Tag Archives: classic cartoons

Toon In With Me

Originally, the cartoon short was something that was exhibited in theaters alongside news reels, serials, and feature films. All of the major motion picture companies owned their own theaters and most built up a stable of cartoon stars. This was the era that saw the creation of Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, Popeye, and many more. These characters were stars that rivaled the popularity of the most famous actors of the day. Then it all changed. The government went after studios with anti-trust lawsuits stemming from the fact that they operated as producers and exhibitors for their films. Post World War II saw many, mostly white, families leave the confines of the city for the suburbs taking them further away from those theaters they used to frequent. And then came television. All of the big companies reacted to TV in different ways. Walt Disney rather famously embraced it, while at the opposite end was Warner Bros. which did everything in its power to avoid television.

Eventually, TV took over and it’s remained a staple of the modern household. When the movie-going experience was altered thanks to independent theaters and changing tastes, the cartoon short largely vanished. It was an easy place to trim costs since virtually every studio took a big hit to their bottom-line during this era. Those characters that once flourished though didn’t need to be put out to pasture completely. Instead, they became stars on the small screen as studios packaged them up and sold them in syndicated packages to various outlets.

When I was a kid, there’s no doubt in my mind that the biggest toon stars from that era were the characters owned by Warner Bros. Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Tweety, and the rest were among my favorites, and they were everywhere. Warner Bros. had different packages of shorts it shopped around. What the studio considered the cream of the crop went to the big networks and were shown on Saturday morning. The lesser packages went to smaller, regional, channels and cable. Nickelodeon entered the picture in 1988 and it started off with a somewhat meager offering. Remember Bosko? I sure do and he was seen rather frequently on Nickelodeon’s Looney Tunes show. The show was a huge success for the cable outlet, which had really just begun to go all-in on animation, and when it came time to renew with Warner the channel got a better set of shorts. Remember the “Sorry, Bosko” commercial? I do!

Get the hell out of here, Bosko!

Warner’s cartoons weren’t the only ones out there though as there was a pretty sizable cast coming from MGM. Ted Turner, the famous billionaire who owned the Turner Broadcasting System, set out to acquire cartoons for his cable networks. He would come to acquire Hanna-Barbera and MGM’s cartoons, which had also acquired some smaller outlets like United Artists, and this would lead to the creation of Cartoon Network. Cartoon Network was a place for Turner to air all of the stuff he had acquired, but the channel also had it’s own Bugs and Daffy show too (because MGM bought some, it’s confusing so you should just watch this edition of Nick Knacks on it). Eventually, Turner sold to AOL, which would merge with Time Warner, and basically all of these cartoon stars would come to rest under one umbrella by the time the 90s were over.

This ended up being a bad thing for cartoon viewers. Once Warner controlled everything except for the classic Disney characters, the company started to pull back. Eventually those networks that had been a home for these characters for so long were no longer allowed to air them. Even worse, Cartoon Network had become so full of original content it no longer had need of these characters either. To Boomerang they went, the sister channel to Cartoon Network that few cable providers seemed to carry. Eventually, they would be forced out of there as well as the Cartoon Network What a Cartoon! era shorts matured and made the jump over. Reboots would follow like The Looney Tunes Show and Wabbit, but there was no easy access to the classic, unaltered, shorts that generations had grown up with.

Your hosts for Toon In With Me: Toony the Tuna and Bill the cartoon curator.

Until 2021. Launched in January of this year on MeTV is Toon In With Me. It was a quiet launch since it took me several months to even know the show existed. Before that, I could not have told you what channel MeTV was in my area or on my cable package. For those in a similar boat, MeTV is a broadcast network with a local affiliate in most markets. It specializes in “Memorable TV” and it’s not unlike a lot of local stations from when I was a kid. Right after Toon In With Me is Leave it to Beaver and I see lots of odds for The Andy Griffith Show, M.A.S.H., and Happy Days. It seems like the type of channel my dad would watch if he was home sick or something.

Kevin Fleming provides the voice of Toony and plays a bunch of other recurring characters like Mr. Quizzer.

