All in the Animated Family: 10 Classic Cartoon Clans

In celebration of 22 December’s DVD and Blu-ray release of the latest Family Guy spoof of Star WarsSomething, Something, Something, Dark SideSE&L has canvassed the creative landscape of the last 50 years and come up with a list of 10 kinfolk collectives that definitely deserve special mention. Now while it might seem strange to celebrate a selection of animated TV families on a film blog, let’s look at the possible connections, shall we? George Lucas’ sci-fi love letter to other, better films is one of the most heralded (and harangued) movie sextets of all time. Seth MacFarlane and the gang are giving perhaps the best Wars title, The Empire Strikes Back, the same sort of lampoon lashing that past products like Spaceballs did. Besides, more than a few of these pen and ink broods have starred in their own big screen showcases, the most recent centering on a certain oddball bunch from Springfield and an environmental disaster.

So while contemplating the thought of seeing your favorite speculative fiction movie icons spoofed yet again, here are ten families to inspire and irritate. You may not want to emulate them, but you probably won’t mind if they visit for, say, a half hour or so once a week, beginning with:

The Griffins (Family Guy)

As the stars of the new spoof, Something, Something, Something, Dark Side, Peter and the gang reaffirm their position as prime time TV’s most mentally challenged, unstable, unpredictable, and unscrupulous suburbanites. Imagine The Simpsons with lower IQs, obvious perversions, and far more lax personal hygiene and you’ve got an idea of what to expect from Seth Farlane’s crackhead creation. Never even attempting realism, the entire series plays like Dada for Dodos. Everything’s fake. Everything’s foul. And everything’s funny.

The Jetsons

They were supposed to be our glimpse into the future. They were intended to highlight the technological advances of the upcoming century with the age old issues of being married, with children. For George Jetson, put upon employee and desperate dad, progress has done little to make his life easier. If anything, trying to parent when your children can literally bend physics and practical science is enough to make you more than crazy. Add in a snippy robot servant and a loco canine and there’s no hope of such mechanized domestic bliss.

The Flintstones

While many fault the series as being nothing more than The Honeymooners retrofitted to caveman times, the first truly successful primetime animated series is actually a wonderful reflection of its cultural time and place. Fred and Wilma were true counterculture rebels, playing within the Establishment while expressing attitudes and attributes that made many ’60s radicals smile. Granted, they may be hard to see inside the granite and limestone puns and animals as appliances, but next time you stumble across the Neanderthal Ralph Kramden, pay attention. You might just be pleasantly surprised.

The Simpsons

Ah the pure unadulterated joy of being a moron. No other animated series, before or since, has taken the notion of being stupid and turned it into a brilliant badge of honor. Sure, everyone has thought their Dad was dumb at one time or another, but no one is as bravely buffoonish as head of household Homer. While his wife loves him despite of his dullness, his children take his lack of wit with humor and heart. A truly classic show that says more about modern life than we dare admit.

The Smiths (American Dad)

Want proof that the US Neo-Con is as flaky as a fine French pastry? Tune into this companion piece to Family Guy featuring clueless government agent Stan Smith, his tarty trophy wife, and an extended clan that sees nerdy son and hippy daughter share living space with a fey alien and a German accented goldfish. Sounds normal, right? Well, once you see Master Macfarlane’s spin on reactionary Red State ridiculousness, Sarah Palin will seem sensible. Now that’s frightening – and sidesplitting.

The Boyles (Wait Till Your Father Gets Home)

In the wake of its boundary pushing success, the other two rival networks were desperate for a show like CBS’s All in the Family. Taking a segment from its hit Love, American Style – entitled “Love and the Old Fashioned Father” – ABC attempted to bring an animated series featuring the Boyles to the small screen. When focus groups balked, producers Hanna-Barbera took the show into syndication. Oddly enough, this attempt at socially significant generation gapping lasted nearly three seasons, and is today remembered as groundbreaking in its own right.

The Oblongs

When The Simpsons stole the primetime thunder away from network powerhouse NBC, upstarts like the WB and UPN took notice. Suddenly, the airwaves were flooded with animated fare, including this unique look as a family of freaks. Dad was born with no arms or legs. His wife is a bald alcoholic, while their offspring consisted of conjoined twins, a mentally disturbed psycho, and a daughter with a weird growth spurting out of her head. Featuring the voices of Will Ferrell and Jean Smart, the Oblongs were too wacky for even a struggling media conglomerate. The show lasted one season.

The Binfords (Family Dog)

It must be tough to be known as the clan that killed this promising series, but that’s what happened when the long gestating collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Tim Burton finally hit TV screens. It bombed, the missing link was creative genius Brad Bird, who had gone on to bigger and better things with The Iron Giant. For supporters of Skip and Beverly’s mixed-up, mild-mannered mutt, it seemed like a sure thing. Instead, it remains one of the shortest lived series in the history of primetime cartooning.

The Smalls (Home Movies)

Like The Oblongs, the story of Brendon Small and his cinematic aspirations was just too quirky for the fledgling UPN Network. Five shows in, and it was cancellation time. Luckily, the Cartoon Network stepped in and saved it, using it as a start-up lynchpin for its now immensely popular Adult Swim programming. As yet another twisted take on life in these United States, this mostly improvisational effort did a brilliant job of deconstructing the contemporary family unit, from the daily grind of adolescence to outright pop culture parodies.

The Hills (King of the Hill)

It’s no surprise that, with the rise of NASCAR nation, TV would find a way to celebrate all things redneck, white and blue. With Beavis and Butthead‘s Mike Judge on board, and Greg Daniels of The Simpsons working behind the scenes, the everyday experiences of propane salesman Hank and his close-knit clan became FOX friendly staples. With its emphasis on character over stereotype and desire to both celebrate and chastise its subjects, King was seen as a far more realistic counterpoint to the rest of the network’s Hells-apoppin halfwits. Now cancelled, it remains one of the genre’s best.