Childhood Cartoons Revisited

Cartoons from our youth dissected as a young adult

Butch Hartman: Fairly Successful Career

The 1990s was a period of great success for Nickelodeon. With shows like Rugrats, Rocco’s Modern Life, Hey Arnold, etc., Nickelodeon was striving as one of the top cartoon networks across the globe. But soon into the new millennium, those cartoons had run their course and closed up shop. By 2004, every cartoon that debuted in the late ’90s, excluding Spongebob Squarepants, had aired their series finales. A year later, Nickelodeon Studios closed down. But luckily for Nickelodeon, there was a glimmer of hope to revive the television network back to its glory days. That glimmer of hope came in the form of Butch Hartman.

Born as Elmer Earl Hartman IV, Butch was born in Highland Park, Michigan before spending his childhood in Roseville, Michigan and his teenage years in New Baltimore, Michigan. After graduating from high school, Hartman went on to California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California, where he sought to become an animator and a writer.

Hartman’s career started in 1986, when he worked as an in-between artist for the film “An American Tail.” For the next nine years, Hartman focused on television, becoming the storyboard artist for the show “Dink, the Little Dinosaur” in 1989 and the key model designer for “Piggsburgh Piggs” in 1990. His career got off the ground in 1991 when he landed a job with “Tom and Jerry Kids” as a character designer. He would remain with the show until 1993. The following year, Hartman did the design work on a couple television specials, “Yogi the Easter Bear” and “Scooby-Doo in Arabian Nights.”

The first cartoons that he could call his own were created in 1995, which debuted on Cartoon Network’s “The Cartoon Cartoon Show,” a television show that launched the beginnings of “The Powerpuff Girls,” “Dexter’s Laboratory,” “Cow and Chicken,” etc. Hartman’s two shows, “Pfish and Chips” and “Gramps” ran for two years, but were not picked up by the network as their own shows.

For the next few years, Hartman remained with Cartoon Network, working as storyboard artist/layout artist for “Dexter’s Laboratory,” writer/director for “Johnny Bravo,” and model creator for “Cow and Chicken.” But in 1998, he made the switch over to Nickelodeon when the network launched a similar cartoon show to Cartoon Network’s “The Cartoon Cartoon Show,” known as “Oh Yeah! Cartoons.” While “Oh Yeah! Cartoons” didn’t have the same success at creating new shows as its Cartoon Network rival, it did launch three brand-new cartoons, one of which belonged to Hartman. “ChalkZone,” “My Life as a Teenage Robot” and Hartman’s “The Fairly OddParents” sprouted from “Oh Yeah! Cartoons” and “The Fairly OddParents” is the only one of the three that is still airing on Nickelodeon today. “ChalkZone” ran from 2002-2009 and “My Life as a Teenage Robot” ran from 2002-2006. The two cartoons combined for 82 episodes. “The Farily OddParents,” running since 2001, has aired 136 episodes to date, fourth-most in Nickelodeon history.

Prior to its success, “The Fairly OddParents” were signed on for six episodes by Nickelodeon that began airing on March, 30, 2001. Originally titled “Fairy Godparents,” the show revolved around 10-year-old Timmy Turner, a boy who was neglected by his parents and tormented by his evil babysitter Vicky. As a misunderstood pre-teen, Timmy was granted fairy godparents, Cosmo and Wanda, who had the ability to grant his wishes, as long as they fell in the realm of the oversized rule book, called “Da Rules.”  A couple interesting notes from the cartoon is that Timmy was never meant to have the trademark pink hat he wears every episode; it was supposed to be blue. The reason for the change was the Hartman ran out of blue ink and instead went with the color pink. Wanda was also supposed to be named Venus.

To date, “The Fairly OddParents” is in its eighth season, 14 special episodes, eight movies and three crossover episodes with “The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.”

During his time working on “The Fairly OddParents,” Hartman launched his second cartoon, “Danny Phantom.” While not as successful as his first cartoon, “Danny Phantom” ran from 2004 to 2007 and lasted for 53 episodes. However, despite its cancellation in 2007, Hartman has recently said that Nickelodeon will celebrate the show’s eighth anniversary and new episodes may be made. It’s unknown whether or not “Danny Phantom” will become a regularly featured cartoon in the Nickelodeon lineup.

Hartman’s third and final cartoon creation to this point debuted two years ago on Nickelodeon. “T.U.F.F. Puppy” is currently in its second season and has already been picked up for a third season, guaranteeing at least 60 episodes.

Hartman currently resides in Bell Canyon, California with his wife and two children.


