Saturday Morning Legends: Hanna-Barbera — The Kings of Cartoons
Saturday mornings used to be the most-eagerly anticipated time of a child’s week. Getting up early, pouring yourself a big old bowl of Fruity Pebbles or Trix, making a blanket fort, and watching your Saturday morning cartoons. It was sacred time for the kid to rejuvenate from their school week and get lost in the world of animated fun. Of the myriad options you could tune in to over three major networks, the most common names to come up in your cartoons’ credits were those of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, titans of the animated Saturday morning world. This article is a celebration of the best of these Kings of Cartoons and the multitude of shows they churned out over the span of five decades.
Adventure and super powers abounded on Saturday mornings with the many inceptions of the Super Friends. Drawing from the beloved world of D.C. Comics, Aquaman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin were the mainstays of the crime-fighting heroes of the Hall of Justice. Joined in various versions by The Green Lantern, Hawkman, The Flash, Firestorm, Apache Chief, Samurai, and Vulcan, it was always exciting to see what villain they would come-up against, often taking on the nefarious Legion of Doom. Zan and Jayna, the Wonder Twins, and their monkey Gleek were apprentices of the heroes, often having a special segment of their own. Comic book fans were in their glory with Hanna-Barbera’s Super Friends (1973-1974), The All-New Super Friends Hour (1977-1978), Challenge of the Super Friends (1978-1979), The World’s Greatest Super Friends (1979-1980), Super Friends (1980-1983), Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show (1984-1985), and The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians (1985-1986).
Belgian cartoonist Peyo created the spritely world of The Smurfs as a comic. Hanna-Barbera turned this quirky property into a hit Saturday morning cartoon that has gone on to become an iconic part of American culture. The Smurfs, blue-colored little people who live in mushrooms, are led by the erudite Papa Smurf who works to protect and hide his pixie-like fold from the evil wizard Gargamel and his sour-dispositioned cat Azrael. The Smurf’s did have some human friends who kept their secret, including the virtuous servant of the king Johann and his comic sidekick Pewitt. The Smurfs started out as an all-male group until Gargamel created the female Smurfette as a means to capture the merry band. When Smurfette realizes that the Smurfs are her friends, she chooses to become a full-fledged Smurf, with Papa Smurf wielding the magic that turns her into the prettier version of her former self. The Smurfs also featured an incessantly chirpy, earworm of a theme song that was nonetheless an effective tool at establishing the characters’ optimistic nature. Running on NBC from 1981-1990, there were 256 episodes of The Smurfs. The series also spawned several movies, keeping the franchise alive and well.
Valley of the Dinosaurs
Hanna-Barbera in the early 1970s produced many cartoons that were a one-season and done enterprise. One of these was Valley of the Dinosaurs, which only received 13 episodes that were rerun for a second season. Every kid with a passion for thunder lizards and sci-fi tuned in to see the adventures of the Butler family who, while on a jungle expedition, are sucked via whirlpool into a prehistoric world. They spent their days studying the dinosaurs and having harrowing run-ins with the more vicious of the lot. Befriended by the caveman Gorok, his wife Gara, and their two children Lok and Tana, The Butlers adjusted quickly to their new life, complete with a baby Stegosaurus named Glump. The Valley of the Dinosaurs ran for new episodes from September to December in 1974. It’s disappointing that the show didn’t catch on enough to secure future seasons.
One of Hanna-Barbera’s most-iconic characters has to be Yogi Bear, denizen of Jellystone Park where the picnic basket-snatching, loveable ne’er-do-well kept the cranky Ranger Smith on his toes. With his sidekick, the practical Boo Boo, always at his side, Yogi was always getting into some sort of shenanigans. There was also Yogi’s love interest, Cindy Bear, who was aggressively sweet on our not-so-average bear. Yogi Bear started out as a comic book character, but made his television debut in 1958 on The Huckleberry Hound Show. His popularity took-off, and in 1961 he received his own TV show The Yogi Bear Show which ran from 1961-1962. The show introduced the characters of Snagglepuss and Yankee Doodle, who both got their own segments within the program’s structure. Yogi would have several reincarnations over the years, including Yogi’s Gang (1970), Yogi’s Space Race (1978), Yogi’s Treasure Hunt (1985), The New Yogi Bear Show (1988), and Yo Yogi! (1991). He was also the basis for the cartoon holiday classic Yogi’s First Christmas (1980), as well as a bevy of feature films and made-for-TV movies.
Hong Kong Phooey
Another Hanna-Barbera short-lived series that has a bit of a cult following is Hong Kong Phooey (1974), which received a total of 14 episodes. In the early 1970s, Kung-Fu movies were all the rage and Hanna-Barbera capitalized on its popularity by creating a cartoon about a dog who was a janitor at a police station who, when calls came into dispatch, would enter a filing cabinet and emerge as the crime-fighting, martial arts practicing Hong Kong Phooey (voiced by the wonderful Scatman Crothers). Of course, there were other characters, including the loveable dispatch operator Rosemary, the crusty Sergeant Flint, and the crafty cat Spot. We haven’t seen much of Hong Kong Phooey since its original run, but in Its day, it was everywhere (I had a Hong Kong Phooey lunchbox in kindergarten).
There would be a public stoning if I did not include Space Ghost on this list of great morning cartoons. After all, he may be the only cartoon character to ever receive his own late-night talk show. Originally debuting in 1966 as part of the Space Ghost and Dino Boy show, Space Ghost was an intergalactic superhero who used his seemingly magical belt to fly, become invisible, and shoot laser rays. Unleashing his power and humor on myriad super villains, Space Ghost soon become a well respected superhero of Saturday mornings. When the series ended in 1968, it remained in syndication for several years. Now, back to the talk-show Space Ghost: Coast to Coast, a hilarious, tongue-in-cheek parody of late night television, where the title character interviewed celebrities while his arch-nemeses played in the show’s band, found great popularity from 1994-2008.
