Saturday, July 13, 2019

A proposed revival of "The Flintstones"...

I came across a story earlier this morning while reading some posts in an on-line classic TV community I belong to on Facebook. The article came from Variety magazine and it's about a revival of "The Flintstones" as a weekly animated series. The franchise began back in 1960 and ran in prime-time on ABC-TV for six seasons. It was originally meant to be an animated take-off on Jackie Gleason's series, "The Honeymooners". The producers, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, were legends in the animation industry and this was television's first attempt at programming an animated series in a time slot reserved for adults. The show was a hit...and it spawned numerous sequels and incarnations over the decades...all of those sequels came and went but yet the original 1960-1966 series continues airing in syndication almost 60 years later. Sheer longevity alone enables "The Flintstones" to rank along side "Tom and Jerry", "Scooby Doo", and "The Smurfs" when it comes to Hanna-Barbera's greatest franchises. I'm somewhat willing to take a look at revivals of animated cartoons but the sub-par voice acting turns me off. I'm not into reboots and I don't care for C.G.I. and so I rarely watch most modern-day "cartoons". However, once this proposed revival of "The Flintstones" becomes something of a reality and I read more about it I'll more than likely have my mind made up ahead of time based on the information that becomes available. I didn't see the word 'reboot' or the dreaded acronym 'C.G.I.' in the Variety article, that right there is a good start for me.

The original voice cast has long since passed away. Alan Reed as Fred Flintstone, Jean Vander Pyl as Wilma Flintstone, Mel Blanc as both Dino and Barney Rubble, Bea Benaderet as Betty Rubble, and John Stephenson as Mr. Slate. Along the way there were replacement vocal performers. Bea, a familiar face on sitcoms who had been a familiar voice on radio, became the focal point of the CBS sitcom, "Petticoat Junction", and the increased workload caused her to step away from voicing Betty following the 1963-1964 season. She was replaced by Gerry Johnson. Alan Reed had also been a very familiar voice on radio and he returned to voice Fred Flintstone in some of the early 1970s revivals but after his death Henry Corden became the new voice of Fred starting in 1977. Henry would continue voicing Fred in numerous television specials and commercials until shortly before his own death in 2005. Gerry Johnson had been replaced as Betty in 1971 with Gay Autterson and she would remain the voice in the various television specials and limited series until 1981. She would be replaced with Julie Dees when the character resurfaced in 1986. Jean Vander Pyl voiced Wilma Flintstone starting in 1960 and she remained the official voice of Wilma until her death in 1999. Tress MacNeille took over the character's voice in 2000.

Mel Blanc voiced Barney Rubble from the series 1960 debut and remained the voice of the character through all the television specials, revivals, and television commercials until his death in 1989. Frank Welker as well as Jeff Bergman, depending on the whim of the production company, alternated as Barney Rubble for roughly the same amount of time (1990-2006 for Welker; 1990-2009 for Bergman). Kevin Michael Richardson is considered the official voice of Barney (his tenure began in it over-lapped with productions that utilized the vocals of Frank Welker and Jeff Bergman). Mel was also credited with the yelping and barking of Dino for nearly 30 years (1960-1987) although Frank Welker provided some yelps and growls and barks in specific productions of the franchise during a 20 year period (1981-2001). There were a lot of secondary characters that shown up in the franchise and most of those recurring or one-shot characters were voiced by the principal voice actors already starring on the show. Don Messick was heard as Bamm-Bamm Rubble as well as newspaper boy an assortment of incidental characters. John Stephenson voiced Mr. Slate as well as countless other incidental characters. John continued to provide the voice of the short-tempered Mr. Slate, whenever needed, well into the mid 2000s. Internet sites state that his final performance as the character arrived in 2004 for an episode of "Johnny Bravo" titled 'A Page Right Out of History'. You can see that animated short on YouTube. He passed away in 2015.

Click HERE to read the Variety article on the proposed revival of "The Flintstones".