Mighty Morphing Power Rangers: Recycled Formula and Poor Acting

I don’t remember much from my childhood, but I do remember the days of sitting down close to the television in the family room and turning on “Mighty Morphing Power Rangers” to start my day. This was back in the day where television shows would air six new episodes a week, so seasons would have well over 30 or 40 episodes. I feel like “Mighty Morphing Power Rangers” was the equivalent of what Pokemon has become, minus the trading card game. You couldn’t go into a toy store without seeing some new Power Rangers action figure on the shelf. But the merchandise spread to much more than just toys; there were costumes, blankets, shirts, shoes, etc. I even dressed up as a Power Ranger a few times for Halloween. As I kid I used to love “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.”

“Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” first premiered on Fox Kids in 1993 with a 60-episode first season. The show’s plot dealt with five (originally) teenage kids that had been selected by the sage Zordon to stop the villain Rita Repulsa, who has escaped from a capsule after 10,000 years. Rita wishes to conquer Earth with the help of her evil minions, Goldar, Scorpina and Finster. Zordon chooses Jason Lee Scott, Kimberly Hart, Zach Taylor, Trini Kwan and Billy Cranston. Jason is portrayed as a strong, athletically-built leader, while Kimberly is the pretty and popular girl. Zach is the show’s only African-American and Trini is the only Asian. Billy is the stereotypical tech-savvy smart one.

Zordon gives the group the ability to transform into the Power Rangers using morphing belts. Jason becomes the Red Ranger, Kimberly the Pink Ranger, Zach the Black Ranger, Trini the Yellow Ranger and Billy the Blue Ranger. With their new powers, the Power Rangers are in charge of stopping Rita’s evil schemes and protect the Earth from being taken over.

As a 21-year-old re-watching “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” I seriously wonder what I ever saw appealing about this show. The show has become much more humorous, as the effects are extremely cheesy, many scenes are used over and over again and every episode follows the exact same format. It’s no surprise that “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” is based on an installment of a Japanese Super Sentai franchise, as every fighting move by the Power Rangers is followed by an over-the-top battle cry or grunt.  Also, the scenes featuring Rita and her minions are straight out of the Japanese version of the show, as the spoken words don’t match the lip movements of the characters.

“Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” has got to be the most predictable show ever created. Each episode follows the exact same formula, with the only difference being the underlying theme of the episode. Rita creates an evil monster that in some way connects to the theme of the episode that attacks the fictional city of Angel Grove, Calif. The Power Rangers are summoned by Zordon and struggle in hand-to-hand combat for a portion of the episode. Eventually they get the upper hand on the monster, but Rita throws her magic wand down to Earth, causing the monster to grow. The Power Rangers call for their Dinozords, colossal assault machines, and fuse together to create the Megazord. They eventually call for the power of the Power Sword, which always destroys the monster with a charged up attack. Every episode is exactly the same.

A sixth member joins the group to mix things up. Tommy Oliver becomes the Green Ranger, but appears off and on throughout the series. Tommy is only allowed to use his powers sporadically, or risk losing them forever.

There are plenty of hilarious moments in the show that aren’t supposed to be deemed as funny. The first moment is in the opening, when Zordon wishes to recruit “teenagers with attitude.” Why would you choose a group of teenagers with attitude when you could pick from people with actual fighting experience? Another interesting aspect is the Yellow Ranger. When Trini morphs into the Yellow Ranger, it is actually a male character in the costume with Trini’s voice dubbed over the action.

The acting throughout the series is absolutely horrible. It’s no wonder they hardly got paid for their roles in this series. Billy, especially, is hard to watch. The brainy geek stereotype goes above and beyond in his role, as his dialogue resembles nothing like conversational English, but rather that of a theory paper.

After watching “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” as a young adult, I feel like I need to take a shower to cleanse myself of the crap I had to witness in 18-minute intervals. I don’t know what I saw in this show, but I’m glad my brain has developed enough to know that this isn’t a show worth devoting any more of my time to.


Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice: Ingredients to an Amazing Cartoon

Those that know me well know that “The Powerpuff Girls” is my all-time favorite cartoon. It was when I was a kid and it still is today. I’ve seen the movie, as well as every episode of the series. Although it is considered to be a cartoon show targeted at the female population, one-third of its viewers are male.

The mid-’90s was a period of great growth for Cartoon Network, as 15 new cartoons were produced by Hanna-Barbera and Cartoon Network Studios over a six-year period from 1996 to 2002. They were known as “Cartoon Cartoons” and “The Powerpuff Girls” was the fifth cartoon to be created. Compared to the other “Cartoon Cartoons,” “The Powerpuff Girls” had the most seasons (six) and had the second-most number of episodes (78). It was the only “Cartoon Cartoon” to receive its own movie deal and appear on the big screen.

