You might be hard pressed to name 50 cartoon characters. Until you put this disc on and déjà vu sets in all over again. From the 1933 bravado of Popeye to the simperingly cute Animaniacs, from Woody Woodpecker’s deranged cackle to Ren & Stimpy’s neo-beat “Dog Pound Hop,” nearly every major player in the ink world is represented. And once these quick, happy cuts start playing, it’s surprising to realize that 50 isn’t even enough. Of course, there is no Disney, and the WB crew, Bugs, Daffy, et al., are saluted with their Merrie Melodies closing theme (“That’s All Folks”), but the notable absence is the Divine Miss Boop. Her entrancing theme, “Sweet Betty,” certainly belongs with those of Casper, Howdy Doody, the Simpsons, and Rugrats. (There is a nice soundtrack LP from Betty Boop’s Scandals of 1974 that someone should reissue.) But that’s a small complaint. The disc’s variety demonstrates how far animation’s borders extend beyond the iron grip of the Magic Kingdom: Bob Clampett’s Beeny and Cecil (“Lovable, gullible, armless, harmless, 10-foot-tall, and wet”), Jay Ward’s Bullwinkle, the loopy operettas of Mighty Mouse (“Here I come to save the day!”), the Pink Panther, the Peanuts gang, and the Schoolhouse Rock set are just as worthy emissaries of American cultural imperialism as Monsieur Mickey. And Speed Racer and Gigantor ably send it right back at us. Assembled in chronological order, the disc also charts changing musical styles, from Ziegfield’s Broadway to the “rapping” Ninja Turtles. Hoyt Curtin, the composer of all the Hanna-Barbera product, gave his showstopping show-starters like the Flintstones and Jetsons big-band dynamics. Compare his Benny Goodmanesque Jonny Quest Theme with Captain Planet’s limp MOR exhortation (“Captain Planet, he’s our hero/Gonna take pollution down to zero”). As Curtin repeatedly remarked in an interview, “I love jazz. I just love jazz.” His enthusiasm lives in these tracks. To quote the Banana Splits: It’s a mess o’ fun. —Dave Nuttycombe

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