Toon In With Me is an old school cartoon show with a live-action wrap-around segment. It’s hosted by Bill the Cartoon Curator (Bill Leff) and he is accompanied by a puppet, Toony the Tuna (voice of Kevin Fleming). There is usually a theme for each episode and they end up acting out some skits with help from Fleming and Leila Gorstein. Fleming and Gorstein have a stable of characters to work with that they play and it’s all intentionally corny, but charming. When they’re not on the screen, we get to watch a cartoon!

Bill Leff plays the host of the same name (as well as a few other characters) and introduces the cartoons, usually with some fun background info on it.

The stable of cartoons the show has to select from is quite large. There’s Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies, MGM, King Syndicates, Paramount, and United Artists. Of course, most of this stuff is just owned by one company, but they probably had to do individual deals for each set of characters. Just about every episode though will open with either a Looney Tunes or Merrie Melodies short and often it’s Bugs Bunny. Other cartoon stars shown quite frequently include Tom and Jerry, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, The Pink Panther, Barney Bear, and Popeye. That’s obviously not exhaustive as you’ll see Tweety Bird and Droopy Dog, but those are definitely the characters I see recur the most. It’s an effective mix, and whatever package they have from Warner is very reminiscent of the one Nickelodeon had for its version of Looney Tunes. That’s both good and bad as I’ve certainly seen plenty of classics that I once watched on Nick, but I’ve also seen some of the not-so-classic I once saw there as well such as Cool Cat and Merlin the Magic Mouse. I’ve noticed the Tom and Jerry shorts definitely favor the Chuck Jones era, but I don’t know if they’re limited at all in what cat and mouse era they can exhibit.

Comedian Leila Gorstein might be the show’s MVP as she’s relied upon to play a large cast of characters, all of which are pretty entertaining.

Stumbling upon Toon In With Me has been a tremendous amount of fun in my household. It’s on every week day at 7 AM EST and I set my DVR to record it. It’s become a show that I watch with my kids. During their summer vacation from school I could watch with both, but ever since school restarted it’s become a show I mostly watch with my daughter as she’s in half-day preschool. She’s become quite the little Bugs Bunny fanatic and has even decided to break her streak of Disney Princess Halloween costumes in favor of the wise-cracking rabbit this year. I love sharing these old toons with her, even if she sometimes would rather watch something more modern since she’s not much into Popeye or The Inspector. It makes me wonder just who the target audience for the show is. It’s definitely presented in a kid-friendly manner, but it doesn’t talk down to the audience. The hosts will share viewer mail at the end of every episode and it’s almost always from an adult. My guess is a lot of people in their 30s, 40s, and up enjoy the nostalgic trip the show brings and they’re probably the core audience. Hopefully kids are watching too.

MeTV also shows cartoons on Saturday morning, like The Bugs Bunny Show, which even includes the classic intro!

Toon In With Me is a nostalgia lovers dream. The cartoons appear to be mostly unedited, or at least haven’t been edited further than what networks did 30 years ago, and several generations of people have grown up with them and have a fondness for them. I love that the show is here for the current generation of children because there’s a shocking amount of children out there who don’t know who Bugs Bunny is, and the number would be higher if not for the new Space Jam movie. Being on a broadcast station means the show is accessible to everyone with a TV set and a digital antenna, and it looks like the website offers a bunch of clips too, though probably not of the actual cartoons. And if you just want the toons, MeTV also has a Saturday morning block of cartoons including an hour’s worth of Looney Tunes. It’s hard to resist the temptation to just buy a big box of Froot Loops and chow down on Saturday with the cartoons going. Definitely check the show out though if you want more cartoons in your life.


Happy 90th Birthday, Mickey Mouse!

celebrating mickey

Don’t be fooled, we’re not reviewing this release here, but it’s probably good!

Did you hear? The legendary Mickey Mouse turns 90 on this day owing his debut to Steamboat Willie, which premiered November 18, 1928. Now, nothing momentous seems to occur these days without a dash of controversy. Most fans of Disney and Mickey are well aware that his first cartoon was actually Plane Crazy from earlier that year, but Disney considers Steamboat Willie his true debut since it was the first with synchronized sound and was the first widely distributed. If that’s the criteria Disney wants to use then so be it. It doesn’t really matter since either way Mickey Mouse has endured for 90 years. In that time he’s been a cinema darling, television host, and brand mascot for the massive Walt Disney Company and he’s quite possibly the most recognized fictional character around the globe. If he’s not, then the list of competitors is rather small.

