Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Unofficial Ridiculous Cartoon Cliche List

Have you ever noticed how many ridiculous cliches cartoons have started over the years since the beginning of animated time? Some of these are so pervasive that they even managed to leak over into live action productions, and not necessarily for comedic purposes either. Here are some of my favourites (and please take note, this list will be continuously added on to as I think of more):

The Unofficial Ridiculous Cartoon Cliche List

The Little Mommy Syndrome

Where the cast's female character eventually get saddled with younger "child" characters for her to mother over and show maternal guidance to, usually happening sometime following her first season on the air. Examples of this include Smurfette, who eventually found herself involved with the "smurflings" and little Sassette, and Pammy Panda in Shirt Tales, who ended up watching over a young kangaroo named Kip.

The Parent/Elder Syndrome

Similar to "The Little Mommy Syndrome", except this time already existing successful characters suddenly either have children (The Pink Panther and Sons) or nephews/nieces (Donald Duck). Sometimes said characters are actual familes with both parents present when they have said children (The Flintstones); more often than not these days, though, they are not, probably in an attempt to be PC with all those single-parent kids out there. Which leads us to...

The Dead or Missing Parent Syndrome

Related to both "The Little Mommie Syndrome" and "The Parent/Elder Syndrome" when a young character is presented with having either only one one parent or none at all, not always with an explanation. Sometimes the writers will toss out the ever-convenient "orphan" label to explain the situation, other times the mother or father will simply not be around.

Wisecracking Kids

Now this one speaks for itself. Sarcastic youth characters cracking wise beyond their years, and it has always been a popular entertainment staple.

The Narrating Character

Popular in superhero cartoons such as The Superfriends, in which the main character will persistently talk/think aloud to themselves explaining everything they do just to be sure that tots of all ages at home can understand precisely what's going on. I don't know about you, but I think that if a real superhero was always running around pulling this stunt they'd get institutionalized.

Reused Animation

An instance in which actual animation from a studio's previously existing output will be reused for a newer production by simply tracing the new characters over the older animated sequences in an effort to save time, money and energy. My two all-time favorite examples of this have to be the "Phony King of England" musical sequence from Disney's Robin Hood in which Maid Marian's dancing was lifted directly from Snow White's cottage party while the animals playing instruments were likewise lifted from The Aristocats, and the personal guilty pleasure cartoon The Brady Kids, whose band movements were lifted from Filmation's earlier production The Archies (only Cindy Brady required new instrument-playing movements).

Reused Battle Footage

Similar to "Reused Animation" when a character in an action series is either in battle or getting prepared to go into battle and will have an extremely specific, highly-detailed piece of animation played every time as they do. Once an episode fulfills all the government requirements, but doing it several times an episode is not at all uncommon. Examples include He-Man and She-Ra's transformation sequences, G-Force transformation sequences in Battle Of The Planets, and Lion-O's sword bit in Thundercats, not to mention the Tigersharks preparing to go into an underwater adventure.

The Repetitive Motion Syndrome

Similar/related to both the above Reused Animation and Reused Battle Footage, in which animation will be created specifically to be reused every single time such a scene for its action is needed. Incredibly popular with cartoons based on musical concepts, such as Josie and The PussycatsThe Jackson 5 and The Osmonds, in which specific movements involving dancing and playing instruments were created specifically for use in every episode's musical interludes to represent the act's performances, often with both background and colour variation added.

Market Tested, a.k.a. MT

A horrendous blight on the creative process in which marketers, having been allowed to run amok in this country for a long time now with their control, do all they can to shape/change/force an entire concept as much as possible to supposedly be more "marketable" according to their ever-oh-so-very-precious marketing data. As a result, fewer and fewer artists are allowed to properly have their say. Sometimes an entire concept is hijacked in mid-presentation and twisted entirely into something else (witness the creation of The Partridge Family in 2200 A.D.), other times designs are specifically created around the notion of, say, how the characters would look as toys and are resultingly given shockingly inappropriate colour schemes and details (Tiny Toon Adventures -- Dizzy Devil was made pink/lavender with a spinning beanie on top simply because it was decided by marketers that it would make him look great as a toy, and both Calamity Coyote and Little Beeper were given shoes to wear in order to appease shoe advertisers). Yes, it's stupid. And just how much longer this nightmare will continue is anyone's guess, particularly when one of MT's most notorious weapons is still the...

Focus Group, a.k.a. FG

This diabolical concoction is one of the worst evils plaguing the world today. For those who don't know, a focus group is a select group of individuals who are hired to watch a specific new movie/cartoon/show in order to test their reaction to it. After viewing, they are given a form to fill out in which to answer various questions on what they personally liked, didn't like, what they would personally want to see more of, etc. Scenes and content are then re-edited, re-shot and generally changed around in an attempt to match the reactions of the focus group's participants in an appalling attempt to make it as market-friendly as possible, usually against the wishes of the project's creators. Rsponsible for approximately 98% of the glop haunting the entertainment industry today.

