The alley they lived in was a great setting for their urban adventures, beautifully rendered in early decay and immortalised in the unforgettable opening credits – some of H-B’s most attractive animation. Their nemesis, Officer Dibble, was the perfect adversary, suspicious, self-centred, but with an ever-ready streak of gullibility leading him to act as a pawn in yet another of T.C’s of f the wall schemes, yet equally prone to fits of maudlin remorse whenever he felt the gang had been unjustly treated.
Every episode of Top Cat that I’ve seen has had all the cats in strict character, and as far as H-B series ever had continuity, this show had it defined as tightly as any. The plots were wild and wonderful, often a scam or con-trick of some kind, reminding me of nothing so much as Carl Bark’s tales of Donald’s unsuccessful attempts to make a quick fortune. And as well as consistently hilarious humour, T.C. regularly achieved genuine pathos – the episode in which the gang try to maintain the white lie that Benny has told his mother by keeping her convinced that he is Mayor of New York is truly moving.
Top Cat deserves an article, or several of its own, but not in the middle of this one! So on through the sixties we go. The early sixties saw a number of now familiar shows which I appreciated, but never went crazy over – “Touche Turtle” (now a joy to watch for its delicate and self-depreciating irony), “Wally Gator”, “Lippy the Lion” and “Hardy Har Har”, as well as some I’ve never seen – like “Peter Potamus”, “Mushmarse”, and “Punkin Puss”, and the fascinatingly named “Ricochet Rabbit”.
The next one to really catch my eye was a substantial change of style for H-B “3onny Quest” was a stylish, non-human adventure show, designed like “The Flintstones” (and the never-seen-by-me “Jetsons”) for prime—time television. Quite honestly, I can’t remember anything about this series at all, save a few fragments, but I vividly remember it being the highlight of my week’s TV As far as I know it hasn’t been seen for many years -I’d be fascinated to see it again if only to find out what made me think it was so good.
In 1965 H-B introduced the bizarre “Atom Ant” and “Secret Squirrel” among others, and these cartoons, similar in style but not in content to H-B’s earliest shows, still appear to haunt us today. This was probably the end of the old-style H-B, though further episodes of their hit shows were made for the increasingly important Saturday morning slot, throughout the sixties and indeed, throughout the seventies.
In 1969, H-B introduced what was to be a watershed for TV cartoons – “Scooby Doo, Where Are You?” This combination of a group of kids plus an anthropomorphic animal (or ‘thing’) was to be widely, and infuriatingly, copied in such shows as “Goober and the Ghost Chasers”, “Godzilla”, “The New Shmoo” and Ruby Spears’ “Fangface” but the early seasons of Scoby, before the introduction of the unspeakable (but speaking) Scrappy Doo are sheer animated magic.
The cast are stereotypes, but delightfully drawn nonetheless -Daphne the dumb blond (or redhead and “hero’s girlfriend” – Freddy the Hunky leader – Thelma the plain but brilliant egghead and Shaggy the lovable loony with a mile-wide yellow streak. This bunch, travelling around in a psycadelic microbus called the Mystery Machine uncovering (invariably) hoax monsters doesn’t seem particularly inspiring, but they’re only the supporting cast, the star himself is Scooby, a mutant great dane with a permanently gonzo expression, an endearing almost-voice and the greatest selection of double-¬takes.
The Scooby show hit me at just the time I thought I ought to be leaving “Children’s Hour” cannot be judged by the same criteria, as they set out to do very different things. But Hanna¬Barbera’s TV cartoons certainly entertain a modern audience, especially if that audience was lucky enough to grow old along with the characters who stay forever young.
Scooby Doo was so good I just couldn’t afford to miss it. That show is largely responsible for my keeping unbroken faith with Children’s TV to this very day, and what’s more those wonderful early seasons of “Scooby Doo” are still showing every year, and I enjoy them just as much now as in the early 70’s.
Scooby Doo was the last H-B classic, but there have been plenty of good shows from the company since then. “Wacky Races” (which began before Scooby Doo I believe), “Dynoimutt”, “The Hair Bear Bunch”, and my own recent favourite (though it began in 1979) “Hong Kong Phooey” come immediately to mind, It is also true that in the 1970’s H-B put out what seem to me to be the kind of clunkers that got them their hack reputation – stuff like “The C-B Bears”, “Heyyy, It’s the King!”, “The New Shmoo”, “Scooby and Scrappy Doo”, and “Godzilla” -but I didn’t grow up watching these shows. Maybe if I had they’d mean a lot to me too. (Somehow I doubt it, but maybe).
In the end it may be that when I saw H-B’s shows has unduly influenced my opinions, but I think that the best of their product stands up today, as worthy of attention as most of the theatrical cartoons of animation’s “Golden Ages’. Their strengths and weaknesses are different and they cannot be judged by the same criteria, as they set out to do very different things. But Hanna-¬Barbera’s TV cartoons certainly entertain a modern audience, especially if that audience was lucky enough to grow old along with the characters who stay forever young.
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Printed in Animator Issue 12 (Spring 1985)