We spend a fair amount of time around here talking about the state of kids’ culture (it’s even in our logo!), which means we also spend a fair amount of time grousing about the ways it could be better. But because we are sensible people, and because we lived through a time when things were, generally speaking, kind of worse, we feel duty-bound to occasionally sift through the wreckage of our misspent youth and point out just how far we’ve come. In that spirit, we present Saturday Morning Graveyard, which takes a quick, disbelieving look back at some of the poorly animated hooey we were given as impressionable kids.
Rickety Rocket (1979-80)
Presented as part of the generally dreadful Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show, Rickety Rocket was a sort of animated perfect storm. It’s lamentably true that, Sesame Street excepted, children’s television did a lamentably poor job of depicting cultural diversity during the ’70s and ’80s — but that’s partly because it did a bad job of depicting rational human behavior in general, which is why, when Ruby-Spears Productions decided to add a little color to its lineup, they came up with an appalling blend of Scooby-Doo, Sanford and Son, and The Jetsons. Observe:
On the one hand, you can applaud the show for sending the message that in the future, inner-city kids will have learned how to cobble together junk left behind by fleeing whites from their decaying neighborhoods and turn it into a sentient rocket. On the other hand, said rocket is a pile of junk with big lips, and the kids are minstrel caricatures. So, you know, kind of a wash.
Troubling subtext aside, Rickety Rocket was basically your standard “junior detective” cartoon of the ’70s, which is to say it involved the protagonists (who called themselves — wait for it — the Far-Out Detective Agency) putting their wits together to defeat bad guys who were just a little more dim-witted than the heroes. Because it took place in the future, Rocket included lots of exotic elements, such as aliens and monsters like Count Draculon — basically it was Scooby-Doo without the masks coming off at the end. And big lips.
Rickety Rocket is hard to watch for a number of reasons, but I think it’s important to point out that I don’t think there was anything intentionally racist about the show; for one thing, I don’t know the story behind its development well enough to make that kind of accusation, and more importantly, as I said before, the cartoons of the era generally subsisted on broad stereotypes and idiotic behavior no matter who they were depicting. Still, it’s a perfect example of the kind of lazy thinking and cruddy animation that typified the Saturday mornings of our youth. Makes Dora the Explorer look pretty outstanding, doesn’t it?