If you can remember watching a television with rabbit ears for reception, you can probably remember a menagerie of animals who were constantly getting into trouble decades ago. Pepe le Pew, Mighty Mouse, Yogi Bear, Sylvester the Cat, Auggie Doggie, Yakky Doodle – ring a bell? Those rascals found their ways into the hearts of little kids leaning on their elbows in front of the TV in the sixties.
Local Winnipeg historian and author, David Perlmutter, has not been watching a TV with rabbit ears on it. Born in 1980, and comfortable with emerging technology, Perlmutter has a cause. At the June 24th launch of his new book, America Toons In, Perlmutter made the case for not only reviving interest in the ‘toon world, he’d like us to take the genre of television animation seriously.
Perlmutter’s four hundred page book is indexed and lists more than the names of cartoon characters. It is a study of “All the people – actors, directors, producers, writers, artists . . . (who made the) world a brighter and much more optimistic place to live ,” Perlmutter says.
His message got through to the audience who lined up for books in the atrium of McNally Robinson Booksellers at Grant Park. Including its share of Boomers, the generational cross-section listened attentively while the author presented his book, which originates from his master’s thesis in history.
Perlmutter was just back from the Society for Animation Studies (SAS) Conference in Toronto. While there, he pitched television animation history as a legitimate topic for university or college level study.
Bloomsbury Publishing, England, has invited Perlmutter to contribute to an upcoming encyclopedia on television animation. The company’s representative, Georgia Kennedy, was in attendance at the SAS Toronto conference where the topic was taken seriously.
As Perlmutter states in his book’s preface, “This is a scholarly study of the history of television animation in the United States from 1948 to 2012.”
When asked about the Boomer era, Perlmutter raised a few chuckles. He reminded the audience how William Hanna and Joseph Barbera portrayed technology in the future, and in the past, through the popular Jetsons and Flintstones series.
Perlmutter sees more than charm in television animation. Like one of his role models, the historian Margaret MacMillan, he does not shy away from the little known facts and the human stories behind historical events. He analyzes the age old themes of storytelling, as it is depicted in television animation.
The author has another role model, a Canadian scholar who realized the significance of television and pioneered the study of media. Marshall McLuhan looms large in Perlmutter’s estimation. The television animation expert agrees with McLuhan that to understand the media, one must perceive how television communicates with its audience. Perlmutter asks, “What do we take away from watching?”
When the author had signed a copy for the last person in line, his display table was just about bare. America Toons In was listed in the June 28 Winnipeg Free Press on the Non-Fiction Best Seller list.
Oh, the squirrel, the moose and the dog? Why, the squirrel’s Rocket J. “Rocky” Squirrel, featured on the cover of America Toons In. The moose, of course, is Rocky’s pal, Bullwinkle J. Moose. The two are amicably shaking hands on the cover while Natasha Fatale and Boris Badenov prepare to ignite a bomb in the centre of the TV screen (in the vicintity of Bullwinkle’s unsuspecting back end.)
The white dog in glasses is none other than the brilliant Mr. Peabody, rated by many TV animation afficionados as a favourite. Rocky, Bullwinkle, and Peabody were characters created by Jay Ward, an innovator in television animation who, according to Perlmutter, died too young.
But wait, look – Peabody is explaining something to his adopted son, Sherman. The WABAC Machine is ready to take them somewhere. Hey, let’s go with them. When we come back, we can watch a Fractured Fairy Tale. And who knows, if we have to look something up, no doubt Pelmutter’s written about it in America Toons In.