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What a Cartoon!

Entry updated 19 November 2023. Tagged: TV.

US animated tv series (1995-1997; vt The What a Cartoon! Show; vt World Premiere Toons). Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Cartoon Network Studios. Created by Fred Seibert. 48 seven-minute shorts. Colour.

This Television Anthology Series was intended to emulate the mid-twentieth century's golden age of cartoon shorts – as exemplified by Warner Bros. Cartoons, Disney and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer – as well as to generate new programmes, with creators being given a freer hand than usual. This policy paid off, with five shorts becoming successful Television series: most notably Dexter's Laboratory (1996-2003), The Powerpuff Girls (1998-2005) and Courage the Cowardly Dog (1999-2002). The others were Cow and Chicken (1997-1999; 52 episodes), about a talking cow and chicken with human parents who are regularly tormented by a devil; and Johnny Bravo (1997-2004; 68 episodes), Johnny being an athletic, philandering, Elvis Presley soundalike, many of whose adventures are genre, involving talking animals, Aliens, Suspended Animation and Supernatural Creatures – with several Parodies, including of Jerome Bixby's "It's a Good Life" (in Star Science Fiction Stories 2, anth 1953, ed Frederik Pohl) and "The Fly" (June 1957 Playboy) by George Langelaan, though through the respective lenses of their Twilight Zone and Cinema versions (see The Fly).

After Seibert's departure from Hanna-Barbera, a new batch of 34 shorts was commissioned as The Cartoon Cartoon Show (1998-2002) (which would also re-broadcast some What a Cartoon! shorts under this title) it led to several television series. These were The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy (2001-2007; 77 episodes, 3 specials and 19 shorts), about two children – dumb and enthusiastic Billy, smart and amoral Mandy – who trick the Grim Reaper into being "their best friend forever". Megas XLR (2004-2005; 27 episodes), where a Mecha is sent back in time to better prepare humanity for a War with aliens that is being lost in 3037, but arrives too early: decades later, in 2004, it is found in a scrapyard by a pair of teenage slackers who convert it into a hotrod – but the aliens (and their mecha) have travelled back to 2004; fortunately, so has a future human, who aids the teenagers in the subsequent mecha battles (perhaps needless to say, the show is an attempt to do a western Anime). Codename: Kids Next Door (2002-2008; 81 episodes) is about a secret organization of kids who battle the injustices imposed upon their peers by grown-ups – they are mindwiped at 13 (see Memory Edit); there are frequent references to sf media, from My Little Pony (1986-1987) to Alien (1979). Mike, Lu & Og (1999-2001; 26 episodes) is about a New York girl living on a Pacific island inhabited by descendants of a long-ago British shipwreck: amongst other things, ghosts appear, Robots are built and some talking animals have formed a Philosophical Society ("Now ... existential ennui."). Whatever Happened to ... Robot Jones? (2002-2003; 14 episodes) has a robot child (with robot parents) tasked with studying different aspects of human life. Sheep in the Big City (2000-2002; 27 episodes), is about a sheep that flees to the city when he discovers a secret military organization wants him for its sheep-powered Ray Gun; the fourth wall is regularly dismantled, with references to the pilot episode's script and the military having a robot called Plot Device, who exists to moves the plot along.

The next all-original series, The Cartoonstitute (2010) was truncated: 39 shorts were begun – but only 14 were completed and released. However, these did include what would be the pilots for two successful series, Regular Show (2010-2017) and Uncle Grandpa (2013-2017; 156 episodes, 14 shorts and a crossover episode with Steven Universe), which is about a man in lederhosen and a beanie who is everyone's Uncle Grandpa and is always ready to help: there is considerable randomness and absurdity.

A further series, Cartoon Cartoons was announced in April 2021.

The above were all broadcast on Cartoon Network, which like Hanna-Barbera was part of the Turner Broadcasting System at the time. Seibert had left Hanna-Barbera in 1996, founding Frederator Studios the following year: they would also produce several anthologies of cartoon shorts, the first being Oh Yeah! Cartoons (1998-2001), whose 99 shorts were broadcast on Nickelodeon. Three became television series: The Fairly OddParents (2001-2017; 172 episodes, plus 3 live-action films), about a boy with two fairy godparents who grant his wishes, which invariably go awry; ChalkZone (2002-2008; 40 episodes), about a boy who can enter the world where erased chalk drawings live; and My Life as a Teenage Robot (2003-2007). The next anthology, also shown on Nickelodeon, was Random! Cartoons (2008-2009), consisting of 39 shorts. Resulting television series were Adventure Time (2007; 2010-2018; 2020-2021), Bravest Warriors (2009; 2012-current) and Fanboy & Chum Chum (2009-2014; 52 episodes), about two enthusiastic boys who are permanently dressed as Superheroes and experience numerous popular Sci Fi and Fantasy tropes.

A later series, broadcast on Frederator's YouTube channel Cartoon Hangover, was Too Cool! Cartoons (2013-2014), whose 11 shorts included the first Bee and Puppycat (2013-current) episodes and, belatedly, the forthcoming «DeadEndia» (due late 2021), about two amusement park workers who find an "elevator to the 13 Planes of Existence"; this will also incorporate its creator Hamish Steele's subsequent Graphic Novels . [SP]


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