From Disney To Rugrats

My middle daughter Kari texted us on Sunday to say that my grandsons Jake, 7, and Nixon, 5, are now devoted fans of the cartoon, “Rugrats.”

I smiled. Rugrats is a show that Kari, herself, watched when she was a kid. That her kids can now access it through Netflix gives me a kick. Kari added that Jake and Nix are not yet fans of that other Wolter cult cartoon classic, “Doug,” but maybe they will be in another year or so.

Her text got me to thinking about cartoons in general, and how at one time the thought of any cartoon being remembered for more than a minute, or cherished at all, was considered ridiculous.

A few days prior to my daughter’s news about the Rugrats, I watched a public television biography about Walt Disney, and it revealed how animation was made in the days before “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” debuted.

Before Disney’s Snow White was introduced in 1937, animation was both simplistic and silly. Animators had not yet discovered that cartoons with serious themes could hold an audience and make them feel emotions that real actors were able to coax. Disney, himself, was nervous at the premiere. He was far from certain that the movie would be taken seriously by anyone in the crowd.
But when Snow White succumbed from the witch’s poison apple, there were gasps in the audience, and genuine tears.

He knew immediately, then, that he had generated a breakthrough moment in film history.

We all love cartoons. Well, at least we all once did. My personal favorite, growing up, was Bugs Bunny. My dad had a favorite, too — Popeye the Sailor. Even today, whenever I think of spinach, I think of Popeye, and my dad, and I’m likely to break out in a smile.

I hope Jake and Nixon and my other grandchildren will continue to enjoy the cleverness and whimsy that cartoons can inspire. I’ll always remember my kids, Shannon, Kari and Laura, hanging out with me in our living room as we watched shows like “Dangermouse” and “Dexter’s Laboratory, and, yes, Rugrats and Doug.”