FGTD, a.k.a. Focus Group-ed To Death

An incredibly lousy film/cartoon/show which has obviously been put through so many focus groups in an attempt to "fix" it that any notion of an appealing idea that its creators may have had or intended has been completely destroyed. You can spot these a mile away; you know the ones, they are usually trumpted as a would-be instant hit upon first release only to vanish just as quickly without a trace.

The Damsel in Distress

*Ahem*... no explanation needed, I take it? I mean, we all know this one, right? Right? ;)

Trendy Content

This one's probably a no-brainer, and it's certainly not unique to cartoons, but I'm mentioning it anyway simply because it's so pervasive.

Product Placement, or PP

You all know this one. Subliminal advertising, cartoons, movies and books based on toys... it all went crazy in the 80s when for the first time the merchandising tail was allowed to wag the dog. It finally hit it's most ridiculous extreme when a designer clothes mascot was allowed to have his own show (Rude Dog and The Dweebs).

Celebrity Placement

A cartoon either starring or has as (a) guest star/stars based on real-life popular motion picture and television personalities (not to be confused with satirical gag-based celebrity appearances in shows such as Tiny Toon Adventures or Animaniacs). Examples include The Brady Kids, the previously mentioned Partridge Family in 2200 A.D., the appearance of "The Partridge Kids" in Goober and The Ghost Chasers, The Harlem Globetrotters, Fonz and The Happy Days Gang, and The All-New Scooby-Doo Movies, which featured a guest star every episode.

The Celebrity Vanity Project

Similar to "Celebrity Placement", except in this case the celebrity in question usually has complete personal control. Possibly the most famous example of this is Little Rosie, which was personally created by Roseanne Barr after gaining television fame. Other examples technically include programs such as Mr. T, but these were usually done with good intentions, such as helping children learn how to defend themselves or a moral.

Stolen Concept

I'm sure I don't have to go into much detail on this one. A cartoon attempting to copy as close as possible (or at the very least the success of) an existing television property, a smash hit cartoon, best-selling book, series, movies, or for that matter anything that becomes popular simply because a competing company/studio wanted a piece of the pie. (And how many wanna-be Smurfs competitors did we get during the first three or so frantic years of USA-based Smurfmania alone???)

Stolen Gag

When a cartoon (usually produced in Hollywood) deliberately steals a gag from an earlier property. In many cases this has become so commonplace that it can be a shock when one discovers new ideas for gags present in what they're observing simply because they are so used to the repetition.

Recycled Gag

Related to the "Stolen Gag", only in this case a studio is deliberately choosing to recycle it's own previously-used gags. This tended to happen particularly in cartoons originally designed for theatrical release, such as Looney Tunes shorts, simply because it was easier to get away with it as they were fewer and further between at the time.

Stolen Storyline

Related to "Stolen Concept", "Stolen Gag" and "Recycled Gag", only this time it's plots. Now to be fair, lifting plots goes all the way back to Shakespeare, but ever since television came on the scene it got particularly ugly, and has only grown uglier ever since.


Self-explanatory, I'm sure.

The Endlessly Repeating Background

A common device used to simulate walking or travelling in which a background specifically designed to repeat itself is inserted into the background and shot as a "loop", usually with the characters moving/travelling on the foreground. Every once in a while, you'll see a really sloppily-designed such occurance in which you can physically see the shift between the end and restart of the background used, such as an episode of Star Blazers (Space Cruiser Yamato) when The Star Force encountered a planet with a phony sun rotating around it: watch the scene when they are observing for the first time the wilted planets on the surface below.

Great Opening, Lousy Quality Thereafter

A truly irritating act in which a studio will go all out to give high-quality animation to a show's opening title sequence while the actual show itself has ultracheap production values in a shameless attempt to make the program seem better animated and of a higher quality than it actually is. One of the worst examples of this is Thundercats, which takes the time to create a (mostly) high-quality opening theme song routine, but features horribly chintzy animation within its episodes. Well, except for the sword-transformation bits that is (see "Reused Battle Footage"). Say what you will about a stupid show like He-Man and The Masters of the Universe; at least its level of quality was decently consistent throughout.

The Have-Your-Cake-And-Eat-It-Too Syndrome

A cartoon basically trying to please both audiences and teachers/parents/moralists/etc. at once by finding ways to stick in educational/teaching material into an show otherwise trying to simply entertain. Examples of this include He-Man and She-Ra, in which each episode concluded with one of the characters injecting a moral into that particular episode regarding morals and common sense, and Silverhawks, which featured snippets teaching various scientific facts. This was done more and more often as PTA groups and the like continued to get numerous laws passed regarding the "necessity" of including educational material along with children's programming. (Incidentally, this situation finally reached ridiculous heights when at the close of the 80s live action shows such as Saved By The Bell were introduced and were classified by the networks as "educational material" in order to appease the demand of the new laws even though those shows never featured any educational material in them whatsoever -- and got away with it. Which only goes to show just how "intelligent" such would-be moral guardians were in the first place.)

"If It's Ugly, It Sells."

