Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The 3 Best Cartoons To Forecast The Future (And How They Did)

It's a SemiDaily List!

I'm still celebrating the Month of New, and what could be newer than... The Future?

Unless, of course, the future that is being set up is "the future" in Star Trek: Over And Over Again, that new movie that's coming out that promises to tell, or re-tell, or something, the origins of the Enterprise crew.

Did anyone actually wonder about that? Is there anyone that watched all those Star Trek episodes and movies and thought "I wonder how Kirk and Spock ever met up?" Because I've never wondered that. I just assumed they happened to be assigned to the same military unit, as happens over and over and over again in the military. It happens nowadays, it probably happened in Spartan times, and I'm sure, in the future, guys will enlist in Starfleet and will be assigned to a unit and will then be partnered up with the guys in that unit and... that's it. That's their "origin" story.

So Star Trek: Redux Reduxed is exactly the opposite of what I'm trying to do here in the Month of New. It's a remake that tells the most boring part of the story imaginable, the "origin" of the story, and somehow, even the commercials reduce the fantastic, wondrous world of the future to a great, gaping Space Yawn.

To combat that, and continue presenting the New, I've searched my memory for other, better, more original, more creative looks at the future, as expressed in humanity's highest art form, the cartoon. And that's today's nominations:

The Three Best Cartoons To Forecast The Future (And How They Did.)

1. The Jetsons.

Any look at future-forecasting cartoons has to start with the Jetsons, because they were the first cartoon to take a peek at the future and tell us how we'd be living. Or they may not have been the first, but they are at least the first cartoon I can remember, which, to existentialists, is the same thing. The Jetsons took a freewheeling look at family life, business, and entertainment in the far-flung future of humanity. How'd they do? Let's see:

Year It Forecast: There's a bit of an argument about that, and 50% of that argument takes place on Wikidiotpedia, which in one entry on the less-than-reliable site says 2962 and 2162. (Wikipedia is a sterling example of how democracy does not work for everything, like facts.) The upcoming movie version of the cartoon (you knew there had to be one, right?) is going to be set in 2307. The ultra-reliable website "Chacha.com" says, with no references or source material whatsoever, that the show is set in 2262. Apparently, in the future calendars will not work so well.

Vision of the Future: Upbeat, but a lot like life is today: People still work, the family unit has remained essentially unchanged, and we're all still driving cars -- we're just driving them through the air, but somehow still staying in traffic lanes.

The Jetsons forecast a time of people living in ultra-high-rise apartment complexes, flying to work at their jobs, which for some reason were still mostly drudgery. There was interplanetary travel, but we still had rock stars on TV. We will have videophones and personal little bubbles that drop down from cars-- but people still used cash, as the opening credits showed over and over. We would, in the Jetsons' future, walk our dogs on treadmills hovering precariously miles off the ground, and we get our food from the Food-A-Rac-A-Cycle by the push of a button.

How Right Did They Get It? On a scale of Scotty-to-Spock (Spock being most correct), let's give the Jetsons a Uhura -- not very. We do get our food quickly, but we do it from a drive-through window in a car that remains frustratingly glued to the ground, and we pay for it with a credit card that costs us 17% annual interest on that double whopper. People are leaving the high rises and buying up prime farmland to build 4300-square-foot houses with four-car garages. And while we've got videophones, they're used almost exclusively for "tweeting."

2. Futurama:

How about a cartoon show that doesn't simpy send the Flintstones into the future, instead? Futurama took the bizarre social commentary spawned by The Simpsons and sent it a thousand years into the future -- as you'd know if anyone had ever been able to watch it. Fox, for some reason, thought Futurama would be better appreciated by people if it was continuously pre-empted by football. Then again, who can blame them? They were busy getting ready to pour money down the rathole that Family Critic and its related shows have become.

Year It Forecast: Futurama is set in the year 3000, or, as it will come to be known, "The Reign of Bristol Palin XIV, Queen of All Western Lands."

