Dr. Toon: The Last Picture Show
Today, most cartoons are watched in households and the enjoyment of them is a compartmentalized, rather than communal, experience. Millions of people may know who Porky Pig is, but the majority of them have watched his adventures on television or through excellent DVD compilations such as the Looney Tunes Golden Collection. Much the same can now be said for most of the cartoon characters that starred before 1955. Betty Boop, for example, is a heavily merchandised property but has not been animated in decades; theater audiences have not hooted at Miss Boop-Boop-a-Doop since her flirtatious heyday. Again, if you seek Betty, you will find her on compilations that you can watch in your own living room bereft of a theatergoing community.
Our styles of communication and entertainment have led us down an increasingly lonely path. You can "friend" hundreds of people you will never see, spend endless hours as an avatar or playing computer games solo, groove on YouTube, or watch movies on demand without sitting in a theater. And you can watch the entire manifest of Fleischer Studios' Popeye the Sailor Man without ever purchasing a movie ticket. Cartoons in the theatrical era had audiences; today they have individual fans, many of whom will never meet one another (in person).
The cinematic era of 1920-1950 cannot be recreated, but the atmosphere can be. It is wonderful that those born after 1980 can now experience the laughs and chuckles that erupt from a theater audience when animated appetizers lead the way to an evening's entertainment. The past history of animation is not simply being mined here; rather it is being revitalized for new generations to enjoy. Every major film studio producing animated movies is getting the hint, so welcome back to one of the greatest treats in theatergoing. Ah, the humble cartoon before the feature; it looks like we have yet to see the last picture show.
The theatrical animated short is dead.
Long live the animated theatrical short!
Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman is a longtime student and fan of animation. He lives in Anderson, Indiana.