There are many good things in life that make you feel content and happy. One of those is nostalgic memories – a warm feeling that cannot fail to put a smile on your face.
But I always find there is some pathos attached to nostalgia, a sense of something lost and unattainable; a sense of something that belongs to the past and a constant juxtaposition with the present, which, due to the very essence of nostalgia, will never look quite so rosy as that which preceded! How often do people talk of getting ‘teary’ when they feel nostalgic? So you see, the contentment is tinged with something sorrowful.
Well, then – what of the happy circumstance when Nostalgia and the Present encounter one another, and form an alliance? Is it possible? Yes! And when the two coincide, you don’t need to feel the pathos, just sheer joy and a lot of fun. Allow me to indulge myself as I embark on a discussion of the utterly mundane and inconsequential – an occurrence that really has no substantial bearing on my life, work, or philosophy, nor on anyone else’s really. This occurrence happens to be the discovery – or rather, rediscovery – of a cartoon series I watched when I was younger, back in the early days of Children’s TV (remember the ‘Broom-cupboard’?). I almost forgot about it entirely, except when I randomly came across it in lists of ‘the 20 greatest cartoon theme tunes of all time’ (as you do), at which point my memory was momentarily jogged and I agreed to myself that yes, the series did have a pretty good theme tune…
…and that would be that. But recently, when I holidayed with my lovely niece and nephews, I realised there was a lot more that was ‘pretty good’ about this series beyond the theme tune. Their parents have decided to initiate the kids to ‘golden oldies’, favourite cartoons from our childhoods (lucky children!). While I was staying over, the kids happened to be in the midst of none other than the Mysterious Cities of Gold. Evidently enthralled by the magic, mystery and adventure of this old series, they would avidly watch a couple of episodes each evening, and kept inviting me to watch with them.
I finally relented, for their sake – I could only remember the 3 child characters in the cartoon, I clearly remembered which one of them had been my favourite as a child, and vaguely recollected something of the basic plot. But apart from that, everything else I was seeing on screen felt new to me – or, I should say, strangely familiar yet new at the same time. What a strange phenomenon! I was reliving my happy childhood, but had the added enjoyment of not actually remembering what happened next. Not only that, but the series has the depth, layers of interpretation, historical consistency and character complexity, to make it highly satisfying and rewarding to watch as an adult – in a way, I suspect, that might be beyond the attention or interest of a child. It was great to know that here was a series I enjoyed as a child, but now had the double privilege of enjoying it in a new and different way many years later, applying a fresh perspective and extracting even more from it, as if I was being introduced to it for the first time.
Needless to say, I found myself getting curiouser and curiouser about the plot and the characters, and got hooked on the series a few episodes in – finally asking the kids if we could start from the beginning, so I could commit myself properly to this strange thing. I ordered it on DVD for myself, and watched an episode an evening even after I returned home. I am happy to acknowledge that for the next month and a half, I gleefully and deliberately immersed myself into a thoroughly benign fascination with all things MCOG. I reassure myself that I got my sister (mother of the said nephews and niece) hooked on the series too, who is so very sensible and proper – her collusion in this mini-addiction validates it entirely as a rational pastime, conducive to world peace.
I am a great believer in finding joy in the simple things in life – and because they are simple, they are often unlooked-for and spontaneous, and free from expectations. It might be in Nature, a profound verse, a good book – or, I have learnt, in a children’s cartoon! Why not? When I reflect as well that this series had its 30th anniversary a couple of years ago (!), it does make me more alert to the changes that have taken place in society, in values, in the pace of life and our attention spans. The depth, nuance, silences, empathy, understated yet profound relationships and emotions, reflected in this simple cartoon series is a testament to the patience and loyalty of viewers (indeed children!) thirty years ago – compared to the frenetic-paced, low tolerance, short-attentioned, noise-seeking, often shallow society we arguably, in general, live in today.
I noticed there was not very much out there by way of (deeper) analysis or reflection on MCOG in English on the net – there is aplenty in French, where the cartoon was pretty mainstream and is treated as something of a cultural treasure. So I will attempt to offer episode ‘recaps’ here, starting with episode 1 of course. I say recaps, but they will be more like a jumble of reflections, with spoilers too. One of the most enjoyable parts of watching the series was sharing my reaction with 2 particular friends, devotees to the cartoon since their childhoods – I had many an interesting, and amusing, email exchange with them both on the back of notable episodes: in this way I’ll be able to share some of our mutual analyses.
If you’ve never watched MCOG, let me urge you to go and track down the series on DVD/ Blu-ray (whatever they come in nowadays), and make your mind up for yourselves – the original season 1, mind you, not the let-down that is season 2…The series generally ages well, but even so, once you get past the obviously dated animation, I don’t think you will be disappointed. It goes to show that plot and character development is everything in a good story – animation, style and packaging is important but only secondary.
And finally, though I did say this occurrence didn’t really affect me in any profound way, and that it happily sits in one of those mundane but thoroughly enjoyable categories of life, I should also say that it reignited by childhood interest in South American history, geography and society – when I was about 10 years old I went searching for any information I could find about the Aztecs, the Amazon Rainforest, and memorised the names of over 70 cities and towns in Brazil for the sake of it. Re-watching the cartoon reminded me why South America had so captured my imagination all those years ago, and has kindled a return to mesoamerican history, and the indigenous encounter with Spanish colonialism. Not a bad result from a cartoon!
Check out the recap of Episode 1 here: