Gotta Raise ‘Em Right

Gotta Raise ‘Em Right

People often say ‘they don’t make them like they used to.’ They usually say it in reference to anything from houses to cars to headphones. I usually say it in regards to cartoons.

In the west, we have this idea that cartoons are for kids (that’s the topic of a whole other blog post). Now we’ve added to that not just the idea that cartoons are for kids, but that they must be educational. I’m not against the idea of young children watching something educational; it’s better than the hours of Bugs Bunny and Loony Toons I rotted my brains on as a child. My issue is; I feel like we white-wash children’s television. Cartoon characters live in worlds of happiness and rainbows where nothing bad ever happens. Pairing that with changing the way classrooms work so that kids never have to deal with disappointment (that’s the topic of a whole other blog post) and we thrust kids into a world of cruel disappointment with no mechanism for coping with it.

But I digress. It’s my opinion that the cartoons they make for kids today, with few exceptions (Avatar; the Last Airbender, for example), are garbage. As such, I’ve decided to retrieve several shows from my childhood and show them to my kids when they’re young. My own personal line-up of Saturday Morning Cartoons.

5. Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles
Maybe it seems strange, coming from a girl, but one of my first loves was the Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles. In fact, one of my earliest memories is the turtles coming to our local mall. They did a concert/show type thing. At the end of it, they invited some kids up on stage to dance with them. And even though my mom told me not to move, I wriggled my way up to the front and managed to get picked. That’s right; I danced on a frekin’ stage with the Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles!

Of course after the concert, I got lost and had to cry to a security guard to help me find my mom. (I think I was 4 or 5 at the time.) But the ‘trauma’ of being lost for a couple minutes in the mall was nothing compared to the life-long memory of dancing with the teenaged mutant ninja turtles. I was the kid who first heard “Donatello” in school and was like hey, that’s one of the ninja turtles! That’s how into this show I was as a kid.

Why? I can’t remember anymore. I know Donatello was my favorite (proof I’ve always had a thing for nerdy guys). One of my best friends growing up also loved the turtles. Her favorite was Michelangelo. The turtles were just awesome. They kicked ass and they ate pizza and Donatello invented things. Plus I remember a vague story and Krang, the brain guy, although I never understood why the Shredder (who was also frekin’ awesome) let that puny little brain guy boss him around.

Then there were the movies which was a whole other round of OMG awesome. Even though the original two movies aren’t for kids, I watched them as a kid and thought they were the greatest thing in the entire world. The turtles kicked ass, ate pizza and swore! My ten-year-old brain was blown! There have been some pretty decent Ninja Turtles cartoons made in the years since I’ve grown up, and I’ll probably want my kids to see those too, but definitely they have to see the originals.

Why I want to share it with my kids: I want to pass on that sense of awe I had when I was a kid. I know I’ll probably go back and watch it and think parts of it are utterly ridiculous. We view everything from our childhood through rose-tinted glasses (my husband learned that the hard way when he re-watched some of the original Thundercats). But if the four-year-old me was bedazzled by the awesomeness that was the teenaged mutant ninja turtles, I’m pretty sure I can count on my kids having the same reaction.

Here’s the opening from the original 1980’s Ninja Turtles show.

4. Sailor Moon
I’m not just throwing this one in to prove I’m also super girly (I’m so not). My first exposure to Sailor Moon came later in my childhood. When I was in fifth grade, we had to get up super early to go to day-care. By super early I mean 5 AM. I wasn’t exactly easy to wake up either. Every morning I would drag my half-asleep self downstairs and doze in front of the TV. There were only two cartoons on that early in the morning and the amount of each one I got to see depended on how fast I got my butt moving and got dressed. The shows were Dragon Ball (note the lack of Z on the end of that) and Sailor Moon.

Eventually I fell in love with Sailor Moon enough that I got my ass out of bed JUST so I could see full episodes. The story centered around a prince and princess from a kingdom of the past. Their kingdom was attacked and they were sent into the future to save their lives. They ‘woke up’ when they discovered their super powers. At that age it was the coolest love story I’d ever encountered.

Then I stopped having to go to day-care at 5AM and I promptly forgot all about Sailor Moon. Until I became a teenager and my best friend got interested in Japanese anime. That was when I discovered Sailor Moon was anime and there was a version in Japan that’s about twenty times better than the English version we got in the US (which cut off mid-storyline and never explained anything). Incidentally that’s also when we got new episodes brought to America and finally got the answer to all the burning storyline questions (which I already knew because my friend looked up the Japanese version on the interwebs).

Despite the sugar and pink and magical girl-ness that is Sailor Moon, the show has an interesting underpinning storyline. In fact, there’s rumors of a new series coming out in Japan soon. I’m hoping it ends up less formulaic and more story-oriented, because that would be the most awesome thing ever. Plus there are a lot of important messages in the show about strength, loyalty and friendship (even if you don’t count the educational ‘Sailor Moon Says’ minute at the end of the episode that DIC had to throw in to get the show approved for US TV).

Why I want to share it with my kids: I want my kids to appreciate entertainment that tells stories, not just the action bits where the monster gets fried and the hero saves the day (though Sailor Moon has plenty of that). Also, I’m not opposed to my kids wanting to be Sailor Moon for Halloween (or any of the other Sailor Soldiers for that matter). I just need to develop the sewing skills to make it possible. Granted, there are plenty of newer cartoons which would give my kids the same appreciation, the aforementioned Avatar; the Last Airbender, for one, and I plan on showing that to my kids too. But I found Avatar as an adult. Sailor Moon is another of those treasured childhood memories.

