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Hanna-Barbera

Entry updated 23 August 2021. Tagged: Film, TV.

Animation studio founded by William Hanna (1910-2001) and Joseph Barbera (1911-2006) in 1957 (initially as H-B Enterprises), following the closure of the MGM cartoon studio for which they had created the classic cat versus mouse series Tom & Jerry (1940-current). The studio was bought by Taft Broadcasting in 1966, then by Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) in 1991, when Barbera and Hanna moved from being company heads to advisory positions. TBS bought Hanna-Barbera to create new material and to use its back catalogue for their new Cartoon Network channel, which began broadcasting in 1992. TBS merged with Time Warner in 1996, with the Hanna-Barbera studios being absorbed into Warner Bros. Animation (see Warner Bros. Cartoons) in 2001, following Hanna's death. Later, in 2021, Cartoon Network Studios Europe changed its name to Hanna-Barbera Studios Europe as a tribute. Hanna-Barbera had, in 1972, opened an animation studio in Australia, which went independent in 1998, becoming the Southern Star Group.

This entry covers Hanna-Barbera's sf-related output from its founding until 1991, a period during which the studio was responsible for many of that era's most popular children's Television cartoons, as well as some live-action work: about 140 series in all, not counting numerous specials and films. Subsequent productions under the studio's name are better considered as Cartoon Network shows. Having to cope with smaller budgets – initially a tv short had to be made with little more than a tenth of the funds allocated by MGM – the studio resorted to "limited animation". This included using simple character designs, limited expressions, looped movements, repeating backgrounds and favouring close-ups showing only one talking head. This also led to more reliance on conversation for humour and to convey plot: tell, don't show.

1957-1959. As with Disney and Warner Bros. Cartoons, many Hanna-Barbera characters were anthropomorphized talking animals: their first series, The Ruff and Reddy Show (1957-1960; 156 episodes) features two pals , a smart cat and a brave but unintelligent dog. Right from the start sf tropes were used, with the first story arc involving Aliens arriving in a UFO to abduct "two typical Earth people" ... they choose Ruff and Reddy. Other genre stories feature Robots; eccentric Scientists; a Lost World complete with Dinosaurs and cavemen (see Apes as Human); in the final arc a Rocket to the Moon goes off course, with the pair landing on another planet – whose tiny inhabitants, the Lilipunies, tie them up in an echo of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726; rev 1735).

The Ruff and Reddy Show was fairly dull, but the next series was a step up in quality. The Huckleberry Hound Show (1958-1961; 68 episodes) had three segments per episode: one with the amusing Huckleberry Hound, who usually had a different job each week, the other two featuring either Yogi Bear, Pixie & Dixie or Hokey Wolf. The sf elements were not uncommon – mainly involving Huckleberry Hound with Mad Scientists, robots, Invisibility, aliens (including the Hound trying to issue a Martian with a parking ticket) and an intelligent but evil potato. Yogi's popularity led to his own series, The Yogi Bear Show (1961-1962; 33 episodes), also in an anthology format though with much less sf content.

1960-1969. Hanna-Barbera's subsequent productions followed either The Ruff and Reddy Show's format of centring on one set of characters or The Huckleberry Hound Show's anthology structure. Those of sf interest included The Flintstones (1960-1966); The Jetsons (1962-1963); Jonny Quest (1964-1965); The Atom Ant/Secret Squirrel Show (1965-1967; 52 episodes), with the former a Superhero ant who battles mad scientists, robots and dinosaurs, and the latter a secret agent with many, many gadgets (see Inventions); Frankenstein Jr. & The Impossibles (1966-1967; 18 episodes), the former a crime-fighting robot and the latter a super-hero pop group; Space Ghost & Dino Boy (1966-1967) (see Space Ghost for both) – the later Cartoon Network comedy series Space Ghost Coast to Coast (1994-2008; 114 episodes) reused animation from the former series; The Space Kidettes (1966-1967; 20 episodes) featured four child space cadets (and their dog, Pupstar) who have a treasure map desired by the fairly villainous Captain Skyhook (who has standards: when his sidekick suggests zapping them he responds, "No, no, no, these are little-bitty kids – you just don't zap kids."); Birdman and the Galaxy Trio (1967-1968); The Herculoids (1967-1968); The Banana Splits Adventure Hour (1968-1970; 31 episodes), in which the live-action but costumed Banana Splits were another pop group, surreal rather than science-fictional – however, one animated segment was Micro Ventures, which had a scientist and his two children using a shrinking ray (see Miniaturization) to explore ant colonies, pond life etc.; Wacky Races (1968-1970; 34 episodes), whose participants included cavemen, monsters and a scientist; the popular Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (1969-1970; 25 episodes) featured a group of teenagers and their dog investigating supernatural phenomena (including Supernatural Creatures) that invariably turned out to be faked by a criminal who insists they would have succeeded in their scam but for the meddlesome youngsters' interference (in later iterations, the supernatural elements sometimes turned out to be real).

