Cartoon Graveyard: The Scarry Truth

November 12, 2009


Childhood nostalgia has its limits. Sure, people are making big money off of movies based on cartoons based on toys, but that’s partly because no one has any original ideas for movies anymore. We remember with fondness our old Saturday morning fare and children’s books, sometime with cause, sometimes not. But some stuff just slips past until years later we see it and say “Hey, didn’t I love that at some point?” To wit: does anyone remember why they liked Busytown? You remember, those Richard Scarry books about the city populated by anthropomorphic animals that taught you what people did all day and that worms wear shoes and Tyrolean hats. Those. I, for one, had not only several Scarry books but also a CD-ROM in which you helped the town’s residents build houses and steal bananas. Yet for the life of me I can’t recall what the appeal was. So you can imagine my confusion upon discovering that this weird franchise still exists, in the form of Busytown Mysteries. What? Exactly.

For the record, it was kinda fun.

See, I didn't make this up.

Title: Busytown Mysteries

Network: CBS

Premise: Animal kids pursue the answers to life’s most trivial questions.

For those of you without vague childhood recollections to draw upon, here’s the setup: several of Busytown’s more recognizable residents, including lederhosen-wearing cat Huckle, his indistinguishable-but-for-different-clothes sister Sally, and hopping worm Lowly, encounter various odd circumstances, dub them mysteries, and set out to discover their explanations. The titular Busytown is indeed a busy town, as various citizens and vehicles whiz by in the background of every scene. And speaking of vehicles, I can’t say anything bad about a city in which kids are legally allowed to drive cars.

Or apple. Whatever.

My papa said son you're gonna drive me to drinkin' if you don't stop drivin' that Hot Rod Lincoln!

For some reason, Huckle gets the star treatment. The theme song explicitly instructs you to “solve a mystery with Huckle.” After every successful case, everyone in the vicinity yells “Hooray for Huckle!” which seems like more of an ego boost than the kid needs for figuring out how straw got tracked all over the house. Formula plays a big role here. Every time a “mystery” is declared or solved, Goldbug (literally, a gold bug) shows up in a tiny news van to interview Huckle for what must be the most boring TV news program on the planet other than CNN. Each interview is then followed by its assigned brief musical number about solving mysteries. When the solution is reached, Huckle explains his chain of reasoning via flashbacks to earlier scenes in the fifteen-minute segment we’ve just watched. It seems like an awful lot of filler to me, but hey, it’s on at seven in the morning, and maybe little kids like repetition, I don’t know.

Of course, the elephant in the room has to be addressed: why do these characters need to be solving mysteries, anyway? Couldn’t they just have light-hearted, cheaply animated comic adventures like the rest of their Saturday-morning brethren, using the colorful background of Busytown? That would cut out a lot of the repetitive “Hey gang, we’ve got a mystery on our hands!” chatter. The only explanation I can come up with is that they somehow ran out of regular Busytown stories to tell. History tells us that if a TV show runs out of gas, the logical next step is either to quit or start solving mysteries. Observe!

And let’s not forget this little gem.

To be fair, Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries kind of ruled, but that’s beside the point. Someone apparently decided that Busytown just didn’t offer the kind of vibrant story possibilities offered by the mystery format’s ironclad formula and script constraints. But you know what? I’m going to assume the best. Let’s drop the cynicism for a moment and assume Busytown Mysteries is not an attempt to revive an old children’s book franchise that’s long past its prime, but instead an earnest educational show urging children to think inquisitively about their world. Most of the “mysteries” Huckle and company encounter could be resolved simply by people taking the time to think seriously about possible causes and effects. We joke, but it’s actually kind of nice to see a show that encourages kids not to jump to conclusions, to painstakingly examine facts and follow logical trains of reasoning. We’re living with an age in which thousands of people march on Washington to call the President an Islamic Terrorist Communist because they’re told to do so by millionaire talk show hosts. Anything that teaches kids an ounce of critical thinking, even something as silly as Busytown Mysteries, is all right by me.

Final Judgment: Nothing special, but it’s seven in the morning, so what do you care?


One comment

  1. Hahahaha… I found this post doing a Google search about the show, because my daughter loves it. I’m forced to watch “Busytown” with her every Saturday (and often during the week, thanks to the “miracle” of DVRs!). I’ve had the same thought about Huckle’s egotism (why is he taking all the credit for “mysteries” that the entire Busytown gang solves?). Of course, Huckle always tosses off the same little disclaimer line once the mystery is solved (“… And I couldn’t have done it without my friends!”), but that seems like a drop in the bucket compared to all the Huckle jingoism. I also enjoy the “mysteries” that you can literally see coming at the 30 second mark (“We left Sally’s pile-of-sugar science project in the room with Lowly’s ant farm science project overnight… and the pile of sugar disappeared!”). But as far as my daughter’s concerned, this shit is CSI. Enjoyed the write-up!

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