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When does one root for the good guys or the bad guys?

May 1, 2012

Has anyone even gone for a job, like in a dept. store, and a questionnaire asks you if you’ve ever rooted for the bad guys in a story? (And hooked up to a lie detector, yet!) My first job that I got on my own, at the old Alexander’s Dept. Store flagship in Manhattan (next to Bloomingdale’s, and where the Bloomberg Tower is now) had this.
It was a pretty lenient and easy company to work for, and I could understand why they would want to test your honesty like that, but I always thought that was unfair, because it doesn’t give you a chance to explain why.

So in a ToonZone discussion on the Herculoids being too “strong”; I sat down and thought about what makes me root for either the good guys or bad guys.

It depends on the personalities and strength of both sides. Hapless and/or “mad” villains easily wiped out by the heroes (Frankenstein Jr. & the Impossibles, Jonny Quest, Underdog, the live action James Bond inspiring many of these shows in the 60’s etc), or who always have bad fortune; I feel sorry for.
Little pest characters (mice, etc) or “goody-goody” types as heroes who are given this almost invincible power, I generally dislike.

Powerpuff Girls is an example of both, but it was done really well, however, and their flaws are often spotlighted. One episode, where Buttercup was knocking out everyone’s teeth for money from the tooth fairy; several of the villains were allowed to beat the mess out of her at the end, and her tooth fairy money pay the new dental bill!
Princess, while truly evil, I felt sorry for, because she did have this desire to be a Powerpuff Girl, and (as a fellow “Choleric”, at least in part) I know how it feels to really want something like that and be snubbed; and while telling her why she can’t be one, they basically gloated and laughed “because we’re good and you’re a brat”; basically in the “goody two shoes” mode again.
Their all time low point was beating up a happy clown, who was changed into an evil mime when his color was bleached away. Even though he apparently couldn’t help it, and was happy and thanked the girls for restoring him to his good self again. They accepted the thanks, and then proceded to beat him to a pulp practically and threw him into jail! (Wouldn’t that count as “temporary insanity” or something?) I’m not the only one who thought that was messed up, as this actually became entered as a possible “jumptheshark” moment for the girls!

Then, you had “Popeye’s 20th Anniversary”, where Bluto is there applauding him along with everyone else in the tribute dinner, and what does Popeye do but play films of himself defeating Bluto! So when Bluto gets mad and fights him, of course, he is “in the wrong”, and Popeye gets to eat his spinach and beats him up again. You wonder what these storymen are thinking!
Likewise for the final Sniffles film “Hush My Mouse”, where a particularly aggressive Edward G. Robinson cat is bullying a diner owner for mouse knuckles. A bulldog soon threatens the bully, and you think ‘good for him, now let’s see how he likes it’; but when the ensuing brawl takes a pause, you see both the dog and Robincat beating up on the diner owner. (and the punchline being “instead of mouse knuckles, he needs brass knuckles”).

Chuck Jones (who directed this) seemed to have a strange sense of justice at times. He had a whole film about Elmer getting punched out by a hotel guest because of Daffy’s noise. Daffy then calls him “noisy” when he crashes into something as a result! And don’t even get me started on that Three Bears series of his!

Friz Freleng eventually became just as bad. Like “Bugsy and Mugsy” where Bugs gets revenge on Rocky and Mugsy for disturbing him by making it look like Mugsy is attacking Rocky in his sleep, so that Rocky beats on the clueless Mugsy. This was actually a plot he reused from an earlier Sylvester cartoon with a mouse and a bulldog. But at least in the end of that one, the mouse who caused the trouble got conked with an object pulled by the magnet he was using to frame Sylvester with. In this one, it ends with Rocky thinking Mugsy gave away their hiding place with bright signs (again done by Bugs), and beating on the begging Mugsy. Why is this funny? Rocky was the real “bad guy”, while Mugsy was too dumb to even fill the role of Sylvester or the Coyote against the good guy!
(In only one case; “Prince Varmint/Violent”, the hapless flunky gets even with his abusive boss by defecting to the “good guys” side. But then Yosemite Sam always was so hapless himself with his beasts of burden (whom he’s always trying to get to “whoa!”), so you feel more sorry for him than for the elephant. Why couldn’t Freleng/Foster have had Mugsy turn good against Rocky like that?)

But that shows the pattern I noticed of newer WB cartoons having more “unfair” ends compared to earlier ones. Many old ones did not even have “win/lose” endings, but simply a funny punchline.
One thing I liked about earlier Looney Tunes is that they were more focused on the wackiness of Tex Avery and Bob Clampett. Once they left, it was Jones and Freleng who took over in having the most creative influence, and their philosophy seemed to revolve around a philosophy of “bad guys need to be pummeled repeatedly no matter how hapless they are” (or at least self-defeated by unexplained mishaps in the plans). Hence the formulaic rut the later LT/MM series fell into sparked off by the success of their Roadrunner and Sylvester & Tweety formats. Even Daffy ended up becoming a hapless stooge for Bugs Bunny, and later, Speedy Gonzales.

