As Sierra mentioned this morning, Facebook users are changing their profile pictures to images of their favorite cartoon characters from the 70s and 80s, purportedly in an effort to raise awareness about violence against children. Like Sierra, I question the ability of any profile picture-based activism to effect change in the real world, but if you look at the phenomenon as an exercise in pop culture, it’s sort of fun to think about the cartoon characters from the period that have stood the test of time.
Does your daughter love Hello Kitty and Strawberry Shortcake? Is your son a fan of the Smurfs? What about the Peanuts gang? Let’s take a walk down memory lane and examine the cartoon characters from the 70s and 80s that have survived despite changing fads and regained popularity today.
Though she’s not widely known as an animated character, Hello Kitty is certainly one of the most prominent cartoon creations from the 70s who maintains a strong fan base today. “Since 1974, her image has adorned everything from small plastic coin purses and pencils, to toaster ovens and TVs with the sunny philosophy that small gifts create big smiles,” NPR reports in their coverage of the 50th anniversary of Sanrio. If you’re a fan of all things Kitty and you’ve never been to the Sanrio store in Times Square, do yourself a favor and book a flight to New York now. They prove the mantra “good things come in small packages” to be true; the last time I was there I tried on a Hello Kitty cocktail ring designed by Kimora Lee Simmons made entirely of diamonds and rubies. It looked amazing on me, but with a $5000 price tag, I left the store just as happy with a $3 pencil pack. I’m thrilled I was able to pass my love of Hello Kitty on to my daughter, who celebrated her 5th birthday in October with a Kitty-themed party.
If you’ve had a girl within the last few years, you’re probably aware of Strawberry Shortcake’s interesting comeback. The freckle-faced redhead was originally designed in 1977 for American Greetings. Her face was initially used on greeting cards, but she and her subsequently created friends (Huckleberry Pie, Blueberry Muffin, just two inches high!) became a true phenomenon in the 80s. The Strawberry fad died for most people in 1985, but my friend and fellow comedian Katina Corrao has been an avid collector since her youth. She has an entire bathroom full of Strawberry gear, both old and new. Corrao says, “I Love Strawberry Shortcake because she’s bright, perky and always solves problems with love. Plus, she always had a nice group of good smelling friends around to accompany her.” Ms. Shortcake underwent a re-design in 2002, emerging as a more Bratz-esque creature, ready to compete in a Disney princess-driven market. My daughter definitely likes Strawberry Shortcake, but I wouldn’t say she’s a major fan. She first developed a shining to Strawberry a few years ago when she was given a pink Shortcake ensemble from Wal*Mart, one of the main retailers offering a wide variety of Strawberry products.
The Smurfs were a Saturday morning TV-watching staple for me as a child, and thanks in large part to Macy’s, they’re making a comeback as well. A Papa Smurf balloon was added to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade back in 2008, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the tiny blue creatures. This year, the Smurfs (not to be confused with the Snorks) serve as Macy’s “holiday ambassadors” for the 2010 shopping season. Hanna & Barbera began producing The Smurfs cartoon in 1981, and over 250 episodes featuring popular characters like Smurfette and Gargamel were created. Smurf figures were widely collected when I was a kid, and I’m hoping that trend doesn’t resurface. There are already too many small toys all over our house thanks to Belle, Cinderella, Jasmine, et. al. A full-length Smurf feature will be released in 2011.
No discussion of 70s and 80s cartoons would be complete without mentioning the Peanuts gang, though of course Charles Schultz’s newspaper strip dates back to 1950. The animated holiday cartoon specials my generation grew up with were first aired in the mid-60s, but remain a major part of the holiday pantheon even now.
Are there other cartoon characters from the 70s and 80s you and your children love? To celebrate more 80s nostalgia, visit my friend and fellow comedian Hillary Buckholtz’s blog I’m Remembering.
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