Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saturday Morning Cartoons!

Remember Saturday morning cartoons as a child? Before cable television and the internet we only had four or five channels to pick from and Saturday mornings were a time for cereal and old school cartoons. Grab your pop-tarts and pull up a rug it's time for Saturday Morning Cartoons!

The early version of Woody Woodpecker, as seen...Image via WikipediaWoody Woodpecker first appeared in the film Knock Knock on November 25, 1940. The cartoon ostensibly stars Andy Panda and his father, Papa Panda, but it is Woody who steals the show. The woodpecker constantly pesters the two pandas, apparently just for the fun of it. Andy, meanwhile, tries to sprinkle salt on Woody's tail in the belief that this will somehow capture the bird. To Woody's surprise, Andy's attempts prevail, and Woody is taken away to the funny farm — but not before his captors prove to be crazier than he is.

According to Walter Lantz's press agent, the idea for Woody came during the producer's honeymoon with his wife, Gracie, in Sherwood Lake, California. A noisy woodpecker outside their cabin kept the couple awake at night, and when a heavy rain started, they learned that the bird had bored holes in their cabin's roof. As both Walter and Gracie told Dallas attorney Rod Phelps during a visit, Walter wanted to shoot the thing, but Gracie suggested that her husband make a cartoon about the bird, and thus Woody was born. The story is questionable, however, since the Lantzes were not married until after Woody made his screen debut. Also, their story that the bird's cry inspired Woody's trademark "Ha-ha-ha-HAA-ha!" is also questionable, as Mel Blanc had already used a similar laugh in earlier Warner Bros. cartoons such as Elmer's Candid Camera.

The Woody of Knock Knock was designed by animator Alex Lovy. Woody's original voice actor, Mel Blanc, would stop performing the character after the first four cartoons to work exclusively for Leon Schlesinger Productions (Later renamed Warner Bros. Cartoons) , producer of Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. At Schlesinger's, Blanc had already established the voices of two other famous "screwball" characters who preceded Woody, Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny. Ironically, Blanc's characterization of the Woody Woodpecker laugh had originally been applied to a Bugs Bunny prototype, in shorts such as the aforementioned Elmer's Candid Camera, and was later transferred to Woody. Blanc's regular speaking voice for Woody was much like the early Daffy Duck, minus the lisp. Once Warner Bros. signed Blanc up to an exclusive contract, Woody's voice-over work was taken over by Ben Hardaway, who would voice the woodpecker for the rest of the decade. To complete the connection full circle, Hardaway, who had also worked under Schlesinger at Warner Bros., was the designer of the Bugs Bunny prototype that Blanc supplied the aforementioned laugh for. Haradaway's nickname around Termite Terrace (the ramshackle building where the Looney Tunes were originally produced) was "Bugs," and the bunny prototype's first model sheet was labeled "Bugs' Bunny"--the apostrophe was later dropped.

Woody WoodpeckerImage via WikipediaAs Lantz was struggling financially, Woody's longevity was secured when he made the jump to television in The Woody Woodpecker Show on ABC. The half-hour program consisted of three theatrical Woody shorts followed by a brief look at cartoon creation hosted by Lantz. It ran from 1957 to 1958 then entered syndication until 1966. It was later revived by NBC in 1970, and again in 1976. In addition, the woodpecker was no longer dishing out abuse to his foils, but was instead on the receiving end. The first notable short to feature Woody as the straight man was 1961's Franken-Stymied. Woody's popularity had been based on his manic craziness, and by 1961, this had all but been eliminated in favor of a more serious Woody, one that was trying to do good. This was due in part to Woody's large presence on television, which meant Lantz had to meet the stringent rules against violence for children's television.

Woody continued to appear in new theatrical shorts until 1972, when Lantz closed his studio's doors due to rising production costs. His cartoons returned to syndication in the late 1970s. Lantz sold his library of Woody shorts to MCA/Universal in 1985. Universal repackaged the cartoons for another syndicated Woody Woodpecker Show in 1987. A year later, Woody made a brief cameo in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, voiced by Cherry Davis, near the end of the film. In 1995, Woody appeared in a Pepsi commercial with NBA star Shaquille O'Neal.

Woody Woodpecker's star on the Hollywood Walk ...Image via WikipediaWoody Woodpecker reappeared in the Fox Kids series The New Woody Woodpecker Show, which ran on Saturday mornings from 1999 to 2002. For this series Woody's appearance was redesigned to look more like his mid-1940s look instead of the classic look he had sported for years afterward. To that effect, his crest was pushed back and his eyes were once again made green. Winnie Woodpecker, who had debuted in Real Gone Woody in 1954, became a semi-regular character as Woody's primary love interest. Like Woody, Winnie received a redesign that made her look almost exactly like Woody did from 1947 until 1972, with the obvious differences being that she was a female woodpecker and had blue eyes. Woody's primary antagonist was Wally Walrus, who became Woody's neighbor (Woody lived in a tree house in Wally's backyard). Buzz Buzzard often made appearances, as did Ms. Meany and several other older characters.

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