Zalaznick: What color’s a cartoon character? |

Zalaznick: What color’s a cartoon character?

Matt Zalaznick
Vail CO, Colorado

Do penguins speak English with saucy Hispanic accents? Do they really get jiggy on the tundra?

I thought cartoon penguins, mammoths, skunks, tow trucks and all other animated critters, anthropomorphic vehicles or appliances are supposed to have vanilla Midwestern ” dare I say “WASPy” ” voices.

Woody Allen-esque New York whines or spastic, mis-consonanted Asian was only for comic relief ” for the token characters, like Speedy Gonzalez or the hollerin’-mad, rollin’-pin swingin’ maid from Tom and Jerry.

Because it’s funny when an immigrant or a foreigner is barely literate, right? It’s funny because it shows how clueless and out of place they are.

Ha ha ha.

It’s also a laugh because they have a ways to go, elecution-wise, before they can be one of us ” or at least, it will be a while before they’re likely to get a job doing voice-overs for our commercials or hosting our game shows.

At least, that’s how it was when I watched a lot of cartoons ” there wasn’t a lot of melting pot. Sure, Sesame Street was always very diverse but that was the whole point of the show, right? To show kids not everybody looks like Orrin Hatch.

And the Muppets, anyhow, all sounded like they graduated from a Princetonian pre-school. I mean, Big Bird would get de-feathered pretty quickly on a real “street.”

I’d put money only on Oscar when it comes to surviving the city.

“Scooby Doo” and “The Flintstones” were devoid of any and all multiculturalism, which teaches our kids that prehistoric man and talking dogs could join any modern-day country club. Those were cartoons of which Tom Tancredo would approve for his xenophobic animation hour.

The Smurfs weren’t exactly Caucasian, but their village certainly wasn’t Spanish Harlem or Chinatown. I mean, their little toadstool houses, groupthink and orthodoxy were something out of Puritan Massachusetts.

Daffy Duck was black, but he wasn’t “black.” The blackest Looney Toons character was Marvin the Martian, and he was a patsy from outer space who, even on his own turf, couldn’t nab Bugs Bunny.


But not so funny anymore. I turn on the TV for the kid the other day ” “Happy Feet” ” and the penguins are unhumorously ethnic. Even some of the heroes have “urban” accents and un-American names.

The creators of “Happy Feet” were content to slip the ethnic characters in on the edges. In “Cars,” the diversity’s relegated to minor characters, like the low-rider voiced by Cheech Marin, who doesn’t much more narrative purpose than to sputter around spouting a East-L.A. accent.

In “Over the Hedge,” there’s just a skunk voiced by comedian Wanda Sykes who plays second or third fiddle to the all-American Bruce Willis’ heroic raccoon.

The penguins weren’t doing wholesome dances, like the two-step or the Tennessee waltz, either. They were practically gyrating!

Not funny.

And where were the white, anglo, Caucasian penguins? Of course, penguins don’t actually live in the United States, or Canada, Ireland or England ” except in zoos and maybe in carnival side shows.

But they should still speak decent English. I mean, talking penguins already are confusing ” we shouldn’t have to try and translate their accents.

Even Sesame Street has a Muppet named Rosita. Who speaks Spanglish. How that’s silly? Rosita might be OK up there in amoral New York, but let’s see her try to get directions in the Bible Belt.

And then “Dragon Tales,” comes on. While I can’t tell what color the dragons are supposed to be (pink, aqua, chartreuse, obviously) the kids on the show all seems a little more Latin than Lake Wobegon.

There’s not even a token white kid.

Assistant Managing Editor Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 748-2926, or

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