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The gang over at First Thoughts gives us a list of the top twenty (presumably American) animated television series.  The ban against animated series based on characters from other media strikes me as arbitrary and inconsistently applied besides (Wikipedia says the Smurfs were adapted from a Belgian comic strip.) 

Justice League/Justice League Unlimited belongs in the top five.  That show's adaption of (and major improvement on) Alan Moore's "For The Man Who Has Everything" is a 22 minute masterpiece about responsibility, the lure of fantasy, and how lived experience can shape and (in a heartbreaking little moment) stunt the ability to imagine (never mind live) an ordinary life.

 Yeah, I know I'm taking it too seriously. 

 The Real Ghostbusters also belongs somewhere on the list. 

Categories > Pop Culture

Discussions - 20 Comments

Simpsons at #1 I get.

Bullwinkle and Rocky at #20 I do not.

I'm surprised they don't have Family Guy somewhere in the list.

I'm totally with you on JUSTICE LEAGUE, Pete. I only discovered it during this past summer, watched about a dozen episodes, and now I can't find it on TV anymore.

I also think that sometime in the not-too-distant future PHINEAS AND FERB should make the list, too.

As far as I know, Tom & Jerry (as great as they are - esp. the Fred Quimby-era toons) also got their start as pre-feature cartoons in cinemas, just like Looney Tunes, so I don't get why T & J can be on the list but LT can't be.

Classic Bugs and Daffy - The Simpsons are the only thing that competes with them.

The list is pretty flawed overall, though. If one considers the quality and aesthetics of the animation, as well as the writing, The Flintstones is really a failure (prehistoric technology sight gags ad nauseum), as is Scooby Doo (painfully formulaic!). Woody Woodpecker and Pink Panther are much superior to both of those, at least.

Power Puff Girls? Sponge Bob? meh. And minus the Simpsons, I can do without all those other cartoons aimed at grown-ups--though I confess to an occasional outburst of laughter when South Park is on I can't sit through an entire episode.

I agree with Craig Scanlon (!) about the dubious omission of LT and I think he is right that T&J also got their start at the cinema. But Looney Tunes is so far superior to everything else on the list (including the Simpsons) that it almost needs to be omitted because it smashes the category.

I'd recommend to anyone who was initially unimpressed with SpongeBob to give him/it a second chance. It's surprisingly sophisticated and does an admirable job of entertaining kids and adults at once. It also has comical and storyline merits that reveal themselves if one is in critical-watcher mode (regardless of political stance) or just in Sunday-morning-braindead mode.

Also, the animation is simple but fun (unlike the appallingly cheap Scooby Doo animation - even as a kid it bugged me that the characters weren't given individual teeth - just 2 white plates).

How about Cowboy Bebop? Yeah, it may not fit into the "American" category, but definitely the best anime I've seen.

It looks like cartoons are uniters not dividers.

Craig, I agree with you on the Warner Bros cartoons (especially from the 30s and 40s.) I enjoy "Baseball Bugs" and "Little Red Riding Rabbit" more now than I did 20 years ago.

I'm no fan of Scooby Doo either, but it has endured in our culture for over 40 years and is more "alive" to people born since 1980 than Bugs, Daffy or Porky. I think that the formula works great for kids as it is basically about how stuff that is scary and mysterious can be explained and overcome.

John, Phineas and Ferb are really fun and extra points for being a cartoon that really is for kids (unlike Justice League and The Simpsons) but also easy for adults to enjoy.

Don, Family Guy really is better than most of the cartoons on the list, but when you consider that it really is for adults (and very late adolescents) it is often really lazy, filling time with dirty jokes.

Spongebob's chops are too righteous to not be that list. But the criteria are absurd and the Smurfs shouldn't be there, regardless of the rules. Agree with Spiliakos about Justice League and JLU. We have both series on DVD, although my daughter got her hands one a couple of the discs so we may need to buy replacements at some point. I'd also like to put in the good word for Chowder, a short-lived series on Cartoon Network that was silly fun. All of the characters were named after food.

Now, quick, somebody post something about Strauss and Machiavelli!

Since we're on the subject of cartoons, I thought I'd offer up this brilliant remixing of Donald Duck:

what - no love for Freakazoid? .......yeah, i went there.

The most glaring omission, however, is Rocko's Modern Life.

I would put family guy and futurama on the list.

Craig, McIntosh and rebellious pixells is pretty good stuff, there really is an abundance of decent parody and mashups out there.

"The ban against animated series based on characters from other media strikes me as arbitrary and inconsistently applied besides."

I think the distinction is basically tracking copyright law, they don't want to include derivatives.

In the broadest sense I think a good chunk of these shows are derivatives. Mighty Mouse, Underdog, the Jetsons.

Also if it were not for the Simpsons would you really have familly guy, futurama, or King of the Hill? So the Simpsons is number 1 because it was the Moses to three spin-offs.

In some sense the 107 "fair use" of McIntosh comes pretty close with his donald duck to making a derivative product.

In some sense some of the mashups that get too educational could be seen as a derivative of school house rock.

But obviously school house rock doesn't have a copyright in educational entertainment or in its idea, but only in the narrow form in which it was fixed.

To bring in Machiavelli or Leo Strauss is too easy, since at once we should realize that Mansfield has a copyright in the Prince, and that this copyright is owned by the University of Chicago press, and that almost all the works of Leo Strauss are also owned by the University of Chicago press.

On an additional level it is Machiavellian or perhaps Mansfieldian to think that politics is not limited by things above it, the givens in any particular situation, have quite a bit to do with politics, or in this case copyright law. Or the law that governs what property rights one can have in the creative expression of an idea. The extent to which the original author is praised or blamed, has his books printed or burned and banned.

