Saturday, February 06, 2010

Maybe He Knows Where To Find Those Hanna-Barbera "Zap" Effects

This wasn't co-ordinated in any way, but it's been brought to my attention that John Kricfalusi just wrote about his miserable experience working on "Fonz and the Happy Days Gang."

As he notes, one of the thing that made TV cartoons so dismal in the early '80s is that the two styles of cartoon -- action-adventure and comedy -- had sort of blended together into one all-purpose style, so all the humans had stodgy "realistic" designs with those scary flesh-colored eyes. A commenter on my blog once called this era of Hanna-Barbera something like "the flesh-colored eye era," and nothing sums up that era for me quite as much as the idea that cartoon humans would look more like humans if they didn't have eyeballs.

Having said that, here's kind of a pointless question: of the big Sat-am providers in the early '80s, which is your favorite? Or least un-favorite? I think the scripts at DePatie-Freleng/Marvel/Sunbow were sometimes a notch above the others (and their musical shows had some decent songs, courtesy of Broadway songwriter Barry Harman).

And while Ruby-Spears had the ugliest-looking cartoons of the era, they did have some pleasantly insane premises from contributors like Steve Gerber. Though I'm only bringing that up so I can post this intro again, a show that appeared to be Ruby-Spears' mashup of Richie Rich, Aaron Spelling, and Jack Kirby (who was a character designer for the show).

On a message board, Buzz Dixon recalled that the network wanted Goldie Gold to have her own Freckles-style friend:

I remember one network imbecile wanting Goldie to have a homeless friend who lived in a cardboard box and I said, "Would that make Goldie a real yutz, having all that wealth and not being willing to shell out a few bucks to rent a warm room for her friend?" and the network moron said, "Oh, no, he likes living in a cardboard box."

And that anecdote may be all we really need to know about cartoons in the early '80s.

Addendum: Though I actually think Saturday morning cartoons were a little worse in the '70s than in the '80s. The quality of animation in the early '80s did not improve, and the design probably got worse, but the scripting got... not good, just a little bit better in some places.


Ricardo Cantoral said...

I am seriously baffled sometimes about what was the target audience for these cartoons. This Goldie Gold just could have been a straight live action show; No talking dog, no annoying side kick, just two very dull white people and one creepy looking black.

Thad said...

Picking your favorite 70s/80s cartoon show is like picking your favorite cancer!

Ricardo Cantoral said...

To look at a sad contrast, see what Japan was doing at this time on television. I am pretty sure any golden age animator would have loved to work on The New Lupin III or even Urusei Yatsura.

John Pannozzi said...

Pretty much the only North American animated TV series made between 1980 and 1983 that I have anything resembling fondness for is Inspector Gadget. Cartoons, IMHO, got just a bit better in 1984, with the debut of Transfomers and Muppet Babies, the birth if Walt Disney Television Animation, the Jetsons revamp John K. worked on and the start of Tom Ruegger's run on Scooby-Doo. None of these things were exactly earth-shattering but they did lead to better stuff down the line.

Ken Reid said...

There were really some out and out bizarre concepts during this era. A show like "Turbo Teen" or even "Mr. T" had some strange mix of action comedy and weird character designs.

The worst offended in my mind is "It's Punky Brewster" which I always felt was a failed pitch for a show about a girl with a magical sidekick, so they just threw Punky Brewster into the mix and it was snapped up.

stavner said...

If you think flesh-colored eyes are bad, look at anime-like cartoons like "G.I. Joe" or "Jem"--the characters in those cartoons had eyes like bird droppings!

Anonymous said...

Joe Ruby and Ken Spears had what could be called an Aaron Spelling deal with ABC for many years in that the network would buy practically anything Joe came up with, no matter how bizarre. It all hit the wall once the fin/syn rules changed.

Brubaker said...

I guess DePatie-Freleng was at least trying. They were the only one doing theatrical cartoons in the '70s, and that market was more-or-less dead by then, so...yeah.

Looking at Misterjaw, it seemed that they were trying to do slapstick-type cartoon in the '70s when those things were practically forbidden by the networks. They were made to be shown alongside the theatrical "Pink Panther", "Tijuana Toads" (redubbed "Texas Toads"), and all that. But I think what ultimately saved them was having Arte Johnson and Arnold Stang do the voices. They worked perfectly as a team and it's a shame that it didn't go beyond this one series.