1970-1979. The Funky Phantom (1971-1972; 17 episodes) was basically Scooby-Doo but with a confederate ghost and his cat added to the teens and their dog; The Roman Holidays (1972; 13 episodes) on the other hand, is the Flintstones set in Roman times (so the family's landlord is called Evictus, watches are tiny sundials etc.) – with versions of telephones, television and other modern devices; Sealab 2020 (1972; 13 episodes plus 2 unaired) was an adventure series set in a future research station Under the Sea – the later Cartoon Network comedy series Sealab 2021 (2000-2005; 52 episodes) heavily relied on the original series' animation, but re-cut with new dialogue; Speed Buggy (1973; 16 episodes) starred a sentient dune buggy and three teens who fight crime; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids (1973; vt Butch Cassidy; 13 episodes) has nothing to do with the similarly titled movie, but concerns a crime-fighting pop group, one of whose adventures involved investigating the theft of an Antigravity machine; Inch High, Private Eye (1973; 13 episodes) is self-explanatory; Hong Kong Phooey (1974; 16 episodes) starred a Superhero kung-fu dog; Valley of the Dinosaurs (1974); Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch (1974; 13 episodes) is set in a land of anthropomorphized motor vehicles with apparently no animals or humans (though there is vegetation); Korg: 70,000 BC (1974); The Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour (1976-1977; 20 episodes), whose second segment was a send-up of the superhero genre, featuring a robotic dog and his boss, the Blue Falcon; one of Scooby's All-Star Laff-A-Lympics (1977-1979; 24 episodes) segments was Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels, the Captain being a frozen caveman thawed by the Teen Angels; the titular segment of The Skatebirds (1977-1978; 16 episodes) featured four skate-boarding birds (this was live action with people in bird costumes) and one of the others was the live-action Mystery Island, about a Mad Scientist called Dr Strange, who forces a plane to crashland on his island so he can steal the robot on board – said robot, called P.O.P.S., being the one used in the Lost in Space tv series, though remodelled and more well-spoken.