Monday, February 11, 2019

Sylvester and Hippety Hopper: Looney Tunes DVD...

Over the course of the last several months I'd been purchasing the DVD releases of the Looney Tunes Super-Star Series. I happen to love the releases...and although I've read many, many, many angry complaints over the years from those that criticize the cropped presentation of the cartoons in those DVD releases I decided to purchase some just to see what all of the criticism was about. This one I'm spotlighting in the photo arrived in the mail the other day but the very first DVD purchase was actually several years ago when I purchased the Foghorn Leghorn and Friends title. When I watched the DVD I couldn't really tell what all the negative fuss was about. I've seen compare/contrast images where someone's posted an original screen shot side by side with a cropped screen shot and while I can tell there's a visual difference in the presentation when images are shown side by side on an internet site the fact remains that when I'm actually watching the DVD I'm more engaged with what I'm watching (the cartoons themselves) and I'm enjoying the vocal work of Mel Blanc...I'm not concerned with aspect ratios and presentations and I think a general audience feels the same way. The Foghorn DVD was subtitled Barnyard Bigmouth. This DVD has the title of Sylvester and Hippety Hopper with a subtitle of Marsupial Mayhem. Also in my collection are Daffy Duck: Frustrated Fowl, Porky and Friends: Hilarious Ham, Bugs Bunny: Hare Extraordinaire, Road Runner and Coyote: Super Genius Hi-Jinks, and Pepe Le Pew: Zee Best of Zee Best.

The Foghorn Leghorn series of cartoons were directed by the under-rated Robert McKimson. I place his directorial style somewhere between Bob Clampett and Friz Freleng. He had been an animator for more than a decade at Warner Brothers before he became a director in 1944. Oddly enough a lot of McKimson's cartoons have heavy doses of wild animation and slap-stick sentiments which align him closer to the styles of Tex Avery and Bob Clampett but while there's precious few interviews either in written form or in audio form of Robert McKimson the interviews that happen to exist often show McKimson referring to the style of animation that consumes a lot of his own cartoons as being over-animated and he makes mention of this in a critical reflection rather than something he embraces as a director. Nevertheless the wild, slapstick style of animation is wonderful to watch and it's on full display on this Sylvester and Hippety Hopper DVD, too. You lose track of how many times the baby kangaroo kicks Sylvester all over the place...with the cat crashing through walls, floors, ceilings, and all kinds of other barriers both interior and exterior...or how many times Sylvester is flattened or tossed around by nameless bulldogs. The formula of the cartoons remains the same: the baby kangaroo wanders away from a zoo or a circus or from a crate and hops around until being spotted by Sylvester who always mistakes the baby kangaroo for a giant mouse.

The cartoons are made more memorable due to the creation of Sylvester, Jr. It is in these series of Sylvester/Hippety cartoons that a new development in Sylvester's personality is explored with that new development being the role of father. The overall formula depicts Sylvester as a bragging father attempting to impress his son but is constantly receiving a physical thrashing at the hands, or the feet, of Hippety whom they both consider a mouse. The fact that his father is constantly getting beaten up "by a mouse" forever leads the son into self-imposed shame...often times putting a paper bag over his head in disgrace and exclaiming melodramatic lines such as "oh, the humiliation...", "oh, the shame!!", or "I can see my friends now...laughing over how my father that can't even catch a mouse...". In Sylvester, Jr.'s eyes he doesn't see how physically strong Hippety actually is...all the son sees is a father getting beaten up by a mouse.

