Kids love cartoons. This is a fact. If any kid ever tells you that they don’t like cartoons, then you should steer as far away from them as possible and quietly alert the authorities, because they’re almost certainly an Estonian dwarf posing as a child.
Also a fact: once upon a time, everyone—whether you can imagine it or not—used to be a kid. As such, it is very, very unlikely that you will ever find someone who does not immediately have an answer to the question, “What were your five favorite cartoons when you were a kid?”
That’s why decided we’re going to start asking it of actors, musicians, comedians, and anyone else who’s willing to put the appropriate amount of thought into this very serious pop-culture query.
The kid: Baron Vaughn, a fine actor (you may remember him from USA’s Fairly Legal) and a very funny stand-up who recently found himself on Vulture’s list of The 50 Comedians You Should and Will Know and, in a very real way, was directly responsible for this feature coming into existence, thanks to this clip:
It’s pretty well impossible to watch that excerpt from Vaughn’s act and not think, “This is a man who will be able to reel off five of his favorite cartoons without batting an eye.” And, indeed, he did, along with a few honorable mentions as well.
Baron Vaughn: Well, of course, I’ve got to start with DuckTales. [Laughs.] Which I love, obviously. I wrote this play once, in college, and one of the character had this monologue about DuckTales which was sort of like… Did you ever see the movie or the play Six Degrees of Separation?
Popdose: Sure, with Will Smith.
Yeah! In the movie, Will Smith’s character has this whole monologue where he’s explaining his thesis about The Catcher in the Rye and why this book had inspired so many people to try to assassinate someone. So I had this character in my play explain why DuckTales was a perfect metaphor for humanity, in terms of warning against the evils of money. Because it was, like, Scrooge McDuck has all this money, all this gold, and…the whole show’s about money. He’s a money-grubbing character who cares about money and just barely cares about his nephews a little more. [Laughs.] It’s, like, they could be in danger, and he’d go, “But my money…!” And if they get into a little more trouble, then he’s, like, “Okay, I give up, I’ll go save ‘em.” He’d rather swim through his coins…which no one else can do, if you’ll recall. Anyone else tries to dive into the money and they just fall straight into the coins, going, “Ow! This is metal and gold!” But he’s, like, “Ah, I’ve had a lot of practice, so that’s why I can do this.”
I’ve got to talk about Magica de Spell, the witch who was one of the bigger villains. Who were some of the others? There was the second richest duck, Flintheart Glomgold, and then there were the Beagle Boys. But Magica de Spell, her big thing was that she wanted his lucky dime, the first dime he ever made. I remember there was some episode where she gave a technical explanation that went something like, “That dime contains the psychic energy of every single decision Scrooge has ever made to make all the money he has.” And I was, like, “Whaaaaaaaat?” [Laughs.] That was such a weird explanation. So her thesis is that, if money is the root of all money, then the root of all money is more evil?… Cue the dramatic music.
So was DuckTales your gateway drug into Disney cartoons, or were you already familiar with the characters by then?
Actually, the first Disney cartoon I really got into was probably Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers, more than anything else. Because, again, those theme songs, man… Actually, I think it was the band The Jets who did their theme song, and I was, like, “This is a jammin’ song!” [Laughs.]
And then I watched Chip ‘N Dale, and I thought it was hilarious. And, y’know, there was that block, where it was Chip ‘N Dale, DuckTales, and Gummi Bears, and…I feel like I knew the most about Chip ‘N Dale and DuckTales, but Gummi Bears I felt like I could never find it. Like, it was always on at a time that was inappropriate, or I’d wake up and try to find Gummi Bears, and I’d land on it just in time for the last frame , and I’d be, like, “Wait a minute! I don’t know who these characters are or what’s going on with the story development!” But, y’know, then Chip ‘N Dale or DuckTales would come on, and I’d just be, like, “Oh, well, guess I’m watching them, then!” And then later came Darkwing Duck and TaleSpin, and I liked those as well, but Chip ‘N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers was what got me into Disney cartoons, and then DuckTales, more than any of the others, was my favorite.
Of the original three NickToons—the other two being Ren & Stimpy and Rugrats—I still think to this day that whichever one you most connected to says a lot about you. I do! I feel like, of everybody I know that watched those, they had a real specific allegiance to one of ‘em. And I was a Doug kid. I knew kids that liked Ren & Stimpy. Eric Andre, for instance. He was a Ren & Stimpy fan. And you can probably tell that about him. [Laughs.] And I knew some people who were Rugrats fans, too, and…I just feel like it influenced your life, whichever one of those you watched the most.
