Monday, November 07, 2005

The All-Stars of Animation.

Totoro rules, dude.


Toontown's greatest characters

Cartoon Network's Dee Forbes gives a personal selection of the most outstanding animated creations of all time

Published: 07 November 2005


In terms of commercial success and plain popularity, Scooby-Doo is the dog to beat. The lovable Great Dane was created by the top Hanna-Barbera artist Iwao Takamoto in 1969. At that time he was called Me Too and played bongos in a band, between solving mysteries. The show was rejected, but CBS executive Fred Silverman reworked the format, renamed the dog and gave life to one of the most enduring characters in cartoon history. Scooby-Doo holds the record for the most episodes of any cartoon series produced and I must have seen every one.

Tom & Jerry

Tom and Jerry - inseparable.

William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were the brains behind my favourite cartoon duo. Their debut appearance for MGM in 1940 as Jerry and Jinx was a huge hit with the public, and by 1958 they'd starred in 115 shorts, clocking up an incredible seven Academy Awards in the process. The trademark violence of the series was influenced hugely by Tex Avery when he was bought on board in 1942; but for me it's the comic timing and character interplay that set Tom and Jerry apart from the crowd.


A recent entry in my personal hall of fame is Static Shock, a teenage African American superhero from the co-founder of Milestone Media, Dwayne McDuffy. The animation style is hardly groundbreaking, but Dwayne's use of Static to confront the issues of the day is truly inspirational. Static is a role-model hero - a normal kid who doesn't cut school, respects his peers and just happens to have incredible electromagnetic powers. Never preachy and always popular, this award-winning series is the best example of responsible animation out there.


Despite his farting and belching, Shrek is the most likable character on my list. The first Shrek film, an adaptation of a fairy tale by William Steig, took the inaugural Academy Award for best animated feature in 2001 and secured DreamWorks SKG's position as a big player in the animation industry. Shrek is a character who stands for independence and individuality, yet manages to have almost universal appeal. Shrek 2 broke box-office records for an opening weekend on its release, and I'm sure Shrek 3 will do it all over again next year.

Yogi Bear

My next entry from Hanna-Barbera in this list is Yogi Bear. Yogi started life as an extra on the Huckleberry Hound show in 1958, but by 1961 his collection of catchphrases and loveable bear-may-care attitude had earned him his own series. He'd also won the hearts of millions around the world and continued to headline movies and spin-off series right up to 1991. Many people here at Cartoon Network are big fans of Yogi and he can still be spotted guest-starring in the most unlikely of series.

Cruella De Vil

Forget the witch from Snow White, Cruella De Vil is the most evil character Walt Disney ever created. With her black and white hair, flowing fur coats, and cigarette-holder constantly clamped between her teeth, she cuts an unforgettable figure, but the style in which she was drawn also adds to her malevolence. This was Disney's 17th animated feature and the first to feature Xerography, a process that eased the burden of production and enforced the scratchy graphical style that characterised its films for the next 10 years.


When I first saw The Powerpuff Girls in 1998, I was completely blown away. At this time Anime was a male-dominated arena, full of epic battles and serious speeches, but animator Craig McCracken simply turned the genre on its head. The Powerpuff Girls was Eastern-style animation for a Western audience - stylish, action-heavy and, above all else, funny. Bubbles is my favourite of the three girls because of her outrageously good-natured view of life. Just like Craig, she never lets logic get in the way of having a good laugh.


From The Simpsons. Matt Groening's masterpiece is heaving with great characters, but my favourite has always been Mo. He's a mean-tempered, aggressive man and arguably the least likable character. For that reason, I am all the more amazed at how the writers still get me to sympathise with him. In 1998 Time magazine called The Simpsons the greatest show of the 20th century. I agree, not because of its surreal humour and satirical scripts, but because it champions the good in everyone, no matter how repulsive they may be.

Roobarb and Custard

If a character's greatness is measured by the fondness with which they are recalled, then Roobarb and Custard may be the UK's favourite cartoon duo ever. Grange Calvery's enthusiastic dog, Roobarb, and equally sarcastic cat, Custard, were first brought to our screens by the BBC in 1974. The simplicity of the characters and the "wobbly" animation style were a huge hit. The new series, Roobarb and Custard Too, recreates the wobble effect wonderfully, as well as the antagonistic relationship between the two stars.

Wile E Coyote

Chuck Jones is a cartoon genius and one of his greatest achievements is Wile E Coyote. Originally created as the comic foil to Road Runner, Wile E Coyote quickly stole the show and became the poster child of luckless, try-hards the world over. Chuck's Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons of the 1950s and 1960s are works of art, but it's the hapless Coyote more than any other character with whom audiences can sympathise.


From Robotboy - a brand new show that we have co-produced in the UK. Robotboy is an indestructible battle-bot who wants to become a real kid. He provides the action element and Gus provides the comic relief. Gus is a chubby, self-centred 10-year-old with delusions of grandeur. He's obnoxious but he still makes you want to pick him up and cuddle him. Robotboy has already become one of my favourite shows and without Gus it wouldn't work.


From My Neighbour Totoro. Since the success of Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle, director Hayao Miyazaki has been big news, but he first came to my attention in 1988 upon the release of Studio Ghibli's third film, My Neighbour Totoro. Like all of Miyazaki's films, each cell of this classic is drawn and coloured by hand, investing it with a vitality no CGI creation has yet been able to match. At once innocent and awe-inspiring, King Totoro captures the innocence and magic of childhood more than any of Miyazaki's other magical creations.

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.


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