A trend that started taking off around the time The Cabbage Patch Kids were introduced; suddenly every toy company and cartoon studio wanted to create something ugly because it was regarded by some in the general public as a form of rebellion against traditonal Americana. Sometimes it just happened to be that way simply because that's the way its creator's personality was (The Simpsons) and could at least claim to be honest... more often than not, though, it wasn't. And even though such material still tries to wear the "rebellious" mantle, it is so pervasive by now that it has become absorbed into even the squarest segments of culture and has become "the new normal", meaning that more often than not we tend to be shocked these days when someone actually wants to create something that's honestly beautiful.

"If It's Gross, It Sells."

Directly related to the above, only this time the rule applies to material that's deliberately considered gross. This really started gathering speed around the time of the Beetlejuice cartoon. All of the above points for "If It's Ugly, It Sells" apply here too, of course.

"If It's Japanese, It Sells."

Do I really need to explain this one?

The Muppet Babies Syndrome

An inane trend that started with The Muppet Babies. Not only did this show effectively kill the actual Muppet Show overnight, it did far worse damage. After an imaginary flashback of the muppets as babies was introduced in the motion picture The Muppets Take Manhattan and a hit award-winning cartoon resulted, suddenly we were all flooded with cartoons featuring already-established characters who had been "reduced in age". The Tom & Jerry Kids Show, Yo, Yogi!, The Flintstone Kids... the list goes on and on. Hanna-Barbara, not surprisingly, tended to be the worst offenders in establishing this programming trend. Tiny Toon Adventures did all it could to technically not proclaim itself the same thing, but it still counts anyway as it has the exact same intentional mindset no matter how much some of the writers did all they could to take the time slot they were given and run with it.

"This Way!"

Roger Ebert has pointed this out about all-too-many movies, but it's also common in many cartoons as well so I'm mentioning it, especially since it's so ridiculous. It involves a situation in which the male character present with a female character will (sometimes by taking the female character's hand) set off on his way while she follows meekly along behind him. As nutty as this is, it's especially hilarious when it happens in a show that all-too-obviously has it making even less sense than usual, such as an episode of a Superfriends cartoon starring Wonder Woman, or Jana of The Jungle, in which the female character in question is obviously far more gutsy, strong, and well-equipped to handle risky situations than the male character is himself.

"Follow Me."

Similar to "This Way!", only in this case it can, and often does, also involve more than just two characters. While it can happen in also any situation offered, it is particuarly popular with mystery/adventure serials. The male character present who is either the eldest or the biggest will start leading the way and everybody else follows obediently after him; a female character with the same characteristics will do this only if there's no male present. Often the female characters will do so with their front hands outstretched before them in an act of caution during risky/adventurous situations, the more nerdy and less physically able ones will start either theorizing on the possibilities of the situation at hand or swapping wisecracks, and the most obviously uncomfortable/frightened one(s) will take the rear, usually glancing backwards over his/her/their shoulder(s), terrified of someone/something possibly sneaking up from the rear. Which leads us to our next subject...

The Shaggy Syndrome

Related to the above, in which virtually all groups of characters who might otherwise be taken seriously need at least one cowardly/bungling character for comic relief. Even in superhero cartoons like The Superfriends this idea was injected even though such characters were never necessarily included with the original inspirational material, so sidekicks were invented from scratch.

The Brainy Chick

Also related to the above but on the opposite end of the scale, most such groups also need at least one really brainy chick who knows their stuff and to deduce all of the most ingenious solutions/conclusions for her pals. They can be designed to be either attractive (think Captain Caveman and The Teen Angels) or nerdy (Velma of Scooby Doo fame), all depending on the producers' personal whims on which is most appropriate. And sometimes they aren't even allowed to tag along at all (remember Clue Club's youngest whiz kid?).

"I'm Here For Political Reasons."

An instance in which a particular type of character is included simply due to political/trendy reasons. For example, in 1983 when the short-lived ground Menudo became popular, not only did they get little "educational" song snippets in-between Saturday morning cartoon programming on ABC, but all the new cartoons themselves resultingly either had a hispanic family in the starring role (Rubik The Amazing Cube) or thrown in as an afterthought extra (The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo), and while I certainly didn't mind seeing more latino characters in cartoons, the fact that they were being tossed in just to cash in on the brief Menudo as a form of PP struck me personally as being flat out insulting and bordering on racism. Also see Animaniacs, in which the main starring characters, The Warner Brothers (a concept that actually made sense), had a sister tossed into the mix for absolutely no reason whatsoever other than concerns (which interrupted the execution of the concept and caused it to make no sense whatsoever). Not that Dot wasn't expressive and entertaining once the writers got hold of her, but isn't it kind of sexist to toss a character into the cast simply because she's female?

Speech Impediment

Having a wacky voice goes all the way back to the times of Mickey Mouse and Steamboat Willie, but these days it's often seen as a sign of desperation to add "personality" into a character who otherwise lacks a proper personality as opposed to being a natural fit. Everybody wants to create the next Donald duck or Goofy, but jeez, you need to start with a heck of a lot more than just a voice (although it could be argued that Goofy started that way and was later allowed to develop as a bit character before finally hitting it big).