Sunday, October 4, 2009
A "funky" take on classic Hanna-Barbera
I have never hidden the fact that I'm not a fan of Hanna-Barbera's television animation. But I also understand in this great and diverse stained glass window of pop culture, there's something for everyone.
But with that said, I am more accepting of Hanna-Barbera than I am of Filmation. At least Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera have some street cred with the animation they produced for MGM in the 1940's and 1950's with Tom and Jerry.
Even with that, I never liked Tom and Jerry as much as I liked Droopy. And I think it's the same reason I'm not a huge fan of the Road Runner or Pepe Lepew cartoons. It's the same formula over and over again with Tom and Jerry. With Droopy, Tex Avery was also producing non-Dorry cartoons so he was constantly doing new things whereas HB seemed to just be doing Tom and Jerry.
But back to Filmation. I was kind of disgusted when I watched a recent interview with Lou Scheimer for a DVD of the New Adventures of Batman and Robin produced by his company. He was almost proud of the fact that he cheapened animation and saying by doing so he saved American Animation from being done in another country.
Yeah. But it looks awful. Honestly, I get the same icky feeling watching most Filmation that I do watching some of Ralph Bakshi's animations from the 1970's. I feel like I am doing something wrong and I should take a scalding hot shower after watching them.
But before you start typing your angry responses, I'm not condemning you for watching any of these animations by HB, Filmation and Bakshi. If you like them, keep watching them and keep being a fan of them. Just because I may rant and rave about how I don't like them, they may hold a special place for you and your childhood. And that's fine.
As much as I can't admit to being a fan of HB, I have been very intrigued with the way current animators like John Kricfalusi, Genndy Tartakovsky and even Maxwell Atom and Van Partible have approached some of these characters. And the way they have done the episodes in a loving (although twisted) sort of tribute to the characters they have grown up with have given me more of an appreciation for the characters. And I think these animators have given the characters more depth and personality than Hanna-Barbera ever intended.
I've liked John K since Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures. Yes I know Ralph Bakshi produced the cartoons. I see the irony of what I said earlier. But watching his later stuff with Ren and Stimpy and George Liquor, MM was definitely more John K's work that Ralph B's. But I digress. As surreal and twisted as his cartoons are known to be, John K has taken those aesthetics and incorporated them into some of HB's cartoons with some really great results.
Many years back he had done a short cartoon in which Yogi's sidekick Boo Boo finally snaps and reverts to primordial bear. The results are a really bizarre, unsettling and damn funny cartoon. I can't seem to find that anywhere on the web, but I was able to find this one which has a day in the life of Ranger Smith which is followed by a short Jetsons cartoon. I hate the Jetsons, so John K making them completely dysfunctional and on the border of having to perhaps go into Primal Scream Therapy or some kind of family therapy group is funny to watch. That and I get a naughty giggle out of the opening credit card he created for the Jetson's.
The second on the list is a great animation Flintstones on the Rocks which was directed by Genndy Tartakovsky who was best known for the Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Laboratory and Samurai Jack.
One of the things that really impressed me about this animation is the fact that A.) the character design. While trying to recreate that sort of late 1950's/early 1960's art deco look that a great deal of animators had around that time period, very much like John K's HB animations you can tell who directed it. Genndy Tartakovsky has a very unmistakable style. B.)I love the fact that they use the actual sound effects and music from the original series. This can sometimes fall flat and sound cheap, but they make it work. You hear a certain jazz chord when Wilma is looking sexy and you immediately know it's early Flintstones. C.) The voice acting. A really great cast!! Most notably Jeff Bergman.
I have been a fan of Jeff Bergman since he took over for Mel Blanc in the early 1990's. Although, his interpretations of the characters Blanc made famous was not the same, THAT'S a hard act to follow and Bergman did the best job he (or for that matter anyone) could.
With that said, I was very impressed hearing his interpretation of Fred Flintstone. I think he's actually better than Henry Corden, the man who took over the voice when Alan Reed passed away in 1977. Although, there are different inflections in his voice than Reed, what impressed me was how close Jeff Bergman sounded to the original Fred Flintstone voice.
And this makes Flintstones on the Rocks feel more like it could fit in with the original television series than any of the Flintstone spin-off's that came out between 1966 till probably 1994.
And all you need to say is Tress MacNeille ;-)
More recently in the past 10 years I've seen a more mainstream approach at reintroducing some of the HB characters. Most notably Scooby Doo. It's interesting to see those characters being done with better animation than the original series or the myriad of spin off's since 1969. Adding depth to the look of the characters while still making them look similar to the way they appeared in Scooby Doo: Where Are You? those many moons ago.
My favorite of all these is Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law which does not pull any punches with the way they pretty much put a ball and gag in the mouth of these characters. Again, due to the fact that you have this great group of voice actors adding depth and humor to some pretty bland Hanna-Barbera characters. Most notably Stephen Colbert as Phil Ken Sebben and Phil Lamarr as Black Vulcan who has created on of the best catchphrases to be uttered in the past 20 years with "Pure Electricity... in my pants!" which is great to say on any occasion.
And where else could take an unforgettable character like Peter Potamus and transform him into a sex starved pervert.
I highly recommend you check out John K's Funky HB Blog by clicking the image below. He offers some really great character designs, sketches as well as some stories from the days he worked at Hanna-Barbera.