My three heroes, Cartoon Champions for the Intelligentsia:
The Brain (with Pinky), the original and only Dr. Benton Quest, and Mr. Peabody (with Sherman)
"Those whom the gods love grow
Gumby: boy adventurer, child hero, scientific
prodigy with smalltown modesty. Gumby: silicoaluminate shapeshifter,
literature elemental spirit, Zen sage-clown. Who can forget the little
green boy of clay whose adventures alternated between simple children's stories and
surreal fables? For devotees of claymation and puppetoons and other stop-motion
animated magic, there is the
Gumby webpage and a cool
website devoted to Pokey.
Read here for the truth about
Mystical Influence for an even more surreal experience. For Gumby's welcome
modern successor, take a look at The Wallace
and Gromit Appreciation Page - "crackin' toast, Gromit!".
They are two classic teams of two classic sets of archetypes. The first is the Quest team : brilliant scientist and exuberant adventurer Dr. Benton Quest, resourceful secret agent and man of action Race Bannon, dignified yet playful mystic Hadji, and the energetic boy slowly turning into an ethically forthright and good-humored man Jonny Quest. The Quest "family" is something that no longer appears on television : a psychologically healthy, functional group of individuals enjoying life and the adventure of discovery together. Dr. Benton Quest never fell into the stereotypes of the cold intellectual and the emotionally distant father so popular today. Race Bannon was an individual of action, but he was never arrogantly brutal with his enemies; he had a strong enough sense of self that he remained impressive without stooping to 'attitude'. Hadji may have had 'mysterious abilities', but they came into play only rarely because he had so much more to his character. And Jonny, Jonny was an idealistic, ravenously-curious youngster who avoided the stereotypical faux cynical pose which has become such a cliché today. Unfortunately, the weak heir to this series, the (Un)Real Adventures, has fallen back on all these hackneyed but popular stereotypes in its reinterpretation of the Quest group. Sigh! Sometimes updating is downsliding. Information on the genuine Jonny Quest and company can be found on The Classic Jonny Quest Pages; an excellent analysis concerning why the original version of this classic series worked so well appears on Boy Bond, although the website's author is a bit too forgiving of the defiling of the characters which occurs in the (Un)real adventures.
The second classic team should be readily recognized as well : placid leader Fred, lovely socialite Daphne, the pragmatic genius Velma, man-of-the-flesh Shaggy, and the heroic coward Scooby Doo! *Josie and the Pussycats* deserves honorable mention as a group which came close to being a third classic team, a position the series earned because it did not imitate *Scooby Doo* in its characterizations, but dear Josie and company never quite equalled the sheer versatility of *Scooby Doo*. Other cartoon series have attempted to imitate this great team : *The Funky Phantom* had a certain charm perhaps, but does anyone really remember *Goober and the Ghostchasers* or *Speed Buggy* or that weird hybrid of *Scooby Doo* and *Josie and the Pussycats*, the Curly Howard/Rodney Dangerfield wanna-be*Jabberjaws*? For a playful look at the heroic cowardly great dane, try Scooby-Doo's DMW Home Page. Of course, just as *Jonny Quest* was badly updated with pseudo-real adventures, Scooby Doo lost direction in such silliness as *The Thirteen Ghosts of Scooby Doo*. Ever wonder what went wrong with Scooby Doo? Well, here are two answers : Scooby Doo, What Happened to You? and the unvarnished truth behind the Darkside of Scooby Doo.
For fans of other television cartoons as well as *Scooby Doo* and *The Adventures of Jonny Quest*, both the brilliant cartoons and the quirky ones which charmed us despite their overly-economized production values, I heartily recommend Ron Kurer's Toon Tracker Home Page as a resource for finding them. Simply skimming his pages is an exercise in nostalgic serendipity.
