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Visiting My Childhood: The Cartoons I Grew Up On
My Nostalgia For The Cartoons Of My Youth
Every generation has fond memories of the popular culture of their youth.
This includes the movies and television shows that were prominent in whatever era their childhood took place in, the music that topped the charts, and the clothing and hair styles that were worn.
How many times have children and teenagers laughed at pictures of their parents wearing platform shoes and bell-bottom pants and sporting ten-inch high afros? Or gagged at their parents' Soft Cell and Duran Duran records? Or saw the Donny And Marie Show on Nick At Nite's TV Land and thought of it as the essence of cheesiness, thinking, "I can't believe mom and dad actually watched this!"
The recollections people have of their childhood extends to the cartoons that entertained them as kids. From Mickey Mouse and his friends in the 1930's, 40's, and 50's, to Japanese Anime, Sponge Bob Square Pants and the potty-mouthed South Park kids today, cartoons have often been a definition of the sitting-in-front-of-the-TV-eating-Cocoa Puffs days. When one's main concern was whether or not they would get that red Schwinn ten-speed for their birthday, or if they would see Malibu Barbie's dream house under the tree on Christmas morning, or if their piece of cake at their best friend's birthday party was bigger than everyone else's.
During my years as a young boy, I watched my share of animation - the Flintstones, their futuristic Jetson counterparts, Scooby Doo, Yogi Bear, and yes, Mickey, Donald, and all of his buddies. They were quite enjoyable, but one group of cartoon characters eclipsed them all...
This was the cartoon that as a kid growing up in Woodcrest - a small rural community outside of Riverside, California, about 70 miles east of Los Angeles - I was an absolute freak about: Peanuts.
I remember those kids so well: Charlie Brown and his constant failures kicking the football, getting hammered on the pitching mound, and dealing with that kite-eating tree, Lucy with her loud-mouthed crabbiness, her blanket-loving brother Linus, Schroeder the blond piano-playing maestro, that Red Baron-fighting beagle Snoopy; I was completely obsessed.
Reading their newspaper strips every day, having their school lunch box from kindergarten through third grade, and watching all of their holiday specials, I was one of their biggest fans if not their number one fan. "A Charlie Brown Christmas", in my opinion, is the greatest cartoon ever made.
Living with my grandparents in the country and being an only child at the time, I even pretended to be Charlie Brown every so often. I felt that I could relate to him, because like that round-headed kid, I wasn't too great at sports and things seemed to rarely work out for me. Plus, that cartoon had a sort of realistic, intellectual tone - there were no blowups, car crashes, or flying with pixie dust (or any kind of magic for that matter). That Peanuts gang seemed like real kids doing things that real kids do, like play baseball and go trick-or-treating. That certainly appealed to me.
As a young African American boy, the fact that the strip had a black kid, Franklin, didn't hurt things either. I think he was the first black character to appear regularly in a predominantly white comic strip. Charles Schulz, the creator, deserves much credit for that.
It is safe to say that Peanuts had a fairly large influence on me. I first grew interested in baseball because Charlie and company played it - not well, but that's beside the point. I wanted to play catcher because Schroeder was one. I tried to fly kites for a while because Charlie did. I used to buy Peanuts coloring books, cut the characters out, and do various pretend stories with them.
As one could see, that cartoon meant a lot to me as a kid. When Schulz passed away in 2000, immediately after his last strip was printed, it was like my childhood truly ended. Hearing about Schulz's death saddened me to no end; I remember shedding a tear or two.
Bugs Bunny and his friends was the only cartoon that remotely approached Peanuts in popularity with me. Interestingly enough, I laugh more at Bugs and his stunts more as an adult than I ever did as a child, because that rascally rabbit's jokes and gags went almost completely over my head.
Bugs' antics with Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam and Marvin The Martian, playing tricks on them and making them look stupid, were very entertaining to be sure. I particularly loved that "Rabbit Season / Duck Season" short where Bugs and Daffy made Elmer look like a complete idiot.
However, they didn't have the intellectual realism that their Peanuts counterparts had. I couldn't imagine Snoopy dressing up in drag and making a fool out of Woodstock, or Lucy dropping an anvil on Peppermint Patty (though she did pull the football from Charlie Brown and punch Linus on occasion), or Violet shooting Pig-Pen for being so dirty. That's what separated Bugs, Porky Pig, and all of their Looney Tunes friends from the Peanuts kids in my book.
Summing things up, it was the realism and relatability that was the essential factor in Peanuts being my favorite cartoon as a young boy growing up in Southern California, one that I remember and regard with fondness.
To this day, I read the daily Peanuts strip in the newspaper and watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas" every year on Christmas Eve. Being in my forties and still doing that should reflect the impact that Charlie, Lucy, Snoopy, and the others have had on my life. And still has.