Monday, February 20, 2012

An Incomplete History of Cartoon Cavemen

First off, let me reiterate the second word in the title: INCOMPLETE. I know my timeline is probably missing your favorite caveman-themed cartoon, but this oversight was not done intentionally, only ignorantly. If you drop me a note in the comments, I'd be delighted to add whatever titles I might have missed. Not only will this make for a more informative piece of internet-age folk art, it will give me someone else to point to (you!) when the next angry email arrives, chewing me out for forgetting 'the best caveman cartoon ever.'

Now that that's out of the way, click through for the names and descriptions of the shows shown above, as well as some links to some pretty cool clips.

1940: Stone Age Cartoons
Created by Fleischer Studios, the fun-loving geniuses behind Popeye and Betty Boop, this was one their rare critical and financial flops. According to Jerry Beck's fascinating article about the series, "this obscure group of cartoons which came-and-went during the calendar year 1940. [...] The Fleischer’s had moved to Miami. The Betty Boop cartoons were losing favor. [...] I believe that wherever the idea for this Stone Age series came from, it was decided in haste to make it a series. I believe the first one was intended as a one-shot [...] and it was decided afterward to keep making ones like it – hence no regular starring character." Stone Age Cartoons featured the same sort of dinosaurs-as-household-appliances gags that The Flintstones would make famous some twenty years later -- proof that a great idea never gets old! A complete video of one of the Stone Age Cartoons can be viewed here.

1950: Caveman Inki
This was actually the fifth Merrie Melody that Chuck Jones' politically incorrect character appeared in, but the first where Inki was portrayed as an offensive stereotype in the prehistoric age. Before that, the winsome, wince-inducing Inki was just a jungle-dwelling stereotype. (From 'jungle-bunny' to 'jurassic jigaboo.' Was this considered progress in the 1950s?) Now I know that most folks believe we shouldn't judge old art by modern standards, but back in the 50s, people WERE speaking out against this sort of demeaning racial caricature. So even if Jones wasn't intending to sh*t on Black folks (and I don't believe he was), his use of the big lips, huge forehead, etc. was - at best - lazy (for using what was even then a well-worn cartoon cliche) and insensitive. Click here to view.

1953: Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom
The history of musical instruments in just 10 minutes. How ballsy is that? The insanely imaginative brainchild of Disney animator Ward Kimball and his partner Charles A. Nichols, Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom was not only the first cartoon to be filmed and released in widescreen CinemaScope, it also won the 1954 Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons). Simultaneously 'out of time' and 'of its time,' T,W,P&B effortlessly showcases the sort of stripped-down, stylized animation that Cal-Arts students are still riffing on today. If you haven't yet seen it, watch it now.

1955 The First Bad Man
This Tex Avery gem was one of my favorite cartoons as a kid. Ostensibly the tale of Dinosaur Dan and his crime wave in prehistoric Texas, it was also a great way for Avery to unload hundreds of unused visual gags, puns, and droll one-liners in one fell swoop. Seriously, this thing has a higher joke count than most feature films - and they're all funny! Watch it here.

1960 The Flintstones
This is one of those shows that we all think we know...until we finally sit down and watch it. An unabashed Honeymooners rip-off that ended up eclipsing its source material, this iconic Hanna-Barbera cartoon still stops kids dead in their tracks with its never-ending supply of dinosaurs-as-household-items jokes and wonky sound effects. Add to this the rich characterizations and genuinely sweet relationships of its four adult leads, and you have one of those quintessential, (and near mythical) 'cartoons for all ages.' Heck, even the theme song still works!

197? P.S.A. from 'Your Local Dairy Council'
I couldn't find a damned thing about this animated ode to the four food groups, not even a production date. Still, it stuck with me for over 20 years, so the crew behind this one must've done something right. (Or not. I'm currently eating a large bowl of Count Chocula drowned in Quick-infused whole milk.) Aw, go on and watch it anyway. It's only 30 seconds.

1971 Pebbles And Bamm-Bamm
Remember all of those great things I said about The Flintstones? None of them apply to this spin-off show. Predating and inverting the 80s trend of taking previously successful characters and re-making them as babies, Pebbles And Bamm-Bamm took previously successful baby characters and re-made them as teenagers. CAN YOU SAY 'COLD AND CALCULATING CASH-IN'? I KNEW YOU COULD. That said, the adolescent versions of these iconic offspring were indeed eye-candy for their prepubescent viewers. Or so I hear. Ahem. Cue the clip!

1973 B.C.: The First Thanksgiving
I tried to watch this as a kid and fell asleep. I tried to watch it again today and ended up reading a super long article about dark matter in another window while it played. So consider this complaint moot if it was addressed in the flick: How can you celebrate a holiday about the discovery of America in a prehistoric world where there is no America? You know what? Never mind. It doesn't matter. Insomniacs can find the full show here.