Many fans remember *H. R. Pufenstuf* as a wonderful bit of Krofft puppetry, but an overlooked example of that inspired Krofft weirdness was the live-action puppet series *Lidsville*. The series followed the adventures of a human boy named Mark, played by Butch Patrick after his tenure as Eddy Munster in the odd world of *The Munsters*; in an Alice-in-Wonderland-like moment, Mark falls down a hole (in this case a magical tunnel through a stage magician's magic hat) into a surreal world of living hats. Just as Jimmy tried to protect his friends on Living Island from Witchipoo, who never tired of chasing after Freddy the Flute, Mark tried to protect his friends in Lidsville from the evil magician Hoodoo, who flew around in a giant collapsed top hat and never tired of chasing after Weenie the Genie, the clumsy djinn liberated by Mark. The various sentient head apparel were about half Mark's height and had personalities dominated by a single personality trait, so I often thought of them as sort of chapeau-golems. For a glimpse of this delightful bit of Krofft weirdness, visit Chico Lusby's Lidsville site and David Holifield's Lidsville Episode Guide. A similarly bizarre new television force, one which inspires a similar surreality, is the Tele Tubbies; say Eh ho to the Tele Tubbies at Teletubbies on PBS and at teletubby2000 .
My favorite supernatural comedy has always been the television series *Bewitched*. Like all brilliant fantastical programs (both supernatural and SF), *Bewitched* used the freedom its alleged unreality gave it to engage in social commentary during a time when networks were vehemently anti-controversy. *Bewitched* satirized the incessent consumerism and conformity of the 1950s and early 1960s through the character of Darrin, the ad executive who only wanted to pursue a simplistic vision of the American Dream, with an ordinary wife, ordinary children, an ordinary suburban home, and an ordinary life identical to the lives of everyone else he knew. (Over the years, Darrin grew to accept (though not embrace) the wild idiosyncracies of Samantha's colorful, Auntie Mame-like family.) Members of socially oppressed groups in the United States have often identified with the culture conflict in *Bewitched*. African-American school children have reported identifying with the mixed marriage difficulties of Samantha and Darrin Stevens, while lesbians and gay men have spoken about identifying with Samantha's struggles as Darrin tries to keep her 'in the closet' and encourage her to deny her true self. Samantha's magic is also sound from a folklore perspective. If one pays attention to the early episodes, it becomes pretty obvious that someone behind this series knew his or her Celtic faerie lore, for the various witches in the series behave not like the Medieval conception of witches at all (nor like modern practitioners of Wicca or pagan magic) but instead like both the Sidhe (with a Celtic zeal for life as well as the Sidhe's notorious arrogance) and the 'Little People' who descended [or devolved] from the faerie folk into modern times. I recommend turning to the Encyclopedia Mythica in Myths, Legends, Folklore for more information about the Sidhe and the faerie folk; then turn to The Bewitched and Elizabeth Montgomery Web Site for more information on *Bewitched*!
Another well-done supernatural comedy was *The Munsters* - so good in fact that it is actually possible to forgive the series for its unstomachable reincarnation in puerile sitcom form a couple of years ago! *The Munsters* managed to capture the spirit of the times; they were the new immigrants to the United States who immediately embraced U.S.American culture yet never forgot the culture they came from, and in embracing the American Dream they turned out to embody everything that is innocent and loyal about about U.S.Americans to a far better degree than did their neighbors born to this country. True, the Munster family's 'Old Country' ways seemed odd to other people, but notice that in each episode it was the ethnocentric xenophobes not the Munsters who usually lost in the end. *The Munsters* combined conventional 1950s family themes with the theme of the misunderstood outsider - and who can't identify with that at some time or another! For more information on this unusual family, take a look at the websites accessible through The Munsters WebRing.
Like *The Munsters*, the weird-'n'-wonderful Addams family invoked the theme of the misunderstood outsider, but these two supernatural comedies cease to resemble each other from that point forward. The Addamses never worried about fitting in or not fitting in; unlike the Munsters family, the Addams family were blissfully ignorant of the societal pressures to conform. One of the coolest things about the Addams family is that these bizarre preternatural beings lived up to the Christian ideals of charity, tolerance, loyalty, and assumption of good will towards all, far better than any of the more conventional families portrayed on television at that time, or, I dare say, now. Good websites for *The Addams Family* include The Addams Family, and Gillian Kinney's comparison of the two Addams Family films.
Finally, three old childhood favorites of mine: a website celebrating that heroic super-animal group from the 1960s, The Herculoids, a website dedicated to that far future fantasy barbarian, Thundarr the Barbarian, and the delightful subaquatic soap opera adventure of Gerry Anderson's Stingray. Finally, what glimpse back at childhood could be complete with some Schoolhouse Rock?
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