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The 3-Year Old Cartoon Connoisseur

Editor’s Note: Welcome to the first post by regular Guest Brewer Linda Simensky. The picture above is from from her cameo appearence in episode 6 of PBS Kids’ WordGirl.

I just finished celebrating my birthday. My actual birthday was about a month ago, but I was busy then and kind of distracted and it rained that day, so we didn’t really do much. But there was a high point that day, and it was a big one for me. My daughter asked to watch Bugs Bunny cartoons with me.

A little background first — I have a son, Ethan, who is eight and a daughter, Sara, who is three. They find my job in kids TV mildly interesting, but as far as they know, every kid’s mom works in kids TV. That’s just how life is for them. They do like TV, at least. But as far as ways to kill time, Ethan would just as soon play games. He loves his Wii, videogames and Club Penguin the most. Coming in second would be his Bakugan toys. Next would be Bionicles. Next would be reading or anything to do with Harry Potter. Then we get to watching Bakugan. By the time we get to this point, his free time is all used up.

You’ll notice no mention of funny cartoons. He does watch the occasional funny show, but only if for some reason it isn’t time for Wii. Now one of my major interests in life, as well as my career, is animation — and specifically funny cartoons. So you see the irony here. Others in animation with kids warned me of the “they don’t always like what you want them to like” syndrome. I always knew it could happen to me.

My daughter, on the other hand, is still open-minded and malleable. She does have some definite opinions, and she does love TV. She likes funny things. She hasn’t really discovered computers yet, and she doesn’t play videogames yet. So this was her birthday gift to me — she came shuffling in to the bedroom on the morning of my birthday and said, “Let’s watch some Bugs Bunny cartoons.” I’d have to say this may be one of my biggest accomplishments in child rearing as of late.

We did watch Bugs Bunny cartoons that morning. And we’ve watched on several weekend mornings since. She seems to like Bugs the best, although she is definitely drawn to Daffy as well. And the crazier the gags, the more she likes them. My mother had mentioned to me that by three, she already could see that I liked cartoons, so maybe it just runs in the family.

With that in mind, I spent my Amazon gift certificate getting caught up on the Looney Tunes DVD sets. I already had four of the DVD sets, and with volume six coming out just last week, I realized I had better get volume five. Especially now that I have an eager three-year-old to share them with. (Subliminal advertising: Go buy the Looney Tunes DVDs.) Apparently volume six is the last of this excellent series.

A three-year-old watching Bugs Bunny probably doesn’t seem like a bi deal to many of you, but consider that kids aren’t watching the Looney Tunes the same way we all did. When I started in the kids TV industry in the mid-1980s, I was ten years older than the oldest kids in the audience. We had pretty much the same lives. Sure, they grew up with cable, and we didn’t have it until I was in junior high, but that was the biggest difference. Otherwise we all had had many shared experiences growing up, and watching Looney Tunes on Saturday morning was one of them. Kids now don’t watch the Looney Tunes much — it’s hidden on Boomerang. And there are more funny cartoons available to kids these days — and most of them were made in the past decade, not half a century ago.

You can see why it would be such a big deal that my daughter would want to watch Looney Tunes. So yes, it was a pretty good birthday.

Next up for my daughter — some NFB films. We’ll start slowly.

  • Linda, it’s great to hear from you!

    The most telling comment in your essay was:

    >And there are more funny cartoons available to kids these days — and most of them were made in the past decade, not half a century ago.

    Many of which you were a network executive for at either Nick or Cartoon Network or PBS, and it was refreshing to take a break from the Looney Tunes and explore new characters and styles like Ren & Stimpy and the Powerpuff Girls.

    Unfortunately, as years go by, I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of younger children getting interested in the Looney Tunes franchise, much in the same way today’s children aren’t much interested in Charlie Chaplin or Our Gang. Their films might as well be Civil War daguerrotypes. Television is not going to help you, you need the shiny disks. (Yes, I have all six Golden Collections.)

