Wednesday, February 10, 2016

People Are Sick of People

How many feature newspaper stories do you see today about the big names in cartoon voice acting?


And it was just as rare 60-or-so years ago. More improbably, too. Today, kids of at three generations have watched cartoons on the home screen. Animation scholars, historians and even fans have written about them in volume. Back in the 1950s, adults didn’t take cartoons all that seriously. They were considered filler on TV and in theatres, and exclusively for children.

That changed thanks to Hanna-Barbera. Critics peered at The Huckleberry Hound Show in 1958. They liked it. It was new, amusing, not too brash, and (importantly) fit for adults to enjoy. Columnists didn’t write for children, but they did write for adults, and since Huck and Yogi were fit for adults, stories about the cartoons appeared in print. And it was inevitable that someone, some time, would come up with the idea to write about the star of the show.

Here’s a piece from columnist Leo Guild of the Philadelphia Inquirer of July 10, 1961 about Daws Butler. It’s debateable whether Daws was the greatest cartoon voice actor in television—some will vote for Paul Frees, and that’s difficult to argue against—but Daws is certainly my favourite. It’s not just because he was the man behind many of my favourite TV cartoon characters, but listening to how he used his voice shows a real master at work. He makes it sound easy. And, better still, the people who I’ve spoken to who knew Daws report no one ever had a bad thing to say about him. He was a nice man, a caring man, generous with his time. Incidentally, Joe Bevilacqua still has his tribute site to Daws on line that you can view HERE.

A Look at TV
Cartoon Voice Likes Obscurity
I'M RICH and nobody knows me," chortles Daws Butler, who's the voice behind most of the characters in three Hanna-Barbera cartoon series, "Yogi Bear," "Huckleberry Hound" and "Quick Draw McGraw."
Butler hates to be recognized, so he's delighted that his audio only activities bring him lots of loot, but little fan fuss. Reportedly one of the highest paid entertainers in TV, he is never seen on home screens.
He's reluctant to discuss his earnings — one estimate of the fees earned by top "voices" is $1000 per show — but admits they're sizable.
"Yes," he says, "I make a lot of money, because cartoons are suddenly popular on TV. I think people are sick of people. Audiences want to escape to cartoon characters in a world where no one is hurt, insulted or unhappy, and nothing is taken seriously."
Father of four sons and hundreds of distinctive voices, Butler uses the hundreds to keep the four entertained.
He has a strong respect for the capabilities of the human voice.
"A voice," he says, "can have pathos, romance, pity — many emotions. But mostly a voice can be funny. Hanna-Barbera like gentle satire in their cartoons and, with the right inflections, that's what I give them."
"Bill Hanna or Joe Barbera or an animator comes up with an idea for a character and I think up a voice for him to fit.
"If it's an extrovert like Yogi, I give him a lot of breath, so he comes off big.
"No matter what I dream up, the character has to be warm and friendly. That's the one rule about cartoon characters. Even a Yogi, who's a conceited fellow, must have charm."
Daws got his training for his voice work as an impersonator in vaudeville in the early 40s.
"Today I do a complete half show in an hour. And I usually do four a day.
"I don't get a script until I come into the recording studio. I look over the storyboards so I get the sense of it.
"It's seldom done perfectly the first time. Either something is too fast, not loud enough, too slow or the voice is wrong. That part is re-recorded."
Money isn't everything, says Daws.
"It loses meaning after a while.
But it gives me freedom and the chance to turn down jobs I don't think are worthy. I write and do the voice for many commercials. Some commercials are so bad that no matter what the money, I turn them down.
"Writing commercials is my hobby, and I work hard at it for my fun."
Which is his favorite character?
"Yogi," says Daws. "He's real to me. Sometimes it gives me the shudders, he's so real!"
Daws may have thought people were sick of people (at least on TV), but I don’t think it can be disputed that anyone got sick of Daws Butler. You can still listen to him today and laugh.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Yakky Doodle – Judo Ex-Expert

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Harry Holt, Layout – Walt Clinton, Backgrounds – Art Lozzi, Written by Mike Maltese, Story Director – Art Davis, Titles – Howard Hanson, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Yakky Doodle – Jimmy Weldon; Chopper – Vance Colvig; Fibber Fox, Fernwood Fox – Daws Butler.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
Plot: Chopper helps Yakky convince Fibber that he’s a deadly judo expert.

Today’s lesson in cartoon dialogue:

Chopper: What’s the trouble, little feller? Fibber Fox after ya?
Yakky: Oh, no, Chopper. (Laughs). I wish he was.
Chopper: Ya wish he was? Why, Yakky?
Yakky: Because, Chopper, I am now a judo expert. Here’s my diploma from judo school to prove it.
Chopper: Your diploma from judo school?

What’s the matter with you, Chopper? Are you deaf? Why are you repeating everything?

