Monday, 1 June 2015

The Mystery of Hamboning - Cartoons nowadays

As someone born in the ‘olden tymes’ (my daughter’s words) there is especially as I hurtle towards the big 40 a lot of talk about the good old days. I’ve seen a lot of this recently on my social media about remembering when you could go down the road and you wouldn't get kidnapped, you could play all day and no-one was worried, cola cubes cost 5p, dogshit on the pavement turned white with age and how wunnerful it was back then. Cue Hovis music…
Which is all well and good I suppose but very flawed. Firstly, I have a background in Criminology and one of the many intriguing things you learn is that there is always the ‘Golden Era’ this hallowed time where things were beautiful and wonderful and not like the terrors of the modern day. Evidence will show for example that the murder rate in the UK was higher in the 1970’s than it is now. Don’t believe me? Look it up. But I digress. My reason for this week’s rant is not a treatise on the rates of criminal activity between 1970 and 2015 but to talk about cartoons…

I watched a lot of cartoons as a kid, I also had the fortune to travel quite a bit so I watched a lot of TV on very different continents. So intertwined amidst Jamie and the Magic Torch was Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, Fat Albert, Galaxy High, Battle of the Planets to name a few which did eventually end up being broadcast in the UK. It’s easy with the mutation of Nickelodeon 2.0 which is less on the slime and more on the OMG-YOLO-HASTAG-over privileged idiots who clearly are in need of a Taser and a reality check to bemoan the loss of good cartoons. Before I get lost in the nostalgia of it all, I can fully admit the flaws in some of my viewing.

Jamie and the Magic torch…..erm clearly this child was sniffing glue. Dogtanian and the Muskehounds…not exactly the best animation in the world. Dungeons and Dragons..I loved it but that fucking unicorn should have ended his days over the barbecue on many occasion and as for that bell end Dungeon Master, don’t get me started. Jem….wait back the hell off Jem if you know what’s good for you! I may not have been the most pink laden girly girl but Jem is my one concession. I suspect it’s the amalgamation of all of my girliness in one place with a thumping soundtrack about how you play the game. If you value your life, let’s not discuss the remake. So I am very aware that not all of the cartoons of my youth were awesome, sometimes it’s that very thing that means they hold a place in my heart. I was recently shocked though by the amazing talent of 3 recent shows that counter all of the awful Wizards of Douchebag Hole or whatever it’s called.

One is a series that follows a Cat married to a rabbit with 2 kids and the household goldfish that grows legs, starts talking and becomes a member of the family. The other follows a boy and his dog best friend who has magical powers and live in a post-apocalyptic land with their friends and get up to  any and everything. The last is about a blue jay and a raccoon that live and work at a park.
The Amazing World of Gumball, Adventure Time and The Regular Show are that saviours of modern kids cartoons.

While I could sit here for hours and probably deliver a mammoth treatise on the awesomeness of The Amazing world of Gumball (see episodes ‘The Game’ ‘The Words’ and ‘The Boss’) the sheer madcap surreal nature of Adventure Time, (See episodes ‘Tree Trunks’ ‘It came from the Nightosphere’ and ‘What was Missing’) which in my opinion is up there with Monty Python and The Mighty Boosh, I must expand upon The Regular Show.

I cannot remember which episode I watched first, what strikes me is that I watched a kids show on the Cartoon Network which happily referenced and ripped films like House, Kickboxer, Over The Top, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and a myriad of other films and shows from my childhood (The episode ‘Ello Guv’nor as a British person is a particular delight!). Any show which features Mark Hamil voice acting, gets an instant five points as standard but the more I watched the show, the more I realised what it was that defined it as great. Mordecai and Rigby, at first glance are just as their boss Benson tells them, slackers. They are 23 and find inventive ways to do as little as possible in their jobs as groundskeepers. They are assisted by Muscle Man, High Five Ghost, Pops and Skips. Hilarity ensures but the thing that I love is that there is more beneath the surface. Over the course of 6 seasons and counting we learn about friendship, sometimes we have to do go above and beyond for our friends as they would for us, that life can be tough, you don’t always get what you want. You have to grow up but that doesn’t mean that you have to give up and not have fun. About moving on from heartache to something potentially better. That some rules are stupid and some important. That just because someone is on TV doesn’t make them cool or nice. To be accountable for your actions, even if you didn’t have the wit to see how bad things could get. Most importantly we also learn that hamboning will save our lives. Someday.

This is one of the things about Regular Show that means it is very close to my heart. The death of Optimus Prime in Transformers: The Movie in 1986 was a valuable lesson. It taught me that life was not always neatly wrapped up in 21 minutes, heroes could die and unforeseen circumstances bring out the best in us all. Sometimes we have to work with the people we wouldn’t normally piss on if they were on fire to achieve the best outcome.
While watching shows with my daughter when she was slightly younger and which ultimately culminated in a ban of Nickelodeon, I realised quite quickly that I couldn’t figure out the messages from some of these programmes. The children were whiny and often to my mind, spoiled and rude. They were condescending and truculent to anyone above the age of 14 and the parents or adult figures in them were objects of ridicule, often trying to be down with the kids as the canned laughter highlights their stupidity. I am in no way saying that some of this was not present in some of the shows and cartoons of my era, Scooby Doo is the perfect example of the pesky kids putting the adults to shame but say in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, there was a limit, there was a place that Will could not go with Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv and if he did so, they were quick to shove that toe back across the line. In fact the last show I remember to get the semblance of this right was My Wife and Kids starring Damon Wayans. 

Benson in The Regular Show is the authority figure, stressed and frustrated by the efforts of Mordecai and Rigby to do fuck all, but there is a reason behind it, there is something he is trying to teach them and there are times when he gets it wrong. I love that one of the oldest characters in the show Pops is just so sweet. He quite literally spends his time sniffing the roses and having fun but don’t let that fool you, Pops can be a bad ass when he want to be. It teaches kids not to dismiss someone because they are or seem old, that age is no barrier to fun.

The more I watched this show and bonded with my daughter over it, the more I appreciated it. I have shown episodes to friends who despite their initial trepidation have been in hysterics by the end, sometimes even unnerved (Terror Tales of the Park l ll and lll spring to mind). I applaud it and the other shows I have mentioned. It’s not beating you over the head with the moral message like He-Man but casually feeding a nugget of something useful to you while defeating a giant head for the universal record in Broken Bonez.

It gives me a warm feeling not to decry that all hope is lost and cartoons were so much better in muy day, but to give a tip of the cap to the folks whose surreal and crazy imaginations meant I could enjoy some fantastic television with my daughter. So thanks J.G Quintel, Pendleton Ward, Ben Bocquelet and all the amazing folks bringing such great TV to life. WWHHHOOOOAAAAAA!

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