In the first two cartoons in the series "Hop, Look, and Listen" and "Hippety Hopper" a bulldog is on hand as a bystander observing the activity. The dog continually sees Sylvester being thrown out of the house at the hands of a little mouse...what the dog doesn't know is the mouse, in both cartoons, is playing a trick on Sylvester. The mouse has Sylvester believing in the super-natural and that he can change into a giant mouse...and every time the little mouse ducks behind a door or goes into hiding "the giant mouse" appears. The dog is the same one that appears in a couple of other cartoons directed by Robert McKimson...being paired with a nameless "Early to Bet" and "It's Hummer Time". One of the cartoons on the DVD, 1952's "Hoppy Go Lucky", is a take off on Of Mice and Men. In the cartoon, strangely enough, Sylvester protests to Benny to stop calling him 'George'. Benny (voiced by Stan Freberg) explains that he's unable to pronounce 'Sylvester' and returns to calling him 'George'. The Benny character in this cartoon is the same one that later appears in 1953's "Cat-Tails for Two", also directed by Robert McKimson. That's the cartoon which introduced the Speedy Gonzales character. Sylvester's fatherly protectiveness is on display in "Who's Kitten Who?". There's a scene in which Hippety falls onto a piece of fly paper with Sylvester, Jr. sandwiched between the paper and Hippety's stomach. Sylvester, quite naturally, freaks out over seeing an outline of his son 'inside' the stomach of the giant mouse. He, in turn, places a paper bag over his own head in disgrace for not being able to stop the giant mouse from eating his son. The cartoon doesn't end on that note, though...the son busts out of the flypaper licking a lollipop as the cartoon irises out (while Sylvester, off screen, presumably still has the paper bag over his head).

Sylvester sees the "giant mouse" for the first time!
There are 18 cartoons on this DVD...of all the cartoons that appear 16 had never been available on DVD before. Robert McKimson directed 17 of the 18 cartoons...the only one he didn't direct is the final cartoon on the disc, "Goldimouse and the Three Cats", which was directed by Friz Freleng. The physical appearance of Sylvester in nearly all of McKimson's cartoons was a bit different than how he appeared in Friz Freleng's cartoons. Friz was actually the creator of Sylvester and was utilized by Friz in a wildly popular series of cartoons where Sylvester was attempting to capture and eat a canary named Tweety. In Robert McKimson's cartoons Sylvester had a much more shaggier facial appearance, it seemed, with a smaller red nose in some of the earliest Hippety Hopper cartoons and his speech impediment was exaggerated even more. Also, Sylvester didn't have the white patch of fur at the end of his tail in many of the Robert McKimson there were subtle physical differences of the character depending on which director was working on the cartoon. Robert McKimson's most popular character was the rooster, Foghorn Leghorn...and in one of the Foghorn cartoons, "Crowing Pains", Sylvester co-stars. Sylvester would later become associated with Speedy Gonzales in a series of cartoons in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Friz Freleng and Robert McKimson took turns at directing the Sylvester/Speedy cartoons. For those that want to know more about Robert McKimson as well as his two brothers, Tom and Charles, purchase a copy of the book from Robert McKimson, Jr. called I Say, I Say...Son!!: A Tribute to Legendary Animators Bob, Chuck, and Tom McKimson. Robert, Charles, and Tom McKimson were all artists and each of them had lengthy careers in every facet of art. You can purchase it through AMAZON. I purchased the hardcover coffee table version of the book when it was hot off the presses in 2012. If you're serious about learning the story of the McKimson brothers and their individual career's you need to get this book! It's chock full of photo's, animation screen shots, directorial break down sheets, animator notes, copyright applications, etc. etc.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Hee Haw at 50...1992 episode...

I discovered several minutes ago that an episode of Hee Haw from 1992, in it's entirety, is available on YouTube. The 1991-1992 season consisted of 22 opposed to 26 episodes...and the footage was taped in the latter half of 1991 with the episodes making their way to the television screen in January 1992. This season is often referred to as the non-rural season or, in some descriptions, the season in which the series lost it's soul...but I don't get overly dramatic about the change of scenery; but it had long been something of a curiosity of mine to see a full length episode from this season and now I have. There have been clips from this season make their onto the internet over the years and in each instance I'd rush to embed the clips in a blog entry like this. The video clip I'm including in this blog entry features Garth Brooks, Louise Mandrell, and Billy Dean as guest stars. It originally aired February 22, 1992 (episode 8 of Season 24). The clip was taped straight off of television and so it isn't in top quality but it's certainly watchable and it features the cast roll call for those interested in who all made the cast line-up during this season. In addition to the changes in scenery it also changed it's title somewhat...gone was the braying donkey and in it's place was a simple title card that read The Hee Haw Show. In Garth's first song, "What She's Doing Now", he performs without his looks unusual, to me, to see him just standing there behind a microphone without a guitar. Later on in his second performance, "Papa Loved Mama", he looks more familiar.

