Being a kid in the 1970’s had its advantages, the least of which was not being responsible for the horrific clothing your parents made you wear. It was a time when cereal companies weren’t afraid to use the word “sugar” in their cereal names (“Super Sugar Crisp”, “Sugar Smacks”, “Sugar Pops”) because it accurately depicted what you were eating. Kool-Aid, also full of sugar, would bust through walls to quench your thirst, mentally preparing you to identify later with his fellow wall-buster, the Schlitz Malt Liquor bull. Unless you had a Coleco Telstar, you were happy to go outside and play the games Spike Lee used in the montage that opens Crooklyn. And cartoons were everywhere.
On the sixth day, God created man, and the three broadcast networks created cartoon junkies. Saturday mornings were filled with cheap-assed Hanna-Barbera cartoons, cheaper assed Filmation cartoons and shorts that used to play in theaters. The networks ran Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry shorts, neither of which were made for kids. The Looney Tunes looked awful by then, yet I wouldn’t realize it until I bought those remastered DVD’s. Meanwhile, “Schoolhouse Rock” taught me about math, grammar and history, even once saving me on an 11th grade U.S. History test years later.
At the (now landmark) Loews Jersey Theater, St. George slew the dragon in the clock at the top of the building, and every summer, I attended the Disney Summer Hit Parade. The Hit Parade was a way for Disney to get people to see their live action crap by pairing it with a classic Disney cartoon. The Loews Jersey was built in the 30’s, and looked a lot like Radio City Music Hall on the inside; the sound system was great and the screen and auditorium were huge. Even though the Disney classics looked a little raggedy by this time, I could still experience them as they were meant to be experienced. I fell in love with the animated form, even if I had to also endure Angela Lansbury in the days between her murderous turns in The Manchurian Candidate and Murder She Wrote. (Jessica Fletcher was killing all those people, you know.)
Today, we have entire cable channels devoted to cartoons. One of network TV’s longest-running series is a cartoon (The Simpsons). And each year, at least one of the top 10 grossers is a cartoon. Yet in terms of critical appreciation, most animation still gets sent to the back of the bus. So today’s “5 for the day” is devoted to full-length features that were more than just cartoons to me—features I return to often, primarily because of their visual style, but also because they offer themes, images and ideas that trump most live-action features, and break out of the ghetto in which animation so often finds itself committed.