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Cartoons and Me: End of An Era

Many prominent entertainers have died since the beginning of the year, many of them in the music business.  Today, February 4, 2016, CNN reports that the world lost Joe Alaskey, a rarely-recognized but often-heard actor voicing many cartoon characters, including Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny as well as Grandpa in the Rugrats series.  Mr. Alaskey stepped in to continue the vocal presence of many famous Warner Brothers cartoon characters when Mel Blanc died in 1989.

This latest show-business death leads me to reflect on the role of cartoons in my life.  I grew up with them on television, both on Saturday mornings and when The Flintstones premiered in the prime time schedule in 1960, the same year I premiered on this planet.

Friends often tell me that they got their original classical music education by watching Warner Brothers cartoons.  Saturday mornings were sacrosanct: cereal and milk were the offerings in front of the TV from 7 or 8am onward until the parents arrived with reality. 

What I watched were the best in cartoons that once had played before movie audiences from decades before.  They were cheap to replay for a new generation on the new medium of color TV.  They were silly, violent, often not PC and defied the laws of physics.  In addition to introducing us to classical music, they showed us what surrealism would look like in animated form.  Mostly, I think kids of that era turned out all right and—as far as I know— never tried to scramble back across the air after racing off a cliff.

Saturday morning cartoons made the Justice League come alive, showed us much to tickle our imaginations: far-flung planets, that Daffy Duck will never win, how a mouse can always best a cat, why being a coyote somehow involves insane persistence and some sort of reincarnation, and that sound effects make it all the more real.  For cryin’ out loud, NEVER buying anything made by “ACME!”  These ‘toons paved the way for A Charlie Brown Christmas, and so much more!

There are no more Saturday morning cartoons.  They have a cable channel or two for that and there are always YouTube and DVD collections.   There is something special about that time alone on a Saturday morning with cereal and Bugs, Daffy, Spiderman and all the rest, until the real world intervened in my reverie of color and motion.

A salute to Mr. Joseph Alaskey, to the legendary Mel Blanc, and the legions of voice actors who—then and now—literally helped to animate the world for fans of the imagination.  The tunes were looney, the melodies merry, and even though the merry-go-round broke down, you made the sweetest sounds for your audience.  You made the characters come alive.

Thank you for your dedicated and entertaining work. 

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