Favorite vintage cartoons
Jul 11, 2018 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Breaking news dear readers: Amazon is now selling all seasons of “Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends” on DVD! As a big Frostbite Falls fan, I am very excited to see this collection released again. Now it goes without saying that my tastes lean vintage, but whenever I catch a few moments of modern cartoons it makes me pine for the days of yore – when humor was innuendo-free and animation was done with an artist’s pencil. Settling in to view my beloved moose’s antics and adventures I got to thinking about my favorite vintage cartoons. Please tell me about your treasured toons in the comments below…
Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends
The inspiration for our plucky moose and squirrel comes from another furry woodland creature – “Crusader Rabbit.” This brave bunny starred in the first animated series that targeted a fledgling television audience. First airing in 1949, the adventures of Crusader Rabbit and his loyal sidekick Ragland Tiger (Rags for short) captured audiences during their four-minute segments. Each episode ended on a cliffhanger – a technique used again to great effect with Rocky & Bullwinkle. Jay Ward was the series’ producer and after nearly 200 episodes, the exploits reached their end and syndication came calling. Ward and his collaborator Alex Anderson moved on to their next venture and – you guessed it – a moose and squirrel duo were involved.
Fun fact: the same voice talent behind Smurfette gave life to Crusader Rabbit – the amazing Lucille Bliss
Ward and Anderson initially pitched the cartoon as a series of forest animals running a television station. Sadly “The Frostbite Falls Revue” never took off, but some of the original characters made their way to the tv screen. (Personally I think animals running a tv station would make for great plot lines, but I’ll digress!) The re-tooled series debuted in 1958 and after eight months they received a critical influx in cash and support by way of a General Mills sponsorship. During its first year, the cartoon aired during prime time for tots (i.e. the after school hours).
Interestingly enough that quirky, home-spun animation style that we know and love irritated the shows’ creators – a result of the animation studio & writers not collaborating directly. Hiccups aside, the show soared in popularity and soon nabbed the coveted time slot preceding “American Bandstand.” Viewers tuned in for the dry humor and hilarious segments. But by the early 1960s the series was losing viewers to other up-and-coming shows like “Lassie” and in 1964 the final episodes aired. Thanks to syndication the legacy of our spunky moose and squirrel will live on in the hearts of future generations.
There are so many reasons why “Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends” tops my list of favorite vintage cartoons – the wit, the charm, the silliness only scratches the surface. But there’s a behind-the-scenes reason I want to share too. June Foray was the lady who brought Rocky’s personality to life and her talents were far-reaching (much like Lucille Bliss). In fact “Looney Tunes” genius Chuck Jones is quoted as saying “June Foray is not the female Mel Blanc. Mel Blanc was the male June Foray.” Wow. I think it’s very cool that in an era where professional women hadn’t graduated from steno pool to corner office, in the world of voice acting women were in very powerful positions. Admittedly a small group of power brokers, but still very cool considering the working climate of Hollywood at that time.
Thanks to our retro movie guru, we know that this cartoon inspired an iconic film – but what is the history of the cartoon itself? Let’s find out! This Hanna-Barbera classic first aired a decade after visitors were introduced to Frostbite Falls. While our ridiculous racers globe-trotted for just a year, we already know about its lasting impact. Not to mention this series introduced us to some amazing fiends and friends – after all who can forget Muttley’s wheezing giggle! My personal favorite was Penelope PitStop because she basically got to ride around in a giant caboodle.
Each episode had a real-time feel, keeping kiddos on the edge of their seat to see who crossed the finish line and discover who would gain the coveted title of World’s Wackiest Racer. The high energy of the show’s format inspired some clever ideas that sadly never made it past the drawing board: incorporating the plot into a live-action quiz show and a made-for-tv movie. Just like the tv station run by animals, these two ideas seem just as fun today as they did when Mary Quant’s fashion revolution was making headlines.
It may be easy for some to dismiss these vintage cartoons as antiquated and irrelevant to our modern lives. But for me there’s something refreshing about watching characters on the screen interact and come up with inventive solutions to the ridiculous jams they get themselves into. It reflects a play style that is rapidly becoming extinct from the childhood experiences of today’s kids. I personally think Rocky & Bullwinkle were ahead of their time by rewriting the narrative behind well-loved fairy tales. The fractured fairy tale segments showed this writer that you don’t have to accept status quo & can always create your own endings. Pretty powerful stuff for a mere cartoon, don’t you think?