Monday, July 16, 2012

Oh Father of Mine

Cartoons are a part of my consciousness. Like a lot of others who grew up with Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera, Rocky & Bullwinkle, I can’t help recalling the recurring themes, the sound effects and the characters I got to know from hours in front of the TV set watching. Often a given premise is played out in a variety of predictable scenarios. One of my favorite characters is Sylvester the Cat who first appeared in the mid 1940s.  Perhaps Sylvester's most developed role is in a series of Robert McKimson-directed shorts, in which the character is a hapless mouse-catching instructor to his dubious son, Sylvester Junior. The "mouse" is actually a powerful baby kangaroo he constantly mistakes for a "king-size mouse." He wants to show that confidence but is repeatedly bewildered. He brings his son to shame, so much so that the son feels compelled to wear a bag over his head to hide the resemblance to his dad. Sylvester himself is reduced to a nervous breakdown. He is defeated. It’s funny because it is real. Sylvester wants to be a role model and a hero, instead he fails publicly.

What a great bit. I love the father-son dynamic. In spite of his best efforts and his determination Sylvester cannot succeed. He is dealing with circumstances beyond his control.  He comes up lacking in the eyes of his son which makes matters worse. Of course, cartoon characters never grow up. If they did, I bet Sylvester Jr. would one day realize that his father loved him and did the very best he could, given the circumstances. The real lesson he will take from his old man is how to keep trying and understand that you won’t always win. And Sylvester, don’t worry, in time your son will put your efforts in the context of his own adult experience and realize that you are not such a bad cat after all.   

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