'Linus the Lionhearted' (wot, no hyphen?) was the first Saturday-morning cartoon show to be taken off the air by the U.S. government. There were four separate cartoon segments in each half-hour episode. Linus was a lion who presided over the other talking animals in an ill-defined jungle, where he had various adventures such as organising a vocal group called the Coconuts. Sugar Bear was a suave adventurer in a green turtleneck, always unflappable and blase. Lovable Truly was a naff red-headed postman (more of a prat than Postman Pat) who encountered problems on his postal route ... such as the time when he delivered a 'secret admirer' letter to a spinster librarian who immediately assumed that he was also the letter's author. So-Hi was a Chinese boy who narrated stories that were ostensibly folktales from dynastic China.
The 'Linus' stories featured above-average animation, by the standards of Saturday mornings in 1964. The violence was minimal and actually served the story lines. The scripts depicted the characters engaged in achieving credible objectives, as opposed to mere accumulations of spot gags. Even the background music was good, with a jazz flautist playing licks to mark the scene transitions. So-Hi's sequences, although not especially accurate in their depiction of Chinese culture and history, were much less stereotypical or condescending than one might expect. Between the main cartoons were animated mini-chapters of a running serial ... such as Linus's attempt to organise a game of Musical Chairs, with a few more characters eliminated at each commercial break, climaxing at the end of the half-hour segment when Linus's neighbour Granny Goodwitch used witchcraft to win the game. The programme's opening credits featured an upbeat and catchy title song; the closing credits featured a song that was more downbeat yet still well-written ('We're all kind of sad to go, glad to know it won't be long. Lion-hearted friendships don't end; we'll all be back, and then...') while a cartoon bird copied Emmett Kelly's sweeping-up-the-spotlight routine. Although hardly the stuff of greatness, 'Linus the Lionhearted' was far superior - in animation, scripts and humour - to most of the Saturday-morning drivel that's been spoonfed into children's brains.
So, what was the problem? Conveniently, each of the main characters on 'Linus' was also the pitchman for one of Post Cereal's breakfast foods. Linus himself was the compere on every box of Crispy Critters. Sugar Bear was the huckster for Sugar Crisp. (Later, when 'sugar' became a dirty word, this cereal was renamed Golden Crisp ... yet it underwent no reduction in sugar.) Lovable Truly hawked Alpha-Bits, the cereal shaped like sugar-coated alphabet noodles. So-Hi sold Rice Kringles, Post's equivalent to Kellogg's Ricicles.
Commendably, these products were never mentioned or shown on screen in the main cartoon sequences. But, in between the cartoons were spot plugs, drawn and animated in precisely the same way as the cartoons. After So-Hi finished narrating his cartoon, he would explain that rice was a source of nutrition in ancient China, and a good source of rice is Rice Kringles (cue the commercial).
The Federal Communications Commission decided, reasonably enough, that Linus the Lionhearted's intended audience (children) were incapable of distinguishing the difference between this cartoon show and its commercials. So, Linus got axed by Uncle Sam. The FCC's charge had some merit at the time, yet seems ludicrous from today's viewpoint, when one considers the cartoon shows that are blatant commercials for one toy or another. 'Linus' took the heat for being the first cartoon series to blur the line so blatantly, and deserves credit for some innovation. The scripts placed more emphasis on story, and less on gags, than is usual for kiddie cartoons. Commercialism aside, these cartoons deserve to be revived.
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