Saturday, 13 February 2016

Jetsons – The Coming of Astro

The human characters in the Jetsons were never too over-the-top, so Astro was a welcome part to the cast. Being a dog, the studio treated him as a much broader character than any human on the show, and that boosted the comedy. Astro was used pretty well on the original series, both as a centrepiece character (such as in Millionaire Astro) or when paired up (such as in TV Or Not TV).

Astro was the brainchild of writer Tony Benedict, who plunked him into the Jetsons home as a stray dog found by Elroy in The Coming of Astro. The main storyline of the cartoon—Astro vs. a nuclear-powered robot dog—owes something to a cartoon called Push Button Kitty (1952) by the Hanna-Barbera unit at MGM, where the robot cat Mechano is brought in to replace lazy feline Tom. In a way, it’s a reworking of an earlier cartoon, Old Rockin’ Chair Tom (1948), but we’re getting off the subject here. The Coming of Astro is a fun cartoon by any standard as the cowardly, not-too-bright but affectionate Astro catches a cat burglar in the Jetsons’ home by pure happenstance (while the robot dog is programmed only to recognise a mask and not a burglar) and is allowed to stay.

The cartoon is enlivened by the presence of Carlo Vinci, who animated at least the first half of it. Unfortunately, my DVD of this cartoon has a huge gouge in it so I can’t give you a frame-by-frame look at Carlo’s animation (the frame grabs you see here are from an internet version with ghosting between some of the frames). Below are frames from two different run cycles. Astro’s churning in the air in the first and kind of galloping in place in the second, and again in the third and fourth drawings, all from different scenes. Note the angles on Judy; you’ll see the same angles on other characters in other cartoons Carlo worked on.



There’s an open-mouthed, long-eyed expression on Astro that Carlo used on other characters during his Hanna-Barbera career. And there’s one of those scene exits where characters lead with various parts of their bodies, similar to what he drew on The Flintstones in the early episodes.



I don’t know who else animated on this cartoon but generally Hugh Fraser was paired with Carlo in the half-hour shows. It doesn’t look like Fraser in the final scene, though. (Note the comments below about animators from Howard Fein. You can take his word for it).

The first portion of the cartoon has absolutely nothing to do with Astro. Either Tony Benedict needed to pay for time or he wanted to open with some sight gags. Jane goes to the hairdresser looking for a new style (“this old hair style doesn’t do a thing for me”). The topper of the routine is new style she picks is her old one. Here are some of the hair gags. Pierre the hairdresser looks like a Dick Bickenbach design to me.



Some exteriors and interiors. I haven’t checked about the Skypad Apartments, but the drawing of the Spacely Sprockets background can be found in The Good Little Scouts, but painted differently. And the pet shop apparently sells roosters.



The interior of the Jetsons’ apartment is turned into a gag. Judy is tired of Space Provincial and changes her room into Moon Moderne with the press of a button. Actually, it’s all on one background drawing that the cameraman slides as he films the cartoon.



George has two computers in his office. Computers have apparently devolved in the future. They’re the size of a room, just like they were in the 1960s.



You conspiracy theorists out there who think we’re turning into a police station can look no further than the Jetsons for proof. In the future, there are police officers everywhere. At least there seems to be one in just about every Jetsons cartoon, usually a traffic cop. In this cartoon, there’s just a patrol officer. He’s armed with a freeze gun that he uses on George Jetson because, simply put, he doesn’t believe George’s word that there’s a burglar in the Jetsons’ apartment. Shoot first, ask questions later. There’s no apology from the cop when he discovers George is not only right, but the cat burglar the local police force has been unable to nab has been caught by a not-too-smart civilian dog.

Anyway, the cartoon ends happily, as all ‘60s sitcoms do. The robot dog is given to the police force and Astro has a home with the Jetsons. He’ll get a back story in a later cartoon that’s just as funny.

The regular voice cast—George O’Hanlon, Penny Singleton, Janet Waldo and Daws Butler—doubles in a few other roles and is augmented by Don Messick as Astro, Don Messick as ‘Lectronimo, Don Messick as the cop and Don Messick as the police sergeant.

