Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Favorite fringe cartoon characters, Part 2 -- Samantha's generation

As promised, here's the last part of the mini-series on fringe characters from children's media sources, this time picking from the absolute glut of entertainment choices available to today's kids.

These are based on my viewing of three-year-old Samantha's cartoons and books. Here we go!

#1 -- Lowly the worm (from Richard Scarry books, such as "Mama Cat's Busy Day")

Who he is: Lowly is the ultimate fringe character in many of Richard Scarry's books, which existed in my childhood but have had quite the resurgence in recent years. In fact, a bookstore close to my house has an entire Richard Scarry section! Lowly is a worm, and almost never has a single line of dialogue, recorded action, or even the tiniest role in the plot. But he appears on every page, often hidden in a sorta "Where's Waldo?" fashion.

Why I like him: He's mysterious, the children's fiction equivalent of a secret agent. What's he doing living in a house with a bunch of cats? Was he adopted? Why doesn't he ever talk? Do the other characters even know he's there? Is he a genetic mutant with secret powers yet to be revealed? Nobody knows... and the enigma is fascinating.

Why he's weird: He's a worm, but he wears clothes. Not like a sock or sleeve, but a full set of clothes, the kind that usually require limbs to wear correctly. In the picture below, he's wearing a bowtie but has no neck. Shirt but has no torso. Belt and pants, yet no legs. And finally, he caps it off with a single shoe on his... well, you can see where he has to put it. Imagine taking off your shoe every time you went to the bathroom. Weird enough?

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For choking worms, try the self-Heimlich balloon. Accept no substitutes!

#2 -- Grumpy old troll (Dora the Explorer)

Who he is: As far as I know, he doesn't have a name and is only known as the "grumpy old troll" (I will henceforth refer to him as "the GOT"). The GOT is a guard that protects bridges, rivers, and other passageways from tresspassers. Especially dangerous girl-child explorers who travel with talking monkeys. Which means he's always trying to keep Dora from getting to her destination unless Dora can pass his test, which is ususally a riddle.

Why I like him: There's more than meets the eye to the GOT. He may seem a simple octogenarian with a penchant for trickery, but you just know that he's a retired military general who's living a whole new life. I think of him as Gandalf without a purpose. Or a fellowship. Or a magic staff and immortal horse. OK, maybe's he's not like Gandalf, but I like him anyway.

Why he's weird: His very name includes the word "grumpy", but the crazy loon is always smiling! What's with that? Back in my day, if a character was supposed to be grumpy, then he was downright acidic. Oscar the grouch could have used a large dose of Wellbutrin. And I swear that someday Pooh and Piglet will find Eeyore in a bathtub with open wounds above his hoofs. But oh no, let's call this guy "grumpy old troll" and put a permanent smile on his face. Maybe it's an ironic joke, like calling an armless man "lefty", or a midget "big man".

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You shall not pass! You shall not pass the Prozac, that is.

#3 -- Trash Gordon (Sesame Street)

Who he is: A new character this season, Trash Gordon appears at the end of every episode of "Elmo's World", which is a spinoff of Sesame Street. New characters, spinoffs... Sesame Street was the original "Law & Order", I guess. Trash Gordon is a hero who saves the day with every appearance. Exactly what he does, who he saves and what he saves them from, I have no idea. It's a new gig and I'm a little slow on the uptake in PBS land.

Why I like him: Based on my brief exposure to Trash, he absolutely cracks me up. I'll save the costume description for the next section, but his attire rocks the house. And his attitude is one of total confidence and calmness. Besides, Samantha now thinks that Trash Gordon is the original, and Flash Gordon is the remake. If she ever sees the movie released in the 80s, though, she'll realize that nobody would ever remake a character just to turn him into a big, dumb, feather-haired brute who uses luck and ignorance to vanquish an egomaniacal alien monarch, all to the tune of a kickin' soundtrack by Queen.

Why he's weird: Sesame Street has always been a low-budget production and that's a major disadvantage in creating the image of a superhero. The real-life, everyday Gordon is a regular character on Sesame Street, so how do they turn him into a superhero? Easy, with a cape, a dramatic voice inflection that hints of William Shatner, and a big, bushy unibrow. Not just some fuzz that connects the brows, but a full-fledged ridge of fur that could double as a pair of sunglasses at high noon. Unfortunately, this character is so new that I couldn't find any pictures of him to post here, but trust me, the man is freaky-lookin'.

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Eye fur more impressive than mine, you say? Destroy him!

This has been fun! But now onto other things, as this world's strangeness goes far beyond cartoons and toys. Check this story in case you need proof.


FishrCutB8 said...

Going to have to go with Reepicheep, from The Chronicles of Narnia. Similar to the Lowly Worm, it's a classic that has made a resurgence. He is a little mouse with a big heart that takes carp from no one. I dig him.

Arthur and friends are the best, both television adn books. Samantha is still too young, but she will love them when she gets there, as will you. It's about friendship, and Marc Brown does a greta job of capturing childhood in all its simple complexity.

There are soooo many good books out there: Viola Swamp, Miss Frizzle, Junie B. Jones, etc.

Redlefty said...

Ahhh, Reepicheep -- indeed also one of my favorites! As is Puddleglum. I absolutely cannot wait for Samantha to be old enough to begin discovering Lewis' world of Narnia. I have read them all at least a dozen times and revisit them every couple of years.

Arthur rings a bell but I haven't read or seen him yet; thanks for the heads up! I certainly value any referrals you can make on books and education, as the market is positively "brim"ming with choices.