“The Powerpuff Girls,” which debuted on Cartoon Network on Nov. 18, 1998, centers around three mutant super heroes created by Professor Utonium in his basement. What gets lost throughout this whole ordeal is why a middle-aged scientist was creating three little girls in the first place. It seems a bit odd if you take the time to think about it. Nonetheless, Utonium combines sugar, spice and everything nice (whatever that means) into a mixing bowl. But, as the opening theme suggests, he accidently adds an extra ingredient to the concauction: Chemical X. While Chemical X is never fully explained to what it contains, it becomes the sole source of the girls’ super powers.

The array of ingredients creates three kindergarten-aged kids that the professor names Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup. Blossom, the self-pronounced leader of the girls, is depicted in pink with orange hair and a red bow. Bubbles, the joy and the laughter, wears blue and wears her golden hair in pigtails. Buttercup, the toughest fighter, wears green and has short black hair. Their big eyes match the color of their respective dresses. One thing most people don’t know is that Craig McCracken, the creator of the show, originally designed Bubbles to wear green and Buttercup to wear blue, but thought that the colors would not match their personalities and therefore decided to flip-flop.

McCracken originally created “The Powerpuff Girls” back in 1992 when he was enrolled at CalArts Academy. He had originally named his cartoon “Whoopass Stew!” but Cartoon Network asked him to change the name to something more PG for its audience. “The Powerpuff Girls” has a ton of hidden references to “The Big Lebowski,” McCracken’s favorite movie. One such occurrence takes place in the episode “Something’s a Ms.” in which the Mayor’s secretary, Ms. Bellum, is kidnapped. When the girls are given their assignment, it is told in a similar fashion as in “The Big Lebowski.”

While the main theme of the cartoon is super heroes saving their city from evil, there are plenty of underlying messages. The girls may be super heroes, but they have to deal with problems that girls their age normally deal with, which makes it easier to relate to the girls. Certain problems include school, sibling rivalries between the girls, eating vegetables, making friends and dealing with the insecurities that come at that age.

Growing up, Blossom was always my favorite because of her ability to take charge and think quick on her feet. As I watch it as a 21-year-old college student, I tend to lean toward Bubbles as my favorite of the three girls because she is the stereotypical five year old. She gets upset when bad things occur, is afraid of the dark and loves anything fluffy and cute. She is quite different than her other sisters, who are constantly in a power struggle. Buttercup has always been my least favorite character, as I don’t find anything appealing about tomboys.

The creativity of the show is evident in the villains that the girls must fight. The most notable is Mojo JoJo, an evil monkey affected by Chemical X. His intellect and actions are comparable to that of a monkey. He constantly creates evil schemes to defeat the girls, but all end in defeat. But, like a typical primate, he enjoys his share of bananas. Other common occurring villains include the Amoeba Boys, Fuzzy Lumpkins, Princess Morbucks, Sedusa, the Gang Green Gang and HIM. HIM was a loose interpretation of the devil, but toned down with colors of light red and pink as to not scare the audience. But to someone my age, HIM clearly represented Lucifer with his abilities to control others and bring life to inanimate objects. HIM’s clearest portrayal of the devil is in “Speed Demon” where the world goes to Hell when the girls unintentionally freeze themselves in time when racing home.

McCracken tried to appeal to a more male-oriented audience when he created the Rowdyruff Boys, a trio of boys that resembled the girls. While the girls were created with sugar, spice and everything nice, the Rowdyruff Boys were created with snips, snails and puppy dog tails. The trio consisted of Brick (Blossom’s opposite), Boomer (Bubbles’ opposite) and Butch (Buttercup’s opposite). Evenly matched, the girls are forced to use their girlish charm to defeat the boys, kissing them on the cheek,  causing them to blow up. The message behind that can go in a variety of ways, but I took it to mean that girls can use their sex appeal to lure boys in and break them down.

Few people know that McCracken also created a trio of evil girls that resembled the Powerpuff Girls, but were polar opposites in terms of personality. Known as the Powerpunk Girls, Berserk (Blossom’s opposite), Brat (Bubbles’ opposite) and Brute (Buttercup’s opposite) set out to destroy the girls in their quest for world domination. The Powerpunk Girls never made it in an episode, but did appear in comic strips.

