Judge Paul Corupe wonders why no one ever campaigned against the Flintstones exploiting cheap pterodactyl labor.
Our reviews of The Flintstones: The Complete First Season (published April 27th, 2004), The Flintstones: The Complete Second Season (published February 16th, 2005), The Flintstones: The Complete Third Season (published May 19th, 2005), The Flintstones: The Complete Fifth Season (published May 17th, 2006), The Flintstones: The Complete Sixth Season (published October 11th, 2006), and The Flintstones: Prime-Time Specials Collection, Volume 1 (published November 1st, 2012) are also available.
It's a boy!
Animation? In prime-time? It's hard to believe there was a time when this very concept was considered radical, before The Simpsons, King of the Hill, and The Family Guy made cartoons not only acceptable, but also highly successful, weeknight rituals. Without The Flintstones, however, none of these shows would have been possible. In 1960, Hanna-Barbera's The Flintstones became the first cartoon to break free from the Saturday morning ghetto, proof positive to skeptical network executives that animated programs were indeed capable of drawing an adult audience.
Hanna-Barbera frequently borrowed the personalities of famous comedians for their cartoons, from Doggie Daddy's obvious resemblance to Jimmy Durante to the Phil Silvers-inspired Top Cat, but The Flintstones ambitiously mimicked an entire show, the popular Jackie Gleason sitcom The Honeymooners. Combining familiar sitcom conventions with slapstick antics and goofy caveman gags for the kids, The Flintstones became a huge success—an innovative cartoon show that changed the face of the industry in a groundbreaking six-year run.
Facts of the Case
With a heart almost as big as his mouth, stone-age construction worker Fred Flintstone (Alan Reed, Breakfast at Tiffany's) lives in the town of Bedrock with his patient, understanding wife Wilma (Jean Vander Pyl, The Jetsons). They spend much of their time with their next-door neighbors, Fred's best friend, the affable Barney Rubble (Mel Blanc, The Jack Benny Program) and his demure wife Betty (Bea Benaderet, The Beverly Hillbillies). Fred and Barney's schemes to make a little extra money on the side or to sneak out for an extra game of bowling invariably go wrong, often through comic misunderstandings, and when the boys are up to their stubble in deep dinosaur doo-doo, it's usually up to Wilma and Betty to scoop them out. After Wilma and Fred welcomed their baby daughter Pebbles the previous year, this season finds Barney and Betty with their own baby to take care of, little Bamm-Bamm.
All 26 half-hour episodes from The Flintstones fourth season are here in broadcast order, spread over four discs—three single-sided, and one flipper. Here's what you get:
• Ann Margrock Presents
Even after the first successful season of The Flintstones, few figured that the prime-time animation trend would last. Of course, it didn't—following up their groundbreaking show proved to be impossible for Hanna-Barbera, and subsequent attempts to create another "adult" hit—Top Cat, Jonny Quest, and even the The Jetsons—made bigger splashes when they were scaled back to Saturday morning for the milk and cereal set.
By the show's fourth season in 1963, The Flintstones was starting to look a little ragged around the edges. Of course, the birth of Pebbles ended the third season on a high note, with an unprecedented five-episode story arc that explored all aspects of Wilma's pregnancy, but the earlier reliance on classic sitcom plots returns even quicker than most anticipated this season, and it's back to the overplayed misunderstandings, embarrassing turns of fate, and pratfalls that made the show so popular in the first place. Predictably, the Rubbles are blessed with a child just a few episodes in with "Little Bamm-Bamm," but it's with much less fanfare than their stone age neighbors-not only does the tiny strongman's appearance only provide enough material for one episode, but Bamm-Bamm simply arrives on the Rubble's porch one morning—rather anti-climactic, considering the season-long build up to Pebbles' conception. While Pebbles strongly affected the show by providing a fundamental shift in Fred's character, Bamm-Bamm is more or less introduced to balance out the family dynamics, and give a few more plot opportunities for a show that was about to hit its hundredth episode.
What does become much more noticeable this season is a stronger reliance on off-the-wall cartoon stories, a shift that would reach its peak in the sixth and final season with the introduction of everyone's favorite foul-tempered Martian, The Great Gazoo. Here, we get left-field storytelling on such episodes as "Ten Little Flintstones," in which ten Fred-look-alike alien robots crash land on Earth, and get Fred in trouble with his friends for their "weird" behavior, or "Flintstones Hillbillies," which has the Flintstones moving to the Ozarks to feud with the rootin', tootin' Hatrock family. There are also the customary prehistoric swipes at other prime-time TV shows, including Perry Masonry, Peek-A-Boo Camera, and the aforementioned Flintstones Hillbillies to keep things interesting.
Despite an occasional reliance on redundancy, the fourth season does admittedly contain some pretty good episodes, including "Glue for Two," which has Fred and Barney stuck together when Fred's experimental soda pop turns out to be a super-adhesive, and "Daddies Anonymous," which features the two proud papas ducking out on their fatherly duties to attend a clandestine poker club. The fourth season also features undoubtedly the most celebrated episode of the show ever, "Ann-Margrock Presents." Featuring the voice of Ann-Margaret, this season premiere episode is famous for its involvement of a high-profile celebrity—you have to remember that this was long before The Simpsons made movie star guest voices the norm for prime-time animation. The episode is simply a lot of fun, as Fred and Barney unknowingly get help from Ann-Margaret in auditioning for a show she is putting on, and she even gets to warble a pair of songs herself.
The shows presented on this DVD look about as good as they do on other Hanna-Barbera releases: good, but not great. This is probably as clean as these old animated shows are going to look on DVD, so get used to the noticeable layer of grain, as well as dirt, scratches, and other source artifacts that frequently show up throughout the set. Color, though, is excellent. Much like the picture quality, the sound is unremarkable, but reliable. As a mono TV soundtrack from the 1960s, there are no dynamics to speak of and the music and dialogue occasionally seem a little flat, but Warner Brothers has at least presented them clearly, with minimal distortion. Those that have the first three sets of The Flintstones will find Season Four much on par with the earlier releases.
We've seen an evolution in the quality of the extras presented on these Hanna-Barbera box sets since they first started coming out about a year ago, from throwaway bits meant for kids to commentaries and documentaries on more recent releases. The stone-age extras presented on The Flintstones: Season Four are the ones most Yabba-Dabba-Doo-heads have been waiting for. First up is a long overdue documentary on The Flintstones theme song writer Hoyt Curtin, an underrated and mostly unknown composer who finally gets a nice tribute to his memorable stone-age melodies here. Then we have "The Flintstones: One Million Years Ahead of its Time," a fun, informative featurette that talks about animation in prime-time, and discusses the impact that show has had on network scheduling—another winner. Finally, the "Ann Margrock Presents," and "Little Bamm-Bamm" episodes feature commentary tracks with Earl Kress, new faces Paul Dini and Mark Evanier, who settle down and share a wealth of anecdotes. Last and certainly least is yet another "limited edition" animation cel that falls out of the digipak and onto the floor pretty much every time I open the set. If past patterns hold true, we're looking at more duds for the next set's extras, while the last box will undoubtedly be the one to own for supplemental material.
Lying somewhere between the sitcom style of season three and the big shift to cartoon craziness in seasons five and six, season four of The Flintstones is probably one of the weaker years of the show, but it's still a must-own for fans, if only for the always entertaining Ann-Margrock episode. Helping to raise the value of this set, Warner Brothers has put together another nice package here, providing some of the best special features yet that will certainly please fans of the show.
Innocent. As always, this set is definitely a dabba-do time.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Audio Commentaries
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