Friday, 28 September 2012

The Mighty Hercules: a case study in lazy cartoons (a rant)

There are some childhood memories that should never, EVER be revisited.  Things are rarely as rosy as your fun-dip and sweet-tarts fueled childhood remembrances would lead you to believe.

You remember that beautiful, rustic cabin that your family used to visit when you were in elementary school, on the shores of a prisine lake?  Yeah, when you revisit that cabin as an adult, you realize its a total crapshack with holes in the walls, no bathroom and no heating, and that gorgeous lake is actually a blue-green algae infested swamp at best.

Your favorite childhood cartoons should be handled in the same fashion.  It is just better not to watch them, despite how many warm and fuzzy feelings you have about spending Saturday mornings in feety-pajamas, eating Cookie Crisp cereal while watching Teddy Ruxpin, trust me when I tell you he is not the same bear that he was twenty years ago!

Say what?!
I am well aware that revisiting a childhood cartoon can ruin that memory forever.  Yet, I have Teletoon Retro and Cartoon Network and these two channels have combined to ruin my memories of a childhood spent in front of the television.  But they can't help but rebroadcast the crap from our childhoods.  Twenty and thirty somethings have ridiculous amounts of disposable income and big appetites for nostalgia, which is why we not only have rebroadcasts of the old crap, but new versions of old shows taking over a whole new generation of childhoods (Ponies, anyone?).  And we watch it.  And then we get disenchanted, and die a little bit inside because it will never be as good as it was when we were six.

Current case in point... The Mighty Hercules:

Hercules!  Hero of song and story!
 Now, the Mighty Hercules (hereafter referred to just as Hercules) is not actually a cartoon from my childhood.  It's really a cartoon from my PARENTS' childhood, which has been mercilessly rebroadcast for almost fifty years, despite it's incredible craptitude.  When I was watching it in the 80's, it was on re-runs for like the bajillionth time.  And it was still awful.  Even five year old me knew that it was awful.  But I still watched it.  And so when Teletoon Retro pulled this very dusty (and apparently unkillable) rabbit out of it's hat late on a uneventful Sunday night, I couldn't help but watch.

And watch I did.  I cheerily enjoyed the theme song, remembering the words to an alternate version we used to sing as kids (Hercules, he's a big fat phony, Hercules, made of cheese and baloney...), until the episode started.

And let me tell you, while television may be the bastion of crap, I may have to make the unqualified judgement that this cartoon is perhaps the crappiest crap that ever crapped.  Aside from the memorable theme, there is not a single redeeming quality to this show.  Ok, I lied, there is another good thing about it, the episodes are only like 10 minutes long.  That is good.  But the rest of it is garbage.
It is awful.  And possibly pedophilic? And OMG where the hell are the rest of his clothes?!
There are several reasons why this cartoon is the black hole of suck.  Basically, it exemplifies everything that was wrong with animation between the 1950's and 1980's.  With the exceptions of some quality cartoons (e.g.- Looney Toons), most cartoons from this time period suffer from the same horrific, brutal animation style that is the hallmark of this era.  Put simply, this type of animation is cheap.

Firstly, the cell rate per second on these cartoons is embarassingly low.  Cartoons usually run at 24 frames per second, with 12 drawings taking up 2 frames a piece in your average quality animation. This allows for fluidity of movement.  Choppy, crappy movements that you see in Hercules and, most stereotypical to the Hanna-Barbera bullshit parade, are using only about six drawings per second.  And that is why they look like a total disaster.  Couple this with animation loops (where you use the same frames, usually backgrounds, over and over and over in the same episode, think The Flintstones for this one), and the overall effect is embarrassingly poor animation.  And it isn't even as if we can forgive these cartoons for being "old".  Gertie the Dinosaur, (1914) one of the very first cartoons, had a higher frame rate and actually looks a lot better than Hercules!  Not to mention the WWII Superman cartoons, whose large budgets allowed for exceptional fluidity of movement and quality in animation.  Here is an example on Youtube (don't mind the casual wartime racism...):

So studios basically cheaped out on animation after it was no longer useful as a propaganda tool.  And while there are exceptions, animation stayed pretty bad until the end of the 1970's when it was discovered that you could, like with so many other things, export your drawing duties to the third world and have them do it for you for next to nothing.

But back to Hercules. Along with the sorry excuse for animation, you have terrible voice acting (which was also rife in cartoons from the cheap era, though I can't for the life of me tell you why), and the fact that the storylines are brutally simplistic.

i.e.: Every episode, ever: Hercules and friends are having fun/chilling out when villain/monster comes.  Hercules beats him/it up, puts on his ring, finishes saving the day.  Everyone celebrates and/or learns a valuable lesson.  And at multiple points in the episode, Newton and Tuet annoy the fuck out of us all.  The end.

And I know, you think I'm being too hard on poor Hercules.  But obviously, I'm not being hard enough because they are still playing this crap on TV fifty years after it should have been cancelled when there are perfectly good episodes of Looney Toons I could be watching.

A cartoon that is actually EVEN BETTER than you remember.

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