Once upon a time, two men got together and created a cat and a mouse. That cat and that mouse could never get along, but both men didn’t mind. Joseph Barbera and William Hanna’s partnership was very fruitful. Much later, the people had enough of the cat and mouse, so Hanna and Barbera struck out to the frontier known as television.
Through the years, whatever TV craze was there, the Hanna-Barbera studio had a show to take advantage of it. The 1980s were an interesting time. Disney, Barbera asserted in Starlog #125, was built upon a mouse. By the end of the decade, Disney struck gold and animation became less childish. Meanwhile, Hanna-Barbera churned out cartoon after cartoon. Limited animation? The prolific cartoon house’s output was seemingly not limited.
On the 30th anniversary of the company and the 50th anniversary of the partnership, Starlog’s 125th issue has a feature on Hanna-Barbera including words from Barbera himself. A reading of this article makes clear of Hanna-Barbera’s advantage over other studios: they could pump out a lot of cartoons.
- He-Man’s popular? They’ll make Galtar.
- Transformers getting kids excited? Make a deal to put the Go-Bots in motion.
- Have live-action sitcoms? H-B will make odd adaptations.
- Muppet Babies??? Flintstone Kids!
- The Bible? They had that covered, too.
My Biblical cartoon fun came from Superbook, but I digress.
These ideas will keep a company afloat, but can drive some creative minds away. John Kricfalusi, a man who would create a popular cat and dog duo, loathed how H-B tried to make cartoons blend with realism. Should cartoons showcase only absurdity? To be fair, some of the “realistic” cartoons weren’t memorable. As John K. said of cartoons like The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang:
Bland stiff semi-realistic designs, bland live action voices and fear of doing anything that is fun or creative.
Hanna-Barbera’s classic stars were still in demand and the studio was eager to supply. Yogi Bear and Scooby-Doo were still presences on Saturday mornings and syndicated TV. The Jetsons finally met the Flintstones. Even the Jetsons and Jonny Quest had new adventures after endless years of reruns.
That doesn’t mean H-B didn’t add new characters to its pantheon. The Smurfs, a Belgian import, was an NBC Saturday morning hit. The show was part of a merchandising phenomenon in the U.S. Those three-apples-high blue people went through some imaginative adventures. I thank creator Peyo, not Hanna or Barbera, for Smurfin’ good times.
My appreciation for 80s Hanna-Barbera is A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, which plays around with the Scooby-Doo formula. Unlike many Scooby fans, the standard mystery-solving format doesn’t do it for me. Tom Ruegger, producer of the first season, would move on to Warner Bros. where he oversaw Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs.
Ruegger provides a cool bit of trivia: William Hanna himself directed the first episode of Pup.
Later, a Ted Turner-owned Hanna-Barbera looked to a new generation of animators during the 90s animation renaissance. But in the 1980s, the quantity-over-quality animation studio was an inescapable part of TV animation.