This, in a nutshell, is one of the reasons Hanna-Barbera cartoons started going down the tubes. We all know Mike Maltese is a witty and talented writer of both dialogue and sight gags. Subjectively, he’s the best there ever was. Certainly, he’s my favourite. But either the workload or lack of inspiration sometimes gripped his cartoons. This is one of them. Maltese succumbs to the Little Sir Echo Syndrome, where characters repeat stuff for no comedic reason. Or they explain to the audience what they’re about to do, then they do it. Why? They’re padding for time. Padding usually isn’t very funny. And once the dialogue stops being funny, there isn’t a lot left in a TV cartoon.

What’s that you say, Chuck Jones, famous Warner Bros. director? “Pretty soon the plots of our cartoons showed up at Hanna Barbera”? Well, yes, yes, they did, though they’re not always exactly the same. “Judo Ex-Expert” may remind you of the Sylvester cartoon Tree For Two where Spike thinks Sylvester’s beating him up but it’s really a black panther that he doesn’t see due to different circumstances. And then there’s a Pixie and Dixie cartoon Strong Mouse where boss cat Gus thinks he and his mugs have handed their kitty butts handed to them by Pixie when it’s really Hercules, the world’s strongest mouse.

There are elements of both in this cartoon. Yakky thinks passing a mail-order judo course means he can take care of Fibber Fox any time with a double flip over his shoulder. “I’d better help the little feller,” says the observing Chopper, who grabs the fox by the tail and flips him. Naturally, Fibber thinks Yakky’s responsible for it. Apparently he can’t feel his tail being grabbed and pulled up.

Fernwood Fox comes along and is disgusted that Fibber is now afraid of a little duck. You’ve seen enough cartoons so you can accurately guess how the rest of the cartoon goes. (Trivia note: when Maltese first worked at the Leon Schlesinger studio, it was on the Warners lot at Fernwood and Van Ness).

Time for an endless run cycle past the same white house, red barn and red silo. It takes 24 frames for the background to repeat. The run is on six drawings, shot on twos. The mouth movements are on separate cels from the cycle because Chopper’s talking. Harry Holt, an ex-Disneyite, is the animator. I’ve slowed this down so you can see the movement of the background vs the drawings clearly.

When Yakky goes into the cave to a neat walk cycle with clenched fists to “beat up” Fibber and Fernwood, Holt gives him a neat little walk cycle with swinging clenched fists. I’d love to isolate it without the background and overlay (I’m technically inept and don’t know how to work Photoshop) but here are a couple of the posts.

For the record, here are Fernwood and Fibber. Neither are wearing pants, though Fibber’s sweater is longer so you don’t notice is as much.

Daws gives Fernwood a toned-down version of his punch-drunk Slapsy Maxie voice. You’ve heard it in a bunch of Fractured Fairy Tales for Jay Ward. Some of Jimmy Weldon’s grunts when Yakky is trying to flip the foxes are on a tape loop and are used over and over (does “flip the foxes” sound rude to you?).

I don’t have production numbers for the series but if the Yogi DVD release is to be accepted as a source, this was the last Yakky cartoon to air in first run. It wasn’t the best way to end the series, but judging by the comments people leave every time I post notes about Yakky Doodle, he’s still liked by a number of TV animation fans.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Yogi Bear Weekend Comics, February 1966

That Yogi! He’s one hep-cat bear. Oh, we didn’t say “hep-cat” in the 1960s, did we? Well, you get what I mean.

Yogi’s got all the latest dance and skateboard moves, as he demonstrates in the weekend newspaper comics 50 years ago this month. No overly cute tykes, no natives on a reserve-um, no cameos by Huck (oh, well).

Dig those boss Gene Hazelton designs of the band in the February 6th comic, second panel. And Yogi and that matron can sure dance; there are some great poses in that second row. I thought the dance was called the “Mashed Potato” but I was a little young in 1966 and not going to dances. I guess the kids in the last panel are supposed to be teenagers but they look a little younger. See the expression on the matron in that panel.

Genius or a nut? Well, Boo Boo, if Kellogg’s dumps him, he can always advertise Post Honeycomb cereal. Though it goes better with milk than flour. The February 13th comic features a silhouette panel in the top row; we get one for two weeks in a row. Evidently one Yogi’s schemes left him with money to buy stuff in a store.

Papers that didn’t carry the top row on February 20th missed more nice poses. Gene Hazelton and his artist give us a head-on and profile view of the logging truck in the second row. We can hope someone isn’t logging in a national park. That last panel features a killer logging road. I don’t know if real ones get so close to a cliff (I think of logging roads being cut inside a forest on a mountain) but it sure looks authentic.

Nice layout on the reveal gag at the end of the February 27th comic. Angles and perspective. We’ve got Ranger Joe. Is Ranger Smith “Bill”?

