076 – The Super-Powered Action Hour

Skeletor - evil, but quite as evil as Michael McIntyre

I’m always astounded by just how many people think the best in things in life happened when they were kids. Granted, that’s because I’m astounded by the simplest things, like rainbow prisms, people who prefer cats over dogs, and magnets. I mean, magnets. How do they fucking work?

This was brought home this morning when I read a thread on the RLLMUK forum entitled ‘What is the best cartoon ever?’

I rarely have any truck with threads like this. Polls on ‘the best things ever’ often have me screaming at the website, podcast or TV show on which they’re featured. Being Lord High Commander of the Universe, every poll should adhere strictly to my point of view and accommodate my tastes alone. That might sound like an egotistical statement–especially if you take into account that bit about being Lord High Commander of the Universe–but if you examine these polls closely you’ll come to the same conclusion as me: that the people who vote on them don’t deserve to opinions on anything, ever.

I mean, these are the people who vote for Michael sodding McIntyre in polls to find the best comedian of all time. When I see lists like these I wonder if there’s some strange syndrome afflicting swathes of the general populace–McIntyre’s Syndrome, let’s call it–where sufferers’ lips, tongues and vocal cords are inflamed in such a way, when the poor sods try to speak their words  come out sounding like ‘Michael McIntyre’.

“Hello Jeff. How are you feeling today?”

“M-m-michael. Mc. Intyre?”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

“Michael.”

“Okay. What’s your favourite food?”

“Michael McIntyre.”

“I see. And who’s your favourite stand-up comedian?

“Mike. All. McIntyre.”

“Really? You like Michael McIntyre? Isn’t he a bit rubbish?”

*emphatically shaking his head* “MIKE! MIKE MIKE! MICHAEL MCINTYRE!”

“Okay, okay, I’ll write it down. And I think you need to calm down, mister. Nurse, bring us more sedatives.”

I don’t like people having opinions; they usually contradict mine and it’s disappointing when they do. I always think less of people when that happens, when I find out they smoke or don’t like dance music or think video games are silly, a waste of time, or for children. I genuinely get upset with people who don’t know how to cook and refuse to learn. They think a diet of microwave ready meals is preferable to heating up a bit of gammon in a pan – that boggles my mind, froths my mouth and gobbles my gall bladder. I don’t even know what ‘gobbles my gall bladder’ means but someone being that ignorant and proud of it does it to me all the same. Perhaps it means when someone enrages me in such a way, their stupidity fills me with so much bile I could spit it cobra-like into their blank, idiot faces. You gobbled my gall bladder, now have some of this – hock-ptui!

And this thread about cartoons, it’s filled with people being wrong – and don’t say “But Campfire, they’re only opinions” because so help me I’ll stuff your face into shoes and make you hop around on your tongue. People often say that opinions are like arseholes because everyone has one. I say if opinions are like arseholes it’s because the only one I ever want to hear from is my own.

Despite most of them having aged terribly the action cartoons of the 1980s are very popular in this thread. Post Star Wars, these cartoons capitalised on an all new action figure market. They were made for kids who’d thrown away toy soldiers and war fantasies and replaced them with science fiction and transforming robots. These cartoons are often insultingly simple and stick to a set template: the hero presides over a cast of misfits, each of whom has his own unique special power and a caricature of a personality to compliment it – the strongman’s always stupid, the drawling cowboy’s always a sharp-shooter and the woman, well, unless the woman’s called Cheetara she never really does anything other than sit around like a poorly-animated pot plant. There will be a small, annoying character whose sole purpose is to provide slapstick comic relief to entertain the younger siblings of the kids watching.

Meanwhile the bad guys are always an incompetent band of grotesque idiots, led by a marginally more intelligent idiot with anger management issues. They’re driven by greed for money and power and hatch increasingly convoluted schemes in order to attain it–many of which involve threatening to blow up a dam.

Every episode ends either in a moment of comedy–with the toddler-friendly character tripping over or spilling fruit juice down his front–or a moral lesson. In the ‘80s you might have seen the phrase ‘Winners don’t use drugs’ scrawled on attract modes of arcade games. This was a rather  subtle approach compared to the cartoons of the time: don’t take drugs, don’t drink bleach, cheats never win, bullies never prosper.

But what we really remember about these old cartoons is the action. We remember the Centurions powering up, the Visionaries unleashing  holograms and the Wheeled Warriors exploding into battle. We remember our TV screens filling with lasers and magic and we forget the paper-thin plots that held the action sequences together because they never really registered with us in the first place.

