I didn’t grow up watching cartoons, even though I came to America at the prime cartoon watching age of five. In the Soviet Union I had watched Cheburashka (according to my parents) and even though I can still hum along to the theme song as intuitively as to a lifelong lullaby, I don’t have a sense of nostalgia towards the animated show.
In America, Tom & Jerry lacked dialog and its excessive senseless silliness bored me. I was mildly entertained by the dramatic familial antics of The Flintstones but that’s about it. While I missed many of the American and pop culture references, I strongly connected to Fred’s yelling, “Wilma!” because it sounded just like my father screaming for “Bella!”
My brain did not seem to stretch to accommodate the cartoon medium. It didn’t want to bend to imagine fantasy or the unbelievable. Under preferences, my brain checks “chatting with the grownups with coffee and cigarettes” over “cartoons.” I much preferred the sugary cereal addictiveness of 1980s TV sitcoms: Facts of Life, Three’s Company, Different Strokes, Family Ties, Growing Pains, Who’s the Boss … and of course there was the primetime genius of Aaron Spelling’s Dynasty and The Love Boat.
My first in-theater animated movie was Bambi seen in the Forest Hills movie theater which still stands on Queens Boulevard. I was a new immigrant child at her first matinee. All I remember of the experience is the buttery popcorn and the mother deer gets killed, abandoning her orphaned doe. Tragic for anyone, ESPECIALLY A FIVE YEAR OLD!
How about Cinderella? Evil stepmother, evil step-sisters, bullying, mild slavery, and the lesson is: your goal in life is to marry a prince so you can live happily ever after. (They try to disguise this by calling it “ A wish your heart makes…” Cinderella is a melancholic disaster.
Disney movies were never my thing until Alladin, which was the first animated movie I watched by choice as an adult. It was 1992; the year I graduated from high school. Part of what captivated me towards the movie was Robin Williams’ role as the Genie. Being a huge fan of his, it was his hilarious nonstop ad-libbing which lured me in.
My son instantly took to the cartoons and animated movies. He didn’t discriminate much; Thomas the Tank Engine, Tom & Jerry, or Bob the Builder were all fair game when he was a toddler. By the time he was born in 2002, Finding Nemo hit the theaters with amazing realistic under-ocean animation and more sadness – another murdered mother plus a lost child.
Today, on the one-year anniversary of Robin Williams’ death I rewatched Aladdin 24 years after the first time, this time with my six-year-old daughter. My goals were different from hers; she wanted to see Princess Jasmine’s beautiful dresses and hear the melodic songs and I wanted an encore of Robin Williams’ brilliant improvisational explosion.
After 14 years of motherhood and dozens of forced animated movies under my belt, I’ve loosened up a bit, but partially it’s because Disney/Pixar has met me part way, in terms of realistic content, which apparently connects more with me – and my heart. Up, Toy Story 3, Inside Out: all successful at achieving cry baby results.
All Disney animated movies are formulaic: a hero, an animal sidekick, overcoming a villain to arrive at ultimate utopia, Happily Ever After. The movies showcase a character’s journey, unrealistically portraying how despite tragedy and turmoil, the main character will persevere and enjoy a happy ending.
You have to hand it to them, what’s not to like about that?