    If a child in my orbit is interested in those sort of older works, I cherish and appreciate that, yet treat it as an anomaly in today’s world.

  • Andrew

    I’m hoping to brainwash my 1 year old….. Instead of lullabies at bed time I play him “The Carl Stalling Project”.

    I’m kidding….he actually watches a lot of “The Backyardigans” and for whatever reason just loves “The Weather Channel”. My plan is to get the rest of the Golden Collections…I have the first one…and the Disney Treasures, and just make them accessible to him. Hopefully, he’ll take to them, in a fit of boredom and become a fan.

  • That reminds me of the news bit that floated around a while ago about a Marvin the Martian film being optioned… at the time of which I curiously thought, “Do kids nowadays even watch Looney Tunes all that much anymore?”, taking into consideration the limited access we have to the shows on TV now.

    That aside, WordGirl rules.

  • Rick

    Great post… I love Looney Tunes also, and got the 6th set when it came out. It’s less kid friendly than the others, with a full disc of black and white cartoons, one of WWII shorts, and disc 4 is rarities and shows the grown up side of the series (not adult, just to me, darker stuff really not aimed at kids as such.)

  • Mig

    I got a 3 year old Animation connoisseur daughter as well. She has excellent taste, except for the fact that she seems to like Beauty and the Beast.

    The Iron Giant, Gerald McBoing Boing, any good Looney Tunes, Fleischer´s Superman, Popeye, Kiki´s Delivery Service and My Neighbour Totoro (well, all Miyazaki) , Tom and Jerry, Tim Burton´s Nightmare Before Christmas, any Mikhail Aldashin work, Cats Don´t Dance and …uh…Futurama (That I will hide soon) The list is huge but plenty of good stuff.

    She doesn’t like 3D films at all. Well she liked Pocoyo when she was two but she doesn’t anymore. Random stuff she loves too: Mark Baker´s Jolly Roger, Derek Lamb´s Every Child, Flebus, Khitruk´s Winni Puk more than Disney´s, Dexter´s Lab, El Tigre.

    Crap she kinda likes: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Oh, well.

  • JP

    It makes me very glad to hear about your 3-year old!

    I have a 2 year-old nephew that I plan to indoctrinate with classic animation before he knows what’s what!

  • It’s a shame that Looney Tunes just isn’t as available to kids as it used to be. I’m young(ish) at 23 and even though most animation had shifted far, far away from the Warner Bros. shorts to 22 minute toy commercials, Bugs Bunny was still viewable on TV. They aired them repackaged as the “Bugs and Tweety Show,” I believe. Why Tweety got second billing I’ll never know, but it was a good opportunity for my impressionable, cartoon-crazed mind to seep in the principles of animation.

  • Great to see your thoughtful analysis here, Linda.

    Dave: I don’t think it’s fair to compare Looney Tunes with Chaplin or Our Gang as far as appeal to modern kids goes. At the bottom line, Looney Tunes are still colorful, fast-paced, full of constant attitude, and stylishly animated. No matter what you or I may think of Chaplin or Our Gang (my esteem for Chaplin is almost limitless), it’s safe to say that they don’t deliver on the same qualifications with anything like the same frequency.

    The Looney Tunes characters actually seem to be as popular as ever, despite the lack of faith broadcasters presently seem to have in them (Linda, you refer to LT being on Boomerang now—actually, it’s not even there, insofar as CN’s contract has expired). Just one year ago, a Kidscreen poll showed both boys and girls 8-11 naming Bugs Bunny among their top five favorite cartoon characters. As far as older brands go, Tom and Jerry (as a unit) were also among the top five. This is actually no mean achievement given their lack of visibility. It’s also rather telling that Scooby-Doo didn’t place, insofar as he seems to be the older brand most pushed by the same corporate master.

    If classic cartoon characters lack popularity among any key group, it seems to be middle-aged broadcast execs. It’s easy to presume that the “old” must be passe (particularly if one isn’t personally a fan), so it’s no surprise that many jump to this conclusion. Sometimes the jump is fueled by a defensive ego; a modern exec can’t claim to have been personally responsible for elements of a brand that predates his/her birth.

