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Cartoons have been a part of our collective lives in one form or another for hundreds of years. Even Leonardo da Vinci drew caricatures based on famous personalities of his day. The cartoon characters most of us are familiar with are the ones who have turned up on television or been made famous by regular appearances in newspapers and books. While it's safe to assume classic 'toon favorites like Charlie Brown, Garfield, and Mickey Mouse will always be with us, there are some once-popular cartoon characters who have since faded into obscurity -- at least in the minds of recent generations more obsessed with gadgets and social media trends than animated creations that aren't memes or GIFs.
Heckle and Jeckle
First introduced in 1946 in a short called "The Talking Magpies," Heckle and Jeckle are a couple of mischievous birds. Originally portrayed as husband and wife birds, they become two males in "The Uninvited Pests," also released in 1946. The mean-spirited birds started in various television cartoons throughout the decades, making their final appearances in regular series in an updated Mighty Mouse cartoon series that aired in the late 1970s and "The New Adventures of Heckle and Jeckle" in 1980. As for why the tenacious birds fell out of favor with the public, it was likely due to the shift in making an attempt to deliver some type of positive message for kids in cartoons.
Screwball humor ruled in the 1940s, as evidenced by the popularity of Abbott and Costello and Charlie Chaplin. This trend carried over into cartoons of the day, including a colorful bird named Woody Woodpecker. Voiced by the legendary Mel Blanc, Woody first appeared in 1940 in the short "Knock Knock" and became a popular Saturday morning staple with "The Woody Woodpecker Show" in the late 1950s. Walter Lantz was inspired to create the character from all the noise he heard while on his honeymoon -- from a woodpecker on the roof. Last seen in a revival series that ended in 2002, Woody Woodpecker hasn't completed disappeared. He's still on display at Universal Studios theme parks around the world.
Meant to be a parody of Superman, Mighty Mouse (originally named Super Mouse) became popular through a series of animated films in the 1940s. Shortly after his debut in "Mouse of Tomorrow" in 1942, Mighty Mouse spouted dialog that came across as operatic in tone (a nod to a popular tenor of the day named Mario Lanza). A new incarnation of the Herculean mouse returned in the late '80s to star in "The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse" on CBS that saw him paired with sidekick named Scrappy Mouse. After a brief appearance in a television commercial to promote "the power of cheese" in 2001, the character slowly faded away and nothing new has been produced since.
Originally featured on Hallmark cards, the t-shirt wearing animals known as The Shirt Tales starred in their own Saturday morning cartoon show on NBC from 1982 through 1984. A new generation was introduced to the Shirt Tales later in the '80s when they were featured on USA Network's Cartoon Express (a 2-hour block of cartoons). These animated residents of Oak Tree Park included Tyg Tiger, Pammy Panda, Digger Mole, Rick Raccoon, and Bogey Orangutan (named after Humphrey Bogart). They sort of became superheroes in the second season, a trick that didn't really help boost their popularity, at least enough for them to hang around beyond the eighties.
Arguably the most annoying animated creation of all time, Screwball "Screwy" Squirrel debuted in 1944. Created by Tex Avery, the man who gave us Daffy Duck and Porky Pig, Screwy was noted for his aggressive and antagonistic behavior, which was mainly directed at Meathead Dog. The rodent had a habit of breaking the "fourth wall" and talking directly to the camera long before that was a thing. He also met his untimely demise at the end of his fifth cartoon. After resting in peace for about fifty years, Screwy made a brief appearance in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" in 1988. Hanna-Barbara brought Screwy to television in the early '90s as part of the Fox Kids lineup. He also appeared in a direct-to-video Tom & Jerry film in 2013.
Also created by Tex Avery, Droopy debuted in the 1943 short "Dump-Hounded." Named because of his drooping face, the lethargic pooch is often on the hunt for bad guys in many of his adventures, with his main adversary being a wolf. Despite his trademark deadpan delivery, Droopy has superhuman strength that he only uses when he gets "really mad" at one of his foes. The dog, said to be a basset hound even though his last name was given as "McPoodle" in one of his animated appearances, disappeared after the late 1950s. He was revived in as part of a new Tom & Jerry cartoon series in the early 1980s. Droopy made his last appearance to date in a Cartoon Network short in the early 2000s where he was shown working at a coffee shop.
Originally said to be a deputy sheriff in Florida when he made his debut in 1962, Deputy Dawg was the star of a cartoon series that ran on CBS for less than a year. As the show progressed through its 34 episodes, his Southern characteristics became more noticeable and he relocated to Tennessee. The lawman pooch made his last appearance in a new Mighty Mouse series in the late 1980s. Aside from a brief appearance in an unsold cartoon pilot in the '90s, Deputy Dawg has been MIA.
The Get Along Gang
Originally debuting on a series of cards from American Greetings in the early 1980s, The Get Along Gang is a group of animal friends that emphasized the important of friendship. Meeting in an abandoned caboose they used as a clubhouse, the dozen or so animals that made up the Get Along Gang included Montgomery "Good News" Moose, Dotty Dog, and Woolma Lamb. Loosely based on the "Our Gang" characters, the characters often solved problems with attempts to outsmart their foes rather than resort to violence, a big change from the early days of cartoons when it was perfectly acceptable to use waffle irons, toasters, and anvils and other weapons of animated destruction. A pilot for a CGI revival was produced in 2005 but didn't go anywhere.
This "Smurfs" knockoff was a part of NBC's Saturday morning cartoon lineup in the 1980s. Initially called the "Diskies," the Snorks made their debut in comic books in the early '80s before getting their own show in 1984. Set in an underwater world, the show introduced us to characters that included Casey Kelp, Tooter, and Occy the octopus. The backstory is that they apparently saved a captain who fell overboard when his ship was attacked back in the 1600s and he was rescued by the Snorks. The encounter introduced them to the human world, even though most of their adventures took place underwater. The show lasted about four years.
Animation is always evolving. These days, CGI creations are everywhere (even Mickey Mouse and most of the classic Disney 'toons have been reimagined for the digital age). Even so, there's something timeless about certain cartoon characters. Of course, as this list shows, there is a shelf life for some animated creations. But in a world where bringing things back to life for entertainment purposes happens all the time (Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Smurfs, just to name a few), there's always the possibility that any of these forgotten cartoon characters may be reinvented for a new generation sometime in the future.