On this edition of The Cartoon Couch, we’ll be looking back at a cartoon that specialized in “edutainment”, that is, combining education with entertainment.
No, that’s Schoolhouse Rock, which is (arguably) one of THE greatest edutainment cartoons of all time, but it’s far too well known to be discussed here. I’m talking about a cartoon with skits that aired in the 1960s and had the word “Company” in it’s title…
No, that’s The Electric Company, which was great, but that show premiered in 1971. And again, The Electric Company is far too popular to be mentioned here. I’m talking about a cartoon about a kids’ club that taught lessons…
You know what, I’m just going to flip all of the cards. Today’s Cartoon Couch looks back at a series titled The Funny Company.
For those who don’t know, The Funny Company was an American animated cartoon produced in 1963 and seen in syndication. Ken Snyder and Charles Koren produced 260 six-minute-long episodes (they later would create the cult favorite Roger Ramjet). The Mattel Corporation provided financial backing. Snyder conceived the program in response to then-Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Newton N. Minow’s call for more educational children’s programs. As previously stated, two years later, Ken Snyder and Charles Koren would go on to produce Roger Ramjet.
Look it up.
The Funny Company only ran for a single season (1963) and I have to admit that I’ve only recently discovered it myself. I don’t know how exactly this happened, but I’ve honestly never seen, heard or read anything about this cartoon until I read about it in Hobbyfan’s blog Saturday Morning Archives. I even know about Milton the Monster, and nobody remembers Milton the Monster! Since the show only ran for one season, there’s no home video release of it, but several episodes are on YouTube, and since I’ve been stuck inside the house after a monster blizzard, I watched a bunch of them. Here’s a brief run down of the series:
The Funny Company group resembled a club not unlike a Junior Achievement organization, and most of the time, the stories would revolve around the Company being hired for various jobs to make a little money (doing yard work, house cleaning, baby sitting, etc.) or doing something for charity (such as putting on shows). As time went on, the Company decided to make Shrinkin’ Violette a movie star and were on their way to Hollywood.
Members included leader Buzzer Bell (rarely seen without his Funny Company visor), inventor Jasper N (for National) Park, club secretary Polly Plum, rotund Merry Twitter (the giggly Betty Boop-soundalike club treasurer), club mascot Terry Dactyl (an actual pterodactyl), shy Shrinkin’ Violette (who could literally become smaller if she became embarrassed), and two Native American adults–Super Chief (named after the Santa Fe Railroad’s crack passenger train) whose voice was an air horn of a single-chime railroad locomotive, and his translator Broken Feather. Another adult lending a hand was Professor Todd Goodheart with his supercomputer, the Weisenheimer.
Villainous Belly Laguna (who was modeled after Bela Lugosi in his Dracula role) always tried to thwart the Funny Company’s plans (for his own profit), but never with any success. Another, less frequently seen adversary was a German-accented mad scientist type, Professor Werner Von Upp.
Each segment included a two-minute live-action short educational film, reinforcing the topic being discussed. Initially produced in black and white, the series switched after one season to full color.
In fact, here’s a video that introduces all of the main characters so I don’t have to:
One thing that I like about this show is how accepting the characters are to all the weirdness surrounding them. OK, talking Pterodactyls exist. Why not? One of the club members has the power to shrink. Sure. One of the girls sounds like Betty Boop. She just does, that’s why!
Another interesting point concerning The Funny Company (and this is particularly interesting considering the decade that the show was produced) is that the show boasted no less than three girl characters in the main cast, during a time where many kids’ shows would have been content with having just one. Also, I love how one of the girls is named Polly Plum, but it’s not the fat girl!
I think that the bigger question would be that after seeing how this show depicted native Americans, would we even want to see any Blacks depicted here? Also, why are a couple Native American adults hanging out with a bunch of suburban kids? Keep in mind that this was 1963 and Political Correctness wouldn’t exist until decades later.
For the reasons stated previously, I can’t go into much detail about The Funny Company‘s history, so instead, I’ll just offer a sample of what the series was like:
“Eek! Indians!”, huh? Now that’s some good ol’ fashioned racism.
Here’s another one:
You know, I don’t know what about Belly Laguna is sadder; the fact the has nothing better to do than bug the neighborhood kids, or the fact that he routinely loses to them. He’s like Gargamel, only without the dignity.
OK, here’s another one (are you sick of that theme song yet?):
So this dude really has nothing better to do than hassle a bunch of suburban kids in a clubhouse? He wouldn’t rather be out robbing banks or engaging in some international espionage? Way to dream big, guy.
All right, one more. This one’s in living black and white.
Well, isn’t that Shrinking Violet just “doll-ling” (which is a little more than darling)? I wonder why Charles Xavier hasn’t scooped this kid up yet.
OK, at this point you’re probably wishing that you had some crackers so all of this cheese wouldn’t be going to waste. Sure, The Funny Company was educational and it was more than just a little cornball, but there were some elements that were actually kind of interesting. Not only do I find this show to not be bad, but with a little tweaking here and there, it could be a potentially entertaining program. Yeah, it would need to be updated for the 21st century. There would definitely need to be some ethnic diversity among the main cast. The 2 Native American guys would definitely need to go (those sort of broad ethnic stereotypes would never fly now), and I’d give Gargamel’s loser brother his walking papers as well.
Here’s how I see it; these kooky but likable kids are in this clubhouse (like with Shrinking Violet, some of the kids could have odd quirks and/or special powers which are never explained), but it’s a TARDIS type of deal where it’s much bigger and roomier on the inside than it appears to be on the outside. It’s full of extra rooms, a science lab and other nifty things. You’d still have the occasional educational moments, but be more subtle about it. Have the kids and others doing some comedy skits, throw in the odd musical number here and there, that could be an almost entirely entertaining program. I see it as a cross between The Banana Splits and Zoom. What do you think?