In fact the things we remember most about these cartoons–and the best aspect of most of them–are the opening sequences. I can’t tell you a thing about the actual Galaxy Rangers cartoon but I remember that opening sequence like I was still eight and shovelling a bowl of Ricicles into my tiny idiot mouth. These sequences were designed to hook the viewers’ imagination; they were often animated with a larger budget than the cartoons themselvesand by a much more talented studio of animators, but none of that mattered to the kids watching. As soon as the first power chord of the catchy synth-rock song rang out they’d be there until the show finished, entranced by the action,  ensnared by the inanity of it all.

In an era that was otherwise gloomy for animation there were some bright spots. While Disney fumbled the ball with missteps like Oliver and Company and Basil The Great Mouse Detective the star of British animation had never seemed brighter. The productions of Cosgrove Hall acted as antidote to imbecilic American imports and played up to British sensibilities with the likes of Dangermouse, Count Duckula and The Dreamstone. Likewise, Franco Japanese imports like Ulysses 31 and The Mysterious Cities of Gold might have rubbed shoulders with He-Man in the schedules but they were a world apart from Masters of the Universe’s simplistic fluff. Ulysses in particular holds up well today, and Mysterious Cities of Gold which followed three children on an epic adventure across a mythical Central America had a heart and soul lacking from many of its contemporaries. Compare Jayce’s quest to find his father in Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors with Estaban’s story in Mysterious Cities and you’ll see just how different the two were.

Of course the biggest problem with 1980s cartoons isn’t the cartoons themselves but the misplaced nostalgia we load upon them. If I hadn’t picked up a few cartoon DVD sets in the early ‘00s I might be one of those people still talking about G1 Transformers in reverent tones. Having rewatched many of the series I enjoyed as a kid I’ve come to realise just how bad they were–which is funny, because many of the live action shows I liked back then are just as good today as they ever were. Take Chocky, the ITV dramatisation of the classic John Wyndham novel about a boy used as a conduit by an unseen alien intelligence. The special effects might be a little less special than they used to be but it remains a fiercely intelligent piece of television drama that holds its own against many of today’s shows–and not just shows for children, either.

But Chocky, being a televisual British antiquity, is  all but forgotten next to the whizzbang of old American action cartoons. And thirty-something nostalgics being thirty-something nostalgics, too many of us are quick to judge modern cartoons as being lacking when compared to their lurid ancestors.

Modern action cartoons don’t seem to be aimed at children in the same way the likes of G.I. Joe was. The Transformers fans of yore have grown up into the geeks of today; the still buy the toys and  read the comics, but when it comes to intellectual stimulation those old cartoons leave much to be desired. Modern cartoons like Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Spectacular Spider-Man were written with an older audience in mind–they’re as much for nerdy dads as they are for their kids, and as such they explore complex mythologies and complicated character relationships without ever skimping on the stylish cartoon action to which we’re all accustomed.

You might think I’m a little too old to be watching children’s cartoons. It’s strange that people might look down on me for watching Young Justice but in the same breath talk about how incredible the latest cinematic opus from Pixar is, or how they were blown away by Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. It’s even stranger they might then wax lyrical about the cartoons of their youth even though few of them are worth watching today.

But I suppose that’s the nature of nostalgia. We don’t remember what we saw when we watched those shows, we only remember how we felt. When Transformers transformed, when cowboys flew into space, when turtles were ninjas and the good guys always won. Perhaps life’s better that way, without some pedantic idiot telling you everything you ever believed in as a kid was wrong.

I don’t know. The only thing of which I’m certain is that nostalgia just isn’t what it used to be.

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3 Responses to 076 – The Super-Powered Action Hour

  1. Mightyles says:

    I agree about those 1980s cartoons – I have fond memories of He-Man, Visionaries, Thundercats and The Real Ghostbusters, and can still take some pleasure from re-watching them. However that doesn’t change the fact that they’re a bit pants (Ghostbusters less so than the other three).

    Now, one cartoon that has stood the test of time and is, without a doubt, the greatest children’s cartoon of all time – both in a visual sense, and story – is Batman the Animated series. Barring a few misteps early on (“I’ve got a batman in my basement” and “The Forgotten” anyone?) that show is one of the most consistantly brilliant cartoons of all time.

    As far as I am aware it is the first kids cartoon to cater to both children and older viewers, which is part of the reason why it stands up so well even now.

    Take Episodes like Two-Face, Heart of Ice, The Joker’s Favour, Feat of Clay, or Almost Got Him and compare them to the show’s contemporaries such as Spider-Man, and X-Men. There really is no comparison.

    • Yes, Batman was fantastic. Though the ‘proper’ DCAU finished with Justice League Unlimited (and what a show that was) Young Justice is a brilliant follow-up to it, even if it’s still finding its feet.

  2. Mightyles says:

    Ps. I quite enjoy Young Justice as well… although it hasn’t quite taken the a place in my heart alongside Justice League Unlimited or Teen Titans… yet.

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