Over the years the Disney company has celebrated Mickey in various ways, some small and some not so small. He’s always been front and center at the various parks, and yet he is still awaiting his first actual ride (with one in production). Walt Disney famously remarked that it all started with a mouse referring to Mickey’s star power in the early days, though he’s only had one theatrically released cartoon since 1995. He did eventually make the jump to television, but his appearances there are most relegated to the younger crowd as opposed to a general audience. This isn’t to say that Disney has mistreated their mascot at times, but to someone like myself who adores hand-drawn animation it does disappoint me that Disney doesn’t celebrate the earlier work of Mickey as much as it could.

mickey oreo

Disney has found some “creative” ways to celebrate its mascot this year.

For Mickey’s 90th, that has been partially rectified. Disney recently released the Blu-ray Celebrating Mickey which is a collection of 13 cartoons that reach all the way back to 1928 and as far forward as 2013. As tempted as I am to check out some Mickey cartoons in high-definition, I did not pick up this set since I already own all of these cartoons elsewhere. I’m still happy to see Disney put out such a package, but cutting it down to 13 feels like such a tease.

In celebration of Mickey, I’m going to list out some cartoons I think are worth checking out. I’ll do one for every decade of Mickey’s life, while also trying to pick a cartoon from each decade (not every decade contains a new Mickey cartoon) to highlight. Almost all of these cartoons can be found on one of the Walt Disney Treasures collections, with the only exception being the cartoons released after 1995. And to make this a companion piece to Disney’s Celebrating¬†Mickey release, I’ll refrain from doubling-up on any cartoon released on that collection (which does include some of my favorites like Mickey’s Trailer and Brave Little Tailor).

mickey haunted house

Watch black and white Mickey get terrified!

The 1920s – The Haunted House (December 2, 1929)

Just sneaking into the 20’s is this one, The Haunted House, which features Mickey in (you guessed it!) a haunted house. Animated by Ub Iwerks, The Haunted House contains lots of flashy, spooky, imagery and great sound design. Mickey mostly plays the role of scared victim while an eerie shadowy figure chases him and forces him to play the organ. Don’t worry though, as Mickey does eventually escape, but I like that there isn’t a twist to the ending. The house appears to be legitimately haunted.

pluto judgement

Hell is mostly cats (I say this as a cat dad).

The 1930s – Pluto’s Judgement Day (August 31, 1935)

The 30s is probably Mickey’s best decade and it’s loaded with good stuff. Pluto’s Judgement Day is one of Mickey’s earliest color cartoons and it centers around Pluto who dreams about going to Hell. It’s ruled by cats and the whole thing is brought on by Pluto feeling guilty about being mean to a kitten and the whole thing is really surreal. It has a cute ending so we don’t feel too bad for old Pluto.

goofy donald moose

Not the sort of predicament one wants to be found in.

Moose Hunters (February 20, 1937)

To make up for no Mickey cartoons in the 60s, we’re doing another from the 30s. Moose Hunters co-stars Donald Duck and Goofy as the trio try to hunt a moose. They’re terrible at it and get into all kinds of mischief, including Donald and Goofy disguising themselves as a female moose and attracting the affection of a bull moose. It’s all good slapstick, and for some reason hapless hunters make for good comedy characters.

donald symphony hour

Donald mostly steals the show here, as he often would.

The 1940s – Symphony Hour (March 20, 1942)

Some consider this the unofficial sequel to The Band Concert, Mickey’s colorized debut. This one is a full ensemble piece as Mickey leads a symphony to impress Pete, who is referred to as Mr. Macaroni in the cartoon. Everything is a disaster though, and Donald has to blow a gasket while Macaroni howls with delight at the misfortune of the band. He turns angry though as the show gets worse, though he comes around when the show ends with applause.

Squatter's Rights chip

Pluto’s nose as a speed bag is a pretty good gag.

Squatter’s Rights (June 7, 1946)

No Mickey cartoons in the 70s either, so here’s another 40s toon. Squatter’s Rights was Mickey’s first cartoon in several years, and includes some lines or sounds recorded by Jimmy MacDonald, the second official voice of Mickey Mouse. It also includes Chip and Dale, who are woken by Mickey who returns to his hunting camp to find the chipmunks sleeping in his stove. Or rather, Pluto is the one to make the discovery which begins a bunch shenanigans in which Pluto keeps getting blamed for Chip and Dale’s mischief. It includes a bit of a dark spot with a gun, and it’s also somewhat notable since Chip and Dale end up winning the encounter.

mickey and seal

The seal is adorable. While he didn’t feature in any other Mickey shorts, he has appeared in the preschool show Mickey Mouse Clubhouse where he’s named Salty.

