Judge Paul Corupe wonders why his creation, Gooseberry Goat, never caught on with the TV-viewing public.
Oh my darlin' Clementine!
The eventual migration of cartoons from theatres to television seemed a natural transition in the 1950s, but no one really knew how to make it work—at the time, original animation was deemed way too expensive for the small screen's demanding weekly schedules. That didn't stop revered cartoon kingpins William Hanna and Joe Barbera, who made their first foray into TV with 1957's The Ruff and Ready Show, a program that combined a new short with a live MC and old toons from Columbia Pictures' vault to beef up the value per dollar. It wasn't until the debut of 1958's The Huckleberry Hound Show, however, that Hanna-Barbera truly found themselves on the leading edge of the TV animation boom with their unique "limited animation" technique. Combining three seven-minute cartoons made exclusively for television—one story each of "Huckleberry Hound," "Yogi Bear," and "Pixie, Dixie and Mr. Jinks"—the program was a smash success. Warner now collects the first season of the trend-setting show on DVD with their latest Hanna-Barbera release, The Huckleberry Hound Show: Volume 1.
Facts of the Case
• Huckleberry Hound
• Yogi Bear
• Pixie, Dixie, and Mr. Jinks
Warner Brothers has packaged 26 episodes of The Huckleberry Hound Show here, representing the entire 1958-1959 season, spread over four discs—three single-sided, and one flipper. It's worth noting, however, that various seven-minute segments are repeated throughout the set to replicate the way they were originally shown on TV, so in fact you're only getting about 20 original stories of each character in total, not 26.
With a virtual assembly line of artists, Hanna-Barbera's pioneering limited animation style on The Huckleberry Hound Show completely revolutionized the cartoon industry and made animation a mainstay on TV. Employing a minimalist style that made the most out of reusable and repeating backgrounds and streamlined character movements, they were able to reduce the number of drawings needed for a cartoon from something in the area of 20,000 to a scant 2000. Although they've since been criticized for cheapening the artistry of cartoons with their cost-cutting techniques, a quick glance at any HB cartoon will tell you that what they saved on production dollars was more than made up for by astonishing character design, gag scripting and voice work. While The Huckleberry Hound Show may not be a lush animated world on par with the kid's shows of today, it does has a distinctive and classic look, as well as thing that many modern toons lack—charm.
Though no longer one of HB's marquee figures, Huckleberry Hound was undeniably its first big star—a likable, if slightly vanilla, character who never lost his cool. The good-natured Huck seemingly owes a bit of his persona to the easily adaptable Bugs Bunny, and subsequently, Huck never quite had a personality as strong as some of the later HB characters. His sparsely-used Houndspeak, Southern-sounding gobbledygook like "'twernt," "'twasn't" and "Well, dog my cats," aren't particularly memorable, and his adventures really could have been led by any number of hand-drawn heroes; there was nothing in Huck's cartoons that was really unique to the character. Now, that's not to say that his shorts aren't often the best on the show, as he arrests an ape on the loose, tames a lion and tangles with a pair of wiseacre crows without breaking a sweat. If Huck taught kids anything, it's that perseverance under pressure is essential to getting a job done, and the big blue dog always managed to succeed with impressive style.
Then, there's the much more iconic Yogi Bear. Originally a supporting character on The Huckleberry Hound Show, Yogi's star eventually eclipsed Huck's as he was spun off into his own successful show in 1961. This season finds the pudgy bear up to his usual tricks, all which usually involve stealing food or sleeping. Since these are very early episodes, Yogi's pal Boo Boo only pops up a couple of times, and Ranger Smith is nowhere to be seen—in these episodes, Jellystone is maintained by a team of faceless park rangers always checking to make sure Yogi hasn't escaped. I was surprised to recognize many of Yogi's cartoon adventures on this set, which leads me to believe that there are many top-notch Yogi segments offered up here. As a much more original character than his pal Huckleberry, the dumb but well-intentioned and lovable Yogi was in many ways the real star of the show, and set the mold for many future HB characters like Fred Flintstone and Shaggy from Scooby-Doo, Where are You?.
Last and unfortunately least, "Pixie, Dixie, and Mr. Jinks" was a variation on the Tom and Jerry shorts Hanna and Barbera had been cranking out at MGM until the studio shut down its animation department. It's surprisingly violent for an HB cartoon, with lots of frying pan smack-downs, cats running face first into the wall and even a few flattening steamroller gags. The saccharine-sweet Pixie and Dixie are pretty indistinguishable from other cartoon mice, but the hep-talking Mr. Jinks is a great little character who seems to have gone missing in much of the recent Hanna-Barbera lore. Unable to wrap his tongue around a plural for the word "mouse," Jinks was given a familiar saying, "I hate meeces to pieces!" as he scrambled around the house after his prey. But unlike some other cartoon cats, Jinks wasn't always the bad guy, and in several of the cartoons on the set, he's downright sympathetic, as well as a friend to Pixie and Dixie. Even if they were the least interesting on the set, I more or less enjoyed most of the "Pixie, Dixie and Mr. Jinks" segments—they were mostly victims of a patently familiar cartoon set-up.
The episodes presented on The Huckleberry Hound Show: Volume 1 look about as good as they do on other Hanna-Barbera releases: good, but not great. It's obvious that 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 late 1950s, 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.
We've seen an evolution in the quality of the extras presented on these Hanna-Barbera box sets since they first started coming out, from throwaway bits meant for kids to commentaries and documentaries. The extras presented on The Huckleberry Hound Show: Volume 1 are a mixed bag. The best extras are undoubtedly the "reassembled episodes," five shows presented as they originally aired on TV, starting with a Kellogg's-sponsored opening and featuring Huckleberry Hound-hosted bumpers that segue from one cartoon into the next. Unfortunately, some of these snippets are in pretty rough shape, many in black and white only, so it's understandable why this wasn't done for all the episodes. Similarly, "Huckleberry Hound Restoration" offers the show's pilot episode in its complete aired format, including commercials in which the characters shill for Kellogg's, and there are an additional six minutes of bumpers collected together elsewhere on the set.
"The Legendary Sound of Daws Butler" is not a bad look at the immensely talented voice actor who gave life to an incredible number of HB's characters, including Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, and Mr. Jinks. Bart Simpson voice Nancy Cartwright and a parade of other voice actors and historians talk both about the legendary performer and the craft, but there's only a few pictures of Butler shown, and most of the interviews clips are just fawning praise. It's worth a watch, but overall, this entire set is a better tribute to Butler's talent. This set's skippable extras are "Huckleberry Hound: A Linguistical Masterpiece," in which a phony professor spends five minutes raving about Huck's unique word-choices, and "Huckleberry Quotes: The Remix" which sets a bunch of Huck clips to an irritating dance beat. Ugh.
The Huckleberry Hound Show: Volume 1 was an important and wildly popular show of its day, but in retrospect, it isn't one of Hanna-Barbera's finest achievements—it's more like a taste of things to come. While consistently entertaining, I can't help feel that this set will be of more interest to animation buffs and Hanna-Barbera collectors rather than casual fans of more popular shows like The Flintstones or Scooby-Doo, Where are You?.
'Twernt guilty, not at all.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Huckleberry Hound Restoration
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