A bit of a snippet of something I’m trying to get up either tonight or tomorrow while I’m bored waiting for...uhhh...more cartoons to come on. Read on below.
Cartoon cars are wildly diverse - and inconsistent - due to the complete freedom the designer has in freehanding his or her animated world. We’ve seen everything from, well, appropriately cartoonish cars to seemingly painstakingly detailed illustrated or CGI recreations of real-life models to generic featureless blocks that would make a Camry seem ungrounded to the ground to made-up creations that are nonetheless interesting design exercises and would pass muster for the average person’s “yup this looks real” test. And just as we’ve had massive evolution through decades of motoring, cartoon cars can criss-cross all over the time continuum from futuristic spaceships that would give Doc Brown envy to anachronistic rolling museums which in turn can be anything from total rustbuckets to looking like they just got kicked out of the Petersen. Yet of all the available tropes out there it seems to be that very last one that tends to stick out the most - the idea of a perfectly normal, middle-class American/Insert-Country-In-Here-ian who for absolutely no discernible reason would have a daily driver that almost requires a Zoot Suit and Tommy Gun for accessories.
Take the above clip from Nickelodeon’s Alvinnn! And the Chipmunks (yes, this is a thing again and yes, that’s three n’s in Alvinnn!) with the chipmunks’ human dad zipping them off to school in what I’m pretty damn sure is a ‘48 Town & Country complete with rocking that wooden body work. It’s not entirely unreasonable or out of the realm of realism, but it’s just fantastic enough to come across a little odd. To what context would a man raising squirrel-children choose such ancient mode of transportation? The show doesn’t give us any as you’re pretty much watching the first episode - it just gets straight to it, yup, Dave Seville drives around in a Woody Chrysler (and not a Cadillac Seville, unfortunately).
And yet that’s the charm, right there - why spoil it with context anyway? It’s a quaint little cartoonish feature that helps reinforce the fantastic CGI world where chipmunks walk upright, go to school with human teens and sport plastic hairstyles that would make Donald Trump’s face turn WTF?, all of this unquestioned. Cartoons take us to a simpler world - perhaps even a simpler time - and in this way an old woodie isn’t just a visual shorthand, but a mental time machine.