Alex Anderson, creator of Rocky & Bullwinkle, passed away yesterday. Jay Ward was more influential to the show itself, but Anderson drew them up and created them, before Ward took off with them on their wacky, absurd adventures that were so ahead of their time. Cartoons got dumbed down for my generation in the ’70s, and by the ’80s they were really just toy commercials. The first cartoon I remember watching was Courageous Cat & Minute Mouse, one of many retreads of Batman done by creator Bob Kane. Memorable for its percussive theme song and the villain “The Frog,” who talked like Edward G. Robinson, it peers back at me through the misty clouds of nostalgia. Barely recognizable.
My true celluloid loves were the Looney Tunes, Popeye, Woody Woodpecker, and Tom & Jerry before Chuck Jones got a hold of them. Mr. Jones was very talented, but I found him the most milquetoast of the directors at Warner Brothers, even if he invented my favorite character: Pepe le Pew. Tex Avery and Bob Clampett were truly insane originals who used animation as their bizarre palette for satirizing the world through caricature. Jones did this in his greatest moments, but I always felt he was the Bob Hope of the bunch, while his betters were the Marx Brothers. Insane genius, versus likable wit. Bugs Bunny, the Looney Tunes most enduring character, came to life under Avery. Jones perfected him. Tex is best known these days for Red Hot Riding Hood being so risqué, but he was a true original. Take Screwy Squirrel, a character so annoying that he actually killed him off! People hated him so much that Tex finished him off by pairing him with a big oaf modeled on Lenny from Of Mice and Men, who crushes him in his pocket. This was the original “I will hug him and squeeze him and call him George,” that Jones and others used over and over, to lesser effect.
I didn’t discover Rocky & Bullwinkle until later, thanks to my friend Peter. It’s a good thing, because my sense of sarcasm developed late, and you needed it for that show. So here endeth an era. I remember some cartoons like Dexter’s Lab and Freakazoid being genuinely original and amusing, but what’s out there now, that is actually for kids?
© 2010 Tommy Salami