18 comments:

  1. Hugh Fraser animated the opening scenes in the beauty parlor. Dick Lundy animated George at the office, when we first meet the cat burglar, and the chase with George and the cop.

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    1. Howard, are pointed fingers (see drawing above) something Fraser did? Seems to me characters are drawn that way in the Bill Spacely cartoon.

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    2. Yes, Fraser tended to go for very 'fey' animation and poses. He did the infamous scene of Fred and Barney swiveling their hips while singing "Fred and Barney" to the tune of "Frere Jacques" in "Ann Margrock Presents". Hugh also favored very rubbery facial reactions, such as that in your first still of Jane being licked by Astro.

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    3. And Hugh Fraser did animate the episode you refer to, "Miss Solar System" in tandem with Carlo.

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  2. Mr. Spacely and Cogswell's rivalry was perhaps the other scenario on the Jetsons that was really allowed to be a bit more exaggerated like the Astro stories. Of the Jetson family proper, only George seemed to lend himself to more cartoonish situations. Jane, Judy and Elroy were just too much like "a typical American TV-type family". If the writers had let themselves develop crazy situations like they did in The Flintstones, maybe George and family would have lasted more than a single season. They often seemed to take a more conservative approach for The Jetsons, as it was a more family-oriented show, although some of that Flintstones approach came out in shows like Jetson's Night Out and Miss Solar System. Both Top Cat and The Jetsons felt like the creators wanted to be able to do more, but keeping The Flintstones on top of its game seemed to be the priority.

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  3. We're still very early in the run here, so Tony's opening bit in the beauty parlor may simply have been because Bill and Joe wanted some futuristic gags to start things off, just to remind viewers they were watching the highly-advanced 21st Century in action.

    (As for the plot, you can take it even further back than early 50s H-B, at least into the 1930s, where efforts like "Porky's Papa" had the animal coming out on top of their robot replacement before the iris out. Though the robot constructs there tended to be futuristic outside of everything else in the cartoon -- with The Jetsons, we're presented with the idea that owning a robot dog is something perfectly normal to do.)

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  4. In "Millionaire Astro" [where Astro was revealed to have the "Trailfaz"blog's namesake] it's shown that Elroy originally was saving Astro from the dogcatcher.

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  5. By the way, that's "Push BUTTON Kitty", Yowp.

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    1. Oh, for corn's sake. Thanks, Mark, I've fixed it.

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  6. Funny how the pet shop display spells the featured product two different ways: 'Lectro and 'Lectronimo.

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    1. The first one's the name for U.S. consumption. The second one is the company's actual name in Japan.....

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  7. One thing has always puzzled me: How come George's car turned into a suitcase in the intro, but not within the actual series? I mean think about. He always went to the garage to pick up his car. He never took into the office, never took it home, and it was always parked in the garage. Not once does my semi-good memory recall the car being used as a suitcase in the 60s or in the 80s show. Has anyone else ever thought about this enigma?

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    1. Perhaps the suitcase/car was some fancy production prototype that George took home (without permission?) from work to test. Or maybe the opening credits were just a lot more elaborate and promising than many of the actual episodes (like most H-B prime time shows)!

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    2. When you opened the suitcase a second time, the car probably ended up like Elmer's downstairs rooms after Daffy put in the controls to bring his upstairs down to the ground floor.

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    3. J Lee Ha ha ha! That's cool. Thank you for reminding me of that great cartoon.

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  8. I already remembered from countless, countless, viewings....I'd always wondered WHERE that floor went to.."Well, letsth fuind out" (link)

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  9. This is the only episode I've seen where it has a opening teaser sequence just like "The Flintstones", "Top Cat" and "Wait Till Your Father Gets Home" (another later Hanna-Barbera sitcom in the '70s with a laugh track) start out every episode. I wondered why this episode started out with the scene of Astro putting George in a chair upside down and Astro incorrectly putting on George's pipe and slippers on him and George says in a muffled voice with his slippers in his mouth "Out, Out, Out".

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