Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Hanna-Barbera Land

Disney made cartoons. Hanna-Barbera made cartoons. Not with the same calibre of animation, of course, because of TV budgets. But the earliest characters were good, the theme songs were memorable and the voice casting was excellent. Some of the artwork is inspired, too, and there are ingenious bits of limited animation. And, early in its life, H-B ended up with a bunch of Disney people—George Nicholas, Harvey Toombs, Bill Keil, Lance Nolley, Jack Huber, Tony Rivera and the list goes on.

Disney had a theme park. Hanna-Barbera had a theme park. Well, they had several, actual or planned. This isn’t a history of the concept; that would take a bit of research. The reason behind this post is to direct you to another web site, ImagineeringDisney.com. One of the site administrators, “Fritz,” has posted concept designs for a Hanna-Barbera Land. I’d seen them on the Mr. Toast blog ages ago and forgot all about them until Chris S. over at John K.’s blog mentioned they had been posted anew. Check out the post by clicking HERE.

And, yes, a Disney artist is responsible. Bruce Bushman is a great example of the many talented people who toiled on television cartoons that, frankly, never revealed their true abilities. You can spot his name doing layouts on the stiff King Features Popeye short ‘Barbecue For Two’, directed by Jack Kinney and featuring a bunch of Walt’s former employees (by comparison, Hanna-Barbera animation of the era looks like Disney). It appears he arrived at H-B around 1965 to work on Jonny Quest and Atom Ant.

Some clippings from the Los Angeles Times give a bit of information about several attempts by Hanna-Barbera to become theme park moguls. Robert A. Wright wrote this for the Times syndicate, published October 3, 1971.

Outside of Cincinnati, the Hanna-Barbera division of the Taft Broadcasting Co., is building Kings Island, a 1,600-acre thematic park and vacation resort. Admittedly an imitation of Disney World but with Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters such as the Flintstones and Yogi Bear, a replica of the Eiffel Tower, the world’s longest and fastest roller coaster and golf courses, Kings Island is scheduled to open next spring.

Wayne Warga of the Times syndicate had this to say in newspapers of September 24, 1972:

Taft Broadcasting has opened King’s Park near Cincinnati, a kind of Mini-Disney World. When the company was looking into the amusement park business, they consulted the late Roy Disney, who said the best available park was in their corporate hometown, Cincinnati. It is now open and, along with rides and other attractions, there is a wide flat building resembling a television set called “The Happy Kingdon of Hanna-Barbera,” and featuring, of course, all the Hanna-Barbera characters. A second park is being built in Virginia and, Barbera says, “it will feature even more of our characters and thinking.”

And the Times had more to say in its edition of October 28, 1982:

Construction has begun 22 miles north of Houston on America’s first Hanna-Barbera Land, a theme park focusing on such cartoon characters as Yogi Bear and Scooby Doo, officials said Wednesday.
Spokesman Alexander Weber said the park is the first in a series announced last May by Taft Broadcasting Co., owners of the idea. Weber said Houston was chosen for the first park because of its Sun Belt location. The $15 million, 30-acre park will be aimed at children between the ages of 2 and 13.

Donnie over at the Tapeplayer blog recently posted pictures of his trip in 1985 to the Texas H-B park. Click HERE for a look.

On top of all this, ‘Canada’s Wonderland’ theme park north of Toronto also featured a Hanna-Barbera Land, with attractions involving Yogi and Scooby. It opened in 1981.

It all sounds wonderful on (and in the) paper. But the corporate moguls at Taft never did compete with their counterparts at the House That Walt Built. After all, you don’t hear people win the Super Bowl or the Indy 500 and shout “I’m going to Hanna-Barbera Land!” So what happened? That’s a little weighty for this blog to examine in a post designed to link you with Bruce Bushman’s interesting layouts. But the answer perhaps is buried in an article by Michael Lev in The New York Times business section, dated January 8, 1990. The story was prompted by a pledge by H-B’s owners at the time, Great American Broadcasting Company, to—once again—jump wholeheartedly into the theme park business. It reads, in part:

While Hanna-Barbera’s growth strategy makes sense, analysts caution that it is one thing to imitate Disney, another to match it.
“What has made Disney the great company it is today is that they have been able to combine terrific cash flow from the theme parks with an outstanding theatrical management team that came over from Paramount,” said Dennis I. Forst, an industry analyst with the Security Pacific Merchant Bank in Los Angeles.
“The success in programming has not really been related to Disney’s animated characters and the success in the theme park business in Florida is related to Disney's prowess operating theme parks.”

You can read the full story by clicking HERE.

King’s Island is still around after a bunch of ownership changes through sales and corporate mergers or acquisitions but its connection with Hanna-Barbera seems to be a memory. Fortunately, we have the neat designs of Bruce Bushman to give us an idea of what might have been.


  1. I suppose the biggest thing that H-B ever got out of the King's Dominion-Taft Broadcasting connection was a hook-up with Paramount Pictures to handle distribution of their 1973 feature "Charlotte's Web".

    Paramount and Taft got into a brief relationship at that time, which also resulted in the studio filming an episode of "The Brady Bunch" there. But it would be another 20 years before Paramount would end up owning the park outright (which for a while after the Viacom merger resulted in the former hoped-for site of Hanna-Barbera Land being populated by Spongebob and the other Nickelodeon characters).

  2. The only thing I have to add is that Bruce Bushman's father was the famous actor Francis X. Bushman, who was name-spoofed in the 90's TV cartoon "Taz-Mania" as Francis X. Bushlad, an Aborigine boy.

  3. Kings Dominion (the Virginia park) is my hometown amusement park of choice and I grew up going there dozens of times. The Hanna-Barbera element of the park is filled with as many memories as any trip to Disney World. In the early 90's, the Nickelodeon characters slowly started to invade H-B's territory in the park, but there were still an association with Hanna-Barbera all the way up until last year. This season the park finally removed any lasting Hanna-Barbera references and Snoopy and the Peanuts gang moved in. Run a search on my blog for Hanna-Barbera and Kings Dominion and you'll find plenty of photos and info on the park. www.wonderfulworldofblog.blogspot.com

  4. Here are my memories of working at King's Island's Happy Land of Hanna-Barbera during the early 1980's: Wow! This place needs an update. The Flintstones were walking the park. A few Smurfs started appearing around that time. But Scooby Doo, arguably HB's biggest star of the era, was impossible to duplicate in person. Characters still on display in signage included Space Ghost, The Impossibles, (I couldn't even remember the name of the show) The Space Kiddets, Squiddly Diddly, Hillbilly Bears, Winsom Witch, and others who hadn't been seen on TV in years. Kids back then didn't know half of these characters. Even Yogi and Quick Draw were getting long in the tooth. The Smurfs finally replaced the Happy Land of Hanna Barbera ride around '85 as I remember.

    I worked at Great American in the early 1990's. Great American - basically Taft Broadcasting with a name change due to reorganizing with an emphasis now on insurance and banking - was and is not a true entertainment company. With all due respect, Carl Lindner was not the entertainment visionary Walt Disney was.

    BTW: "The Partrige Family" filmed a story at KI in the early 70's, too. Danny stirred up a little local controversy when he refered to Cincinnati as "the boondocks."

  5. What's really interesting is that at one point, Michael Eisner of The Walt Disney Company wanted to buy Hanna-Barbera but passed on and after Turner Broadcasting bought H-B and later made Cartoon Network, Eisner said to Ted Turner: Eisner: "Do you want to know the biggest mistake I ever made?"
    Turner: "No, Michael, what was it?"
    Eisner: "Not buying Hanna-Barbera when I had the chance-I should have never let you get it."