Doug was…I always thought it was the most European of the three. Ren & Stimpy was always just too crazy for me. I was, like, “Dude, this is really absurd!” And I like absurd, but…I guess that, with Doug, I always felt like I could hang my hat on Doug, emotionally speaking. There was a really strong emotional core with Doug. Ren & Stimpy was out there, it was wild, it was fireworks. Rugrats was about a bunch of babies. But Doug…I felt like I was Doug. Except black. [Laughs.] And I felt like I was going through the things that he was going through. Like, he had a girl that he was always around, and, y’know, he’s pining for Patti Mayonaise, and you’re sitting there, watching and hoping that it’ll work out.
It’s a very relatable cartoon.
Definitely. I definitely believe that. And I also loved all the different kinds of music. There’s another one, where the theme song and that whole opening sequence helped sell me on it. Y’know, the way the world around him is fascinating. But I loved all the music, including the interstitials and stuff like that. And, of course, when Doug came up with his hit song, “Bangin’ on the Trashcan.” [Laughs.] “Bangin’ on the trashcan / Drummin’ in the street light…”
But, y’know, I just felt like it was a simple story of a kid trying to fit in. And I was right there with him. I was just, like, “That’s me! I’m Doug!” I just saw The Great Gatsby the other day, and I’m, like, “Oh, man, I’m Nick Carraway! I’m just an observer trying to get in there.” And, y’know, that’s exactly what I thought Doug was. Doug was like a Gatsby character, definitely.
I wonder if anybody’s ever made that comparison before.
Yeah, man! If F. Scott Fitzgerald made that character today, he’d probably be Doug. [Laughs.] Doug always felt like a grown-up cartoon to me.
I always loved Reboot. It was on ABC, and it was mostly computer graphics. It took place in the world of…well, it was in a computer, basically. You know, it was that era where everyone was starting to have a computer in their house, and Al Gore was, like, “And now I’ve invented the internet for everyone!” [Laughs.]
It took place in a place called Mainframe that was, y’know, right there on the digital information highway. I liked the way it was animated. I liked the look of it. I thought it was just a really cool look. And I loved the adventures he would go on. As a younger person, at least, I thought the writing was really clever, because they were always putting everything about technology into the story, which I thought was hilarious. And I guess there was a part of me that thought that I would know more about computers if I watched it. I was, like, “Steve Jobs, bleeve blobs, all I got to do is watch Reboot.” [Laughs.] “Listen to this: ‘I will download all this information!’ See? I’m already starting to sound like them!”
There’s been talk for awhile that they’re going to make a film based on the show.
A film based on Reboot? Well, I would definitely watch that. I mean, I would assume that they’d bring in younger people, but, still, I’m there. Just as long as they maintain the same standards of animation. That’s the big thing for me. Like I said, I always liked the look of Reboot. There have been cartoons strictly because they looked like Reboot, and I went in expecting the same standard, but they were just not as good. Whoever designed that show, I thought they did a really good job.
I guess it’s because I was into Animaniacs that I wasn’t into Ren & Stimpy. Because I was, like, “Well, I’m already watching Animaniacs, so that’s high-octane enough for me!” Yakko, Wakko, and Dot, the Warner brothers and Warner sister…look, I live in Los Angeles, and anytime I end up at Warner and I see that tower, of course I think of Animaniacs! It was very random humor, the wordplay was always crazy, and I was always laughing out loud. I loved all the different characters.
Do you remember Chicken Boo? Chicken Boo is probably the number-one thing I use when I’m freestyle rapping that’s a reference that nobody ever gets. “I’m talkin’ ‘bout the where, the when, the what, and the who / If you wear a disguise, I’m callin’ you Chicken Boo.” Chicken Boo was an overgrown chicken—or a rooster, actually, I believe—who’s just going through life. The little theme song that went to Chicken Boo was, “You wear a disguise / To look like human guys / But you’re not a man / You’re a Chicken Boo.” He was a chicken who was just going through his life, and…he couldn’t talk! He sounded like a chicken! He just clucked. But he’d find himself in adventures, wearing human clothing, and everyone around Chicken Boo would treat him like a person, even though Boo would just behave like a chicken all the time. They’d be, like, “What are you doing?” He’d show up, and they’d automatically include him in whatever was going on at the time, only for it to turn out that he’s actually just a chicken wearing human clothing. It was pretty awesome.
And then there was Slappy Squirrel, an old cartoon character who was just over it, and she had her young nephew, Skippy, that she looked after, and she taught him about life. She had a hilarious voice, I always thought, and she was a hilarious character. I liked the idea of a cartoon character that had aged and had retired.
Probably one of the most important of those segments for me was when they went to see a movie that was called “Bumbie, The Dearest Dear,” which was, y’know, obviously a takeoff on Bambi. So, of course, at the end, Bumbie gets killed by a hunter, and Skippy just cried and cried and cried, so Slappy takes it up herself to go find the actress that played Bumbie, who turns out to be a dear friend of hers. So she takes her nephew to a trailer park in Tucumcari, New Mexico, to meet the actress who played Bumbie so he’d know it wasn’t real. Thing is, Tucumcari, New Mexico was the little town I grew up in before I moved to Las Vegas! It was the first time I ever heard anybody mention it outside of the movie Rain Man, where there was a part where they were on their way to Las Vegas and were in Tucumcari. So I was, like, “Oh, my God, that’s where she lives?!?” [Laughs.]
