Saturday, 28 March 2015

Riding the Barbecue

Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were great borrowers. You’ve no doubt heard all kinds of debates about Flintstones/Honeymooners. Suffice it to say, Bill and Joe took basic concepts from wherever they could and built from there. So “The Flintstones” really isn’t “The Honeymooners” if you compare them to any great depth, but there’s no doubt the two have some basic elements in common. (I’ve run into one review of “The Honeymooners” when it first aired, claiming the show owed a lot to “The Bickersons” on radio. Before that, there was an argumentative husband-wife act the made the rounds in major vaudeville circuits in the late ‘20s. Is there really a lot that’s 100% original?).

One of the greatest cartoon directors of all time was Tex Avery, who spent a number of years working in the same movie studio as Hanna and Barbera. Avery had many accomplishments in animation, and one was picking up the overall tempo of the theatrical cartoon. It’s been acknowledged that once Avery did it, Hanna and Barbera did it in their Tom and Jerry cartoons to their benefit.

Hanna and Barbera weren’t above borrowing from Avery in other ways. Avery brought a voice actor into the MGM fold by the name of Daws Butler and, eventually, had him voicing a low-key Southern wolf in cartoons such as “Billy Boy.” Low key? Southern? Daws Butler? Sound familiar?

While animation fans like to make leaps of logic and invent lineages of cartoon influence, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that Barbera used this version of Avery’s wolf as the basis for Huckleberry Hound.

The nameless wolf whistled “Jubilo” as a kind of a theme song while Huck preferred singing “My Darling Clementine” to himself (Avery used “Clementine” in a couple of pre-Huck, MGM cartoons: “The Flea Circus” and the great “Magical Maestro”).

There’s another obscure Avery connection with Hanna-Barbera cartoons that lasted a long time, though it may be purely coincidental. Avery and writer Rich Hogan came up with a bulldog who wheezily laughed at someone else’s misfortune in “Bad Luck Blackie,” released in 1949. Wheezy laugh? You mean like Muttley? Well, there are similarities. It should be pointed out the laugh only happened in the first few minutes of the cartoon and “Blackie” was a one-shot cartoon and was only elevated to some kind of pinnacle of cartoondom after animation historians got a hold of it years later. It very well might not have been in Barbera’s consciousness when he and Charlie Shows wrote “Fireman Huck” (aired December 1958) and decided to give Huck an adversarial dog with a snicker that was used as a running gag.

This lengthy introduction brings us to the purpose of the post. Here’s Huck trying to escape from a snickering dog in “Barbecue Hound” (aired January 1959). He’s riding a barbecue in an endless loop (in the cartoon, he’s pulled over by a cop and tossed in jail with the snickering dog). It takes sixteen drawings (one foot of film) for the background to repeat. The animation is by Ken Muse and the background by Art Lozzi.

Poor Huck eventually became overshadowed by Yogi Bear. But those 1958-62 Huckleberry Hound cartoons still stand up and there aren’t too many duds. Thanks, Joe and Bill. Thanks, Charlie Shows, Warren Foster and Tony Benedict. Thanks, Daws. And thanks, Tex.


  1. While the “wolf influence” is obvious, in both the (early Huck) walk and the voice, I always figured Huck to be just as influenced by Tex Avery’s Droopy – particularly in cartoons where he went up against a larger adversary.

    “Rustler Hustler Huck” may be the greatest example of this, as Huck keeps “reappearing” after it looks as if the Cattle Rustler has done away with him. For good measure, Bill and Joe even borrowed the “multiple look-alikes” ending gag from Avery’s “Tortoise Beats Hare”.

    Either way, it’s just more to thank “Fred Av-VERR-ree” (as Bugs Bunny once pronounced his name) for.

    Oh, and to completely digress, what makes Huck one of the all-time great animated characters, in my view, is that he seemed to “win and lose” in near equal distribution – depending on the size and nature of his adversary. This really kept the series from becoming too formulaic.

  2. There's never been any shame in borrowing gags or story lines in cartoons -- just as long as the copy is as good or better than the original (the best example might be some of the color remakes in the Popeye series -- almost no one thinks Famous Studios did better than the Fleischers, but there are several early color cartoons in the mid-40s that remade the Fliescher B&Ws and managed to improve on the original endings).

    There's a little apples-to-oranges comparison when you're looking at stuff from the MGM or Warners theatricals that ended up in the Hanna-Barbera product. Obviously the budgets weren't there to do the gags in full animation. But for the most part, the studio was able to take what worked in the theaters and make the key points of the gags work in the 1958-61 cartoons, thanks to both the voice work and just enough personality animation and differentiation in animation/pacing to put it across. Once you get past 1962, the cartoons get more of an assembly line feeling, where even the best of the theatrical gags or plot lines fall flat due to bland presentations.

  3. I agree with both sets of comments. As Joe points out, the "win or lose" factor keeps the cartoons from getting formulaic--with Huckleberry Hound, he sometimes even came out somewhere in the middle (as in "Knight School") or ended up basically a loser as in this one. It gives the cartoon more tension when you don't have a guarantee that everything is going to turn out hunky-dory for your hero.

    Most cartoon studios started out as edgier, then played it safer as they grew in popularity and income. Success doesn't always breed greater creativity--I think Walt Disney understood this, which is why he kept pushing the envelope and going for new directions. Most cartoon studios settled into bland formulas once they found a formula that worked--in later years, the H-B studio took this concept to the limit--and presumably to the bank as well.

    One other thing about Huckleberry that sets him apart from most other cartoon characters is, he is essentially a solo act. He had a few ongoing antagonists such as Chief Crazy Coyote, Wee Willie, and Powerful Pierre, but he never had a sidekick--not even for the span of one cartoon, as far as I can recall (I'm not certain I've viewed every Huckleberry Hound cartoon ever minted, but in all the ones I've seen, he takes on his challenges alone.) Even Loopy de Loop had occasional sidekicks and companions. Yogi Bear had some solo cartoons, but for the most part he was paired up with Boo Boo--and later Cindy. Most of the other H-B cartoons are buddy comedies about two pals--Snooper and Blabber, Lippy and Hardy, Quick Draw and Baba Looey. Snagglepuss mostly worked solo, but the frequent appearances of his "friendly nemesis" the Major are more in the nature of a semi-regular supporting cast. Wally Gator had Mr. Twiddle, and Magilla Gorilla had Mr. Peebles and Ogee, so they weren't quite solo characters.

    "Barbeque Hound" is one of my favorites of the Huckleberry cartoons, snickering dog and all. Interesting how he frequently got in trouble with the law when he tangled with a member of his own species.

  4. The other great thing about Huck is nothing bothers him. He's in jail at the end of this cartoon, locked away with his nemesis. But he bears no grudge and is quite happy to share his steak with him.
    The Huck half-hour was structured really well, character-wise. Huck had no ego and was involved in individual adventures. Yogi had a bit of an ego and his plots varied, some with a sidekick, others without. Jinks and the meeces were locked into the predator-vs-prey format, more story than gag based. That's a nice mix, far better than if all the characters had similar personalities.

  5. I agree about the early Huck cartoons. I particularly like "Hookey Daze". Ilove at the end when Huck has to go back to school himself!

  6. If it had been made a few years later, they would have used only one cel for the BBQ cart.