Last week, MovieFanFare introduced a poll asking people to vote for their “favortie classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon series.” Now, the distinction between “classic” and “modern” can be a tricky one–after all, to those readers 40 and under shows like SuperFriends, Hong Kong Phooey and The Smurfs are old enough to be considered “classic”–but this does show the devotion that each generation has to its Saturday morning TV memories.
Movie buffs know what a godsend the Warner Archive and similar “video-on-demand” services have been to the discerning collector, but there have also been quite a few releases targeting cartoon fans of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. While the “regular” part of the company is busy trumpeting the debut of such deathless animation fare as Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, the CGI/live-action Yogi Bear abomination (yeah, I’m picking on it again). and whatever Pokemon series they’re up to these days, the good folks of the Archive division have been busy the last couple of years putting out complete series collections and specials, mostly from the Hanna-Barbera vaults. Some may not have held up with the passage of time–assuming they ever did–but here’s a sampling:
The Dukes - Since coming out with a series of Laurel and Hardy cartoons in 1965, shows based on pre-existing characters or TV programs have been a Hanna-Barbera staple. Who out there will ever forget Partridge Family: 2200 A.D. (see below), Fonz and the Happy Days Gang, or The Gary Coleman Show? Well, in 1983 youngsters could watch The Dukes of Hazzard on Friday night, then get up the next morning to see Bo and Luke (Fill-in Dukes Coy and Vance in the first season, actually) in animated form.The Duke boys, cousin Daisy and the General Lee took part in an around-the-world race against Boss Hogg and his henchmen to save the family farm, and while all the live-action cast members supplied their voices, that probably wasn’t enough to keep Jules Verne from spinning in his grave over the show.
Goober and the Ghost Chasers - “Say, what if Scooby-Doo could turn invisible?” While we’ll never know if this pitch was actually made in a company meeting, Hanna-Barbera did indeed hang the existence of this 1973 show on that rather flimsy premise. Paul Winchell supplied the voice of the hat-wearing Goober, who would (literally) vanish when he got scared while joining the young staff of Ghost Chasers Magazine on their latest spooky assignment. The only other interesting aspect of this series was that several episodes featured guest vocal appearances by the Partridge Kids (the live-action show cast that would later star, minus David Cassidy and Shirley Jones, in Partridge Family: 2200 A.D.) and NBA Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain. Whether Wilt practiced any of his off-the-court moves on Ghost Chaser Tina or not was never shown.
Jabberjaw - You’ll never guess what Steven Spielberg movie hit the big screen before this series made its 1976 debut. Okay, you probably did. Perhaps the epitome of the H-B studio’s penchant for combining “high-concept” ideas, the show followed an underwater, futuristic rock combo, The Neptunes, as they spent their time between gigs battling aquatic villains and would-be world conquerors. Helping bandmates Biff, Shelly, Bubbles and Clamhead was the Neptunes’ drummer, a cowardly, talking shark named Jabberjaw who spoke like Curly from The Three Stooges and used Rodney Dangerfield’s “I get no respect” tagline. As a Jetsons/Scooby-Doo/Josie and the Pussycats mash-up, Jabberjaw was hardly in the pantheon of great Saturday morning efforts, but there was a bit of goofy fun about it, espcailly if you looked to see which old Space Ghost or Josie bad guy was being re-purposed that week. Oh, and at the same time Jabberjaw was swimming his way across the screen on ABC, NBC’s Pink Panther and Friends series featured a rival cartoon shark, a top-hatted predator named Misterjaw who was voiced by Laugh-In regular Arte Johnson. Imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery…or something.
The Space Kiddettes/Young Samson - Another typical Hanna-Barbera move was to sandwich two characters together in a half-hour show if a concept didn’t merit a full 30 minutes of airtime. Generally speaking the cartoon roommates would be linked thematically (like, say, Birdman and the Galaxy Trio or Tom and Jerry and the Great Grape Ape), but syndicated reruns could form the animated equivalent of Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison. A case in point was this entry. 1966′s light-hearted The Space Kiddettes were four kids–Countdown, Jenny, Scooter and…er, Snoopy–who roamed the cosmos with their dog Pupstar and had a space capsule clubhouse. They also had an arch-enemy, interplanetary pirate Captain Skyhook, who plotted with his sidekick Static to steal a treasure map he was sure the Kiddettes possessed. Every time Static would suggest some torture like “boiling them in space oil” to get them to talk, Skyhook would conk him on the helmet and remind him that “you can’t do that to little kids!” Meanwhile, Young Samson was a bland–even by 1967 superhero cartoon standards–collection of adventures in which teen hero Samson–voiced by Jonny Quest’s Tim Matheson–would clang together a pair of wrist bracelets to turn into a more muscular, longer-haired version of himself (shades of Captain Marvel) to fight evil. His partner was his pet dog Goliath, who at a click of the wrist jewelry became a super-strong lion. Shouldn’t Goliath have either turned into a wolf or been a cat? And I’m no Biblical scholar, but wasn’t Goliath a bad guy?
Speed Buggy - “Okay, what if Scooby-Doo was a talking dune buggy instead of a Great Dane?” Well, he was in this fondly-remembered 1973 cartoon that was part of H-B’s time-tested “group of teenagers and a dopey animal/magical being/machine solve mysteries” oeuvre. Comedic voice icon Mel Blanc–using the same sputtering delivery he gave on the radio as Jack Benny’s Maxwell car–supplied the vocals for Speedy, who with human builders/owners/friends Tinker, Mark and Debbie travelled around the globe racing and foiling the schemes of mad scientists and other evildoers. By the way, Speed Buggy looked just like the non-sentient “Looney Duney” vehicle that another cartoon crime-solving clique–in The Funky Phantom–used two years earlier, and Tinker could easily have been the long-lost brother of Shaggy from Scooby-Doo (and both could have been ancestors of Jabberjaw’s Clamhead).
Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch - Long before Disney/Pixar’s Cars–but not before the 1937 Merrie Melodie Streamlined Greta Green or Tex Avery’s 1952 MGM short One Cab’s Family–there was this 1974 series set in a world of anthropomorphic autos, trucks and motorcycles. Wheelie was a little red stunt car who sort of resembled a Volkswagen Beetle (but not enough to get Disney’s lawyers on the phone over a Herbie copyright infringement) and, unlike all the other talking vehicles in his world, communicated via horn beeps and a windshield that lit up messages like a sports stadium scoreboard. Always trying to foil his and sporty sweetheart Rota Ree’s fun were the Chopper Bunch, a gang of motorbike bullies whose troublemaking schemes invariably backfired on them.
So, what can we hope for further down the road from the Hanna-Barbera stockpile? Vintage ’60s shows like Peter Potamus, Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles, or The Herculoids? Such ’70s shows as Help! It’s the Hair Bear Bunch!, Sealab 2020 (not to be confused with its Adult Swim spoof Sealab 2021), or the prime-time, football-themed sitcom Where’s Huddles? (probably not if there’s an NFL work stoppage)? Maybe you ’80s kids would like to see the Pac-Man series wacca-wacca its way onto DVD, or one of my favorites, The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley? Me, I’m so old I’m holding out for 1957′s The Ruff and Reddy Show. What’s your toon decade of choice?
Author’s Note: Thanks to Jay Schwartz, founder of The Secret Cinema, Philadelphia’s travelling repertoire film society for obscure and oddball fare, for the title to this installment. For more info, check out Jay’s website at www.thesecretcinema.com.