Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cartoon Noir

My five-year-olds have been watching cartoons on my laptop. Twin B has learned to click on YouTube movies, and when she gets onto a Casper the Friendly Ghost jag it's good for at least half an hour.

I hadn't seen these things since I was maybe eight and was surprised at the old school beauty of the animation. While There's Good Boos To-Night was released in 1948, it feels much older.

This Noveltoon, based on a 1945 Casper the Friendly Ghost comic book, is the second Casper cartoon ever, and predated the Paramount series by two years. This thing is dark. Really dark.

For one, Casper seems to be a dead child, who hangs out reading books about "Our Animal Friends" next to his graveyard tombstone. The WWII imagery of ghost planes dive bombing into a heavily populated city isn't exactly a light touch either. Not in 1948 anyway. And then Casper's adorable little fox friend, Ferdie, with whom he'd rollicked happily in the woods, gets shot and dies. Casper goes into serious grief over the cute little fox's dead body, and buries him next to his own tombstone. Just as Casper is at his lowest, the fox's ghost floats up and happily licks his face while the announcer intones, "and so, Casper and Ferdie lived happily ever after."

I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing. The girls found it a little disturbing, and asked hard questions like, "Why did Ferdie have to die?" Of all the caspers they watched, this was the one they kept talking about.

There's a page at the Internet Movie Database where others have commented. Here's a few samples:
"Maybe Casper was meant more as a morality play, or Famous Studios felt like breaking new ground in 'reality' cartoons. … A well-animated project-no doubt there. But … the stark image of Casper's mourning is rather graphic and disturbing for children. … This might be a good cartoon for parents to use in helping explain death to children--but I wouldn't pop it into the VCR for a perky cartoon break."

"It made me break down! … It was so depressing, I just couldn't watch it again. It's just like seeing Lassie die at the end of a movie. … when I think about this Casper cartoon, I think about my cats!"

"It's probably the saddest I've ever felt watching a cartoon. … Second only to the Warner Bros. cartoon "Peace on Earth," this is the most I've ever been moved by an animated short."
It's like cartoon film noir: The world's a shit hole kids, get used to it! The ending softens up the harshness a little, but not much.

1 comment:

Bruce from Accordion Noir said...

When my daughters (more twins) saw an iPhone, the first thing they did was click on YouTube and start watching movies on the frickin' telephone!

Their brains will be different than ours.

But they are thoughtful about what they watch:

We see a lot of nature documentaries (real lions aren't like the Lion King). The baby lions all starve to death, until the adults find a herd of elephants and kill all the baby elephants and eat them.

I feared this would be disturbing, but the next day the girls set a tiny stuffed elephant in the middle of the floor and repeatedly pounced on it from across the room to kill it. I guess they were working that out.

Nature's weird, maybe the kids will get that more than I did watching the Wonderful World of Disney.

I still don't let them watch YouTube alone (and we don't have a TV). As you saw, it's like a crap-shoot.

Reminds me how in fifth grade all the classes gathered to watch Big Blue Marble on TV. But the schedule got messed up and instead we watched a different program: "Troubled parents give birth with graphic bleeding crowning baby heads from mama's vagina." Wow, that left an impression.

I'm so glad I read your preview before I sat down to watch this with my kids! Now I can enjoy it by myself.