Growing up with Hanna-Barbera

The first of a series of articles on peoples cartoon favourites put together by Mike Lewis begins with Dave Dursley’s opinion of TV’s biggest supplier of cartoon entertainment.

Insofar as there is respect for any kind of animation in this country, it is reserved for “Theatrical” cartoons. That is those made for the cinema – the Warner Brothers stable of Bugs, Daffy, Porky and the rest; Disney’s timeless shorts and features, Fleischer’s Popeye, the stylish, trendsetting U.P.A. catalogue and many more besides. Not, mind you, that most of us saw those films at the cinema – indeed in the twenty or so years I’ve been picture going I can hardly remember a cartoon slotted in between the first and second feature.

No, we’ve grown to know and love these famous names from constant exposure to them on T.V. And of course we all recognise the difference in quality between those lovingly crafted master¬pieces from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s and the stuff that was, and is, custom-made for the idiot-box. That is, we do now. But how about before we became so refined in our tastes, before we needed to check the director’s name before allowing ourselves to laugh?

Hanna-Barbera is a buzz-word these days for cheapjack animation – Saturday morning kiddie-fodder that no self-respecting kiddie watches anyway. Even if that point of view was valid, which it is not, it wouldn’t change the simple fact that Hanna-Barbera has provided the cartoon accompaniment to 25 years of growing up, and ingrained as many classic characters into the consciousness of a generation as any of its theatrical predecessors.

I grew up with Hanna-Barbera, and I loved many of their shows, not uncritically but un-cynically. The first H-B product that I can remember was “The Huckleberry Hound Show”, which featured, as well as the laconic hound himself, Yogi Bear and sidekick Boo Boo, Pixie, Dixie and Mr. Jinks. That was the original American lineup from 1958, followed in 1959 by “Quick Draw McGraw” and his supporting programme of “Augie Doggie and Doggy Daddy” and “Snooper and Blabber”. It must have been the early 60’s before I began to watch these characters, and since I was only four or five at the time, I can’t remember the format they were shown in in Britain, but I do know that while I thought that Huck was funny, none of the other early H-B characters really caught my attention. Unfortunately except for Yogi,for whom I never really cared for, and the repetitive Pixie and Dixie, these early H-B cartoons seldom seen on today’s screens.

In the 1960’s in America Hanna-Barbera made a breakthrough with the first adult-orientated T.V. cartoon show, The Flintstones. I loved the Flintstones – the plots were well thought out and executed, with some well interpolated sub-plots thrown in; the animation was adequate and aided considerably by the imaginative story settings; the dialogue was written just like the contemporary American sitcoms (and has lasted better than many, for instance, the horribly dated through once hilarious “I Love Lucy”); lastly the vocal characteristics were spot on. Apparently “The Flintstones” was based very heavily on a popular American show. called “The Honeymooners”, but since I’ve never seen it, the stone-age family seemed pretty original to me. The power and quality of the Flintstones has been partially eroded over the years by the increasingly tame and childish versions made over the intervening years by H-B, but those early made-for-prime-time shows still made good viewing.

In 1961 H-B launched the first of three shows which really established them as the cartoon-makers. Shamelessly based on the Phil Silvers show, “Top Cat” is still the most completely realized and satisfying made-for-TV cartoon show I’ve ever seen. While Top Cat (renamed Boss Cat in the U.K. to avoid conflict with a brand of cat food) owed a considerable debt to Sgt. Bilko, it had many features all of its own. T.C. himself, for example is a much more open and likeable character than Bilko, and his gang are more rounded and memorable than the Fort Baxter card sharps. The simple technique of a distinct visual key to each character and a colour (lost in Britain in the pre-colour sixties) helped make up for the lack of ‘Character Animation’ which Hanna¬Barbera was notorious for. T.C. had his waistcoat and hat, Brains his T-shirt (and dumb look), Fancy his scarf, Spook his polo-neck and Choo-Choo his tie. And of course, there was Benny, diminutive, lovable, naive Benny the Ball, always threatening to steal T.C.’s show from under him.

The Flintstones - well thought out plots.

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