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Austin Chronicle TV Eye

By Margaret Moser

NOVEMBER 9, 1998:  "TV Eye" loves a challenge, especially one involving trivia but most especially one involving cartoon trivia. Recently, a reader wrote posing that most indulgent of searches: the attempt to identify a cartoon seen in childhood.

Sometime in the late Fifties or early Sixties there was a cartoon that was tied in with a cereal. (It might have been Crispy Critters, but I don't think so.) The main character was an elephant who could change his trunk into different things with the chant, "Nose, nose, anything goes. Turn my trunk to a ..." (Could I have imagined a chant like that? Many people think so.) I remember some of the cereal boxes had a fold-out back, with comic strip-type stories and puzzles and things like that. I seem to remember small newsprint comics being in some of the boxes too. Can you help me, or am I completely bonkers? -- Craig C.

P.S. It was probably around '61-63. I was born in '55, and I was old enough to read the boxes and comics.

Queries like this make me deliriously happy, which indicates the puerile level of my intelligence, my complete unwillingness to admit to being an adult, or both. Cecil Adams and "Straight Dope," move over: I was on a mission. I
wast -- uh -- spent an entire afternoon on the Internet researching the answer.

The moment I read this letter, I could picture the cartoon -- definitely a non-Disney, non-Warner Bros. effort. As I recall, however, Crispy Critters cereal had King Linus as its champion. "The one and only cereal that comes in shape of animals!" I remember the damn commercial because it was the source of a fight with my younger brother Stephen, who insisted the words were, "The one and only cereal that comes in shape of valuables." Valuables?? I punched him for being so stupid, then was punished for hitting him.

King Linus was not to be confused with King Leonardo and His Short Subjects, yet another royal contender. King Leonardo's sidekick was Odie Cologne, who was a skunk. Neither of them are to be confused with Lippy the Lion and Hardy Har-har, who were part of Hanna-Barbera's stable of imagination-free cartoons.

The clarity with which the image of this elephant rose to mind was astonishing. I could picture the animation style clearly -- broad strokes, pastels, and a contemporary twist, not the airbrush sheen of Harveytoons nor the juvenile simplicity of Hanna-Barbera. In my mind, I thought of Jay Ward and Rocky & Bullwinkle. Or could this be Silly Sidney the Elephant? And why didTennessee Tuxedo come to mind? Was it because the adventurous penguin was always "parachuting for your pleasure, sailing seas in search of treasure, anything so he could measure up to men?" More importantly, how is it that I remember the theme song more than 30 years after the last time I can remember hearing it?

Doing research on the Net is a beautiful thing, dear reader. It requires a good base of knowledge so that you can navigate through the misinformation and the bullshit sites. It requires patience to key in the right phrases for numerous search engines out there. And when it pays off, it is like hitting the jackpot in Vegas.

On the elephant quest, I traveled into the Warner Bros. realm, knowing they were not what I was looking for but hungry for the good stuff. I hung out with Popeye for a bit, but only in his early days, before Paramount bollixed the sailor man. A friend sent me to the dirty Disney site, where all your favorite Disney characters are busy doing the wild thing. (I never knew how limber Little Mermaids could be.)

My breathing grew shallow and my pulse rate increased as I found the ToonTrackers site (http://www2.wi.net/~rkurer/totaltv.htm). Yes, here was King Leonardo, Tennessee Tuxedo, Underdog, and less well-known cartoons from the same animation group such as The Beagles and The Go-Go Gophers. I knew I was getting close. Suddenly, Twinkles, a winged baby elephant, flew onto the screen and that version of the "Hallelujah Chorus" that pops into my head whenever I find what I'm searching for on the Net rose in my ears.

Back in 1961, FCC chairman Newton R. Minnow decried the state of television in a now-famous speech. He declared it a "vast wasteland" and called for an overhaul of programming, especially children's programming. I'd like to believe that it was Hanna-Barbera that inspired him to rail about that, but he wasn't that far off track. The "Silver Age" of animation gleamed when the polished theatrical efforts of MGM, Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal and other film studio animators were first shown on television in the Fifties but were tarnished by the sophomoric efforts of Hanna-Barbera by the Sixties. The biggest difference between WB and HB was not in the dumbed-down animation but in the dialogue, which was no longer required to entertain adults, just children.

Craig, this is a joyous moment for us both. Because of Minnow's speech, a concerted effort to use animation and cartoons for educational purposes inspired General Mills cereals to produce 90-second cartoons for tots. Twinkles the Elephant starred in a series of these. The accompanying boxes of Twinkles cereal featured the elephant's adventures in a fold-out storybook. His pals included Sanford the Parrot, Fulton the Camel, and Winston the Monkey.

At least I hope this is who you were thinking of.

Tuned out? Write TVEye@auschron.com

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