Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"That Trick NEVER Works!" / "This Time For Sure!"

My brother just turned 46 yesterday, and, in a bit of bizarre bit of transference, I think I'm having HIS midlife crisis. As ugly as it was facing my own 49th birthday almost 3 months ago, somehow his birthday this year is more disconcerting. My kid brother, who I taught how to play baseball AND basketball (very shortly before he began to beat me at both sports, the ungrateful spawn) is 46 years old, complete with wife, 4 kids, suburban home, very successful mid to upper management career, multi-car garage complete with multiple cars in it. I'm not certain, but I think somewhere along the line. a gypsy switched our lives.

On the upside, he's fatter than I am (barely), and has less hair (considerably) than I do. But I'm not bitter. Ok, not THAT bitter. Ok, so I am that bitter.

But moving right on, before the senility kicks in again, this charming little reverie got me to thinking about the underlying rant for tonight's theme: Cartoons. Not anime, not graphic novels, not computer generated anything, but honest to God hand-animated cells. I realize everything evolves, including entertainment, but, at least through the rose tinted glasses of hardly-20/20 nostalgia, the cartoons of a couple of generations ago were smart enough to be entertaining for me when I was in grade school, as well as being cynical enough for me in high school. Rocket J. Squirrel, Bullwinkle Jay Moose, and their friends Boris Badenov, Natasha Fatale, Fearless Leader, Captain Wrongway Peachfuzz, Dudley Do-Right, Mr. Peabody, Sherman, Snidely Whiplash, and the gang in 'Fractured Fairytales' (yeah I know I'm showing off, but I prefer to think of it as celebrating, and I'll be getting a lot deeper into cartoon esoterica shortly) were funny, witty, AND a satire of the Cold War.

Boris and Natasha (Boris' name is probably a play on Boris Gudenov, a 16th century Russian Tsar, and/or from Boris and Natasha of War and Peace fame) were spies from 'Pottsylvania' (Russia) who worked for the nefarious Fearless Leader (who always reminded me of a skinny version of General Burkhalter from "Hogan's Heroes" (actor Leon Askin, who passed away in June of 2005 at the age of 97). They were always foiled in their bids for world domination by our plucky heroes. Mr. Peabody and Sherman used the Wayback Machine to tell pseudo-historical tales, complete with pithy pun-filled closing lines.

"The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show" may have been the Citizen Kane of cartoon shows in my youth, but they weren't the only stars back then. There was Secret Squirrel and Morocco Mole, Atom Ant, the Tennessee Tuxedo crew (Chumley, Phineas J. Whoopee, Commander McBragg, Klondike Kat, Savoir Faire, and the Go-Go Gophers), there was Underdog and Polly Purebred, Tooter Turtle and Mr. Wizard, and many many more.

And the voices.... Don Adams (Tennessee Tuxedo), Wally Cox (Underdog), Paul Frees (Boris, Captain Peachfuzz, Inspector Fenwick, and many others, including, oddly enough, the voice of "Josephine", the female persona of the Tony Curtis character "Joe" in "Some Like it Hot" as well as "Crusty" the hermit crab in "The Incredible Mr. Limpet"...the last two I didn't know until tonight), Larry Storch (Phineas Whoopee), William Conrad and Edward Everett Horton (narrators on Rocky and Bullwinkle and Fractured Fairy Tales, respectively), Hans Conried (Snidely Whiplash), and so many others.

And that doesn't even touch on the classics from the 40s and beyond that were still very much in vogue in the 60s and early 70s.... The Warner Brothers most spectacularly. And while we're mentioning cartoons, and Warner, a moment of silence for my own personal choice as the Most Valuable Entertainer in history (MY history anyways), Mel Blanc. He'll get his own tribute from me at the end of May on his birthday.

But for now, for reasons that elude me, just remembering those old cartoons has the calming, reassuring feeling of visiting an old friend - I'm sitting here at 1:25 AM, remembering Mr. Wizard's incantation-answer to Tooter Turtle every time he wandered off and got into trouble: "Drizzle Drazzle Druzzle Drome, time for zis vun to come home." And you know what? It ALWAYS worked.