“The Powerpuff Girls” went on to be nominated for six Emmy’s, nine Annie’s, and a Kids’ Choice Award over the course of its airing. It ended up winning two Emmy’s and two Annie’s. “The Powerpuff Girls” became a nation-wide hit, as the series branched off into video games, comic books, CDs and a Japanese spin-off known as “Powerpuff Girls Z.”


As Told By Ginger: A fairly accurate portrayal of junior high

OK so this cartoon may have not occurred in the 1990s, but I’m going to let it slide because I believe that this cartoon is one of the more accurate depictions of the themes that it is trying to relate to. I’m talking about Nickelodeon’s “As Told By Ginger,” which debuted on Oct. 25, 2000 and ran until Nov. 21, 2009, although the show was in hiatus for long stretches of time toward the end.

Created by Emily Kapnek, directed by Mark Risley and produced by Klasky-Csupo, “As Told By Ginger” is the story of a girl named Ginger Foutley (voiced by Melissa Disney), who has to deal with the far-too-real experiences that every junior high schooler can expect to endure. There are the popular kids, the jocks and the nerds that rank among a traditional school hierarchy, with the popular kids and jocks near the top and the nerds at the bottom. “As Told by Ginger” is about a girl who finds herself somewhere in the middle; she wants to be popular, but at the same time doesn’t want to abandon her way of life, which more or less resembles that of a nerd.

By Ginger’s side is her friends Dodie Bishop (voiced by Aspen Miller), a gossip-seeking girl that tries, and fails, to be one of the popular kids at school, and Macie Lightfoot (voiced by Jackie Harris), an intelligent, yet nerdy, asthma-plagued girl. On the other end of the spectrum is Courtney Gripling (voiced by Liz Georges), a popular, attention-attracting blonde, and Miranda Killgallen, a cold, heartless sidekick to Gripling.

When this show first debuted on Nickelodeon, I was only ten years old and was not yet in middle school. While I did enjoy watching the show, I did not appreciate just how accurate of a depiction “As Told By Ginger” was to the world of junior high. It consisted of love triangles, population demand, betrayal, etc. The show spent the majority of air time visualizing the social aspect of what it’s like to be a junior high student in a low-income household instead of focusing on the academic portion of school. Ginger’s character can be related to a majority of kids, as she has a devious younger brother, Carl (voiced by Jeannie Elias), and lives with her mother, Lois (voiced by Laraine Newman), who is a divorced single mother. Ginger’s father is rarely mentioned.

As the show progresses, Ginger is hit with challenge after challenge that typical junior high girls go through at some point in their lives. As Courtney begins to befriend Ginger, she is left with the painful decision to choose friendships based solely on popularity or remain loyal to the true friendships she’s already created. In one of the first few episodes where she is invited to Courtney’s birthday party, she is willing to steal a welcome sign because Miranda tells her Courtney has always wanted one for her bedroom. She ends up getting caught and arrested as a result.

Love begins to play a crucial part as season two and three begin. As a camp counselor at Camp Caprice, Ginger develops feelings for a boy named Sasha (voiced by J. Evan Bonifant), only to later discover that he has a girlfriend. Romance becomes a central issue in the first movie, “Far From Home,” where Ginger is offered to spend a semester at a prestigious art school. It is then that her long-time neighbor, Darren Patterson (voiced by Kenny Blank), realizes his feelings for Ginger and embarks on a journey to find her and tell her the truth. A relationship ensues, which is noteworthy because Darren is African American and Ginger is white. It’s rare to see an interracial couple in cartoons.

The underlying theme of the TV show is relationships and how one deals with them. Throughout the show’s air time, Ginger’s relationship with her mother, friends and Carl are tested. There is plenty of drama that one would expect from a junior high schooler. Her mother eventually begins dating again and in season two’s “Ms. Foutley’s Boys,” Ginger finds herself in a miserable situation having to deal with her mom’s love interest, Buzz, and his wild three kids. But she keeps quiet because she wants her mom to be happy and is willing to sacrifice her own happiness to achieve that.

“As Told By Ginger” is a cartoon that every junior high student should watch because of how spot on it really is at depicting what life is like at that age. Social hierarchy, friendships, relationships, family issues are all stressed in this cartoon. Unfortunately, Nickelodeon put “As Told By Ginger” on hiatus several times during the third and final season. It debuted Aug. 9, 2003, and ran through Jan. 20, 2004, before being put on hiatus for the first time. It  returned on Nov. 14, 2006, for one episode before being put back on hiatus. This on- again-off-again scheduling continued until the season finale movie, “The Wedding Frame,” which aired on Nov. 21, 2009.

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