Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Golden Days of 1988

I notice that the first season of "A Pup Named Scooby-Doo" came out on DVD recently. This was a pretty interesting show and in its own way, fairly important. Though it was basically a children's show and doesn't have a lot of adult references or humor -- unlike Tiny Toons, done by a lot of the same people, or Mighty Mouse, which premiered a year before this, Pup wasn't trying to pull in grown-ups -- it had a nice combination of reverence and irreverence towards the Scooby-Doo franchise. It made fun of the clich├ęs of Scooby-Doo and of H-B cartoons in general, but its style actually felt much closer to early H-B cartoons than any H-B show had been for years; early H-B character designs popped up among the supporting characters, there was no Scrappy-Doo, no plundering whatever movie or TV show was big at the time, and the stories were, in their tongue-in-cheek way, the most "pure" version of the series premise; it actually made the mystery-solving format kind of fun and cute.

It was also literally the first H-B show ever that actually looked better than previous H-B shows; Hanna-Barbera and indeed every other cartoon studio had been making cartoons that looked worse every year, Pup finally dumped the Ruby-Spears look that the studio had been doing for decades -- the flesh-colored eyes, the drab, ashen backgrounds -- and went for an angular look, stylized backgrounds, bright colors, Tex Avery takes, and even some decent animation (from Wang's Cuckoo's Nest studio, supervised by Glen Kennedy). Even the music was different, with doo-wop vocal tracks inspired by Little Shop of Horrors. Velma even had her own distinctive way of walking, and while they may have over-done it on the accompanying sound effects, it was the first time in a while that a character was actually characterized and given individuality by the way she walked.

Everybody in 1987-88 was scrambling to revive old characters, sometimes as kids, sometimes not (Mighty Mouse, Beany and Cecil). Within a few years, the people working on these shows would create new shows with new characters, but shows like Pup weren't just notable for the people who worked on them (notably Tom Ruegger, who conceived and produced the show, Charlie Howell, who co-wrote the first episode, Alfred Gimeno, and Scott Jeralds) but just for helping to establish the idea that network kids' cartoons could, and should, look a lot better than they had been for the previous 20 years.

This interview with Tom Ruegger gives a lot of great background information, including the information that Bill Hanna directed the first episode himself, the first time in a number of years that he'd done that. (By that point H-B shows did not have individual director credits for the episodes.)

9 comments:

Jorge Garrido said...

Ah, my favourite HB show of the 80s... I'm surprised by Tom Minton's comments on John K's blog that this show was the worst thing that has ever happened...to me this show was infinitely better than the original Scooby Doo AND Tiny Toons or Animaniacs.

Jorge Garrido said...

Oh, and also, the rubbery animation was astounding for an 80s show and the characters were all interesting...Velma, paranoid Fred and Daphne were all basically completely new characters, and Red Herring was a hilarious meme.

Larry Levine said...

The downside to this show was how it triggered a slew of 'Kids' versions of established adult characters: Flintstones Kids, Tom & Jerry Kids, Muppet Babies, etc.

Tor Y. Harbin said...

Actually, the so-so "Muppet Babies" came first, followed by the excruciating "Flintstone Kids" a couple of years later.

The 'oh God, my eyes!' "Tom and Jerry Kids" came two years after "Pup" (which still airs, doesn't it?).

Anonymous said...

Every one of those shows were cash register animation.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

Every one of those shows were cash register animation.

So are the shows you like, if you want to get technical about it.

Besides, isn't it better for people making "cash register animation" to actually make it good, instead of making it bad?

Anonymous said...

Jaime
Enjoyed the post...I have got to get a copy of this dvd!
I wanted that "doo wop" early 60's girl group rock and roll thing for the bg music, and John Debney totally ran with it. Our music track cutter Joe Sandusky thought I ws nuts when I asked for the doo wop stuff to be played under dialog, but I rteally wanted it everywhere.
And Alfred Gimenos, Scott Jeralds, Bob Onorato and the rest of the crew spent a week or two working on nothing but wild take concepts, which we built into a useable file and would dip into it throughout the season.
Joe Barbera called me in and told me to make sure to accompany the wild takes with equally if not wilder sound effect. He was right!
all the best
Tom Ruegger

Jeffrey Gray said...

One thing I've noticed...for all the grousing about outsourcing to overseas studios, has anybody ever noticed that in the last half of the 1980s, the highest-quality TV cartoons became a lot higher quality?

Now, I don't know jack-squat about the animation business, but I will say that, comparing Hanna-Barbera's entire 70s/early 80s output to the best TMS-animated episodes of DuckTales, Rescue Rangers, Tiny Toons, etc., it's like night and day.

For all the nostalgia about the days when cartoons were produced entirely in-house, I will have to point out that, to my knowledge, no animated series had anything approaching "full animation" until after 1985.

Compare TMS episodes of Tiny Toons to "Produced entirely in the USA" Filmation stuff. Yes, I know Filmation had low budgets, but it was apparently still too expensive for them to produce entirely stateside, because they went under.

Like it or not, real character animation seems to coincide with the move to overseas studios. I guarantee you that the kind of animation you see in TMS episodes of Tiny Toons could not be produced entirely stateside on a TV budget.

Sure, there is a lot of overseas crap, but the highest-quality TV animation of the late 80s and early 90s was done in Japan (admittedly, of a higher caliber than average overseas work).

I hate to say it, but to my eye, the combination of low budgets and high (union) wages basically meant that entirely American shows tried to get away with having as few frames as possible...

Jeffrey Gray said...

Oh wait, I forgot...what does this have to do with A Pup Named Scooby-Doo?

Basically, I don't think this kind of rubbery animation could have been achieved if the show was animated entirely in the U.S. - as I said before, from what little I can infer, TV cartoon budgets would have had to have been ten times higher.

Notice, actually, that *EVERY* animated TV series up until the mid-80s utilized very limited animation...even the good ones...