Today with The Simpsons, Family Man and loads of cable cartoon fare, it’s normal to have cartoons on during prime time. But when I was a kid, OK when I was a young kid, prime time cartoons were very rare. As a matter of fact, I can only remember three, all by the Hanna-Barbera studio. (Note here: H-B studios ruled the mornings and after school hours with Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, Auggie Doggie and Doggie Daddy, Pixie and Dixie and Jinx and a host of others. I grew to love Warner Brothers’ Toons but I was a H-B loyalist) Oh yea, the three nighttime toons were The Flintstones, The Jetsons and Top Cat.
It is not as well known as its two evening cohorts but it is by far my favorite. In 1961 and 1962, Wednesday nights at 8:30 on Channel 7, ABC, you could find me glued to our old black and white Zenith singing along with the theme song.
Top Cat and his gang, Fancy-Fancy, Spook, Benny the Ball, Brain, and Choo Choo, lived in Hoagy’s Alley in Manhattan. They were always trying a new scheme to raise some money, find a new place to live and even get a meal. These schemes were not always on the up and up and usually crossed paths with Officer Dibble. Dibble was their main foil but you knew deep inside they all cared about each other. He even took the boys in during a real cold spell and cartoon hilarity ensued.
I think the reasons I love Top Cat so much was that it was so different at that time. It took place in a real American city, using New York’s backdrop as a character. It was totally urban, something foreign to a country boy. The characters had an edge to them, they were not all warm and fuzzy, they had an Our Gang/Bowery Boys grit to them. Every character had a distinct tone that was consistent from episode one to thirty. And it was funny without playing down to kids. It did not rely solely on visual slapstick, even today it holds up.
So, if you love the old cartoons or you spend a lot of time watching TV with your young children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, and you find today’s cartoon insipid, stupid, boring and crass, I recommend you put a little T.C. on the menu. I bet you even watch it while they’re asleep.
You can find a number of episodes on YouTube and the full DVD collection is available here. After all he is the leader of the gang.