Have you seen the latest Facebook craze going around? Everybody is supposed to change their profile picture to that of their favorite childhood cartoon character in order to raise awareness of child abuse. It’s a fun and noble concept, but I didn’t do it, mainly because by the time I realized why there were so many Bugs Bunnys and Scooby Doos littering FB it was too late (the pictures are supposed to come down today). I wish I’d done it, because I’m always being accused of posting “come hither” photos, the implication being that I’m trying to seduce my network of friends or something. Please! There are relatives on there! I’m only trying to seduce the ones that aren’t somehow related to me.
The whole cartoon thing got me to thinking about whose picture I would have chosen. At first I thought it was obvious – Daffy Duck, of course! – but then I started thinking about all the other great cartoons from my childhood. And that led to a whole bunch of questions. Do the stop-motion puppets from the Rankin & Bass holiday specials count (i.e. Rudolph and Frosty and Yukon Cornelius)? What about muppets? There’s a special place in my heart for Oscar The Grouch, but he’s not animated, so I guess I couldn’t include him. Then again, one of my friends changed his picture to Cookie Monster. I think he’s trying to pull a fast one myself. What defines a cartoon? Where do you draw the line? The accepted definition seems to be “humorous illustrations in print and animated films.” So…Beetle Bailey counts and Kermit The Frog does not. OK, I can live with that.
Question # 2: when does “childhood” end?
Suddenly my head hurts. On the one hand, I still feel like a kid at heart. On the other hand, that’s a lame response. Let’s just say mid-teens or so. Armed with an accepted definition, and unable to commit to just one favorite character, I thought I’d make a list of a bunch of my favorites instead. So, without further ado, let’s take a trip down Memory Lane and visit Mark’s Favorite Childhood Cartoon Characters.
- Papa Smurf. Long before Avatar made blue people cool there existed the Smurfs. I was nuts for these guys; I never missed an episode on TV, and collected the little rubber action figures. The Smurfs were like little blue hobbits only instead of walking around barefoot, they wore white shoes and often skipped from place to place. They lived in mushroom houses and spoke a language in which approximately every third word was “smurf,” which set the stage for innuendo galore (“I want to smurf you” or “nice smurf you’ve got there” could be taken many different ways by we humans, but the Smurfs always understood each other perfectly). Like the dwarfs in Snow White, the Smurfs were named after their personalities (Brainy, Clumsy) or their professions (Painter, Doctor). And though I had a secret crush on Smurfette (what a babe!), choosing a favorite Smurf is a no-brainer: it’s Papa Smurf. A kindly, energetic elder statesman, Papa Smurf is their leader, and reminds me of both Santa Claus and Gandalf. He’s very wise and altruistic, and a whiz with magic potions. I look up to Papa Smurf.
- Linus Van Pelt. I was a huge Peanuts fan growing up. Most kids gravitated toward Snoopy, but I always liked Linus. For one thing, he was ahead of his time, carrying around that security blanket long before the Snuggie craze swept America. I like to think that Linus is the one who came up with the invention and is now living off his royalties in a condo in South Florida, free of that annoying older sister of his at last. Linus was forever putting up with ridicule – his stubborn insistence that The Great Pumpkin was real meant he always missed out on tricks or treats (and nearly cost him the student body president election) – but Linus was the smartest of the gang, and served as the moral center of the series. Remember his great speech in which he reminded the others what Christmas is really about? No wonder Sally called him her “Sweet Babboo.”
- The bill on Capitol Hill. Remember Schoolhouse Rock? Those educational little vignettes sandwiched between the “real” cartoons we were watching? Not only were they often better than the regular stuff, but they were catchy as hell while sneakily teaching us things (“conjunction junction, what’s your function?”). I loved the bill on Capitol Hill. Bill was this laid-back cool cat of a fella with big dreams: born an idea, he hoped to someday become a law, once Congress finished debating about him. The boy climbing the steps of Capitol Hill assumes Bill is just a “sad little scrap of paper” at first, but three minutes later – after Bill has taught the boy about the whole political lawmaking process (and shown him a glimpse of the insanity that is Washington D.C.) – Bill gets his wish and becomes a law while confetti rains down from the sky. I still get misty-eyed thinking about it.
- Betty Rubble. I may have been young, but I wasn’t immune to a pretty face, and Betty Rubble was the epitome of femininity to me. With that dark hair, full rosy lips, and shapely figure, I envied her husband Barney something awful; after a hard day working at the quarry, how nice it must have been to come home to a wife like that! Betty wasn’t just beautiful, though; she goes to work as a newspaper reporter and, later, starts her own catering company with Wilma, meaning she and I have several common interests: writing, food, and entrepreneurship. Sure, she’s got a bit of a goofy laugh, but I can overlook that. Betty was already cool because The Flintstones were modeled after The Honeymooners, a classic sitcom that is one of the all-time best. When the live-action film came out in 1994 with Rosie O’Donnell in the role, I nearly wept. Betty Rubble deserved to be played by somebody far sexier than Ms. O’Donnell.
- Fat Albert. Even though I didn’t fit the demographic (black, urban, or poor), I loved Bill Cosby’s cartoon. Fat Albert Jackson was a role model; he never let his obesity prevent him from playing sports or accomplishing his goals. Like Linus, he was both intelligent and the conscience of the show. Albert had a great catchphrase (“hey hey hey!”), was an accomplished musician, and hung out with a great bunch of friends known as The Junkyard Gang. Who can forget Mushmouth?! There was even a kid named Bill Cosby on the show, a novel concept at the time. Fat Albert addressed many social issues, like vandalism, racism, drug abuse, and gun violence, and yet never came across as preachy. I admired that a children’s cartoon could pull this off and remain entertaining.
There you have it. The best of the best, in my personal opinion; all these cartoon characters continue to resonate with me, even today. They entertained me, educated me, and – I daresay, in some instances – even changed my life. It’s gratifying to know that they will live on forever.
Which cartoon characters are your favorites?