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Ruminations: If it's Saturday morning, then it must be Hanna Barbera

Ruminations: If it's Saturday morning, then it must be Hanna Barbera

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Okay, boys and girls. We're going to be heading back in time today. Back to a time when Saturday morning television meant animation. And back to a place where one studio seemed to have the knack of keeping us entertained.

Two words. Hanna Barbera. Or more specifically, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. It is not an overstatement to call them the kings of Saturday morning television animation. From 1957's "Ruff & Ready" up to such recent products as 1998's "PowerPuff Girls", this studio (now a part of Cartoon Network) has produced favorites for kids through six decades. Coming from animation at MGM, these two guys knew the process of classic cartoon animation. Yet, television with it's smaller home screen size (especially in glorious black and white) did not require the same level of detail that the big screens in theaters did. That and the fact that potential sponsors (or advertisers) were looking for the best bang for their bucks. As Floyd Norman puts it oh so well, "Faster, Cheaper!" So it was that the limited animation style was born and put to work for television.

While part of the animation unit at MGM, they formed H-B Enterprises for occasional freelance projects. Some of the earliest animation in television commercials came from that venture. So when MGM decided to shut down the animation unit in 1957, it became the full time gig for Bill and Joe. It was the first animation company to produce products for television full time.

Now without going into a full dissertation on their success, let us simply say that they more than managed to produce favorites for generations of viewers. And they were not limited simply to Saturday mornings. Long before the "Simpsons" struck ratings gold in prime-time, Hanna Barbera did it with the "Flintstones" for ABC in 1960. DVD's of the various Hanna Barbera shows are being released all the time, it seems.

One thing did not change in animation did not change in the new medium of television. That is the need for good music to be part of the finished product. And Hanna Barbera delivered some of the best. So much so that these musical selections have gone beyond the shows they were created for to become pop culture favorites all of their own. And just as animation on film at Warner Brothers had it's genius in Carl Stalling, animation at Hanna Barbera had it's own virtuoso in Hoyt Curtin. Jazz influenced scores for shows like the "Flintstones", "Yogi Bear" or "Jonny Quest" only require a few notes to trigger childhood memories (good or bad) for many people today. Hoyt was writing music for radio and television commercials after World War II, and a commercial for Schlitz Beer brought him to work with HB-Enterprises. Check this link for an interview with him. Hoyt retired from Hanna Barbera in 1992 and passed away in 2000, leaving generations of fans still enjoying his music.

The whole Magilla in one basket...

Thanks to the folks at Rhino Records, there are some great compilations of music representing all of the eras of Hanna-Barbera shows. The big kahuna here is the "Pic-a-Nic Basket" four-disc boxed set, with themes and cues from almost everything Hanna Barbera one can imagine. Although out of print (not surprising as it was released in 1996) it can still be found on Amazon. This is a must have, if you are truly addicted to these shows. Regrettably, some of the original source materials for many of the shows was long gone before this project began. Yet credit where due for this set giving as much as it does. And admittedly, not every show the studio produced was a hit, so in some cases the lack of materials may be a mixed blessing.

So what do you get in this Pic-A-Nic basket of goodies? Check this link for the complete track listings. The first disc is a good look back at the music of the early shows (having been also released as "Hanna Barbera Classics, Volume 1" with 45 tracks from "Ruff & Reddy" up through "Peter Potamus"), the second disc covers 22 tracks of music from the "Flintstones" through 1974's "Hong Kong Phooey" (with Scatman Crothers doing the vocal honors), while the third disc is all Flintstones (including the dream sequence inspired "Let The Sunshine In") and the fourth disc is all of the material from the 1994 disc, "Hanna Barbera Cartoon Sound FX." That has 97 tracks, with some vocals from later Hanna Barbera voice talents.It is worthy to note that some compact disc players may have trouble with the high number of tracks on these discs.

Cover art for "Hanna Barbera Classics, Volume 1" and
"Hanna Barbera Cartoon Sound FX"

If a sampler of sorts may be more the kind of thing you have in mind, the Kid Rhino label produced "Toon Tunes" in 1997. It offers 50 tracks, but the bulk of them are themes from Hanna Barbera shows. Rhino has since followed up with two more discs in this vein titled, "Toon Tunes: Action Packed Anthems" with 36 tracks (including the legendary favorite "Crusader Rabbit") and "Tune Toons: Funny Bone Favorites" with 36 tracks (with one of my favorites, "Peabody's Improbable History" - "Set the WABAC Machine!") covering music from all of the major television animation studios.

Toon Tunes discs for Saturday morning fans.

So if you were one of those kids who spent way too much time planted in front of the television on Saturday mornings with a big bowl of your favorite sugar-coated-covered-infused-crystalized cereal and milk, these discs of music should help revive a few happy memories. What are you waiting for? Load up the iPod with these tunes and go out and exercise! Time to make up for all those wasted moments and excess calories, right?

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