Last Saturday I felt like I was in a time machine. It was a Saturday morning and I was watching Animaniacs on TV, and it wasn’t on demand. It was playing on a cable channel, and I was laughing out loud. Why was Animaniacs so good? I guess it’s kind of why the original Looney Tunes were so good. It was silly fun that made references to classic works of film, television, and culture, but also made very current references as well.
I think I can now put into words what I have grown to dislike about shows like Family Guy. When Seth McFarlane does parodies of the Crosby and Hope’s “Road” movies, I am in awe. But when Family Guy goes for obscure 80’s references that only have non sequitur shock value, I can laugh the first time I see it, but I don’t laugh again seeing a second or third or fourth time. The episode of Animaniacs I saw made references to and made fun of Cher, Latoya Jackson, facelift surgery, it had an extended scene with Ernest Hemingway. The first time Family Guy made a reference to Joyce Dewitt from Three’s Company, I did laugh. But I feel it loses 99% of its comedy value after one viewing. In contrast, I will laugh every time I see Bugs Bunny recreate the scene with Humphrey Bogart in Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Am I biased? Of course, but it has made me more confident in making very current references to things like the 2014 Sochi Olympics as well as established movie, TV, and cultural references. Have you guessed what comedy film I am referencing in this scene? Is it obvious or subtle? Is the movie a “classic” or just some movie?
QUESTION: Should cartoons and comics make specific references to current events / movies / TV shows / culture? Or does that run the risk of making the cartoon / comic “dated” at some later time? I’d like to hear what you have to say.