From Homer to Scooby Doo: our love affair with the cartoon

Channel 4 last night listed the nation's favourite animations - we prefer satire to slapstick. Jonathan Brown delves behind the scenes of our top five

1: History's greatest cartoon? Doh!

1: History's greatest cartoon? Doh!

A dozen series ago, during the 1992 presidential election, George Bush senior awarded the animated couch-potatoes from Springfield the ultimate subversive accolade. The ideal American family, he said, should be a little "more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons". For an out-of-touch Bush, it was a case of "Good night, John Boy", and he lost the election.

Named history's greatest cartoon by Channel 4 last night, beating Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse, the Simpsons occupies a unique place in global popular culture.

Blisteringly satirical, funny, uncompromisingly intelligent and political, it is also stupendously popular. Its creators hope that it will run until 2009, completing 20 network seasons to become the longest-running entertainment programme on US television. A feature-length movie is also planned.

The characters, Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa began life 18 years ago, drawn by Matt Groening and named after members of his family. It was destined as a filler on the Tracey Ullman show. Since then, there have been more than 330 episodes.

Fox's number one show about lives of the blue-collar, middle American family have been screened in more than 90 countries and earned £1.4bn a year for Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. Murdoch has even "appeared" on the show, playing, naturally enough, a ruthless billionaire businessman. Among previous animated guests have been Elizabeth Taylor, Sting, Tony Blair and Tom Jones.

Its cartoon format has allowed it to challenge race, religion and politics in a way that would never be tolerated in real-life comedy. Channel 4 won a recent bidding war with BBC2 for terrestrial rights to show episodes, and as a result, BBC2 suffered its worst ratings since 1979. The cartoon is watched by 3.5 million viewers on Channel 4.

2: Cat and mouse who made Oscars history

William Hanna and Joseph Barbera's tale of internecine struggle between a murderous cat and his long-suffering victim-cum-tormentor mouse, has earned seven Academy Awards.

Their relentlessly violent, racially dubious animations accompanied some of MGM's most celebrated releases during what is now seen as a golden age of cinema.

The two artists learnt their trade during the Depression era, and were brought together at the studio's legendary animation unit before the Second World War. Although producer Fred C Quimby was initially underwhelmed by their idea for a warring cat and mouse, he gave them the go ahead.

The first film, Puss Gets the Boot, was released in 1940 with Tom called Jasper and a nameless Jerry. They were accompanied by the haunting music of Scott Bradley. A further 161 titles followed which can be divided into three periods.

Gene Deitch faced the unenviable task of taking over from Hanna-Barbera in 1960, and he was succeeded by Chuck Jones between 1963 and 1967. One of the great controversies has been Mammy-Two-Shoes, a black woman's voice only ever heard attached to a pair of slippers and stockings. After appearing in the first cartoon, the character was dropped two years before the Supreme Court declared racial segregation was unconstitutional. But MGM decided to recolour the film and dubbed the old cartoons with an Irish maid, voiced by June Foray, for its reissues. The Cartoon Network redubbed them again with a new set of voices. The series was reprised for television in 1975 but cut little ice with its original fans.

Tom and Jerry won their first Oscar for the patriotic 1943 war-time short, Yankee Doodle Mouse. Their last came in the 1953 Johann Mouse, which set the traditional chases and fights to waltz time. There was critical acclaim when the duo danced with Gene Kelly in Anchors Away and Invitation to Dance. They also teamed up with Esther Williams in the film Dangerous When Wet.

Hanna-Barbera went on to create more than 2,000 characters after Tom and Jerry. They gave the world Quick Draw McGraw, Top Cat, Yogi Bear, Scooby-Doo, The Flintstones and The Smurfs.

3: They killed Kenny, but the show goes on

Approaching its ninth network series in the US, with global television deals, a merchandising empire and an Oscar-nominated film, it now seems hard to think that South Park began life in the nerd world of internet film.

In 1996, The Spirit of Christmas - the story of four foul-mouthed boys from the Colorado town of South Park - was created for a Fox executive to send as a video Christmas card. Made on a budget of just $2,000 (£1,045) Matt Stone and Trey Parker's show depicting a battle between Jesus and Santa Claus over the ownership of Christmas, was never shown on television. After achieving cult status on the internet, the cable TV network Comedy Central offered the animators their own show. The first episode, Cartman Gets an Anal Probe, was screened in 1997.

