Thursday, November 12, 2009

The most laughable, lovable loonies by far…

I’ve been pretty good at resisting temptation for the past several months and not buying any DVDs…though the current financial crunch at TDOY has had a lot to do with that than just my being well-behaved. But last week, a belated birthday present landed in my mailbox (courtesy of sister Debbie) and it just so happened to be the recently-released Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1960s, Volume 2. Upon putting this disc in my DVD player, I found myself magically transported back to a time where I would sit down in front of the TV in my feety pajamas and eat sugary cereal, blissed out on crappy TV animation and hearing my father yell: “Does he have to be up at this hour every Saturday morning?”

I watched the contents of Volume 2 whenever I got a free moment or two over the weekend, and I think the set is every bit as good as the first volume except for the fact that what I once thought was the very epitome of wit proves not to be the case. The cartoons I will single out as an example were a trio of barely five-minute capers featuring an alligator who sounded like Ed Wynn (Wally Gator), a turtle wearing a plumed hat and carrying a crooked sword accompanied by a punch-drunk sheepdog (Touché Turtle and Dum Dum), and a lion saddled with a hyena whose persona was not unlike “The Happy Postman” on radio’s Burns and Allen (Lippy the Lion and Hardy Har-Har). I couldn’t believe how cheap these cartoons looked—they made Rocky and Bullwinkle look as if they sprang forth from the Disney Studios.

What’s so odd about this is Wally, Touché & Dum Dum, and Lippy & Hardy were my cartoon heroes as a kid. (I know; my ambitions weren’t very lofty.) I remember watching them religiously on WCHS-TV (Charleston, WV) as a tiny tyke; they often accompanied a fourth cartoon series: an animated version of Laurel & Hardy jointly produced by both Hanna-Barbera and Larry Harmon. After sampling these cartoons, the only truly memorable things are Alan Reed’s performance as Dum Dum (outside of a small vocal role as “Mad Dog Maloney” on H-B’s Where’s Huddles? Reed pretty much did Fred Flintstone and little else) and Wally Gator’s theme song (“Wally Gator is a swinging alligator in the swamp/He's the greatest percolator when he really starts to romp”).

Volume 2 also contains two Quick Draw McGraw shows (a total of six cartoons, two each with “Queekstraw,” Snooper & Blabber and Augie Doggie & Doggie Daddy), plus a Magilla Gorilla and Peter Potamus. The McGraw shows also feature the full original opening and closing credits (“Kellogg’s—the best to you each morning!”) which is great for anal-retentives like myself (they also give Kellogg’s a copyright notice upon the completion of the shows—as if Kellogg’s would be pissed off because they didn’t get the free publicity). I was over at the IMDb the other day reading up on the history of Magilla and Peter and found several “reviewers” who didn’t much care for the programs; I will readily admit that “Breezly and Sneezly” were probably the worst creations to come out of the H-B studios—a sort of Yogi and Boo-Boo at the Arctic Circle—but in looking at the animation both series beat Wally Gator and Company by a country mile. I still haven’t been able to figure out why they dumped B&S from the Potamus program (well, apart from the fact that the cartoons were lousy) and replaced them with the Ricochet Rabbit cartoons from the Magilla show—if any of you animation mavens out there have an answer, don’t be bashful. Magilla is also the subject of the set’s only “special feature,” Completely Bananas: The Magilla Gorilla Story, with interviews from some of the usual suspects like Jerry Beck and Mark Evanier. (Someone—I forget who—comments that the Magilla theme was the best of all the H-B shows, and speaking as someone who’s often spent hours trying to get it out of his head I couldn’t agree more.)

Other Hanna-Barbera favorites present on Saturday Morning Cartoons include The Atom Ant Show, The Adventures of Young Gulliver and The Jetsons, along with two curios in Young Samson and The Space Kiddettes. I didn’t watch Samson much, but I do remember the Kiddettes—a bunch of snot-nosed moppets who had to deal with Captain Skyhook (voiced by Daws Butler) “and his evil pal Static” every week. I think Kiddettes sort of bridged the transition between the “funny animal” and “super hero” phases of the Hanna-Barbera product—it’s a pleasant enough time-killer but you can certainly understand why it’s languished in obscurity.
Probably the biggest draw on this set is the opportunity to see the opening/closing credits and linking sequences to those series created for the characters in the Warner Brothers stable: The Bugs Bunny Show, The Porky Pig Show and The Road Runner Show. Of course, the cartoons on these programs are all intact…if they really wanted to duplicate the Saturday morning experience; they would have edited all the scenes where the characters get shot in the face. There’s also a visit to The Tom & Jerry Show—which was shown on Saturday mornings at one time but by the time I started becoming a faithful watcher it had been relegated to a permanent berth on Sundays…at a time when finding cartoons on Sundays (The Bullwinkle Show being a notable exception) was a rare treasure hunt indeed.
The only caveat I need to issue here is that both Hanna-Barbera and its cartoon brethren and sistren didn’t take care of these classics and some of the prints look like they’ve really been through the wringer. But if you can remember watching these gems as a tiny tot like I do, you may not even notice.
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Tonio Kruger said...

I've been watching a lot of movies and cartoons from my youth as of late and yes, it's sometimes depressing to note how badly a lot of them have aged.

It couldn't be that I'm watching them from an older perspective that they were never meant to be viewed from. It must be the cartoons that aged...;-)

On the other hand, there was a time just a decade or two ago when we would have had to stay up until 2 in the morning and watch cable TV to find this out. Nowadays, thanks to the miracle of DVD, we can find this out at a far more reasonable hour.

Anyway, it's scary how many H&B theme songs are still stuck on my head. Though I'm not quite sure I remember "Breezly and Sneezly."

Thanks for the article.

Andrew Leal said...

I'm not sure anyone knows for sure why Ricochet/Breezly were swapped, but Ideal Toys was sponsoring both "Magilla" and "Peter Potamus," so it seems to have originated there. I'll check my liner notes for the now out of print Hanna Barbera "Pic-a-nic Basket" CD set.

I can't stand Lippy the Lion, though Touche at least was a chance to hear Bill Thompson again. Breezly Bruin sports Howard Morris' strangest, most tortured cartoon voice, but definitely the visuals were a huge step up (brighter colors, better movement, more appealing designs on the whole). I think Queeksdraw has actually aged best, if not visually, in terms of the character appeal and the voice work and scripts, more often than not anyway.

In local syndication in my region, and in others, HB, Jay Ward, and Total TV product were often jumbled together in odd combinations (the mingling of the latter two is well known but reference works seldom seem to mention HB), so "Young Samson" would consist of one Samson adventure, followed by either Tennessee Tuxedo or the Go Go Gophers paired with a Fractured Fairy Tale! "The Space Kidettes" package kept the theme and opening and even the commercial bridges where Captain Skyhook would run afoul of one of the iddy biddy kids, but then in the middle, they'd stick in "The Hunter!"

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

"The Space Kidettes" package kept the theme and opening and even the commercial bridges where Captain Skyhook would run afoul of one of the iddy biddy kids, but then in the middle, they'd stick in "The Hunter!"

Oddly enough, I think this is the way I watched Space Kiddettes in those early morning cold cereal days. Can't say the same for Samson, because I honestly don't remember watching it--though I was always curious as to why Samson had a dog that turned into a would make more sense if he had a pet cat.

I do agree with you that the visuals on both the Magilla and Peter shows were first-rate. If only they had the gags to match.