Our historic year grows ever more strange, fascinating, and tense as the weeks and months unfold. Where it all leads, nobody knows! However, there is always one thing that has remained more or less predictable since mid-2009. The 16mm Cartoon Carnival continues onward, now in its new online format, despite or in spite of the unrest and woes surrounding us. As it just so happens, I had planned for our 92nd program to feature odd and surreal cartoons that had been piling up here at home, and that programming choice becomes more fitting by the day.
I think it’s safe to say that aside from the worn out old sentiment suggesting that “cartoons are for kids” — which likely started to take shape in the 1950s thanks to children’s television programming, and erroneously, of course — general audiences around the globe tend to view animated cartoons as mostly serving a humorous purpose; existing almost solely to make us smile or laugh. While that may often be true, at least statistically speaking and in terms of the majority of mainstream commercial output over the decades, the unavoidable fact is that so much animation inhabits an incredibly surreal dimension. Sometimes this is inherent, considering the nature of the medium on an artistic level, but in *many* other cases, narratives and visual gags have been deliberately pushed in surreal directions, straddling or breaking as many storytelling boundaries as possible. Cartoons often achieve this in myriad ways that neither live action films, nor still life art works can really do to such a dynamic extent.
As is true in making or consuming and critiquing all forms of art, a careful eye and a keen mind must always remember one thing when watching animated films: although there may be generally accepted orthodoxies in expertly producing a ‘successful’ film, and certain narrative tropes that are more ‘functional’ than others, human beings ultimately perceive information and experience emotional responses in very different ways on an individual basis. Many of my colleagues, who run the gamut of animators, critics, and historians, have a similar pool of criteria in mind as they’re assessing these films. What are the color choices? How’s the drawing skill? Are there any continuity errors? Does the story make sense? Are there any loose ends? Is a character behaving in a way it normally would, or is it “out of character” and how or why is this? Who animated this scene or that scene, and how does that affect its quality?
These are all important considerations; they all merit proper research and documentation for historical and critical purposes. There are rules in filmmaking and animation that do sometimes ensure certain desirable qualities. Yet, somehow, I feel that these concerns occasionally miss the point or spoil the viewing experience on a purely visceral level: the simple escapism of sitting down and watching a cartoon for the sake of watching a cartoon. Most other considerations seem to come from a more surface ego, and not exactly one’s id or even inner child. To me, it’s almost akin to a child growing up and forgetting how to play with toys or run around, jumping with joy, as it gradually settles into the doldrums of a traditional adult 9-to-5 lifestyle, or even an expertly creative lifestyle — and I say that both as a historian and animation history college teacher.
How do these musings relate to this month’s Cartoon Carnival? This time it’s “Odd Nuts.” In programming a selection of cartoons that contain bizarre, nonsensical, or surreal stories and visuals, one could argue that some of those critical concerns fly out the window a bit! The stories don’t entirely add up, nothing is predictable, and nothing makes complete sense. It isn’t supposed to do more than make us smile, scratch our heads, or go “hah, that was weird.” Pure cartoon watching, for the sake of watching cartoons. Sometimes, that’s all we really need in order to have a good time—even if most of us Cartoon Researchers otherwise care about the history of these films, and the production values (or lack thereof) that were instilled in them.
Cartoon Carnival 92: Odd Nuts, will take place this coming Saturday, June 27th, at 3pm eastern time (12 noon on the west coast). Gotta catch it in real time if you would like to watch! This is another potpourri of silent era favorites of mine, such as Felix the Cat, Farmer Alfalfa, Bobby Bumps, and Koko the Clown, as well as a few later Golden Age goodies thrown in for good measure: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Willie Whopper, and Porky Pig. Don’t worry—there will also be a couple items most of you probably have never heard of or seen before, as well.
You can take part regardless of geographic location. Visit the new Online Cartoon Carnival page for more information and the ticket purchasing/stream viewing link here, and make sure you’re on our mailing list here if you would like to receive regular updates about these shows.
One last thing, before I sign off. I’ve now started offering past Cartoon Carnival livestreams as Video On Demand viewing options which can be found at this page. This means that even if you missed out on our events as they were taking place, you now have another opportunity to view them! Proceeds benefit our overall operating costs, and the Cartoon Carnival series can always use as much support as possible.
Otherwise, hope many of you can tune in soon for Odd Nuts. What are some of your favorites in that genre?