1980-1991. The final era of shows with William Hanna and Joseph Barbera in charge consisted mainly of spin-offs and sequels – or animated versions of other franchises or popular toys (discussed below). Exceptions included Drak Pack (1980; 16 episodes), featuring descendants of Dracula (see Bram Stoker; Vampires), Wolfman (see Werewolves) and the Frankenstein Monster as a superhero team (normally human, they transform into their monster forms). Space Stars (1981-1982; 11 episodes) had five segments, all SF, two being new Space Ghost and Herculoids stories and other three originals: Astro and the Space Mutts, featuring three space police dogs (see Crime and Punishment), one being the Jetsons' pet; Teen Force, whose superheroes come from another dimension via Black Hole X to fight dictator Uglor's plans of galactic conquest; and Space Stars Finale, where combinations of the other four segments' heroes work together to fight evil. There was also Going Bananas (1984; 12 episodes) a live action show featuring a superhero orangutan, who was given superpowers by a passing UFO (stories include a stranded alien whose spaceship fuel is gold); Fantastic Max (1987-1990; 26 episodes), a UK-American collaboration about a baby who regularly adventures into space with an alien and a C-3PO-soundalike robot (see Star Wars) – adventures include the Man in the Moon getting sick of spending nine million years piloting the Moon (which appears to be a giant spaceship) and trying to succeed as a stand-up comic; Wake, Rattle, and Roll (1990-1991; 50 episodes), two of whose three segments were the live action Basement Tech, about a boy and his robot playing with his scientist grandfather's inventions (including a Teleportation device that can also bring people from other times), and the animated Monster Tails, about the adventures of the pets of famous monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, The Mummy etc.); in Gravedale High (1990; 13 episodes) a human teacher finds himself teaching at a school for monsters, the pupils being teenaged versions of creatures from movies, including Frankenstein's Monster and the Invisible Man (see Invisibility) as well as the monsters of The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), The Blob (1958), The Fly and This Island Earth (1955) – an extra layer of derivativeness was added by (for example) having Frankenstein's Monster behave like Bart Simpson from The Simpsons (1989-current) and Dracula like the Fonz from Happy Days (1974-1984); Midnight Patrol: Adventures in the Dream Zone (1990; vt Potsworth & Co; 13 episodes) was a UK-American collaboration, about four children and a dog (plus a toy Brontosaurus that comes to life) who act as dream police, thwarting the Nightmare Prince's plots to replace the Dream Zone's happy dreams with nightmares; The Pirates of Dark Water (1991-1993; vt Dark Water; 21 episodes), was set on Mer, an alien world whose twenty oceans are threatened by an oily substance called "dark water", which only a young prince and his "crew of misfits" can stop by finding the "lost Thirteen Treasures of Rule" – this was one of the more ambitious of Hanna-Barbera's later series, with some good animation, but sadly it was not a success and ended before all the treasures were collected.

Hanna-Barbera would also produce many shows based on existing franchises (not counting public domain characters like Dracula). These are not discussed in the above, but those with strong sf elements include Fantastic Four (1967-1970; 20 episodes) (see Marvel Comics); Josie and the Pussycats (1970-1971; 16 episodes) – whose sequel, Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space (1972, 16 episodes), ups the sf content with the group visiting a different planet each episode (see Planetary Romance); Super Friends (1973-1974) and its sequels, including The All-New Super Friends Hour (1977-1978); Partridge Family 2200 A.D. (1974-1975; 16 episodes), based on the sitcom The Partridge Family (1970-1974), concerning a family pop group, but moving it into the future (the Partridge Family had regularly appeared in another Hanna-Barbera series, Goober and the Ghost Chasers [1973-1975; 16 episodes]); the previously mentioned Skatebirds had a segment called The Robonic Stooges, about robot versions of the Three Stooges; The All New Popeye Hour (1978-1983; 64 episodes) suffered from having to be less violent than the original (1933-1957) shorts; Richie-Rich (1980-1984; 41 episodes) featured the richest boy in the world, whose R&D division provides him with much advanced Technology including an "invention that invents inventions"; Pac-Man (1982-1983; 42 episodes) was the first animated show based on a Videogame; Benji, Zax & the Alien Prince (1983; 13 episodes) was a live action series about a child prince and his robot who flee to Earth from their home planet when the prince's parents are usurped – on arrival they befriend a stray dog (who is actually the main lead, being the star of several heroic dog movies); Challenge of the GoBots (1984-1985; vt Gobots; 65 episodes) features the transforming (see Shapeshifters) robot Toy line that had preceded the very similar Transformers – discussed under Transformers – The Movie (1986) – by a year, but was eventually subsumed into them when Hasbro bought Tonka in 1991; Sky Commanders (1987; 13 episodes) was another toy tie-in, about commandos trying to prevent the Villain acquiring a powerful radioactive Element found on a new continent that had recently emerged in the Pacific, which also has monsters – this was co-produced with Toei Animation, one of Japan's leading Anime companies; The Further Adventures of SuperTed (1989-1990; 13 episodes) was a UK co-production starring the superhero teddy bear from the earlier non-Hanna-Barbera series SuperTed (1982-1986; 36 episodes); the first season of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures (1990; 13 episodes), based on Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989), was made by Hanna-Barbera but the second (1991; 8 episodes) was not.

