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It's All About School Cartoons!
Over the last four years there has been a rather large glut of the latest genre of cartoons that have hit the airwaves: cartoons that are basically about a child's life at school. This came as a result of recomendations made by the FCC to create more 'educational' shows in the mid 1990's. This created the concept of creating school-type shows much like such live-action shows like Degrassi Jr. High, Saved by the Bell and Student Bodies; expect they would be animated. As a result we now get such shows as 'The Magic School Bus', 'Recess','Pepper Ann','Detention','Lloyd in Space','Teacher's Pet', 'The Weekenders' and many others that I cannot think right off the back. However; with the entry of these animated series has also come a massive backlash by the fans of animation. (Sure there was a backlash; but it was mostly because of two things: (1.) Most kids watch cartoons to get away from school; not be reminded of it and adults cannot let that happen of course because that would kill the lockstep of how the world works. Never mind that the world is so broken at this point; that stepping out of lockstep might save it. (2.) Most entertainment companies cared more about expressing #1 instead of giving the idea a chance to see if it can work and thus we got some of the crappiest shows ever made which did no one any favors.) I've thought about this ever since reading an editorial written by Jim Baylo called "TaleSpin & Recess" and now I believe that the problem has nothing to do with the concept of school as much as it does with the way it has been treated by its creators. (Don't bother finding the editorial. The website containing it has disappeared down the memory hole.) Jim Baylo is right in saying that cartoons were not meant to mirror reality. However; let us not forget that two episodes in TaleSpin: "Vowel Play" and "Sheepskin Deep" features Kit and Baloo at school. Those episodes were very good. (Sure they were. They demonstrated the importance of balance; which was one of the main attributes in TaleSpin being so special in the first time.) Then there is 'The Magic School Bus' which is the king of the school show with its wonderful elements of escapism [hence the title]; a wonderful educator in Ms. Frizzle and it deals with real science. (And the show got to say "anus" on a preschool show. When has that ever happen? It doesn't even happen on TV-MA shows!) To a lesser extent; Franklin was also quite good. However; once you look at those examples; perhaps they were too good. After all; the concept of school is narrower than the escape cartoon. Still; the school concept does have enough legs to hold its own if done properly. (Yeah; and now the concept of school being in the main event in entertainment is so mainstream now that execs cannot stop for a minute and realize that they are overexposing the idea. The quest to make the kids relate to them is overhyped that they often forgot that most kids don't care about relating to the character; they care about the character period. It doesn't matter if they relate to them; otherwise, every children's cartoon from the beginning to present would never have adults in them. Not one! It is possible to make adult characters great and children do care about adults as long as they are great characters. Of course execs one track mind is the problem, but they cannot help themselves.)
However; the reason why I think that there has been a huge backlash goes back to a 1998 editorial written by Jim Kellogg called "Disney Animation Has Lost Its Heart". I knew even before reading this that 'Recess','Pepper Ann' and '101 Dalmatians' were awful. However; after reading the "Education Unfriendly" section it made me ask the question as to why could the FCC allow such malevolent material on these shows? That sent a chill down my spine to think that someone wouldn't believe that the networks didn't want to get back at the FCC. But I'll digress since I'm missing the point here. (No; you are pretty much on point with this. However; I must disagree with you on a number of things. Pepper Ann was fine actually. It did a decent job as it's educators were perfectly acceptable at the time when Disney was wet behind the ears and trying new things. Recess is only awful if you disregard every episode after Doctor Slicer's appearance. 101 Dalmatians is awful from start to finish actually; and their attempt at pathos and Cruella's look is beyond bad. I can understand people wanting Disney to bridge out into new horizons, but making teachers look either stupid or heelish is not the way to do it. ) Recess is the worst offender of the so-called school cartoons because the show had no heart at all which is very ironic since heart is the most important ingredient needed for a good show about school. (TESTIFY~! Recess learned this lesson too late; but at least they had time to learn it. 101D didn't and that's why people were fine with Recess because they tried to be better once they got their "must give FCC the middle finger" out of their systems.) In a fantasy show like TaleSpin (which has the most heart in any Disney production IMHO) or the WB cartoon 'Road Runner' you get away with no heart but never in a show about school. The 'hero' kids were basically unreal and even borderlined on stereotypical which is bad enough; but the adults, the educators; our role models are much worse. (TESTIFY~! Sadly.) The main teacher in 'Recess' Miss Finster was called in Jim Kelloggs own unfiltered words: cruel, arrogant, corrupt, paranoid. He even went as far to calling her a kid-hating sadist. (You know what the first thing she did in the pilot: She paraded T.J. in the lunchroom and trumped charges against him that he actually loved breaking the rules, and T.J. simply couldn't care less about it. The pre-Doctor Slicer era of Miss Finster was completely insufferable. Post Doctor Slicer; she became alll right, and the movie was her crowning moment of awesome in demonstrating that Gedo fashion sense does work in certain situation.) I've to say this: I have