How Classic Cartoons Created…

written by Annie Holmquist

How Classic Cartoons Created a Culturally Literate Generation

I recently picked up Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court for the first time. Finding the plot rather amusing, I began relaying it to my father over the weekend. Because he had never read the book, I was rather surprised when he began asking informed questions about the story. In no time at all, he was the one schooling me on plot elements I had not yet reached.

“Wait a minute,” I asked. “Are you sure you’ve never read this book?”

“No, never have,” he replied, “but I saw a cartoon version of the story when I was younger and everything I know comes from that.”

His revelation was intriguing, and to be honest, not the first of its kind. Like many in the Boomer generation, my father grew up watching classic cartoons, numbers of which were produced by the likes of Warner Bros.

But those cartoons did more than mind-numbingly entertain a generation of children. They also introduced millions of young people to key facets of cultural literacy, particularly in the realm of literature and music.

Beyond the aforementioned case of Mark Twain’s novel, these cartoons introduced children to stories such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde through the medium of Bugs Bunny. Key quotations and scenes from William Shakespeare’s works were the main theme in a Goofy Gophers cartoon known as A Ham in a Role. And Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem The Song of Hiawatha was placed front and center in a Walt Disney short called Little Hiawatha.

Perhaps even more famous than the literature references are the many ways in which cartoons introduced children to the world of classical music, including both instrumental and operatic selections, one of which is the famous Rabbit of Saville. American film critic Leonard Maltin describes the situation well:

“An enormous amount of my musical education came at the hands of [Warner Bros. composer] Carl Stalling, only I didn’t realize it, I wasn’t aware, it just seeped into my brain all those years I was watching Warner’s cartoons day after day after day. I learned Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody because of the Warner Bros. cartoons, they used it so often, famously when Friz Freleng had a skyscraper built to it in Rhapsody and Rivets.”

But Maltin wasn’t the only one learning from these classical music forays. In fact, as the famous pianist Lang Lang testifies, it was Tom and Jerry’s rendition of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody in The Cat Concerto which first inspired him to start piano at age two.

Tom and Jerry – 029 – The Cat Concerto [1947] by milagrosalease

These examples just brush the surface of the cultural literacy lessons which the old cartoons taught our parents and grandparents. Even if they never learned these elements in school, they at least had some frame of reference upon which they could build their understanding of the books and music and even ideas which have impacted culture and the world we live in today.

But can the same be said of the current generation? Admittedly, I’m not very well-versed in current cartoon offerings, but a quick search of popular titles seems to suggest that the answer is no. A majority of the time they seem to offer fluff, fantasy, and a focus on the here and now.

In short, neither schools, nor Saturday morning cartoons seem to be passing on the torch of cultural knowledge and literacy. Could such a scenario be one reason why we see an increased apathy and lack of substance in the current generation?

This post How Classic Cartoons Created a Culturally Literate Generation was originally published on Intellectual Takeout by Annie Holmquist.

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Musical review: SpongeBob SquarePants

The dance will remind old-timers of Tommy Tune

SpongeBob SquarePantsThe first show in the 2019-2020 Proctors Theatre package in Schenectady, NY was SpongeBob SquarePants. I could have traded in the ticket for another show not in the subscription series, but I decided to see it.

In case you’re unfamiliar, SpongeBob SquarePants is an American animated comedy television series. It was created by Stephen Hillenburg, a marine science educator, and animator, who died in November 2018. “The series chronicles the adventures and endeavors of the title character and his aquatic friends in the fictional underwater city of Bikini Bottom.”

I went alone on a Thursday afternoon, in part because that is the cheapest time to go. Did I mention I was retired? The house was maybe 2/3s full. I suspect some of my fellow retirees opted out.

Before writing this, I explained the highlights to my wife. “Oh, I heard a guy on the radio who pointed out the same things that you liked.” Being the lazy blogger I am, I quickly found Bob Goepfert’s review for The Troy Record that she heard on WAMC.