1974 Valley of the Dinosaurs
Honestly, I was pretty shocked to find out that this show was created by the same Charles A. Nichols that co-directed Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom. It's not that Valley of the Dinosaurs is terrible. It's just not nearly as inspired as T,W,P&B. It's basically Land of the Lost, which is weird, considering both shows came out the same year. So with all charges of plagiarism being dismissed, one is left instead wondering how two people working in Los Angeles in the mid-70s could simultaneously think of creating TV shows about modern day families being magically transported back to the dinosaur era while rafting. I'm a little too young to know, but were dinosaurs and rafting really the top two obsessions of a generation about to go cocaine-crazy at Studio 54? The show's opening makes even less sense, but you can see how it would appeal to future druggies.

1975 The Adventures of Kum Kum
Yeah, wow, that name. Can't say as I ever watched this. Can't say that my parents would've seen it listed in the TV Guide and let me, either. If any of you had a creepy uncle who lured you down into his basement apartment with the promise of watching The Adventures of Kum Kum, please drop a note in the comments to let me know how it was. Then seek therapy. A clip of Kum Kum en fran├žais can be viewed here.

1977 Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels
Sure it's one of Hanna-Barbera's many 1970s Scooby-Doo rip-offs, but still, what an awesome character. The design is so simple that every kid immediately begins drawing him everywhere. (Viral marketing!) Add to that the fact that he runs around shouting his own name, inevitably inspiring kids to do the same. (Brand name recognition!) Plus he's funny, doesn't waste too much time on stupid stuff like cleanliness or personal appearance, yet he has a trio of smart, hot chicks around him at all times. (Sad reality meets unabashed wish fulfillment!) I liked this show so much as a kid, I'm scared to revisit it now for fear of tainting those memories. But I did watch this, and it held up wonderfully.

1993 Cro
I was waaay too old to watch this PBS-produced, school-in-disguise stuff when it was initially released. A quick look at some YouTube clips makes me think it couldn't have lasted long. An even quicker look at Wikipedia confirms it. Who green-lights a dumb show aimed at smart kids anyway? Obligatory theme song clip.

1998 Flint the Time Detective
I'd honestly never heard of this show until yesterday. Since then, I've watched a half dozen episodes and plan to keep on watching. It's nuts. Flint is a resurrected caveboy who solves mysteries with the help of his modern day friends, Sarah and Tony (they're twins!), and his father...who is also a resurrected caveman...only his resurrection got a li'l messed now he's a sentient hammer with an angry face. Yep, you read that correctly. "A sentient hammer with an angry face." Start here and enjoy.

2002 Fred The Caveman's Canadian?

2013 The Croods
I haven't seen it yet. You haven't seen it yet. So why don't we go to the press release for a description?

"The Croods takes us back to the beginning – to a previously undiscovered era known as the Croodacious – a time when Mother Nature was still experimenting and the flora and fauna we know today had yet to evolve. At the heart of this comically chaotic world is the Crood family, led by Grug, an over-protective father who, like all dads, is doing everything he can to hold his family together as the world around them changes at a dramatic pace. The Croods is scheduled for release in the spring of 2013."

Wait, so Chris Sanders is doing another cartoon about the fragility of family? This is the guy who brought us "Ohana," right? The same guy who, in his last picture, distilled parent/child dynamics down to their essence with the lines, "Excuse me, barmaid. I'm afraid you brought me the wrong offspring. I ordered an extra-large boy with beefy arms, extra guts and glory on the side. This here, this is a talking fishbone." This is that Chris Sanders?

I'm so there!



    Check out Gogs - a claymation TV series from the 1990s that attracted the attention of Dreamworks and led to a meeting with the creators back then. Very similar in concept to Croods... Make of that what you will. I suppose there is only so much you can do with the whole caveman/prehistoric theme, but it does seem 'slightly' similar don't you think?

  2. Thanks for the tip. I'd never heard of this. Then again, we Americans only ever get exposed to the more 'safe for seniors' brand of British television. (i.e. Mrs. Marple, Upstairs Downstairs, etc. -- it's kind of a fetish over here for old White folks.) I'll watch whatever Gogs episodes are available online and then add 'em to the list!

  3. No Tomba?! C'mon, ya gotta remember pink-haired wildboy Tomba from the PSX! Technically not a caveman (he lives in the grassfields), but he may as well be.

    Also, I remember Cro when I was a kid and his show wasn't that bad! I certainly learned a thing or two about science stuff that I slept through in gradeschool. XD

    1. Okay, so when you compare Cro to grade school, OF COURSE it's gonna win. I mean, Cro had no tests, no grades, and no afternoon spent awkwardly discussing "our changing bodies."

      At least, I sure hope it didn't. :)