had tough experiences with tough teachers (who are nameless to protect the innocent (Read: You erased them from your mind.)) in my real life; but never have I seen any of them wishing for me to fail let alone see me completely embrassed in the process of failure. Principal Prickly is even more malevolent; ruthless and cold-hearted; caring a lot more about his promotion than his students that are supposed to be enlightened by these role models. In the end the show is even bleaker than "Hogan Heroes"; ironically the show that it was compared to. (The first season was exactly like that; but, once Doctor Slicer demonstrated that he was the worst aspects of both Finster and Prickley multipled by Satan; the two malevolent creatures became a lot more benevolent; and Prickley did a heck of a job schooling T.J. in the Recess movie about caring about summer vacation that I was rooting for him. That's an amazing turnaround! Sure; he isn't the best character and never will be; but he was tolerable enough that he didn't become a disgrace to the profession anymore. They learned their lesson; a lesson that should have been learned before the first episode was green lighted. Oh well!) Recess is the ultimate example of what not to do with the concept of school: degrading it to the lowest form of pandering. (First season at least.) What makes this even worse is the fact that the target market for this piece of trash is school-age children; something that is a part of their lives. It gives the false preception to kids that all teachers are heels and that they stink being them. (It's one thing to be a heel teacher; but Doctor Slicer at least was awesome in his role as the most disgraceful teacher in the profession because he was supposed to be as such. Miss Finster and Principal Prickley are so awful as heels that they had to turn face to save face. If this didn't happen; then the show ends on the Doctor Slicer episode.) That in itself is basically the non-religious equalivent of taking God's good name in vain. Disgusting Indeed! (Yeah; even more so when the best teacher in Recess is a well-meaning, but clueless black stereotypical voiced by someone who is white. Never a good idea.)
101 Dalmatians was not much better; mostly saved by the fact that two characters (Lucky the Puppy and Spot the Chicken) did have the potiential for heart; but were not called upon for the sake of cheap laugh. 101D also had its own version of school called the 'Bark Brigade' led by Lieutenant Pug; a bulldog who is without a doubt the most malevolent fictional character I have ever seen in my life. Think Miss Finster with a cave-men mentallity added for good measure. The only good news about this is [A] Pug doesn't appear as often as Miss Finster; [B] Pug is anthromorphic and more of an army type person than an educator and [C] the show as a whole had very sloppy writing, lazy character design, lack of heart and very poor animation that no one would bother to watch the series anyway. (101 Dalmatians the series is the worst of the first three educational shows on the count that everything they did was low rent (See the low rent Home Is Where The Heart Is scene in Home Is Where The Bark Is for an obvious example of this.); and Pug is much worse than Miss Finster because Pug never learned his lesson like Finster did, and no one called him out on his BS. Plus; as mentioned, this show was even executed worse than Recess (post-Doctor Slicer era by the way). Lucky was all right, Spot was all right, Cadpig might have worked if she would ditch her "trying to sound deep when she is really shallow" stereotype and Roly might have been all right if he wasn't slotted into fat stereotypical material. Cruella Devile looks like she is going to die soon in every scene and Antia is so clueless that she scares people. Recess has stereotypical kids; but at least they played their stereotypes to the hilt and couldn't help themselves because cannon says that they must be one note gimmicks. Okay?)
The rest of the productions fared a bit better with the possible expection of Detention which used a female version of Principal Prickly (Are you kidding me? Miss Kisskillya is Doctor Slicer without any sense of professionalism whatsoever. Only the Cramp Twins are worse than Detention.); but are nowhere near the quality that the Magic Schoolbus gave us. Pepper Ann and Lloyd in Space are basically clones of Doug. Pepper Ann is so self-centered that most characters, let alone educators are pushed into the background; althought considering how Recess fared it may not have been a bad idea after all. (Pepper Ann was the best show during the Pre-Doctor Slicer era of Recess, self-centerness aside. At least Pepper Ann the character was perfectly fine in her role.) Lloyd is really Doug in Space; no originality at all. (Yeah; this one sucked) The Weekenders was somewhat good; expect that it was quite dull and the fact that it wasn't really a show about school but after the school week is over [hence the title] (If only it wasn't so dull, boring and heatless. The Pizza theme gag was great and they did do a TaleSpin version of it, so kudos for paying attention Doug Langdale.). Teacher's Pet is a surprise diamond in the rough for Disney with its fantasy elements and better storylines; however by that time it was too late. Most animation fans have long ago have become so cynical and jaded that the concept of school in cartoons has become bad and degrading to their intellgence. Then again; we are a culture who glorifies characters such as the ones from 'Dragonball Z' and 'Gundam Wing'; but again I digress. (Oh just wait 2002 Me! We'll soon be glorifying characters such as Buhdeuce and Sway Sway from Breadwinners, Naruto and company, the characters from Bleach, Gundam Seed (and Destiny), Bevis & Butthead rebooted, and many many more. Heck; we'll be seeing Justin Beiber, Taylor Swift, The Jonas Brothers, Hannah Montana. How about "Hot Lesbian Action" from WWE?! Okay; I'll stop. Somehow; some people who think this way will soon be pining for Goku, Vegeta, Heero and other anti-heroes sooner than we already thought.)
