Dr. Toon: The Animation Critic's Art - Part V
SpongeBob SquarePants: This character has no incredible powers or abilities. He owns a pineapple home, has a service-level job, hangs out with a buddy and has a girlfriend (after a fashion). SpongeBob usually has to face problems caused by his own stubbornness, his tendency to misread situations and external nuisances such as Plankton, who perceives SBSP as a weak link. What SB has is a shining personality that only the most angelic nine-year-old could possess, and the steadfast determination to repair his many screw-ups. The lengths to which SB will go to achieve a goal or right a wrong are often a great source of comedy. The sponge may be naïve but he possesses an internal code of honor that audiences identify with.
Porky Pig: If the Warner stable tried to intentionally produce an everyman hero, it could not have done better. Creator Friz Freleng and then Tex Avery had early turns with Porky, but Bob Clampett turned the pig into a star by putting him into absurd and at times surreal conflicts. Pitted against characters who were less sane than Porky often worked well, as did putting the pig in command of operations or other characters that spun out of control. Porky, up to the present, never had the magical realism that other Warner characters commanded; Tweety or Bugs might produce a sputtering stick of dynamite from some unseen dimension, but it would be totally out of character for Porky to do this. The pig even struggled against a vocal handicap, no matter how amusing Mel Blanc was able to make it. Porky usually triumphed through wit, inventiveness and his unfailing good nature. Even as Porky faded from lead roles, he remained as loved as any other Warner icon.
Huckleberry Hound: One of the very best examples of the flexible everyman, Huck portrayed a number of roles with unshakeable aplomb and a twangy Dixie accent. Huck was deceptively clever; although it might not seem so, Huck was so much in control of his cartoon shorts that he could even afford to break the fourth wall and compliment his foes to the audience. Huck had no powers and appeared to make his living very much like the rest of us (with perhaps a bit more pain involved). Modern fans may not know that Huck was, in his day, as popular as any animated character on screen or TV.
Many of these come out of the Hanna-Barbera stable, especially when the studio began stamping out one-note, funny animal characters who were more distinguishable by their vocal performances than their animated ones. They were generally not very flexible, but that was mainly due to the predictability of their scripts, which allowed very little expression of personality. Audiences could identify with them for perhaps a short or two, but stardom would never be their destiny.
Wally Gator: Wally had one identifiable goal: going AWOL from a zoo, and the variations on this theme were less imaginative than one might expect. His voice was derived from that of comedian Ed Wynn, an imitation that was already overdone by the time Wally made his debut. Wally had a lively personality, but not one sufficiently distinguishable from many other of the same ilk.