Have you ever tried going back to the cartoons of your childhood? I have, and it’s been a mix of nostalgia and disappointment. I can watch the same episodes again, but I can’t watch them with the same eyes.
I watched some episodes of He-Man and Voltron for the first time in twenty years this year. I was shocked how bad they were. They both offered incoherent, ludicrous story lines, combining visual elements likely to appeal to six year olds with no thought for consistency. He-Man features bare chested warriors with swords next to cyborgs all living in a castle and each episode fighting off a simplistic baddie called Skeletor who is a skeleton in a cloak. The castle is an important element: Voltron has it too, as five astronauts find hidden robot lions to save a princess from an evil alien king.
The backstory of Voltron is that the mighty Voltron robot was so powerful that a space-goddess (!) cast a spell on it, splitting it into five different coloured parts, which became robot lions as they fell to the ground, each one falling to an environment relevant to its colour – the green lion to the forest, the blue lion into the water, etc. It takes some keys buried in the king’s sarcophagus (and one stolen by ‘space-mice’) to reactivate the lions. But of course, the team learns that it has to join together into one big robot if it wants to win. It sounds remarkably well designed to sell toys. And it worked – we all wanted all the lions; my brother got the yellow one, and I the green one.
It’s no wonder children wrote terrible stories at school. The cartoons they watched were setting a terrible example. Although not all of them – I also rewatched a number of episodes from The Mysterious Cities of Gold, and it stood up much better. It used to be on at 5pm on ABC in the late 80s. It’s an epic story of lost orphans who are taken to South America to find the Mysterious Cities of Gold. It has a lot of moral ambiguity and complexity to some of its characters and it still managed to fill me with some sense of wonder.
I hate to think what will happen when I try to re-read the Famous Five. The only childhood book that has stayed with me into adulthood is John Christopher’s The Tripods Trilogy.
I’ve never heard of these two — even my youngest brothers are probably too old to have seen them. My first thought, before reading that you said it, was “toy marketing” — it’s like the Transformers now. Tim plays with (non-armed) Transformer toys occasionally, but has never seen the programmes.
“In my day” (being an old person) it was Kimba the White Lion and Astro Boy. I’ve never re-watched Astro Boy, but I was disturbed, as an adult, on seeing an episode of Kimba* (to which I was addicted as a five-year-old) to realise what colonialist & racist ideas about Africa it could purvey, not to mention how gun-heavy it was. And the “whiteness” thing. (Though Kimba has some “good” qualities too…) It’s quite an uncomfortable feeling to realise how much of something you have absorbed before you were old enough to have an intellectual overview of it. In the late sixties & early seventies, now that I look back, we seem to have watched a vast amount of television.
I liked Ivan Southall’s books as a kid — I haven’t re-read them as an adult. They always seemed to have kids facing disaster (floods, bushfires) with adults missing or failing in some way so the kids had to grow up fast. I don’t know if kids read them now but they were big in school in the 1970s.
*I was given a Kimba DVD as a “freebie” a couple of years ago when I bought a new handbag?!? and once put it on to see if it was any good for Tim. Too violent for my own liking now.
english st said:
I was a big Voltron and Transformers fan as a child. I have rewatched a bit of both lately. My reaction to Voltron is much the same as yours Nathan, Transformers doesn’t hold up all that much better.
I was never allowed to watch He-Man, or the Smurfs for some reason. They were my mother’s rules. I didn’t see Kimba either.
The three that still stand up well for me are the Mysterious Cities of Gold, it is corny and terrible, but still a lot of fun (I love the Golden Condor); Bannana Man (it is made by the Goodies, how much better does it get?) and SuperTed.
As for morality and violence, I don’t think that any medium can be trusted. I have never read a book or watched a program where there hasn’t been some element of questionable behaviour/underlying theme. I think it has a lot to do with the parent/guardian figures and how they act/interact and to take the time to discuss the good and bad elements in what is seen and read.
Nathan Hobby said:
Tracy – Astroboy was a favourite of mine I didn’t mention, because it would take a long long post about what he meant/means to me! I have never seen the original 1960s version that you grew up with; the 1980 colour version was the one of my childhood, and had a poignance that is still meaningful to me, even if I can’t watch it with my old eyes.
Hills end is a book I remember vividly by Southall, though I don’t think I ever finished it… the bathing in lemonade scene particularly, for some reason.
Wes – your mum had interesting rules! I wasn’t allowed to watch Monkey Magic. I liked Bananaman and Superted too. I think we must be the same vintage. 🙂