Louise Mandrell, for both appearances, does an elaborate performance with loads of choreography and she was the long established artist of this episode. In each performance there was a lot of dancing and highly suggestive choreography but then, perhaps by design, she completely counters these sensual performances in an appearance in which she's dressed as a slightly overweight clown and along with a posse of other clowns they kind of tap dance on a giant keyboard (picture the keyboard scene from the movie, Big, featuring Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia). In typical circus clown performance they all fall to the ground to signal the finale of the performance.

Although Garth Brooks was still a relatively newer artist when this episode was taped the actual newcomer, by comparison to both Louise and Garth, was Billy Dean, in an appearance performing his breakthrough hit, "Only Here For a Little While". That song had been released in November of 1990 but by the time this episode was airing in February 1992 Garth had become a gigantic media mogul and even though Billy had released a series of Top-10 hits in the same span of time the differences in their individual career progressions were dramatic. Billy's second performance is "You Don't Count the Cost". Notice that Garth and Billy performed single releases in both performances. In past episodes you'd have the guest stars singing their current single release (if they had one) and a previous hit or the guest would perform a recent hit and then later on perform a classic hit or sometimes the guest would perform their current hit and something from their current album. I don't know if Garth's "Papa Loved Mama" had been released as an official single when this episode was taped but in retrospect both of the songs he performed were major hits for him...the same goes for Billy Dean's choice of songs.

Gailard Sartain has a sketch in this episode called Fast Freddie's Used Cars. Ironically George Lindsey was still a cast-member of this season and he had long been the star of a sketch called Goober's Garage. In the cast roll call he appears in his Goober clothing and there's a Goober sketch in this episode with Lulu Roman. George appears a couple of other times, too...particularly near the end in a sketch called Bus Stop in which he has some banter with Garth Brooks. Earlier he appears in a sketch, Crime and Punishment, as a washed up comedian delivering awful jokes to the prisoners (Grandpa Jones and Gordie Tapp). Roy Clark does a routine which is probably meant as a substitute for the Pickin' and Grinnin' segment...but it plays like the Hee Haw Honky-Tonk sketch of the early to mid 1980s. Roy plays the guitar, offers a one-liner, plays the guitar some more and then the playing comes to an abrupt halt as the camera pans to the 'customers' at their table who deliver one-liners, and then Roy begins playing his guitar once again, etc. etc.

Stand-up comedian Gary Mule Deer was among the cast-members this this episode he has a brief sketch with Gailard Sartain (playing a marriage counselor). Gary also appears as a preacher and later a cowboy. Roy Clark is involved in a clever wordplay sketch using a James Bond reference while Gordie Tapp and the Norris Twins are in a sketch where Gordie plays a jerk offering tips on how to be a successful jerk.

My opinion of this episode: I found it entertaining...filled with lots of singing and intentionally bad joke telling...with the only thing most obviously missing was the backwoods scenery and cornfields. Does it rank high when compared to episodes featuring the haystack, hay bales, moonshine jugs, pitchforks, and Kornfield? I don't think it does...but to write off this season, and I'm only basing it on this one episode I've seen so far, but to write the season off as horrific or pretend this season never existed, as some fans do, is a bit extreme and so my final thoughts of the non-rural episodes is a C+ if I were to grade it...and I'm confident in the fact that most, if not all, of the episodes from the 1991-1992 season had the same formula and sketches and so I'm confident in rating the entire non-rural season of Hee Haw with a C+ based on that episode I embedded.

Norris Twins and Gordie Tapp, 1991