“I actually enjoyed the cleverly staged mountain climbing sequence.” This is actually quite extraordinary visually, with our title hero hanging upside down on a ladder more than once. And the look, in general, is a lot of fun.

“There’s a sensational tap number that lasts for about 8 minutes that is breathtaking. Performed by the tall and lanky Cody Coolie (who plays Squidward) the dance will remind old-timers of Tommy Tune… ‘I’m Not a Loser,’ by They Might Be Giants was made meaningful by the already mentioned tap number.

“[T]he musical uses the tale of friendship and heroic actions to teach some fine values – like believing in yourself, being a loyal friend, trusting in individuality and encouraging diversity.” It also addressed fearmongering among politicians, cult followings, and panic.

Avoidance

I enjoyed it far more than Goepfert did, and he’s explained why: “Over the years, no matter how much they begged or cajoled, I avoided watching a single episode of the Nickelodeon television cartoon series with my grandchildren. I refused to go with them to any of SpongeBob films, and they knew better than to ask me to take them to the musical when it played on Broadway. Seeing the show on Wednesday evening at Proctors proved I was right.”

I had wondered right after seeing the show whether someone who was not familiar with the cartoon could make the transition to the stage version. With a now teenaged daughter, I’ve seen more than my share of episodes.

SpongeBob was not in a sponge costume, but rather wore a shirt, tie and shorts. Squidwardhad a pair of slacks and shoes, and another pair of same attached to the back. It’s easier to appreciate that if you can see the cartoon visual in your mind.

That said, the second act was stronger than the first. I first became really involved when Pearl the Whale, the daughter of Mr. Krabs, played by Meami Maszewski, sang Daddy Knows Best in Act 1.

Before the show even began, there were cast members playing some Hawaiian music with a slide dulcimer, fiddle, kazoos, and various sound effects, played by the guy who was also onstage for much of the actual show.

Proctors Theatre was the first stop on the tour for SpongeBob SquarePants, and I suspect the show will only get better. Here’s a favorable review in Nippertown. It’s not Fiddler on the Roof, which is briefly referenced, but it should be entertaining when it comes to a theater near you.

Music Throwback Saturday: Smile, Darn Ya, Smile

The Smile, Darn You, Smile cartoon was redone, and colorized, in 1995.

Smile,_Darn_Ya,_Smile!For this one, blame fillyjonk. She had a post featuring, among other things, Billy Cotton singing Smile, Darn Ya, Smile from 1931, a song written by Charles O’Flynn, Jack Meskill, and Max Rich.

Also in that post, from that year, a character named Foxy – looking not dissimilar to Mickey Mouse – in an animated feature with the same name as the song. It was a Merrie Melodies cartoon Continue reading “Music Throwback Saturday: Smile, Darn Ya, Smile”

December rambling #1: your first draft

Rebecca Jade & the Cold Fact – Gonna Be Alright (OFFICIAL VIDEO)

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How Republicans Trumped Themselves. Still, I’m NOT convinced that FriendsWhoLikeTrump.com reflects true Trump supporters on Facebook.

How people respond to Bible quotes when told they’re from the Quran.

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Ikea’s Newly Designed Refugee Shelters.

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Continue reading “December rambling #1: your first draft”

R is for Roger Ramjet

Gary Owens,, a drive-time deejay in LA who would get national recognition soon enough as the on-screen announcer for Laugh-In, voiced Roger Ramjet.

roger ramjetWhen I was 12 years old, there was this cartoon called Roger Ramjet. Naturally, for the next several years, some kid or another referred to ME as Roger Ramjet, “a patriotic and highly moral — if not very bright — hero, who is typically out to save the world, with help from his Proton Energy Pills (“PEP”), which give him ‘the strength of twenty atom bombs for a period of twenty seconds’.” This did not bother me.

I don’t much remember the program, but I believe that I mistakenly thought it was made by the same folks who made Rocky and Bullwinkle Continue reading “R is for Roger Ramjet”