Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Thumbs Up For Quick Draw

Until The Flintstones arrived in 1960, the television cartoons of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera enjoyed almost universal praise by critics. Huck Hound was never called “an inked disaster” like Fred Flintstone. The columnists varied, but the reasons for liking the cartoons was always the same.

Hal Humphrey of the Associated Press reviewed new H-B cartoon shows a number of times over the first ten years of the studio’s life. Like many critics, he wasn’t altogether impressed by the Flintstones’ debut and became cynical about Hanna-Barbera’s cartoon-as-merchandise machine. But before that, he was caught up in the casual joviality and newness of the syndicated half-hour shows, and the tale of the cartoonists who overcame adversity to put them on the air.

As far as I know, this column from September 25, 1959 is the first time Humphrey looked at the H-B cartoons in print.

Viewing TV
New Western Hero
By HAL HUMPHREY
Television watchers in more than 150 cities this week will see a new western hero with a couple of gimmicks which nobody can top. He packs only one six-shooter, but he has four legs. His name is Quick Draw McGraw, and he has four legs because he is a horse. He also has a fearless, but slightly dumb; side-kick called Bobba Looey [sic]. Mr. Looey is a Mexican burro.
Quick Draw McGraw is the latest animated cartoon creation of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, whose success on TV already has been assured by such stars as “Ruff and Ready,” “Huckleberry Hound” and “Yogi Bear.”
In two short years Hanna and Barbera have built a multi-million-dollar TV cartoon business. It is the only one turning out cartoon shows for TV, because practically everyone else in Hollywood said it couldn’t be done. Ensconced in the old brick studio built by Chaplin, this team of veteran cartoon animators now has 150 artists and technicians on their payroll, and offers of more business than they can handle.
THE ONE SPONSOR (Kellogg) for “Huckleberry Hound” and the new “Quick Draw McGraw” series is laying out approximately $12,000,000 annually to syndicate the two shows on TV.
Hanna and Barbera got their big break when MGM studios fired them two years ago. For 20 years they had toiled there as the animators of the famous cat and mouse team, “Tom and Jerry.”
Before their contract at MGM was dropped, Hanna and Barbera tried to talk the studio chiefs into producing new cartoons for TV. Despite their insistence that they had developed a technique which would bring cartoons within a TV budget, MGM didn't believe it could be done without hurting the quality. .
With financial backing from movie producer-director George Sidney, the persistent team decided to go into business for themselves. This was after nearly every TV film studio also had turned them down.
In two years they have produced more cartoon shows for TV than they did in 20 years at MGM.
“Everyone in the business predicted we would fall on our face,” Barbera recalls, “because it was considered impossible to do a half-hour, cartoon show every week. Bill and I knew differently.”
THE KEY TO Hanna and Barbera’s conquest of TV is a simple one. They use 80 per cent fewer drawings to animate their work than were previously considered minimum.
“It’s planning that does it,” Hanna explains. “For example, when the action calls for a character to change the expression on his face, we don’t make a whole new drawing of him. We save the body and draw another facial expression to go with it.:
Other short cuts are effected by Hanna and Barbera through the use of dialogue and sound effects. They argue adamantly, however, that the quality of animation is not harmed by their pruning of much artistic detail.
A half-hour of their new “Quick Draw McGraw” still has a production budget of $56,000, but this is less than half of what it would cost to produce it on the old elaborate scale for cartoon animation.
Another important reason for their success is the good taste inherent in a Hanna-Barbera production. Parents and P.T.A. groups have yowled long and loud over the sadism, violence and sex innuendos permeating most of the ancient theatrical cartoons rerun on TV the past several years.
When “Quick Draw McGraw” shoots a bad man, usually just his pride is hurt, or the seat of his pants singed. It’s doubtful either that you’ll ever find him casting lecherous glances at some Betty-Boop saloon hostess.
In spite of such distillation, Hanna and Barbera have injected enough western satire into “McGraw” to make him palatable to adults, who now make up 60 per cent of Huckleberry Hound’s audience. And, unless we’ve flipped our cap, you’ll also enjoy “Snooper and Blabber,” a cat and mouse pair of private eyes who blow their first case. But let McGraw tell you about it. He’s a talking horse.

Setting aside the almost-universal weariness everybody but kids had for the old theatrical cartoons airing on late-‘50s TV, Humphrey’s review still stands. The Huck, Quick Draw and Yogi Bear cartoons (the originals, at least) don’t talk down to anyone and are innocent fun. If they weren’t, you wouldn’t be here reading this now.

3 comments:

  1. It seems as though as long as Bill & Joe's shows were being aired as part of the pre-prime time line-up, even the critics who by the late 50s were looking aghast at the "dumbing down" of network TV could review the cartoons without an air of condescension. Once you get Hanna-Barbera into the prime time line-up in 1960, coming in the wake of the demise of the critics' beloved prime-time live dramas in 1958-59, the long knives start to come out and the reviews come across in general as not just negative, but viciously so.

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  2. The problem for critics with 'The Flintstones' was two-fold. Barbera et al sold it as an "adult" show; the word "adult" was used constantly. Critics didn't see it that way. And they seemed to think the animation would be improved from the Kellogg's shows.

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  3. A big western parody. And also one of the big classicals from Hanna-Barbera.

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