Vision of the Future: The year 3000 is a mind-bogglingly complex to former Delivery Boy Philip Fry, who accidentally cryogenically freezes himself and then wakes up in that year to gaze in wonder at a world where he can ride a Tyrannosaurus Rex at the children's zoo, where he can visit an amusement park on the moon in an afternoon, where Blernsball is a major sport and Hypnotoad threatens to rule the world... and where his job chip says he's going to be a delivery boy. We will travel by spaceship and by personal transporter tube. We will... drink cola advertised by a slug. We will constantly re-elect the head of Richard Nixon as president of Earth, and the Harlem Globetrotters will help us save the planet a few times. Also, there are Robot Devils co-existing with space paperboys.

How Right Did They Get It? McCoy (Fair-to-middlin'). To begin with, we don't have paperboys at all anymore -- we barely have papers, and those that still exist are delivered by surly old men and recently-laid-off banking executives. Nobody's going to the moon, and the only thing we send to other planets are radio-controlled cars. But package delivery is, as accurately forecast by Futurama, one of the primary industries of planet Earth now -- by my estimate, 98% of all commercials are for a package delivery service already, and that's not counting the by-now-tired "Whiteboard" UPS commercials that have blown through their original premise (clever drawings that morph into something else) and are just dumb. We're still more than 900 years away from the world of Futurama, but it's not hard to envision our entire economy being based on package delivery by then.

As for electing the head of Richard Nixon, is that so far-fetched? We've turned Bill Clinton into an "elder statesman" in just 8 years, we gave a Nobel Prize to Former Worst President Ever Jimmy Carter, we named an airport after Ronald Reagan. With our culture repackaging old disgraces as new triumphs faster than ever, if we could elect Nixon's head, I'm sure we would. And you say you wouldn't, but you haven't yet seen the People magazine special issue with the headline "Nixon's Head: Shame Over Childhood Made Me Do It." That, plus a special interview with Dr. Phil's head, would be all it took to vault him into the presidency.

And the commercial success of Slurms Mackenzie, the spokes-slug for "Slurm," the drink of the future? Have you seen those little boogers that advertise "Mucinex?" We're already using slugs as spokespeople.

3. G-Force:

How much more popular would "G-Force" have been if it ran with its original Japanese title, "Science Ninja Team Gatchaman?" About a billion times more popular, I bet. As it was, G-Force was, I think, pretty unknown to everyone but me. Strange. You'd think a show about a bunch of teenagers who protect the Earth from an alien planet by donning bird-suits and fighting in space would have broad appeal. G-Force was actually the second of two shows featuring those teens; the first was called "Battle of the Planets," and had the same general theme, with the added allure of "Keyops," a childlike artificial life form that stutters, chirps, beeps and talks.

The old G-Force classic cartoon is not to be confused with the big-budget 3d blockbuster about the government training hamsters to spy. (A movie which, apparently, and for some reason, is destined to exist.)

Year It Forecast: Unclear, although one episode was said to be set in 2001.

Vision of the Future: In "G-Force/Battle of the Planets" future, the Earth is threatened by Spectra, and the sole guardians who can help us are Mark, Jason, Princess, Keyop, and Tiny -- teenagers (who look 35 or so) who can fly a spaceship, don flight suits, perform acrobatic, vaguely-karate-ish stunts, and otherwise wreak mayhem. Their adventures are, in the American version, guided by a humorous robot, 7-Zark-7, that has a robotic dog named 1-Rover-1, and also has a robotic crush on the sexy early warning computer... Susan. When not fighting, the teens eat "Space Burgers," work as test pilots, attend "Space Academy," drive in inteplanetary car races, mess around with space yo-yos, and drive Galacticycles.

The spaceship they fly can transform itself entirely into fire. They fight against aliens led by a hermaphroditic leader who goes by both male and female names, the latter being an anagram of the former. There is a galactic federation of some sort, and planets can "hide behind" other planets.

How right did they get it? Spock -- dead solid perfect. I wish. What's life without a Space Burger? If we need to be constantly at war with alien hermaphrodites hiding behind other planets to get that kind of cushy futuristic lifestyle, then so be it. And what could possibly be wrong with trusting the fate of the human race, not to mention weapons of interstellar mass destruction, to teenagers?

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