. Sort of like some bizarre group of teens that answered a non-existent ad in the local paper, they just moved in, dressed like superheroes (sort of) and did NOTHING. That’s right, none of the three had any discernible super-human ability… well, aside from Wonderdog being able to talk like Scooby Doo. They were just there.
Thankfully, in 1974, this too died a sorrowful, albeit necessary, death. Then came 1977 and a renewed interest in Super Friends and a brand new show. Cool, this time they got it right with a team of heroes kicking oodles of ass, right? Well, kinda. You see, this time around, as The All New Super Friends Hour, a new trio of suck-tastic teens were introduced. Though this time they were imbued with powers, Zan (water jerk-off… ha ha) and Jayna (wild woman… hee hee), and their absolutely ridiculous pet Space Monkey, Gleek. Whatever track the producers had seen fit to lay down, this show was way off it. Sadly, the Super Friends never really regained their coolness till well into the ’90s. Damn kids.
Right around 1935, the most famous animated pseudo-sailor of all time, Popeye, began making his rounds as a pre-film cartoon and, eventually, onto a TV show in the ’40s and ’50s. During this time, Popeye’s popularity surpassed even that of Mickey Mouse. He was hugely successful both on celluloid and television and continued to be so for many years. But, as it happens with everything nowadays (or, ‘then-a-days’ as the case may be), changes were on the horizon. It was time for new cast members to lighten up and freshen up the show.
For once, I’m not talking about a baby since Swee’ Pea had been a regular recurring cast character since the beginning. No, this time the studio decided to reach into the comic book bag of tricks (remember Bat Mite?) and draw out the magical Eugene the Jeep. The Jeep looked like a cross between a weird dog and a cat with a big nose. Apparently, he lived in the ‘4th Dimension’, but hung out in ours making mischief for Popeye. Yes, loads of good times there. Ah, but Eugene wasn’t the only addition used to build new interest in the Popeye franchise. Let’s not forget Alice the Goon during the short-lived All New Popeye Hour. Though she originally served as an Amazonian-type guard for the Sea Hag, she eventually joined the regular cast and even joined the Army with Olive Oyl. Oh, someone stop the hilarity.
As I stated before, The Flintstones was long dead before either of the newer versions hit air (see number 7). But how? Did it just run its course? Was it just time to lie the old dog down and end its misery with even a modicum of dignity? Of course not. Instead, it was high time to introduce a brand new character far more grating and irritating than any other seen before and almost since. It was time for an exiled Alien from Zetox called The Great Gazoo. Trust me, there was nothing great about him… at all.
For the most part, Gazoo interfered while trying to help in Fred and Barney’s every day lives. Basically, he was an incredible thorn who served no real purpose other than being inconceivably annoying. Worse yet was the fact that only the guys and Pebbles and Bamm Bamm could see him, so the wives naturally assumed them to be either bat-shit crazy, or just babies. Fortunately for us, and everyone else with a TV, his story arc was never concluded as the series ran itself into the ground pretty rapidly. Though he does live on, sadly. Gazoo is one of the vitamin shapes in the Flintstones bottle, and is now the spokes-toon for the newest cereal in the Pebbles family called Marshmallow Mania. Frankly, his death should have been slow and excruciatingly painful.
If ever there were an evil cartoon character so full of malice and ill repute; a character so loathed and completely hated, this one little puppy is it. Scooby Doo and the gang had run solidly from 1974 until 1979, racking up the solved mysteries, meddling themselves in innumerable situations, and inhaling a semi’s-worth of Scooby Snacks. But, as so frequently happens, the popularity began to slump and something major had to be done. But no one could know just how wicked and devilish the decision that was finally made would be.
Though no solid and agreed upon origin of Scrappy exists (some say he arrived to his uncle Scooby via train, and others argue Scooby and Shaggy were present at his first birthday), what everyone can shake hands on is the simple fact that Scrappy is a ingratiating nuisance of the highest order. Yes he was cock-sure and incredibly arrogant. Yes he was brave to a fault and a danger to himself and others. And yes, he even inexplicably saved the gang a time or two on his own. But none of this matters for one hot minute because what he really did was upset the delicate balance between the scaredy-cat Shag and Scoob and the relative bravery of Fred, Velma, and Daphne. Yes, Scrappy was a universe worth of shittiness packed into one little body.