Judge Dennis Prince is disappointed to not find a VH-1 Backstory segment here that would explain just why Magilla was continually returned to Peebles' Pet Store.
We've got a gorilla for sale,
With a firm foothold in the cartoon industry achieved through the likes of Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, and The Flintstones, Hanna-Barbera was a top name in animated exploits. The momentum generated through the 1950s carried them into the 1960s, which found the studio as busy as ever, turning out character after character, to home TV viewers' delight. Previously sponsored by the sugar-coated, high-carb cereal moguls at Kellogg's, this new decade's batch of cartoon creations were prompted, promoted, and profiteered by the toy companies. The Magilla Gorilla Show, it turns out, was not an idea that emanated from the studio of Bill Hanna and Joseph Barbera, but, rather, was commissioned directly by the Ideal Toy Company. Having already done lucrative character licensing business with the aforementioned H-B stars, Ideal was looking for still more animated advocates to buoy their toy aisle sales.
This, some cartoon enthusiasts content, precipitated the dumbing-down of the studio's output. Indeed, there was very little that was "new" about Magilla Gorilla and the manner in which he appeared on TV screens in 1964. Cribbing from the same format as The Huckleberry Hound Show and its spin-off, The Yogi Bear Show, Magilla Gorilla was likewise featured in a 30-minute broadcast slot that similarly featured additional character cartoons. As Huck's show included shorts of Yogi Bear and Pixie & Dixie and Yogi's eventual show included capers with Yakky-Doodle and Snagglepuss, Magilla was joined by Ricochet Rabbit and Punkin' Puss and Mushmouse. What did change, however, was the clever comedy and dry wit that made the Huck and Yogi cartoons so enjoyable. With Magilla, the near adult-level snipes were replaced with the plodding exploits of the oafish and naïve gorilla. Perhaps in a lapse of judgment, Hanna and Barbera forgot to leave their audience wanting more. Only the toy company, it seemed, was still insatiate.
In the introductory Magilla Gorilla episode, "Big Game," we learn that the simian simpleton in the window of Peebles Pet Store was snatched out of an unnamed jungle while just a baby. Sadly, proprietor Peebles's enamor with Magilla faded as each year passed, now leaving the small businessman to lament, "Gorillas just aren't selling like they used to." With that as the threadbare premise, the simplistic plotlines ensued, usually with Magilla attracting would-be owners, only to find his way back into Peebles' front window. Routinely, you could expect to find Magilla being purchased for purposes of playing stooge for a bank heist, playing guinea pig for scientists, serving as the lead for a kooky pop band, and even serving as the not-quite-so-dangerous game for a hunter. When not actually acquired, other episodes featured Magilla alternately finding his own way out of the pet store to try his hand at skating, surfing, and even creating a beach dance fad in "Makin' with the Magilla." Nevertheless, every episode closed with the great ape returning to Peebles' store, usually to the dismay of the diminutive shopkeeper.
The storylines, as noted, are simple and easily digestible by the targeted young audiences of the mid-Sixties. Because of his good nature and untainted naiveté, Magilla managed to strike a chord of commonality with youngsters who related to the gullible goof. The message, though, was clear as Magilla always tended to foil plots that would exploit him all the while maintaining an attitude that saw innate goodness in everyone he encountered.
Whether it was his good nature or bad fashion sense, Magilla never objected to the manner in which Peebles dressed him: a green, purple, and rose-colored conglomeration consisting of a derby hat, bow-tie, oversized shorts, shoes, and suspenders. It's fitting, then, that character actor Allan Melvin (you know him as Sam the butcher from The Brady Bunch) would provide the dopey voice behind the dim-witted primate.
As previously noted, the humor of Magilla Gorilla simply didn't have much to offer to viewers beyond the age of ten. His slapstick antics were simply recycled show after show, not offering much interest to anyone who could easily remember what the gorilla did in the previous episode. The further indiscretion of the show centered around the companion cartoons. Ricochet Rabbit featured the titular critter as a sheriff with a penchant to speedily rebound across the plains (with a verbalized "Ping-ping-pinnnngggg!"). Accompanied by his slack deputy Droop-a-Long Coyote (voiced by the legendary Mel Blanc), Ricochet's adventures seemed to be thinly reworked versions of the Quick Draw McGraw cartoons, not fresh and barely funny here. The abomination of the show was Punkin' Puss and Mushmouse where a hillbilly cat and mouse provide a poor impersonation of Tom and Jerry. These cartoons, sadly, offer nothing that could be called entertaining.
Cartoon completists would likely counter the foregoing analysis if only to cite Magilla Gorilla as one of the vintage H-B characters and worthy of a DVD appearance. There's no doubt that the show does have a place in the nostalgic pantheon of mid-Sixties cartoon fare and, for that reason alone, is deserving of a modern-day remastering. But—whoops!—the folks at Warner Bros. and Hanna-Barbera Studios goofed on this gorilla. Immediately you'll notice that Disc One jumps into the title card of "Big Game," bypassing the show's original title sequence and song. No, you didn't accidentally skip over it from the disc's main menu; the opening and closing titles have gone completely missing in this four-disc volume. Tsk-tsk. What you will find, though, are the inner contents of 23 shows, plus seven extra Magilla misadventures. The image has been transferred in the original full-frame format and most look quite vibrant, with rich colors and strong detail. Some of the episodes, however, were mastered from inferior source material and exhibit softness, bleeding, and film dirt. The audio comes by way of a relatively stable Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono track.
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of this particular set is the extras. Topping the list is a vintage piece of film that features Hoyt Curtain and Bill Hanna at the piano, performing the Magilla Gorilla theme. Next up, you'll see the familiar George Fenneman (You Bet Your Life) in the network pitch film, "Here Comes a Star." This vintage goodie offers us a rare look inside the Hanna-Barbera studios circa 1964. Fenneman is given a tour of the design and production processes, then a preview of the studio's newest animated star, Magilla Gorilla. The black-and-white piece is completely commercial with merchandising clearly the intent at hand (as the show's opening song goes, "See in the window, Magilla Gorilla, full of charm and appeal. Handsome, elegant, intelligent, sweet, he's really Ideal," as Magilla blows up a balloon to reveal the Ideal Toy Company logo). Nonetheless, it's a nice piece that reveals not only the inner offices and workshops of the studio but more poignantly chronicles the bare beginnings of product tie-in marketing at the point of character conception. Then, you'll find a gallery of current-day interviews with the original Magilla Gorilla production team, including animator Jerry Eisenberg and voice actor Allan Melvin. The information presented in these interviews is generous and provides details of the show amid the H-B history. Truthfully, these elements rescue the set and make it a worthwhile addition to a cartoon collector's library.
While The Magilla Gorilla Show is one of the weaker offerings from Hanna-Barbera, there is still value to be found within the bonus features and Warner Brothers is to be thanked for maintaining a steady flow of classic H-B DVD. If we can get some of the H-B action-adventure series on DVD (e.g. Space Ghost, The Herculoids), then cartoon collections will truly be rounding out nicely.
Case dismissed based on mental simplicity of the witness and in acknowledgement of his handlers good sense to include key background materials. Court adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Featurette: Here Comes a Star
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