No sooner did I find a nice source for these Yogi comics than it dries up for March 1966. We’ll see if we’re back in a month, time willing.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

A Word From Our Sponsor

Hanna-Barbera’s cartoon work around 1960 wasn’t limited to those great half-hours shows we used to see at home in the late afternoon or early evening. There was the lacklustre Loopy De Loop theatrical series. And there were commercials. Not just ones related to Kellogg, Winston or whoever was sponsoring the various cartoons it seems.

Here are some story panels for a series of spots for Oscar Mayer Weiners. The first one is almost complete, the other two are even less so; they were on an auction site which only posted these as examples of what was up for grabs. Opening of the “Bandits” 60-second commercial might remind you of the opening of a certain cartoon show. Did anyone see any of these? Did Dick Beals play the kid or was it Daws Butler? And I wonder if these aired on Bewitched, which had animated opening titles by you-know-who.

A partial one by the same artist. Could it be Dan Gordon’s work?

I presume this one was from a preliminary storyboard. I wonder if the dialogue included “Whoa, camel, whoa!”?

This one’s really fun. More fun than the series, to be honest. I love the drawings. And it features Arnold Stang and Marvin Kaplan. There’s something wrong with anyone who dislikes those two guys. You’ll hear them when you read along. The dialogue has the feel of the other Kellogg’s spots that aired during the cartoon shows in that period.

These faded panels, I suspect are, for the Kellogg’s ad that’s the second one you’ll see in the video below, which also includes the closing Top Cat animation (without credits) by Ken Muse.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Sorry, D.C., I'm Not Interested

You’re friends with your next door neighbour. He’s a nice guy, someone who invites you over to watch the game on TV and have a beer. You go out and have some laughs together. What would you think if the guy completely changed and became sullen and angry and anti-social? Someone who wasn’t the guy you knew and liked?

You’d be pretty much turned off and likely want to avoid him if humanly possible.

That’s how I feel about re-boots of cartoons.

You may have heard read that D.C. Comics wants to reboot some of the great Hanna-Barbera characters of the 1960s. The Flintstones, Jonny Quest, Space Ghost, Scooby-Doo and others. D.C. Entertainment co-publisher Dan Didio is quoted on
“...these characters resonate with so much of our fanbase. It was so fun to go out and look at them, but not just bring back versions that existed 40, 50 years ago, and really look at it the way of saying, if these characters were created and interpreted today, how would they exist?”
Here’s my question.


Why if the “characters much,” why must they be changed to something that aren’t the same characters that resonated? And why would they be any different if they “were created and interpreted today”?

Scooby Doo was about some fairly ordinary teenagers, with a comic-relief dog, getting to the bottom of mysteries. It wasn’t about tatted-up hipsters with “futuristic weapons,” so why should it be now? Granted, I’m not a big Scooby fan, but why not hue to the story structure of the original show that attracted millions of fans? And why does anyone think the way it was structured is neither entertaining nor relevant to today’s audience?

And I’m sorry, the “classic look” of Fred Flintstone isn’t like some steroid monkey who gave up on the gym and decided to grow a gut by overeating. He’s supposed to look like Ralph Kramden. Or even Alan Reed.

I realise there are fans who dote on anything if you slap the Hanna-Barbera name on it, no matter how misguided or inane. If they’re entertained by something, that’s their prerogative. I’m sure they’ll comment here and tell me I’m full of something or the old stand-by justifications “Give it a chance” or “You haven’t seen it yet.” But I just don’t see the need to take characters who are loved and then reinvent them so they’re not what anyone loved.

Your next door neighbours don’t change drastically in real life. Why should they in comic books?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

If I Knew You Were Comin'...

Anyone familiar with the hit parade in 1950 would be able to complete the song lyric in the title of this post.

You may have noticed there’s one Yogi Bear cartoon we have yet to review here—the half-hour birthday party episode. We’re not reviewing it today but this post is somewhat related.

Some time ago, a friend on Facebook had a birthday and someone posted a great picture of a Tom and Jerry birthday cake. It got me to wondering if anyone had made a Yogi Bear cake. Well, the answer is “yes” and because it falls under the category of food, the internet is awash with pictures of these ursine confectionery creations. And they’re pretty creative. Hurray to the artists who created these, because cake decorating really is an art. Some of the photos are small so they don’t blow up all that well.

Nuts and berries?!? This Yogi has a hitherto unknown craving for bananas.

I’m not quite sure what those things are with Yogi and Boo Boo. Snails? Slugs?

When Yogi first appeared on The Huckleberry Hound Show in 1958, he was watched by not only kids, but by young adults. So it’s perhaps fitting someone got a Yogi Bear wedding cake.

These delectable culinary desserts show that Yogi and Boo Boo are just as popular today as they ever were. And they sure look better on the cakes than in that movie a few years ago, don’t they?