overthinking the idiot box

May 16, 2005

Animation on television, child-safe and otherwise.

Fact vs. Fiction: Cuddly Little Critters, Cartooned

by Adam Lipkin

Some animals — dogs, cats, birds — make for great pets and great cartoons (although honestly, I still dream of a day when Tweety and Roadrunner end up as lunch for their pursuers). But others seem to be using cartoons as a great propaganda machine, showing cartoon animals who are a hell of a lot more interesting that their real-life analogs.

Five animals who are more fun in cartoons than in real life:

  1. Moose and Squirrel!
    Squirrels. I see these critters every day on my way to work. They're nasty, loud, and not nearly as cute as some folks (like my daughter) think they are (and we won't even begin to go into what they do to bird feeders). But on cartoons, we get superspy Secret Squirrel (with his recent guest appearance on Harvey Birdman only making him more funny), one of the more tolerable classic Hanna Barbera critters. There's also Slappy and Skippy Squirrel from Animaniacs. These two stole many an episode, as Slappy's crankiness and Skippy's innocence were a perfect combination, and their riffs on classic cartoon tropes never failed to amuse. And, of course, we get Rocket J. Squirrel, one of the most intelligent (and least vicious) cartoon critters out there. Which takes us to. . .

  2. Moose. Okay, as far as I know, there's only one animated moose out there. But he's Bullwinkle, co-star of the funniest cartoon of all time. And unlike his real-life cervine buddies, Bullwinkle is easy to get along with, never runs into cars, and doesn't (as far as I know) smell. And, although few would argue that Bullwinkle is amongst the more highly-intelligent characters on TV, he's still a hell of a lot smarter than the real-life creatures. And have you ever seen a real-life moose try to pull a rabbit out of his hat?

  3. Bears. Okay, no real surprise here. Yogi and Booboo may be annoying critters, but they're a lot nicer about grabbing picnic baskets than real-life bears are. And Baloo and Winnie the Pooh are much, much gentler around humans than any bear I've ever heard of.

  4. Apes/monkeys/gorillas. I know, some folks love apes in real life, but other than whatever amusement value there is in watching them fling dung at each other, there's not much to be said for actually spending time with one, no matter how close to us they are on the evolutionary ladder. But on TV, they're always there for us. From loyal Ape on George of the Jungle to clever Abu on Aladdin, they're practically our best friends in the cartoon-verse. Sure, some can be annoying (Gleek, anyone?), and I'm not sure I'd trust Magilla with anything important, ever. But to a simian, they're all loyal and willing to put it all on the line for us.

  5. He's a trickster spirit brought to life, using wisecracks, charm, dumb luck, and the occasional bit of cross-dressing to deal with bastards like Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd.
    Bunnies. Real cute, given as pets every year around Easter time, and then abandoned weeks later when people realize that they're never stop smelling and trying to bite people (for the love of God, folks, if you're dumb enough to buy an animal without researching it, you owe it to that animal to put up with it!). But on TV, no animal is funnier or wittier. Bugs, of course, is king of the mountain here. He's a trickster spirit brought to life, using wisecracks, charm, dumb luck, and the occasional bit of cross-dressing to deal with bastards like Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd. But even the secondary bunnies on TV — from Babs and Buster on Tiny Toon Adventures to Buster Bunny on Arthur (what is it with naming them Buster? Is the youngest son on Arrested Devopment going to turn into a rabbit anytime soon?) — are all hyper-competent, often the moral compasses and leaders of their social circles.

And: One animal who is less fun in cartoons than in real life.

  1. Sharks. In real-life, they're brutal, vicious creatures who will bite your limbs off and chomp you in half. Not exactly my favorite animals. But on TV, we get Jabberjaw. And after five minutes of watching that creature talk like a sea-born version of Curly from The Three Stooges, I'm ready to hop into the water near Amity Island just to escape. Whatever the real-life sharks did to me would be less painful.

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