Thursday, 5 November 2009

Hanna-Barbera’s Forgotten Star

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.

19 comments:

  1. I think H-B wanted Curtin to do something like Hi-Q, and they succeeded, because by '61, that library music was gone and the Curtin cues began popping up everywhere. Four years later Ted Nichols added some great sounds to the library. Some of the older-style cues even showed up in 80's cartoons for camp value, much like John K. mined the KPM archives with "Ren and Stimpy".

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  2. That's my guess as well, Dave; HB wanted their own cue library where they didn't have to pay rights. I imagine the fee structure to use Capitol for a film was a lot different than using it for two showings on TV and it would have been more worthwhile for HB to have Curtin write some mood stuff.

    The KPM stuff works really well on Ren and Stimpy. Even the cues that weren't used on old cartoons evoke old cartoons, which is what I suspect John was going for.

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  3. Aye, gotta give the guy some break - at least it's cool to know some people still remember him despite his lack of popularity and merchandise.

    Arguably, two good things did come out of Loopy's series - Maltease made use of Bigalow the tough little mouse for some other HB shows and, of course, Mel Blanc as the ever-jealous Baxter Bear (from the production line artwork posted) in his Yosemite Sam-like tones :)

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  4. Just found your fantastic blog! Screenshots galore, and all sorts of goodies to read. The music files are super--(it would be nice if they were all grouped together in one place)... Thanks for all the cool stuff!

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  5. Yes, I hadn't realized how pointless " Loopy " was until I started seeing it again on " Boomerang". My childhood memories are somewhat clouded because " Screen Gems " tossed it in the shuffle along with the melting pot of "B" or side cartoons H-B was churning out in the early to mid 60s, ie " Touche' Turtle ", " Lippy the Lion & Hardy Har Har ", " Hokey Wolf " and on and on...Need I say more? Yes, by that time, H-B had Hoyt Curtin on board for all the " Flinstonish " music cues.

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  6. Well, with regards to Dave Mackey's comment, a dozen of Ted Nichols cues appeal to me, but very little goes a long way with Ted Nichols whom I associate with Josie and the Pussycats, The bubblegum Pebbles and Bamm bamm, etc., . Hoyt Curtin's early music is excellent, and he most notably wrote for UPA [including one ofne of Magoo's best, the Oscar winning "When Magoo Flew"! and Ed Graham producitons and Post Cereals/General Foods & Format Productions's "Linus the Lionhearted" series].

    Hokey is one of many [The Reluctant Dragon, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Ferdinand the Bull, which even netted Disney an Oscar, and Pepe LePew just to name a FEW!] who looks dangerous or is otherwise unacceptable if had been others of his species but actually is NONE of those things [problem is, as Yowp's said, Loopy's also not that much FUNNY, either.]]

    Steve C.

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  7. Loopy episodes were still shown in Victoria theaters during the early 1970s. I found them inferior to Warner's reissues or most DePatie-Freleng and Ralph Bakshi 'toons, but more watchable than the new Lantz cartunes which seemed to accompany every Universal movie. At least H-B retired ze good wolf in 1965 just before their studio sank into its sub-mediocre era.


    -Tony

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  8. The animation in a lot of loopy de loop shorts by jack ozark are very very bland and tastless, but i agree with you on just a wolf at heart, yowp , i like the scene where loopy spots the female wolf , and the way loopy moves when he holds his new love intrest. jack ozark also animated 1 snagglepuss cartoon "rent and rave" and his animation is miles better than the horrendusly bad don willams animation of yogi's pest guest and queen bee for a day, pitted with quite possibly the worst HB layout artist of all time way before iwao takamoto's arrival, Dan Noonan.

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  9. I was about to suggest that Loopy is forgotten because the shorts were rarely on TV, but I didn't know they'd been on Boomerang.Loopy does get a reference in Godard's film "Band of Outsiders", so perhaps the series was better known in Europe.

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  10. Dodsworth,

    Loopy de Loop was frequently aired here in Brazil by the Boomerang channel (when this channel aired the classic cartoons [which also included the Hanna-Barbera classics]) until March 2006, when, at the following month, this channel changed all the programming schedule, leaving to be that classic cartoon channel which all of us loved, to turn into a futile teen channel, which airs those boring Australian teen series.

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  11. Hi, Anon and Rod, thanks for your additional information.
    In the Ozark cartoon I mentioned, at least he attempted to do some takes that were something beyond a pair of eyes getting a teensy bit larger, which was about as wild visually as HB cartoons got by then. Too bad the character designs are a little sloppy.
    I restricted my comments about TV to the time period when I actually watched one and I don't recall Loopy at all during that time; certainly not in the '60s when I was growing up.

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  12. "his animation is miles better than the horrendusly bad don willams animation of yogi's pest guest and queen bee for a day"

    'Yogi's pest guest' was animated by Bill Keil.

    I don't mind Jack Ozark, but I haven't seen very much of his work.

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  13. I remember watching a clip of this cartoon one time and realised how the Hoyt Curtin's music cues you heard in The Flintstones, Wally Gator, Yogi, Huckleberry Hound and many others started at this.

    I can't justified how the cartoons look because i haven't seen and being obscure here in profit to Yogi Bear cartoons spin-offs they aired here since two years.

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  14. Zartok, here's where I cringe a bit. People seem to come up with their own credits based on their own educated (?) guesses and who knows how else. And if the guess is wrong, misinformation gets perpetuated all over the net. Some people are good at this sort of thing but I imagine even they don't bat 1.000.

    I'd dearly love to see a helpful list of "In an HB short, only Art Davis drew (example) this way" and so on for various animators (I've seen the truncated Flintstones list but I can't visually apply it to these shorts).

    The first season Huck shows are a little easier because you have four animators to pick from and most of the cartoons have credits.

    I wouldn't mind posting examples from the early shorts (before Wally Gator et al) if someone could lead me in the right direction.

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  15. I do know my fair share of animator specifics, so I may be able to help.

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  16. "Yogi's Pest guest was animated by bill keil"
    NOPE, Trust me i know what bill keil drawing style actually looks like,watch yogi's pest guest, then compare it to iron hand jones http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPwnZrvlo10 (in whick William keil actually animated)
    and you'll see the difference. if you see bill keil's name on yogi's pest guest,it means the current verson to that short has false credits

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  17. Speaking of which here is a loopy short which shows bill keil's real animation style (this is where i identified his style for instance) http://www.220.ro/glFapXrROf/Loopy-DeLoop-

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  18. It might have been interesting to do a short in which Loopy was paired with Hokey Wolf "...and the sparks fly!"

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  19. Ruff & Reddy were far more forgotten. Being HB's first independent production, they were surprisingly really forgotten. Instead, Tom & Jerry stole the spotlight as their first, when technically it was a co-op project with Quimby (Unless I am incorrect).

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