Disney Animation who is the leader of the concept of heart has lost it in a concept that needs it the most and without it the company not only blew it; but also degraded the real life version of school in the process. With the expection of Teacher's Pet and Pepper Ann's Miss Groatky; every educator is either annoying in various degrees or downright inhumane. While some of the shows did have doctors as consultants; I still don't know why they didn't talk to real teachers. (Because they wanted the FCC to think that they used science in their shows. Never mind that most decisions made in reality are often not founded in science.) Recess may be believable in the 1950's but it doesn't work in 2000. (Pre-Doctor Slicer, yes; Post-Doctor Slicer, not so much. Miss Groatke was in Recess; not Pepper Ann.)
To end my editorial eassy; I go back to Jim Baylo's editorial. He asks why the producers don't make one cartoon that doesn't have a mushy moral in it? I think I know the answer to that: The FCC wouldn't (or at the very least shouldn't) allow it because it wouldn't serve the public interest which sadly these school cartoons fail to do. (Or because science isn't based on emotion. Wait; that doesn't have a mushy moral in it, so what is Jim talking about?) There is one cartoon which is without any morals in it: Gundam Wing. (Oh come on now! Gundam Wing has a really serious mushy moral in it: It happened in Endless Waltz when Miss Peacecraft finally realized that just because you are a pacifist; doesn't mean you must always be against the concept of battles. And also; that people fight for the future in their own ways. And many, many more. If there are shows with no morals in it; Breadwinners is looking like a strong contender for that title.) However; as I mentioned earlier; Recess and 101 Dalmations are hardly moral either. (Oh come on now! Recess had a huge lesson on the writers in that stereotypes are bad. 101 Dalmatians on the other hand; can I get back to you?) Maybe Ms. Frizzle should be condemned for being so good that it alone destoryed the concept of the genre. (No she shouldn't be condemned. It's not her fault that the competition is too busy hissing at the FCC for caring about the children.) Recess is not from some other kid's perspective; it's from an abused kid's perspective (sadly; I'm certain that half of the writers of that show were in fact abused and bullied and this was their way to get all the "justice" out of their system.) that is of no help for kid who the shows and ultimately lures kids away from any possible endeavours of the teaching profession later in life. (And that is bad because the educational system needs all the help it can get. I mean that too. Recess hurts that process.) School cartoons can be made to be moral; educational and fun to watch; however the current crop lacks the poignancy to mean anything and has basically given shows like Pokemon and Digimon the licence to lure children. (What is wrong with Pokemon and Digimon? It's not their fault for doing the job entertainment is supposed to do. Heck; they at one time did a better job of education than the educational system was doing.) Until change is implemented; people like me and Jim will continues to reflect on the TaleSpin's of cartooning. (Which they heeded when they discovered that blaming the FCC made them look like hyper entitled manchildren who didn't get their way. What makes me laugh is using TaleSpin and cartooning in the same sentence when 2002 Me has been building up TaleSpin as not being a cartoon. It's things like this that made me smarten up and learn how to think more critically.) That's my opinion; I welcome yours.
Special thank you's to Jim Baylo and Jim Kellogg for giving me the strength to write this editorial for the Aces of the Cape. (Disappeared down the memory hole for Baylo's editorial. I think the late Kellogg's is still part of Google when they bought out Usenet. Although I do have portions of an editorial where someone talked about...Oh wait; it's Ted Heinz since it was about Kit being the main character and Baloo as the sidekick. It's funny because 15+ years later; every modern cartoon has kids as the main character and the adults as sidekicks at best. The execs say it's because their studies that kids just want comedy; but I know better. It's because Kit Cloudkicker and Bart Simpson revolutionize the concept. So if you hate the concept of kids saving the world and being the main event and being smug and all that stuff; don't blame it on the execs. Blame it on Kit Cloudkicker and Bart Simpson; two likable characters who bucked the trend of adults ruling the roost in cartoons. It's only fair. I might write some of the transcript of that editorial on my Livejournal since I have a hard copy of it stored somewhere in my house.)
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