The stars are Stan, the group's leader voiced by Parker, who vomits when he talks to a girl; his best friend and the butt of all jokes, Kyle, voiced by Stone; Cartman, whose "mother" is an over-sexed hermaphrodite; and Kenny, who is normally killed during each episode.

US political pundits have identified a new breed of " South Park Republicans": twentysomething males who favour rampant libertarianism over liberal sensitivities. Ironically, Parker and Stone's latest offering Team America: World Police was condemned by many on the right for its "anti-Americanism".

4: To box office gold and beyond

Pixar's 1995 Toy Story bridged the gap between children's and adults' cinema-going habits. With its fast pace, humorous dialogue and state-of-the-art computer graphics, it made a family visit to the movies fun.

At the heart of Toy Story was Woody the cowboy, whose role as head honcho in six-year-old Andy's toy cupboard is usurped by the arrival of a Buzz Lightyear doll. Woody is embroiled in a race against time to save his spaceman rival after he causes him to fall out of the window.

Admirers have praised the film's values of loyalty and friendship, which refrained from straying too far into the schmaltzy Hollywood cliché zone.

The follow-up four years later, while more technically accomplished, lacked the soul of the original. A third film is expected this year. However, Disney is said to be working without Pixar. The companies created seven blockbusters, including Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, during a 10-year relationship and grossed $3bn (£1.5bn) in ticket sales, plus millions more in merchandising. But Pixar and Disney split last year, the former unhappy with the 50:50 agreement it had struck with distributors Disney.

5: Ratings failure wins a late-day reprieve

Like THE Simpsons, Family Guy originated from the mighty corporate stable of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, depicting a less than savoury view of modern American family life. Unlike its inspiration, it was axed after two years as audiences dwindled.

Creatively, it broke little new ground. The father, Peter Griffin, a toy factory inspector from Rhode Island whose primary claim to fame is having emitted the longest fart in television history, is mis-married to upper-class Lois. Their eldest child is teenage misfit Meg whose hankering for collagen implants does nothing to improve her popularity with the boys. Her brothers are the gullible skater boy Chris, and killer tot Stewie, who is bent on world domination.

First screened in 1999, Family Guy has won a clutch of awards, including two Emmys. So successful was it, that Fox scheduled it against Friends. It was a big mistake. As the audience plummeted there was also controversy. Fox dropped a show called When You Wish Upon a Weinstein over fears it was anti-Semitic.

But Family Guy has earned a reprieve in the US where box-set sales of DVDs reached three million last year. The first series was also watched by significant audiences on the internet. It will now return to the network screen in May, a book of the series has just been published and there is a computer game.


1. The Simpsons

2. Tom and Jerry

3. South Park

4. Toy Story/Toy Story 2

5. Family Guy

6. Shrek/Shrek 2

7. The Lion King

8. Spirited Away

9. The Incredibles

10. Bugs Bunny

11. The Nightmare Before Christmas

12. The Flintstones

13. The Iron Giant

14. Finding Nemo

15. Wallace and Gromit

16. Akira

17. Aladdin

18. The Ren and Stimpy Show

19. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

20. Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies

21. Princess Mononoke

22. Monsters, Inc

23. Popeye

24. Danger Mouse

25. Pinnochio

26. Beauty and the Beast

27. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

28. Beavis and Butthead

29. Spongebob Squarepants

30. Mickey Mouse

31. Dungeons and Dragons

32. Daffy Duck

33. Futurama

34. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

35. Sylvester & Tweetie Pie

36. Transformers

37. 101 Dalmatians

38. Charlie Brown

39. King of the Hill

40. Wacky Races

41. Samurai Jack

42. Ivor The Engine

43. Spider-Man

44. Pokemon

45. Inspector Gadget

46. Road Runner

47. 2DTV

48. Donald Duck

49. The Little Mermaid

50. Scooby Doo, Where Are You?

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager (EMEA) - City, London

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?