    Bugs isn’t the only one who suffers in this atmosphere. It’s also the kind of milieu in which it took European broadcasters to make WBTVA produce “Tom and Jerry Tales”; domestic broadcasters spent a year refusing to touch it; when Kids’ WB finally did, it became their top-rated show for two years running; but now that Kids’ WB effectively no longer exists, “Tales” once again wants for a domestic broadcast.
    It’s like proven popularity means nothing in the face of preconceived notions; I don’t even have to like “Tom and Jerry Tales” to know this system needs fixing.

  • By the way, if anyone here can confirm that “Tom and Jerry Tales” actually IS now being picked up by someone else domestically, I’ll be pleasantly surprised—it’ll be news to me.

  • Grimmy

    Perhaps you could start propagating a race of animation executives who don’t have their heads up their asses.

  • I like to draw

    I have a 5year old god son and a 2 year old god daughter who would both rather watch looney tunes than anything else given the chance. My god son Loves anything with th roadrunner or sylvester and his sister loves anything as long as there is a kitty in it… We tried watching spongebob and oddly enough they were almost completely disinterested within 10 minutes… It just goes to show how timeless the good stuff is!

  • Raster

    That show was just one of the casualties when the CW took over from KidsWB and went even cheaper with their 4Kids lineup.

  • Insightful post Linda! Look forward to more.

    And even though I’m 31 with no kids I can appreciate the humor of Wordgirl. I’m a fan of language though and also dancing monkeys.

  • Jenny Lerew

    Most of the small children (and the slightly older kids) I know who’ve actually seen the Our Gang comedies love them. They’re still funny and appealing, and they’re as “new” to kids today as they were to me–and I was born decades after they stopped making them. If it’s on, it’s on-kids love what’s “new” today because that’s what’s for sale and on the tube 24/7. Bottom line: small kids just love funny stuff, and stuff they can relate to-which often includes watching other children do funny & interesting things.

    I must add again, though: neither Our Gang nor the great WB cartoons were produced for children only(or in the case of the WB cartoons, primarily). They had to entertain all audiences including ones that were at the movies to see very adult films, which is why they’re so great and remain watchable today.
    Kids’ television “cartoons” today are much more “targeted” and imho less appealing–to adults or older ages. There’s an awful lot of feeding on itself to many of the shows on TV–not all, but many. Considering how shows are commissioned and made that’s not too surprising.

  • Can people confirm the “last of this excellent series” bit?

    And while I haven’t actually seen it, I will note that “Beauty and the Beast” is the only animation to receive an Academy Award nomination for best picture (or so I’ve been told, I’m sure someone will correct me pretty quickly if I’m mistaken).

  • Must Buy Looney Tunes DVDs.

    Thanks for keeping the cartoon flame alive. All the best.

  • Robert Schaad

    Great post, Linda. It’s as much (or more) fun watching good (subjective, I know) toons alongside kids. Years ago, I attended a matinee of Roger Rabbit…and the kids loved it. Of course, the stuff w/ Jessica went over their lil heads. My nieces/nephews love Looney Tunes…and recently were shown (by me) Three Stooges (w/ Curly). They couldn’t believe it….those play like live action cartoons anyway.

    Kids totally get the fast paced wise crackin’ stuff w/ Bugs and Daffy. Long may they survive/be restored!

  • Kyle Maloney

    “Can people confirm the “last of this excellent series” bit?”

    It’s the last of this collection yes. But there will be more Looney Tunes sets coming no doubt.

    anyway, whats with the beauty and the beast hate? come on now.

  • Over the past summer we entertained 5 nieces and one nephew for hours with the first volume of the Popeye shorts. They were eating it up. They’re between the ages of 6 and 13 too.

    I think kids still have the taste for the classics, its just a matter of exposure. They love watching classic Disney shorts with us too.