And then, of course, there was Pinky and the Brain—classic—and the Animaniacs themselves. Whenever a pretty girl walks by, I’ll still say to myself, “Hel-lo, nurse!” [Laughs.] As far as a favorite song… There was a German scientist that Yakko, Wakko, and Dot went to see, and he was trying to teach them this song, “The International Friendship Song,” and it was, like, “Ist das nicht ein pair of pants? / Ja das ist ein pair of pants / Oh, du schöne / Oh, du schöne / Oh, du schöne / Schnitzelbank!” What was his name?
Per Wikipedia, it was Professor Otto von Schnitzelpusskrankengescheitmeier.
That’s it! [Laughs.] That’s him. And then they get carried away with the song, to the point where he’s, like, naked, and he’s so angry that he dropkicks them, so they’re flying away. It was a perfect lesson in how to heighten a scene. A lot of the lessons that you learn in improv school, be it the Second City or the UCB, you can just watch Animaniacs, and all that stuff’s there…and I do actually know for a fact that Del Close was a huge fan of Animaniacs!
Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics
Okay, I’ve saved the most random for last. There’s so many to choose from, and I can’t go with The Simpsons or The Critic ‘cause this is supposed to be cartoons from my childhood, but one that was a big, big influence on me as a kid was a show that came on Nickelodeon every now and then called Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics. It was on…actually, I don’t know for sure if it was on before or after David the Gnome. I guess it depends on where you grew up! But in Las Vegas, I believe it was before David the Gnome…which, by the way, was another of my favorite theme songs. I looked it up online the other day, and I was, like, “Yeah!” [Laughs.]
But Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics was…well, it was all of these different fairy tales, but it seemed like it was more of a European cartoon than anything else. David the Gnome had that feeling, too. I always felt like the words that people were saying did not match the movements of their mouths, so I was, like, “Hmmm, this must have been made in a different language.” (Writer’s note: The World of David the Gnome was produced in Spain, but Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics was actually Japanese.) But, anyway, the fairytales were fairytales, so they told all these tales of morality, but…they were really dark! So unlike a lot of the other versions that were sanitized to have these happy endings, Grimm’s went a little bit more towards what the real fairy tales were actually like, I always felt. And I appreciated it for that. Plus, the stories were just so interesting to me. I mean, there were some fairy tales in there that I knew that Disney movies had been based on, but I was interested in seeing a completely different interpretation of it. Like, seeing how they told the story, what version of the story it was. I understood that some of these things were classics, but I was interested in a different take on it.
I’m trying to think of one off the top of my head, and the first one that comes to mind is the one about the tailor who people mistook for a giant slayer. He killed seven flies in one stroke, which he was amazed by, and he was talking about it, and someone overheard him say it and somehow they thought he meant that he’d killed seven giants in one stroke…but you know how mofos mishear things in bars and stuff when they eavesdroppin’. They’re, like, “Seven in one stroke? Obviously he must be talkin’ about giants. Hey, we got a giant problem.” [Laughs.] “We got a giant giant problem! Let’s get this guy on it!” So he gets assigned to it, and…I think he still doesn’t even realize it until he’s actually on his way to meet the giant.
But he’s incredibly clever, this tailor, and when he meets the giant, he basically pawns himself off as a wizard, makes the giant think that he’s got powers and that he’s powerful. I remember there’s one thing he does where he goes, “I’ll throw this rock into the air, and it’ll never come down,” and the giant can’t even believe it, so the tailor’s got a bird that he balls up to look like a rock, he goes, “Here’s my rock,” he throws it up, and the bird flies away. And, of course, the giant is, like, “Whaaaaaat? Dude. Dude. Oh, man. You are all-powerful. I am sorry. And here I doubted you. What do you want me to do? You want me to move to Germany…? No problem, bro. You know what? I’m sorry I doubted you. Yo, lemme have your Facebook information. Let’s keep in touch, a’ight? I’m gonna post on your wall a lot. I got a lot of articles I’m’a wanna share.” [Laughs.]
So, anyway, that was obviously one story that resonated with me for some reason…probably because it was about using your brain to get out of crazy situations! But also, don’t brag out loud about anything. People might think you mean you go around killing giants.
Galaxy High: There were some cartoons that I liked when I was younger but that I kind of grew out of, but, c’mon, get out of here: Galaxy High was awesome.
Danger Mouse / Count Duckula: I didn’t even realize until recently that they were both from the same studio, but it makes so much sense now that I think about it. I loved Danger Mouse, though. And Duckula was just so absurd. A duck vampire? What’s happening here? [Laughs.] And that theme song…that’s another classic, right there.