Here’s the (crappy) English version of the Sailor Moon opening. (And for those interested, here’s the original Japanese opening for the beginning of the series)

3. Rugrats
I still remember when the first episode of the Rugrats aired (that probably makes me old). Back then, I used to sleep over at my grandma’s house every weekend. One week she read in the TV guide about two new shows. We watched them both. One was called Doug (which turned out to be another excellent show) and the other was the Rugrats. Actually, the Rugrats has aged well. It’s probably still on TV and there are probably still lots of kids who watch it. Plus there’s a second series now where the kids are ‘all growed up’ and several movies to go along with the series.

If you’ve ever seen an episode of the Rugrats, I don’t need to explain why it’s awesome. It’s probably the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen. The show creators did an excellent job of depicting the world from a child’s point of view, right down to mispronouncing and misunderstanding things discussed by adults. I think my favorite episode of all time is always going to be the episode where Tommy’s lamp gets broken and they do a trial to determine who did it. Of course, it turns out Angelica did it and the adults were listening when she confessed. I’m also fond of the Rugrats in Paris movie, which I recall seeing on the big screen. Looking back on it now, I realize there’s also plenty of things thrown into those episodes for adults. Such as Reptar, which obviously a homage to Godzilla.

Why I want to share it with my kids: This is the first show on my list that actually has significant educational value. The Rugrats often deal with issues that every child faces. There’s an episode where Tommy is afraid to get sucked down the drain. There’s an episode where Chuckie is afraid to start using the potty. Pretty much every issue parents face with their children, there’s a Rugrats episode showing it from the kid’s point of view. Those episodes explore the aspects of those issues and inevitably show the characters overcoming them. The aforementioned Rugrats in Paris movie even deals with Chuckie losing his mom and getting a new one.

To see the opening, watch the first 45 seconds or show of an episode here.

2. Captain Planet
Sadly, I don’t remember much about this show. It had a short run and I believe most of what I saw of it was on VHS tapes my parents bought for me. I do remember it was awesome. I mean the main characters had rings that shot super powers out of them. And if they all used their powers at once, they could summon this green guy who saved the day every time. In fact, my first foray into the concept of fan fiction was probably Captain Planet. I always wondered what he did when he wasn’t summoned. Did he live inside those rings or something?

Many years later, after I got married and mentioned my plans to show Captain Planet to our kids, my husband and his brother also confessed their love for this show. In fact, we hatched a plan to create a series of characters in the online MMO Guild Wars that would have followed a naming scheme based on the show ( it grew out of one of them saying Matee Heart! all the time, even though it’s probably really horrible of us to think that’s funny). Unfortunately, my husband was the only one who ever made his character. He got mad when the rest of us didn’t live up to our end of the bargain and deleted her in a fit of rage.

Why I want to share it with my kids: Obvious educational value this time. The environmental message of Captain Planet is something I’ve always wanted to share with my kids. I think watching it when I did influenced me. I’ve always tried to keep environmentally aware. I’ve always tried not to impact the planet in severely negative ways. That’s a message I want to pass on to my children; take care of Planet Earth and she will take care of us.

More than that though, there’s another, more subtle message this show hammers home. It’s all in Captain Planet’s catch phrase; “The power is yours!” There’s an idea of responsibility woven in to this environmental message. Not just the idea of responsibility toward taking care of the planet, but the idea of taking responsibility for one’s actions, owning up to your own mistakes and learning how to correct them. We have the power to make things happen, good things and bad things. But it’s never too late to come back from a mistake and make the right choice. You have the power to change, the power to take action, and the power to be a good person. That power is yours.

Here’s the intro narrated by the lovely Levar Burton. And the theme song, which played during the ending credits.

1. The Magic School Bus
There’s a reason this meme is awesome.

Again, if you’ve ever seen an episode of this show, no matter your age, my work here is done. And if you’ve never seen an episode of this show; holy crap WTF?!

Mrs. Frizzle is the teacher we all wish we’d had in school. She doesn’t just sit in the classroom and do boring lectures explaining all the science we need to understand. She packs the kids into a bus, declares a field-trip and shows them how awesome science can be. Not only is the show awesome, but most of the episodes also have books that go with them. BOOKS. You read the book then watch the show! You watch the show then read the book. And there’s science! And the science is awesome!

When I was in fourth grade, we did a unit on space. It was the first time we did a unit on space. I already loved space. Space was my THING. I had books about space and I read them constantly, until the covers fell off. And one of the books I had was the Magic School Bus book where they go through the entire solar system and visit each planet. I must have had everything in that book memorized, let me tell you. When our teacher bought the video to go with the book, he let me take it home and preview it before we watched it in class. It was like I got to be an expert about the whole unit. It was an extra long episode too and it was frekin’ amazing.

Why I want to share it with my kids: I can’t think of a better way to get my kids interested in learning from a young age. I can’t think of a better way to get my kids interested in reading at a young age. And I can’t think of a better way to get my kids to fall in love with science at a young age. The Magic School Bus is like your first journey of discovery. I watched this show well into my teenaged years, even though I knew it was a kids show and people would probably tease me about it. I didn’t care. I just loved all the things I learned from watching it. And when I already knew all the things they talked about in the show, I still loved watching it anyway. It was like discovering the science all over again. That’s the feeling I want to share with my kids.

Here’s the Magic School Bus opening.

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