Thanks to Reviewers Unknown colleague Joey Tedesco I found out about this article by Cartoon Brew reporting on this event coming to Turner Classic Movies Sunday night. Personally, the only one that interests me is Gulliver’s Travels but just the fact that they’re bringing out some of these forgotten gems of early animation makes me happy. However, while I certainly want to promote the event (8PM ET), it’s the Brew article that gathered my attention.
Classic animated films have no outlet in today’s media. Those of us of a certain age may recall seeing classic cartoons in movie theaters. Many of us grew up watching the entire history of Hollywood cartoons on television. Today, except for a few random showings at a festival, museum or repertory theatre, you’d be lucky to find Tom & Jerry or Looney Tunes buried within a block of kidvid. Look even harder and you might find Mr. Magoo and the Fox & Crow (but you gotta look real hard).
I know of one upper tier channel that plays a bunch of the really old cartoons (UPA, I think), and that’s pretty much it. As a kid (wait…HEY YOU KIDS! GET OFF MY LAWN!) I grew up with the likes of Woody Woodpecker (the originals, not that poor attempt some years ago), the original Looney Tunes/Merry Melodies–which also appeared on Saturday Morning TV–and Disney cartoons. And of course, Mighty Mouse! Loved that show. Today’s animation channels don’t seem to want to show anything past the 80′s and even that’s only during a late-night nostalgia block for adults if they have it at all. Do you know how may kids are going to grow up possibly seeing Who Framed Roger Rabbit and not get even some of the major cameos?
Let me repeat, there is no outlet for classic animation in the traditional media. Sure, you can find much on You Tube, or buy the DVDs… but you have to know what you’re looking for. As a teacher of animation history (at Woodbury University in Burbank), take it from me – the younger generation does not know who Winsor McCay is. Otto Messmer? Dave Fleischer? John Hubley? These names are lost on most animation students under 20 – and to the public at large under 30. There is just no exposure to this material.
Admittedly I only know two of those names myself from memory and someone would have to mention Messmer for me to recall the name. Fleischer had a lot of play around me thanks to Superman and Popeye, plus the aforementioned Gulliver movie. You can find DVDs rather cheap filled with classic toons, including ones he didn’t mention from Harvey’s cartoon department. (And whomever has the Mighty Mouse license, please put out a collection of just MM, without all these others getting in my way. Thanks.)
Saturday morning shows form the 1970′s and 1980′s are getting some love and that’s a good thing, but there are some real gems from the old theatrical short subjects that are also worth checking out.
The six hour spotlight on classic animation coming this weekend is a test. Will TCM’s traditional viewers respect and understand these are classic films? I’m betting they will. As far as I’m concerned, animated shorts and features – especially those produced for theatrical showing – from 1906 to umm, let’s say 1970 – are “classic film”. They are not “old kids fodder” – which is how they are perceived by their parent companies. They do not get the proper respect they deserve. The TCM broadcast is a rare opportunity for the medium; a great place to expose more people to the art, entertainment and legacy of animation.
Regardless of age, I think every “toon head” out there needs to at least watch some of these and see where the cartoon format came from. I would like to have seen more adventure stuff in the shorts they’ll be presenting, but Gulliver’s Travels and The Adventures of Achmed (I haven’t seen the latter and I’m going on comments by other reviewers) are good productions in that area and worth a look. The article ends with ways to tell TCM (who has no sponsors and thus has little need for ratings reviews) to show more of these and I also hope they do. TCM was a good place for me to see some old serials that I haven’t before and I’d like to seem them embrace more animated cinema as well.