Mickey and the Seal (December 3, 1948)

Mickey’s only cartoon in the 80s is Mickey’s Christmas Carol, a fantastic long-form short that you’ve probably heard about (or seen me rave about in the past). Rather than revisit a short I’ve blogged about more than once, here’s another favorite from the 40s. Mickey and the Seal is quite possibly Mickey’s cutest cartoon. It’s similar to a Chip and Dale cartoon, but instead of the chipmunk duo we have a seal who Pluto is well aware of, but Mickey is oblivious to. There’s a great sequence where Mickey and the seal bathe together and if you aren’t completely charmed by the happy little seal pup then you have a heart of stone.

mickey pluto christmas tree

Oh yeah, there’s the good stuff.

The 1950s – Pluto’s Christmas Tree (November 21, 1952)

All right, I have talked about this one before and more than once, but Mickey only had four cartoons in the 1950s and two of them are on that new Blu-ray. Plus, this one is so super charming and worth watching even when it isn’t Christmas time. It is derivative of Donald Duck’s Toy Tinkers, but it once again pairs up Pluto with the duo of Chip and Dale and it just works so well.

feral mickey

Feral Mickey too scary for the masses?

The 1990s – Runaway Brain (August 11, 1995)

Some claim this is the Mickey cartoon Disney doesn’t want you to see. I’ve always been skeptical of such, but it is further reinforced by the fact that Disney scrubs this bad boy from YouTube frequently, leaving some alone that are of poor quality, while it mostly leaves the other cartoons alone. That could just be because it’s a more modern cartoon and Disney therefore feels it has more value than cartoons that are 60 years old. Whatever the case, this one is a lot of fun and it’s so 90s in style which is great since it’s the only true Mickey Mouse short from that decade. Mickey starts off the short playing video games, for crying out loud! Kelsey Grammer voices Dr. Frankenollie, and it features Mickey swapping bodies with a monstrous Pete (who features a peg-leg!) therefore leading to the character fans refer to as Feral Mickey. It makes Mickey scary, so perhaps that’s why Disney doesn’t promote this one any longer.

new shoes normal

Order restored at the end. Note the life of Donald.

The New Millennium! – New Shoes (April 14, 2018)

So Mickey Mouse has only had one theatrically released cartoon since 1995’s Runaway Brain, and that was Get A Horse which was paired with Frozen and is on the Celebrating Mickey Blu-ray. Rather than spotlight that again, how about we go with the television/web series of Mickey cartoons that began in 2013? This series is great, and it’s a more manic, Looney Tunes/Spongebob take on Mickey and the gang that I absolutely love. Yeah, it’s not traditionally animated, but what is these days? New Shoes is one of my recent favorites from this series and it features Donald and Goofy as well. The trio swap bodies with hilarious results (Mickey becomes Goofy, Goofy becomes Donald, and Donald becomes Mickey). It’s particularly amusing to see how horrible Donald’s life is, as experienced by Goofy (who while getting beaten he sings the old Donald Duck song) while Mickey exhausts himself by trying to take advantage of Goofy’s monstrous height to help people. Donald just mostly enjoys being loved and celebrated as Mickey for a change. Just a great, funny, smart cartoon.

Well, that’s that. As I mentioned, you can find those shorts on the Walt Disney Treasures collection and some can be found elsewhere (Pluto’s Christmas Tree has been re-released numerous times as part of Christmas collections) while New Shoes is free to watch on YouTube. And a lot of those shorts can also unofficially be found there as well, though Runaway Brain might give you some trouble tracking down a good version, but it’s there as well in some form. They’re all wonderful examples of the star power, charisma, and charm of Mickey Mouse. He’s been around for 90 years now and isn’t likely going anywhere. At this rate, it’s all but guaranteed he’ll outlive us all! Now Disney, how about a restored collection of all of Mickey’s classic shorts in HD? Don’t make us wait for him to turn 100!


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