And you wonder why Sylvester, starting out as a stronger sounding character (especially in “Life With Feathers” and “Kitty Kornered”) couldn’t fight back sometimes. Like all the abuse he took from both Hector the dog and a rooster in “Fowl Weather”, even complying in pretending to be Tweety to save the dog from Granny’s wrath if Tweety was harmed. In stories like this and “Pappy’s Puppy”, you wonder why he doesn’t just run away. Then, all the animals in “Tweet Zoo” and “Tweety’s Circus”. If Tweety could outsmart him, despite his size and strength, why couldn’t he outsmart these other characters?
In D’Fightin’ Ones, Sylvester does try to fight back sometimes, but is not consistent enough. If the dog is so much stronger with his fist, then Sylvester should have picked up some heavy object and knocked him out with it. That’s what Tweety used to do! (One reason I like Tom & Jerry so much better. Tom would sometimes strike back at the dog. But like “Pappy’s Puppy”, in the similar “That’s My Pup”, he was stupid to not run away. Like you’re going to allow these dogs to raise a second generation of dog to bark or bite on you?)

However, some villains truly are unpitiably evil, (and often manage to escape) and give the heroes a serious run for their money. But some hereoes are just too invincible!

The Herculoids, with that rhino thing, the flying dragon, and if nothing else, the blobs, always end up almost invincible, and their opponents don’t stand a chance. A few villains did put up a good fight, but then the blobs always got free, helped the others, and that was it. The Impossibles as well. The bad guy having caught two of them, always appears to shoot all of the clones of Multi Man, but always misses “the original one”, who then frees the others and captures the bad guy.
Others like this include Atom Ant, Mighty Mouse, Powerpuff Girls, Winnie Witch, Popeye once he eats his spinach, and the cartoon PacMan once he eats his power pellots. (It was never that easy to defeat the ghostmonsters in the game!) Then you have Precious Pup, whose own goodness/badness is ambiguous at times, yet nevertheless always comes out on top. Richie Rich who has no purpose in life except to protect his ridiculous wealth.

Compare all of this to the Superfriends with the Legion of Doom, who come up with all sorts of truly ingenious, but desperately evil plots, such as going back in time and erasing a few of the Superfriends, the noxium crystal that instantly kills them, and they actually thought they had successfully used it on them; and other times, trapping them in a storybook of doom or a black hole where they would be sealed in forever. Then, they usually get away in the end! You don’t feel sorry for them at all. Even most of their earlier villains, many of them the “misguided scientists using evil means for a noble ideal” were almost the same way.

Space Ghost, Dino Boy, Birdman, Galaxy Trio, Mightor, the Fantastic Four (from the HB series) and even Samson & Goliath also faced formidable enemies who came close to finishing them off. On the other hand, Shazzan, the genie from this HB series of adventures, would at times appear to be defeated, but it would be basically fake. He always suddenly, effortlessly comes out of whatever trap he was in and finishes off the bad guy; never coming close to being defeated at all. The same pretty much with the Moby Dick adaptation apart of the same series.
Likewise, I always wanted to see truly powerful and elusive characters like Darkseid (later Superfriends) the Claw (Inspector Gadget), Skeletor (He-Man), Prime Evil (original Ghostbusters), etc. caught. But those never were!

Most Scooby villains I don’t pity either, after seeing the extensive ghost, monster and other getups they went through such lengths to pull off, just to steal something; and a few would have hurt the gang in the process. A notable example was the villain in the Sandy Duncan episode, who was deemed to be “well meaning” and and not even arrested, but instead promised an acting job in the studio after such attempted crimes as kidnapping and rigging a heavy object to fall on somebody!
The one I felt the most sorry for was the culprit in the Scooby and Scrappy “Neon Phantom of the Roller Disco” episode where the guy is only trying to scare the disco away to prevent it from expanding and tearing down his house next door. Shaggy then mockingly jokes “But now, you’ll have to move anyway: to a place with bars on the window!” I do not even remember him even doing anything dangerous to anyone, or trying to steal something not his. Just flashing in a ridiculous lit up ghost suit. Why does he go to jail, but Duncan’s “Jeckyll and Hyde” gets away with much worse?

I always felt sorry for Dastardly and Muttley whose plots always backfire, but not the Really Rottens (Laffalympics, featuring an altered/renamed Dastardly & Muttley due to rights issues) who are very slick, and caught only because of the secret cameras (and still allowed to win three times in the second season, while Dastardly and Muttley never won).

Then of course, there are most of the classic cartoon bad guys, usually cats and other predators, especially on the Looney Tunes, after they found their “winning formula” in the Sylvester & Tweety and Roadrunner chase formats.

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