Not all Saturday morning cartoons were a laugh-riot. In fact, Jonny Quest (1964-1965) was more about adventure and science fiction. The series also featured a more intricate drawing style than what had come to be associated with Hanna-Barbera productions. The title character was young boy who went on adventures with his scientist father, often finding himself in harm’s way. Often along for the fun was Jonny’s friend and adopted brother Hadji, an orphan dressed in a turban and Nehru jacket. Jonny Quest had serious storylines and played very much like a television drama. The show has had a few incarnations since its initial run, including The New Adventures of Jonny Quest (1986-1987), and The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest (1996-1997).
Incorporating pop music was a recurring theme for Hanna-Barbera in the late 60s and the 70s. Jabberjaw was no exception. This cartoon featured a rock band named The Neptunes, a gaggle of teenage musicians who, as part of their act, had a talking great white shark (you guessed it, his name was Jabberjaw) who acted as their drummer. They lived in an underwater world, so it sort of made sense that talking aquatic life would be a part of their world. The Neptunes were always coming up against villains who wanted to take over the world, and Jabberjaw was usually responsible for complicating their problems before each episode had a happy ending. Jabberjaw ran from 1976-1978.
One of the most beloved and important cartoons ever made was Hanna-Barbera’s The Flintstones. The chief reason behind its relevance was that it aired in primetime, bringing cartoons to an audience outside of Saturday mornings and kids. Some debate remains on whether (or not) the show was inspired by the popular live-action sitcom The Honeymooners, but regardless of speculation, it certainly has some parallels. Set in a prehistoric world where dinosaurs are beasts of burden, the power behind a crude technology that includes cars, cameras, washing machines, and televisions. The show’s catalysts are Fred Flintstone, the cranky caveman who works at a local rock quarry, and his opinionated, put-upon wife Wilma. The show was popular enough to last for six seasons on TV (1960-1966), and then became the basis for a variety of Saturday morning cartoons including The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show (1971-1972), The Flintstone Comedy Hour (1972-1974), Fred Flintstone and Friends (1978-1979), The New Fred and Barney Show (1979), Fred and Barney Meet The Thing (1979), Fred and Barney Meet The Shmoo (1979-1980), The Flintstone Comedy Show (1980-1982), The Flintstone Funnies (1982-1984), The Flintstone Kids (1986-1988), and Cave Kids (1996).
WithThe Flintstones taking us to the past with great success, of course Hanna-Barbera looked to the future. The Jetsons, a jaunt head to flying cars and advanced technology, ran on primetime from 1962-1963. George Jetson was the space-age Fred Flintstone, a family man living in a space age high rise with his wife Jane, his daughter Judy, their son Elroy, their dog Astro, and their robot maid Rosie. Hanna-Barbera hilariously (and somewhat presciently) envisioned a world where computers did everything for us. Jane Jetson would choose the family meals by pressing a few buttons. The Jetsons was never quite as popular as The Flintstones, and seldom received a renaissance like the latter enjoyed. Still, they came back from 1985-1987 as part of The Futuristic World of Hanna-Barbera, and received a few feature films.
Josie and the Pussycats
A break-off from the popular Archie comic, Josie and the Pussycats followed the stories of an all-girl band who, for their signature look, sported cat ears. They toured all over, getting caught up in mysteries, adventures, and usual cartoon mayhem, always having a song to sing that was in the pop vein of the period. The show ran for one season (1970-1971), but evolved into a new series called Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space (1972-1973) that took their escapades and music in an interplanetary direction. Josie and the Pussycats have not been lost to the world of esoteric television history. They are alive and well in the live-action TV drama Riverdale, which is also inspired by the Archie comics.
A talking car with a heart of gold was the basic premise for Speed Buggy (1973). Solving mysteries while entering into races around the world, Deb, Mark and Tinker were always driving their orange-colored dune buggy who they referred to as “Speedie”. Speed Buggy always had a mind of his own, and although he was a devoted friend to the trio, he would also take his own initiative to help solve problems and get into his own problems. Speed Buggy was short-lived, but would occasionally show up in other Hanna-Barbera cartoons such as Scooby Doo and the All-Star Laff-a-Lympics.
You knew it would be one here, and why wouldn’t it be? Scooby-Doo may be the most-successful cartoon franchise outside of Disney and Looney Toons. For Hanna-Barbera, the cartoon about a Great Dane and a band of meddling teenagers who solve crimes involving supposed ghosts, ghouls, monsters, and witches. Of course, we always find out it is some human scaring people to their own evil ends, but we love going along for the ride (especially in the Mystery Machine). Scooby-Doo is as much an integrated part of American culture as apple pie and baseball. It has received several versions over the years, from the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? (1969-1970), The New Scooby-Doo Movies (1972-1973), The Scooby-Doo Show (1976-1978), Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo (1979-1982), The New Scooby-Doo Show/The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries (1983-1984), The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo (1985), A Pup Named Scooby-Doo (1988-1991), What’s New, Scooby-Doo (2002-2006), Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue! (2006-2008), Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated (2010-2013), and Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! (2015-still running). Whether it is the nerdy Velma losing her glasses, to old Scooby overcoming his fears in exchange for a Scooby snack, we laugh and we tune-in. There were also two live-action feature films based on the series, not to mention scads of Scooby-Doo merchandise that continue to keep the franchise relevant and in the public schema.