May 7, 2006
In the fall of 1992, two new television series came out that were unlike anything else on the air. Both, remarkably, were from Hanna-Barbera, who until then seemed resigned to endless regurgitations of their old characters.
Set in a world of anthropomorphic cats, SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron was loud, fast and full of intense action, which was something of a shock at a time when people were fretting about violence and cartoons' general lack of educational merit.
But the real surprise was a little something called 2 Stupid Dogs, featuring the nameless big dog and little dog who, as the title suggested, weren't particularly bright. Each seven-minute short featured simple situations—the little dog falls in love with a wind-up poodle, the big dog gets his head stuck in a hole in a fence—that were played for maximum laughs. There was also a minor cast of characters like Hollywood, the big, loud, generally kind-hearted man prone to bellowing; Kenny, the lovelorn and generally anxious schoolboy; a tiny kitten who, like all felines, the little dog was terrified of; and Red, aka Little Red Riding Hood, an obnoxious nearsighted child who starred in a trio of cartoons produced with a little help from John Kricfalusi.
The beauty of 2 Stupid Dogs was that it echoed the classic Looney Tunes shorts much better than other cartoons before or since that claimed they were doing the same thing. Each episode was personality-driven; the various players were placed in certain situations (Hollywood even showed up as a grieving woman, five-o'clock shadow and all), and their particular personalities guided the action. Also like the Looney Tunes, each episode was a stand-alone, but you could quickly figure out the basic relationships and traits of the characters even if you had never seen the show before. And since it rarely depended on pop-culture gags (the exception being an extended Partridge Family takeoff, which works even if you don't know who they are), the gags really are timeless.
Appearing as the middle segment in the show's first season was Super Secret Secret Squirrel, an updated version of the 1965 Hanna-Barbera cartoon that, in true retro style, was sometimes more 1960s in aesthetic than the original. Sending up spy shows in general with only the mildest of 1990s self-consciousness, the new Secret Squirrel, like 2 Stupid Dogs, was just plain funny. There were only thirteen Secret Squirrels made (the second season of 2 Stupid Dogs was Squirrel-free), but they were all dead-on.
Both 2 Stupid Dogs and Super Secret Secret Squirrel each used limited animation techniques but did so differently, resulting in different aesthetics, cleverly reminding viewers that "simple" and "limited" animation, used effectively, could produce amazing results. Many of the people behind these shows, like Larry Huber, Craig McCracken, Rob Renzetti, Paul Rudish and Genndy Tartakovsky, would go on to extend those principles in their own shows, like Dexter's Laboratory, My Life As a Teenage Robot, Powerpuff Girls, and Samurai Jack—to name but a few—when Hanna-Barbera became Cartoon Network Studios. It's no exaggeration to say that 2 Stupid Dogs and Super Secret Secret Squirrel heralded the birth of an era.
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