One of the joys of cartoons is that generally all logic can be suspended. From the early inception of cartoons from Walt Disney where literally a camera was filming someone flipping pages, to the paneled 3D images that made Walt Disney films notable to the now joint production of Disney and Pixar studios, we all have watched cartoons that have invigorated us.
However, with Disney leading the way, there have been cartoons that have shown the darker side of suspended imagination. Most famously are the Crows in the 1941 picture of “Dumbo” who were of course depicted the ways blacks in films of that time often were imaged: as ignorant, backwards and lazy. (And honestly, the name of main crow was named Jim Crow.) There was Disney quite infamous “Song of the South” which retold the stories of Br’er Rabbit to young lily white kids by an avuncular black man who saw strange cartoon birds fly about his head, portraying the wondrous image of race relations. Disney has never released “Song of The South” to the public. The last theater showing was in 1986 to which my mother famously says “We walked out of this theater because I did not want that movie informing my babies’ consciousness!”
More recently movies such as “The Little Mermaid” and its portrayal of Sebastian as the “black” character came under fire, and certainly the transgendered imagery of Ursula (which was based off of real life drag queen Divine famous for his role as Edna Turnblad and Arnie Hodgepile the station manager in the 1988 movie “Hairspray”). Also was Disney movie “Aladdin” for its imagery of the Middle East, and “Pocohontas” for Native Americans, and “Mulan” for Asian culture….shall I go on?
Disney, true to form until recently with the merger of Pixar, has always retold stories that erase the shades of gray that the rest of us live in, and truly make it black and white, light and dark and ultimately good and evil.
But that’s not the case in the retelling of the story of Winnie The Pooh.
In 1966 Disney had a featurette called “Winnie The Pooh and the Honey Tree” which in short told of Pooh’s quest to get some honey because he had no more. On this quest we meet all of the characters of the Hundred Acre Wood, Rabbit, Piglet, Tigger (Tee-eye-double-gerr-err) Kanga and Roo, Eeyore, Owl and Gopher (the only character added by Disney). So, in a bit of light humor, here’s the psychology of the characters of Winnie The Pooh. (I’m sure some of you all have seen these on other websites, but here it is fleshed out a bit more.)
Winnie The Pooh — He has an eating disorder, and Freud would automatically recognize it as an oral fixation. Pooh Bear’s constant quest for food and eating with his hands is unhealthy. Aside from the weight issues, which cause him to get stuck in Rabbit’s hole (wow! no pun intended) leading out of his warren, Pooh is trying to fulfill the loneliness as well. His food is acting as a comforter. Some people shop compulsively, some people drown their sorrows, Pooh eats compulsively. Just a cursory look at his house, you’d see nothing but discarded honey pots all around; they stand as a memorial to his disorder
Rabbit — Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Rabbit throughout the featurette and even when I was a kid in the late 80s and early 90s in the Saturday morning cartoon “The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” has always been a nag! Rabbit was always worried about how things looked and would go back and back and back again to make sure things were in order. From how the carrots were lined up and to how the house was ordered. And Rabbit would get totally bent out of shape if things weren’t in order.
Tigger — Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Tigger couldn’t sit still. He was always bouncing from one thing to the other. He was always distracted, and above all didn’t care. Tigger would mess up Rabbit’s garden and bounce all the way down the road, and not care. Tigger needed to be on ritalin or some type of psychostimulant drug. His ADHD was destructive because he always found himself in trouble. This got more fleshed out in the subsequent cartoon series, but even still, he was a nuisance to the people around him and it resulted in a near alienation from the group.
Piglet — General Anxiety Disorder. In lamens terms, Piglet was a pussy. He was a wimp and was always scared. His fear result in him being anxious about everything. Piglet could barely function. This anxiety disorder almost manifests itself in paranoia having irrational and delusional fears about everything. Piglet has made up fantastic creatures such as “Jagulars” and “Hefflaumps” in his own mind (by the way, how is an imaginary creature going to have imaginary friends?). Piglet’s main statement is “Oh d-d-dear” and is especially scared of Tigger because he doesn’t know what Tigger is going to do next.
Kanga and Roo — Co-dependency. Neither of the two want to let the other one go. Kanga insists on being an overly doting mother, so much so that Roo is rarely let out of the pouch. Moreover, Kanga is always calling for Roo and never letting him grow up and do things that normal kids his age should be doing.
Owl — Narcissitic Personality Disorder. Owl was quite clear that he had all of the right answers. He was even given a British accent that seems to speak to his know-it-allness. Owl was so full of himself that he barely did any work. He was even a character, owls, associated with wisdom and knowledge and being a flying creature, he always hovered above everyone else.
Eeyore — Major Depressive Disorder. Frankly speaking, Eeyore was borderline suicidal. He didn’t much care about anything one way or the other. To say that he was gloomy was an understatement. He wasn’t bipolar or manic depressive because he never had any bouts of mirth mixed with fits of melancholy; he presented chronically as always being depressed.
Christopher Robin — Schizophrenia. This boy is talking to animals. Well, that’s one thing, but these animals are actually speaking back, therein lies the problem. Not just that, these animals have distinct personalities, and psychological disorders to boot.
And in the midst of all of this, these animals don’t wear any clothing. And the older you get, the fact that Winnie the Pooh wears a shirt with no pants makes it even the more weird and astonishing.
So this makes me wonder what other random subliminal messages are these cartoons sending our kids, particularly the ones with fictional characters. I much more trust the cartoons with clear images of human beings. But these cartoons with the personification of animals make me do a double take.
Think about it though, much like many other live sit-coms many of us grew up on, and certainly older cartoons had stereotypical characters. As I explained earlier about the racial prejudices in Disney cartoons, the same went for all cartoons. I consciously remember watching a Looney Toons episode with Elmer Fudd flying into the “Dark Continent” and watching him go into the darkest part–clearly a reference to Africa, and it being a land full of savage beasts and full of danger.
Better yet, cartoons have stood as bellwethers of the zeitgest of the predominant culture here in the United States. From having cartoon characters push war bonds in the 1940s to the overt prejudices in that reared their ugly head, even to grappling with sever emotional and psychological disorders as in the Winnie the Pooh stories. This is the clear instance of art imitating life. Seemingly cartoon characters act as an adult fantasy world where artists allow their deep emotions to be played out for all of the world to see.
Or maybe this is just clear evidence that cartoons generally aren’t meant for the adults.
Yes, we’ve entered a world where there are adult cartoons such as those are Adult Swim on Cartoon Network. But we need to still be aware that programming such as “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy,” “The Cleveland Show,” and “American Dad” are billed as family programming. And I have to be honest, I’m quite remiss to let my under 15 year old watch any of those shows. Sure they may sneak and watch it, but its not something I’d condone watching with me. Nor the full-length action movie birthed from “South Park.”
But the apparent benign messaging of cartoons of old may really be shaping the future consciousness of children. These cartoons are art not just in the sense of creating something for entertainment purposes, but art in the way that an artists pours their emotions into their creation for the public to give their own feedback. These cartoons don’t exist in a vacuum of vapid childhood entertainment; they are instrumental in creating and fashioning a set of ethics and morals that these children will inevitably carry with them into adolescence and possibly even adulthood.
No, I’m not calling for the future censor of cartoons, and certainly not trying to be some radical anti-ACLU-type advocate for banning the cartoons of the past, just merely making an observation.
What cartoons from your past do you remember most vividly? And if you looked back on them would you notice something different than when you were a kid? Do you think the old Bugs Bunny cartoons should be banned because of the overt racial imagery?
Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL