For most Americans, cartoons have meant Saturday morning: a special time consecrated to sugary cereal and hours of Schoolhouse Rock, The Archies and Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! These shows retain a nostalgic charm for the adults who watched them, a yearning that Timothy and Kevin Burke tap into in Saturday Morning Fever: Growing Up With Cartoon Culture.
The Burke brothers set the tone for their spirited defense of kiddie cartoons when they declare, "A lot of Saturday morning was crap. But it's our crap." They demonstrate that critics often dismissed Saturday-morning TV out of hand or based complaints on incomplete or flawed research -- or on thinly concealed political agendas. The Burkes sometimes get carried away, but their we-grew-up-on-it-and-we-like-it stance brings a welcome new voice to the increasingly strident debate over children's programming.
Many of the shows the Burkes celebrate were created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. Michael Mallory's lavish Hanna-Barbera Cartoons offers a sketchy history of their careers and the studio they founded. The synopses of every episode of such favorites as The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo and Jonny Quest will delight fans, but Mallory omits such important developments as the sale of the studio to Ted Turner. Most of the illustrations are limited-edition cels rather than original artwork, and the book seems to have been designed to showcase this lucrative merchandise.
Even more than live-action filmmaking, animation blurs the distinctions between art form and popular entertainment. More books on the subject have been written in the past 25 years than in the previous 65. The classics -- John Canemaker's Raggedy Ann and Andy, Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life, by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, and Chuck Jones' Chuck Amuck -- combine scholarship, analysis and an awareness of the artistic potential of the medium with a sense of the hilarity cartoons can produce on the screen. The newest books on the scene all have something to offer the animation fan, but they're far from the best work in the field.
READING THE RABBIT: Explorations in Warner Bros. Animation| Edited by KEVIN S. SANDLER | Rutgers University Press
288 pages | $49 hardcover, $19 paperback
HOLLYWOOD CARTOONS: American Animation in Its Golden Age | By MICHAEL BARRIER | Oxford University Press | 648 pages | $40 hardcover
SATURDAY MORNING FEVER: Growing Up With Cartoon Culture | By TIMOTHY BURKE & KEVIN BURKE | St. Martin's Griffin | 247 pages | $18 paperback