And the impact of copyright law upon the prudence of authors, certainly means that it is more credible to search for a hidden meaning in works according to the prevailing copyright law climate of the times.

Machiavelli certainly said that we must go directly to the effectual truth of the matter, rather than the immagination of it, but it is the immagination of it that is protected by copyright law.

The Immaginary Republics of Plato, the opinions, interpretations and distinctions of countless authors to include Mansfield and Leo Strauss and half of western civilization with it, are all owned by the University of Chicago Press, for life plus 70 years.

Machiavelli has an interesting tension, in that the prince must be someone who aquires and doesn't inherit, in modern terms someone who aquires creates and is free of a burden to the past or understands his own arms.

The arbitrariness of the ban against animated series based on characters from other media, depends to some extent on what you think of derivatives, fair use and Machiavelli's insistance that the prince bring new modes and orders.

Copyright is difficult in part because there is a right to all derivative products, except for the idea that is not copyrightable and can spawn products that are derivative from the underlying idea, but not derivative products. In addition there is some recognition that in granting a copyright in a translation, we are really granting copyright to a derivative. Authors quibble about the accuracy of translations, and via the magic of words some translations may be more accurate than the original given a certain audience, but in truth it may be safe to assume that they depart from the original in part to gain copyright protection.

Of course there is something fishy when all versions of the Bible are copyrighted, to include derivative products such as the Jeffersonian Bible, which is certainly outside the 7+7.

Futurama belongs on the list.

Professor Hubert Farnsworth: "Hey! Unless this is a nude love-in... get the hell off my property!"
Hippy Protestor: "You can't own property, man."
Professor Farnsworth: "I can. But that's because I'm not a penniless hippie."


Zapp: Kif, I'm feeling the captain's itch.
Kif: I'll get the powder, sir.
Zapp: No, the itch for adventure! Prepare to change course.
Kif: Sir, this is a leisure cruise. Our path was set by the travel agency.
Zapp: That's for schoolgirls! Now here's a route with some chest hair.
Kif: But that course leads directly through a swarm of comets.
Zapp: Yes, comets! The icebergs of the sky.

Best Justice League Unlimited episodes are “Question Authority,” “Flashpoint” (especially the first 10 minutes) and “Panic in the Sky.” Humanity’s fear of super-powerful meta-humans and aliens reaches a major crisis. Green Arrow, who has no super powers, serves his role well as the conscious and gut-check of the Justice League.

Also great is the two-part Wild Cards (the last, and one of the greatest, Joker appearances of Mark Hamill), especially the end where John Stewart (Green Lantern) and Shayera (Hawkgirl) declare their love for one another.

Oh, and the series finale, when Superman beats the crud out of Darkseid, is one of the most satisfying payoffs of any animated series.

Smurfs?!?!?! Ren and Stimpy???!!!
Sponge Bob and Scooby Doo belong on the list certainly, but so do Futurama and The Tick!
Tom and Jerry (which I love) should have been disqualified for the same reasons as the WB gang, especially as the later - made for TV - stuff wasn’t all that great.

And can we once and for all put to an end this ridiculous myth:
“The Jetsons:
Why it’s great: The Flintstones, set in the future.
Why it’s not so great: It really was just a Flintstones knock-off.”
Other than being made by Hanna Barbara, Jetsons had NOTHING similar to the Flinstones (which was supposedly based on “The Honeymooners”, although it reminds me more of “I Love Lucy” – with Fred as Lucy.) Besides being set in the future (instead of prehistoric days) Jetsons was more on the line of a “Father Knows Best” or “Ozzie and Harriet” type program. People forget that the Flinstones did not have children or a pet (let alone a maid) when they first started, and the most important dynamic of the show’s structure, the neighbor/best friend adult couple is totally absent in “The Jetsons.”

"To bring in Machiavelli or Leo Strauss is too easy, since at once we should realize that Mansfield has a copyright in the Prince, and that this copyright is owned by the University of Chicago press, and that almost all the works of Leo Strauss are also owned by the University of Chicago press...."

Yep. That hit the spot.

Big Mo, the Royal Flush Gang story is a very (and very surprisingly) good two-parter about a really lame super villain group. There is one laugh-out-loud funny Joker comment about Hawkgirl. The setup, delivery and punch line are all perfect. I still don't think it is quite top shelf.

My second favorite story is probably the three-parter "Star Crossed." It does a great job of dealing with issues like regime loyalty, personal love, the claims of abstract justice against both, and (very subtly) race. All in a terrific action story. The Royal Flush Gang story advances some of those same themes ("But we're so different.")

I was never a big fan of the whole "human government vs. the metas" story arc. I know they were trying to work through some 9/11/War on Terror issues and I give them credit for trying to do so in a non-didactic way, but I don't think they managed to say anything that combined not being hackneyed(government going too far, cutting devil's bargains etc.) and making sense. I still like Question Authority because they wrote the Question so damn funny.

Admit it, Ben. You're still waiting for Lincoln, the Vampire Slayer--the animated series.

That could be fun. I can't remember if I ever posted the book "trailer" the publisher made, but it was pretty good. I regret that "The Amazing Screw-On Head" never took off. That had one episode, based on a series of comics by the same guy who created "Hellboy," and involved an android that fought supernatural creatures on behalf of the U.S. government during the Civil War.

David Hyde Pierce?! Paul Giamatti?! Molly Shannon?! How is it even remotely possible that this series didn't make it?

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