During this period Hanna-Barbera produced many other notionally non-sf shows in which tropes like mad scientists, robots and gadgets might occasionally appear – for example, Help! ... It's the Hair Bear Bunch! (1971-1972; 16 episodes), concerned a trio of bears who regularly escape from their zoo cage: on one occasion they are tricked onto a Martian expedition (see Mars), but end up on another, inhabited, planet. Though there were some non-genre series (or, non-genre aside from the talking animals), most include Fantasy elements such as ghosts, Magic, Supernatural Creatures and witches; fantasy series with little or no sf content are mostly outside the scope of this entry. Shows usually set in the present day might suddenly have a story with the main character(s) living in another time, with no explanation; but on other occasions actual Time Travel occurs – for example, in The Peter Potamus Show (1964-1966; 27 episodes), the main character, a hippopotamus, has a hot-air Balloon with the ability to time-travel.

Many characters/shows would have further series, films and spin-offs, with The Flintstones (the first prime time animated television series) and Scooby-Doo being particularly blessed. For example, there was Yogi's Space Race (1978; 13 episodes), two of whose segments featured Yogi Bear in space – both also involved Huckleberry Hound among others. Anthology shows would sometimes have their segments repackaged as part of another omnibus series.

Aside from commercials, business and educational films, Hanna-Barbera also made numerous television films, OVAs (aka Direct to Video) and specials, many featuring the stars of their television series. There was also a 1973 Lost in Space animated movie, part of The New Saturday Superstar Movie (1973) series. Another series, Famous Classic Tales (1973-1981; 9 specials) included Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1973) and Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1979). Further specials included Alice in Wonderland or What's a Nice Kid like You Doing in a Place like This? (1966; 50 minutes), a musical version of the Lewis Carroll work set in the present day which, rather than rabbit holes or a looking glass, has Alice's dog diving into a television screen and features a cameo by Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. There was also the live action Legends of the Superheroes (1979).

Hanna-Barbera also released several theatrical films, including GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords (1986) and Jetsons: The Movie (1990) as well as the live action films C.H.O.M.P.S. (1979), about an inventor's robot guard dog and a rival company's attempts to kidnap it; and the Japanese co-production Ultraman: The Adventure Begins (1987; vt Ultraman USA), originally intended as a pilot for a tv series that never happened: this is part of the Ultraman franchise, but set in the USA.

Along with The Flintstones and Scooby-Do, Hanna-Barbera's strongest series were The Huckleberry Hound Show, Top Cat (1961-1962; vt Boss Cat; 30 episodes) and Wait Till Your Father Gets Home (1972-1974; 48 episodes), the latter two having no genre elements save for Top Cat's talking animals. The Jetsons, Space Ghost, Jonny Quest, Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines (1969-1971; vt Dastardly and Muttley; 17 episodes), Legends of the Superheroes and The Pirates of Dark Water also have their merits.

Hanna-Barbera's best years were the sixties and early seventies: despite their limitations these shows display some verve and occasional wit, and whilst many were formulaic variations of The Huckleberry Hound Show or Scooby Doo, at least it was their own formula. The quality of the Humour gradually deteriorated and, aside from new series featuring past favourites, there was an increasing reliance on either animated spin-offs of (usually) live-action shows created by other companies or series based on popular fads or games: successfully so with The Smurfs (1981-1989; 256 episodes), less so with Rubik, the Amazing Cube (1983; 13 episodes), the latter starring a sentient, magical Rubik's Cube who is only conscious in the solved state. New series not fitting these criteria would, as often as not, rely on familiar (but out of copyright) movie monsters or appear to be a knock-off of an existing franchise. A possibly more objective position might be that the Golden Age of Hanna-Barbera cartoons is six (see Golden Age of SF).

The enjoyable series Jellystone! (2021) is set in a town inhabited solely by Hanna-Barbera characters. [SP]

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