In the early to mid-90s, before Cartoon Network started making original programming (“Cartoon Cartoons,” whose jingle still repeats in my head like a Guided By Voices song or a reminder to get soap when I go to the grocery store this weekend), they played a lot of Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera shorts, and the Hanna-Barbera factory had made ten times the material that Termite Terrace did, so anybody who watched the channel regularly watched a lot of heavy shit fall on Fred Flinstone’s head.
Hanna-Barbera’s strength wasn’t in shows, but in characters. Scooby-Doo was the center of a show, yes, but he existed in celebrity team-up specials, the Laff-A-Lympics and movies that had nothing to do with mysteries. I couldn’t stand the actual Scooby-Doo cartoon because it was always the same four or five beats over and over again, but I could occasionally tolerate Scooby on the Laff-A-Lympics. Hanna-Barbera made a character and then, if that character worked, they plugged him (it was mostly hims, apologies to Penelope Pitstop) into as many formulas as they could.
It’s actually a lot of fun when you’re a kid to see somebody as thinly-defined as Wally Gator recast as a treasure hunter taking directions from Top Cat. As a character in a generic sitcom, I don’t know that I have much use for Mr. Gator, but as an actor moving from job to job, he’s a lot more interesting. The Laff-A-Lympics succeeds because Blue Falcon and Birdman and one of the Herculoids are all the same dude in their own shows, but they’re just treated like celebrity panelists on a gameshow when they’re all thrown together. They’re characters unbound from the Hanna-Barbera factory’s small pool of plots.
I like watching Hanna-Barbera cartoons now, probably because I’m trying to recapture my youth and blah blah blah, but it’s amazing how little effort was put into them. Characters like Yogi Bear and Snagglepuss get into situations that are completely interchangeable, and even as a kid I knew that shows like Speed Buggy and Jabber Jaw only existed because Scooby-Doo was popular and somebody somewhere demanded more teens needed to solve more mysteries with things that shouldn’t be able to talk. Sometimes characters in Jay Ward’s cartoons would break the fourth wall and acknowledge that Boris and Natasha had already pulled a similar plot a few episodes ago, but that repetition was never addressed in Hanna-Barbera shorts. We all just pretended the emperor was wearing clothes, and Shaggy and the raspy kid who drove Speed Buggy were totally different people.
In the late-80s, Hanna-Barbera began putting most of its effort into straight-to-VHS and TV movies, leaving shows to co-producers like Ruby-Spears and Turner. In these movies, the Jetsons met the Flintstones, Yogi and the gang were trapped aboard the Spruce Goose and Scooby-Doo got in a road race with a bunch of classic monsters. And then Scooby-Doo had to tell Scheherazade’s 1,001 Nights stories. And then Scooby-Doo had to fight real zombies. And now here we are in 2018 and the “shared universe” elements of Hanna-Barbera have been stripped away while Scooby-Doo has starred in 32 straight-to-DVD movies since 1998.
Sometime after being acquired by Warner, the Hanna-Barbera properties went from showing off dozens of characters to being focused on a handful of them to purely spotlighting Scooby-Doo. The world of Hanna-Barbera was folded up and packed in the back of the Mystery Machine and [Behind the Music narrator voice:] the Mystery Machine was running out of gas and smelled like poop.
I have a lot of nostalgia for Hanna-Barbera, but I have always hated Scooby-Doo. I cannot imagine anything worse than having to sit down and watch even a quarter of those 32 movies, where the gang jack Benny Hill routines and Velma and Daphne exist in a world where children are named Velma and Daphne. So my column at Cinedelphia will see me review every Hanna-Barbera-related movie, in no order and for no reason other than to figure out what happened and how we got to a point where Scooby-Doo has had two separate adventures with the WWE, with a break in between them to meet Kiss.
Thank you to this website for having me. Both the website and writer reserve the right to abort this project at any time. – Alex
Author: Alex Rudolph
Alex is from the Bay Area and has lived in Philadelphia for three years, though he is trying to find a way to transport into the Squand commercial that always played early in the morning on Nickelodeon (with a summer place in the Crossfire ad). If you want to talk about Dan Clowes comics and Merzbow, he will sit here and talk about Dan Clowes comics and Merzbow all dang day. He is also the founder of the popular websites AV Club, The New York Times, Harpo Productions and Bitcoin. Follow him on Instagram.