By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Tom Brokaw's best-selling The Greatest Generation lionizes everyone who fought World War II and then came home and made millions of babies. Forty years down the road, how will we be remembered--The Snottiest Generation? Charming and subversively smart though it is, Saturday Morning Fever ultimately feels like an admission of defeat.
After a down period in the '80s when merchandising and cartoons became interchangeable, today's Saturday morning fare is a lot better than what I grew up ingesting. I visited this manic world recently, and covered the animated waterfront as widely as possible before exhaustion set in. (For the full Method treatment, I considered obtaining some Count Chocula, but since my parents never let me have anything sweeter than King Vitamin, I stuck with Shredded Wheat.) My discovery: There's a lot of good stuff on these days--smart, funny, witty cartoons that must make kids feel that they're onto something adults aren't allowed to enjoy.
The major players here, as everywhere, are Fox and Disney. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Fox is sharper, with Ren & Stimpy exerting a major influence on shows like Mad Jack the Pirate, which sells hipster surrealism that is equally accessible to young and old. (On a recent episode, Death appeared as a briefcase-toting Sammy Davis Jr.) My new favorite show, Secret Files of the Spy Dogs, is a clever parody that has the seemingly immortal Adam West voicing the part of a spy master and Mickey Dolenz as two of the dogs. On the subject of West, the new animated Batman trounces clunky old Marvel cartoons (Thor, Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Sub-Mariner) with its stylish understatement. And every so often, the show tosses in a literary allusion for older viewers. The network's no-holds-barred aesthetic, elsewhere a source of lowbrow sensationalism, serves kids perfectly here.
Disney, in comparison, keenly plays to family values while cross-promoting its film and video franchises, with The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh refusing to let the poor old bear lie down and 101 Dalmatians plodding on as a remake of a remake. Still, there's Doug (soon to be a motion picture, as commercials inform kids every five minutes), which gently warps Archie Andrews into a strange universe of blue people and juvenile mad scientists while also telling some home truths about seventh-grade hardships.
In the end, an adult viewer leaves Saturday morning worn out by the pace and volume of the commercials, but more than a little jealous of the bounty kids enjoy today. It's hard to guess what accounts for this: deregulation, market forces, or merely some lucky balance between redeeming social content (an aim the Burkes rightly scorn) and children's natural aesthetic anarchism? Whatever the case, it's difficult to avoid a sense of loss here. I don't particularly want the mass-media past I have; I want this one.