Hanna-Barbera’s stars of 50 years ago are still stars today, right? After all, Yogi Bear is still one of the most popular TV cartoon characters of all time; a string of 73 franchised Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Parks can attest to that. Newspaper stories still compare people to Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw (including misguided attempts at humour involving a TV talk-show doctor with that last name).
And then there’s Loopy de Loop.
Who? Is that, like, an animated airplane?
No, Loopy is a wolf with a bright-sounding Quebecois voice by Daws Butler (by contrast, his Powerful Pierre voice in the Huckleberry Hound cartoons is harsher). He was Joe and Bill’s lone attempt at theatrical shorts after leaving MGM. I can only presume Loopy solely existed because it was a condition of the deal that saw Columbia Pictures pump money into the Hanna-Barbera studio. At least, that’s my guess because I can’t see other possible reason for his existence.
Columbia must have thought it had a winner. Here it was getting brand-new cartoons by the duo responsible for the most talked-about animation in television. Instead, it got the forgotten step-child of the H-B studio.
Loopy was even at the bottom of the quality ladder when it came to Columbia’s own cartoon releases. The studio was still sending old UPA shorts to theatres. So, in November 1959, Columbia re-released the atmospheric The Tell Tale Heart and the Oscar-nominated Trouble Indemnity with Mr. Magoo. And on the 5th of that month, 50 years ago today, the first Loopy short—Wolf Hounded—flickered on the big screen.
In a way, I really feel sorry for Loopy. It was like he was designed never to succeed. H-B used their best concepts in their television cartoons, like spoofs of clichés in westerns and detective shows, and a battle of wits between a big-hearted rogue and a guy in a uniform. All Loopy had was one premise—he wanted to overcome the stereotype that a wolf was bad. That would make for great subtle social commentary in the right hands but that’s a whole different league than what Hanna-Barbera played in. Instead, we get the first of what Joe and Bill were starting to churn out in shorts—a one-note character in warmed-over parody.
Loopy is plain, old dull.
It’s too bad. The first cartoon was a promising start. You can tell by the thin row of teeth that Ken Muse handled the animation. June Foray provided several familiar but funny voices in a rare bit of work for Hanna-Barbera (including the UPA-ish Granny who is a semi-greyish colour). The house designs were cool, characters on a storybook page talked and moved, and there’s a Rube Goldberg-type sight gag (I smell Mike Maltese at work) where Loopy used a brick down a chimney to get a basket of cookies to fly to him out a window. Boxoffice magazine reviewed a couple of the early Loopys and rated them “good,” but hinted to viewers to expect the same plot over and over. And that’s the biggest problem with them—repetition of old bits by a one-dimensional character.
All this leaves you unsympathetic about someone whose sole purpose is to gain your sympathy. Loopy simply fails. He’s just not fun like Quick Draw or Mr. Jinks.
Worse still, this is a theatrical series without full theatrical animation. It looks like a TV cartoon, and at a time when H-B’s animation was starting to get less interesting. A noteable exception is Just A Wolf At Heart (1963), where Jack Ozark’s crudish, but occasionally expressive drawings remind me of Carlo Vinci’s early H-B work (though a sheepdog design was ripped off from Touché Turtle). Even Lawrence Goble’s simple title cards look cheap and elementary.
The only additional expense on these seems to have been hiring Hoyt Curtin to compose some underscores, which certainly saved the trouble of negotiating with Capitol to use the Hi-Q library theatrically. H-B got mileage out of the underscores; you can hear the same melodies over and over on Wally Gator, Lippy the Lion, the aforementioned Turtle and even the Flintstones. And while you could hear Loopy’s bassoon music on TV in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, you would almost never see the Loopy cartoons there, which accounts for his lack of fame today among those of us who grew up ingesting almost every Hanna-Barbera cartoon.
Columbia started re-releasing old (?) Loopys in the mid-‘60s until he just quietly vanished from screens along with the studio’s other shorts. To add insult to his career, he was cast in the pointless and consultant-reeking TV series Yo Yogi!
So bon anniversaire, Loopy de Loop. Here’s at least one place where you’re still remembered. But, unfortunately, not that well.