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Cartoons have always been a bit subversive: We root for the rabbit against the hunter, and the carnivalesque characters are always preferable to the law-and-order types that they mock. The underdog roadrunner always triumphs over the predatory coyote. And so on.

Some recent cartoons continue to be quite clever, especially for adults. Dexter's Laboratory is very funny, as is Johnny Bravo. But I've noticed a couple of somewhat more disturbing trends in recent cartoons.

First, the cartoons have become simply ugly. The characters are ugly, they talk in loud and obnoxious voices, and are generally disagreeable in every way. This is another degree of subversion that was not present in older cartoons.

Second, I'm struck by how closely many cartoons mimic the action and atmosphere of computer games. I watched one episode of Samurai Joe in which the whole plot involved Joe competing with another character to get into the heart of a fortress to take a gem, fighting through various layers of guardians in the process. It was simply a computer game in cartoon format.

posted by Peter J. Leithart on Tuesday, March 16, 2004 at 06:39 AM

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