  • Scrappy’s Beer Frolic

    My 6 year old niece had a birthday with a ‘scary’ theme recently so I stuck on a disc with scary themed cartoons while they were playing. The biggest response, from both the boys and the girls, came from … “Skeleton Frolic”! I wouldn’t have guessed that one. A friend of mine, who is a teacher, played his class of 11 yr. olds “Scrappy’s Beer Parade” (no idea why) and, so he tells me, they actually cheered during the cartoon! Wouldn’t have guessed that one either.

  • As Brewmaster Beck will tell you, even though the Golden Collection format is no more, it’s no way the end of DVD releases of Warner Bros. cartoons.

  • Saturnome

    Hmm, I’d love to know what a kid think of NFB animated films! I’d start with The Cat Came Back, but opinions about Norman McLaren’s stuff (Begone Dull Care!?) would be interesting.
    Keep us informed!

  • Linda! Awesome first article! I love that drawing of you…it really reminds me of Daria and the very stylized character designs from that series. Is Karen Disher involved? Ms. Disher was the woman who designed the Daria characters, and she’s based out of NY. Just checked on IMDB and last credit they have for her is at Blue Sky as a story artist on “Horton.”

    The beauty of the old classic Warner’s shorts is that they were made for adults first, but were fine for kids to watch too. Later on, I started “getting” the jokes that were intended for the adults in the audience. It’s like another dimension folded out and the cartoons “popped” for me. The classic Betty Boop and Popeye Fleischer cartoons are like that too, as are the Tex Avery MGM cartoons. I suggest showing your little one some Betty Boop. The danger of that, however, is that she will become a voracious consumer of Betty Boop swag.

  • In terms of NFB animation, the obvious place to start is Co Hoedeman’s films… There’s a DVD of eight of them which has been released in Canada as “Four Seasons in the Life of Ludovic” and in France (but with the option of English menus, soundtracks and subtitles) as “4 saisons dans la vie de Ludovic.” I persuaded my brother to buy the latter after viewing Tchou-tchou online; though at 8 or 9 he’s rather older than the target audience we both enjoy things like Charlie and Lola and Pocoyo – he also likes Khitruk’s three Vinni Puh films, enough to enjoy just watching them raw, though doesn’t really have much experience of the novels nor the Disney Pooh to compare them to. I almost feel like forgiving him for all his annoyances when remembering his comment on Michel Ocelot, “He’s the best because he made Kirikou!” but there’s a but in that these children’s equal tolerance of something as horrendously badly animated and voice-acted as “Four Eyes!” rather invalidates any connoisseurship of such greats as those I previously mentioned… He’s also, a bit like Linda’s son, more interested in games (whether analogue or digital) than stories or visuals or anything else, considering film and TV a second best for when can’t afford a new game or is stuck on all of his current ones; the one great exception being Cardcaptor Sakura (and even that he seems to like for its elements of competition and challenge rather than the characters, animation and composition/layout design – the things which I find it notable for). But if anything, this proves that children are, at least, as accepting of the old as they are of the new, of the beautiful as of the generic and of things which are also enjoyable for adults as of those which are not. What it is which makes something appeal to children is independent of such divisions, an elusive magic factor – which is probably more of a combination or juxtaposition – which I still haven’t been able to clearly identify and recognise the presence or absence of.

  • Hi Linda, been a long time since those Cartoon Network days in the UK!

    My wife and I just had our first child and I can only dream that she will love what I do, making funny cartoons is something that I get a kick out of every single day I work – I can’t wait for the day when she wants to watch cartoons with me!

    I find it very hard to believe that those classics are no longer watched by kids all over the world, it must be true but what a tragedy! Watching those cartoons was one of those moments in my life (drinking orange pop and eating chocolate) that I always treasure – but you’re right kids just have so much to do nowadays that there just isn’t that much time for them to get through everything – if only there was a way to watch cartoons when we are asleep… something to think about!

    Great first post and welcome to the ‘Brew’!!!

  • Great post. Can’t wait to see her reaction to NFB films.