The Flintstones: From the Stone Age of Television To Today

Via: The Cartoon Pictures.com

What can I say that hasn’t already been said over and over again and again? The Flintstones is a giant among giants. The mere fact that we are celebrating its 50th anniversary today is proof that the Flintstones has been enormously successful. The closest parallel in terms of popularity has been The Simpsons, a part-parody of today’s topic (remember this?) and who undoubtedly succeeded because of it.

We all know what made the show successful: strong, easily identifiable characters, its primetime slot on ABC, a few celebrity voices (that were perfect for the roles), the experience and expertise of William Hanna and Joe Barbera, it’s similarities to successful, live-action sitcoms (The Flinstones were directly based on The Honeymooners) and last but not least, the sheer novelty of being an animated show at a time when cartoons were already being driven into the kiddie domain.

Without going into my likes and dislikes of the show, it’s safe to say that The Flintstones are of the highest quality. It is a wonder how much better things would be if they had stretched the animation budget just a tiny little bit further, but, having said that, the limited animation look of the show plays second fiddle to the stone age design and the hilarious consequences of such.

It continues to defy its age. Think about any live-action show from the era, it’s clear that they belong to that particular time. The Flintstones could have been made 10 years ago (and in the case of The Jetsons, the late 80s) and it would still be considered innnovative.

The Flintstones is unlikely to be unseated from its perch anytime soon. The Simpsons still has another 30 years or so to play catch-up, but that show’s unprecedented 22 year run ensure it’s place in the history books as well. With the coming storm in the media market, we will never again see such TV shows, Indeed shows like The Flintstones and The Simpsons are already an extinct species.

The influence of Fred, Barney, Wilma Betty, Pebbles and Bam-Bam is still being felt in TV today. References abound, imitations exist, merchandise continues to sell, and people continue to watch a show that by all rights should be well past its sell by date.

The Flintstones is not a lesson in how to make a great TV show, rather, it is proof that animation can be superior to live-action in many respects and can be popular with kids and grown-ups alike. It is a historical anomaly that was an extremely lucky break for Hanna-Barbera who finally managed to gain a foothold in the maintream media and the public’s consciousness as a result.

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Patiently Waiting for The Vault of Walt

Via Mark Mayerson’s Blog

There are a lot of stories and legends surrounding Walt Disney. Some are genuine, others are not, but all are entertaining or informative in some shape or form. He is, without a doubt, a giant in the animation world, not just because of his early developments, but because he proved that animation could provide a strong base on which to build a media empire.

Written By Jim Kokis, a noted Disney historian, the list of stories detailed in the press release and over on Mark Mayerson’s blog have certainly whetted my appetite for this book. Over the last year or so (especially after I read Serious Business), I have become more interested in learning about the early history of animation in Hollywood and Walt Disney plays a fairly large part in that.

The book will be out in October and by the looks of things it will be a very good read indeed.

The Obstacles Facing Roger Rabbit 2

At this point, it’s been over 20 years since the original Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a film that perhaps single-handedly resurrected interest in the classic cartoon shorts of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Despite being wildly successful (thankfully, as it was the most expensive movie ever made at that point in time), a sequel was never made.

There are a couple of reasons why a sequel was never made. Number one, Hollywood wasn’t near as sequel crazy as it is today and number 2, the complexities of the original film made it somewhat more difficult to produce another one. No, I’m not talking about the animation, or anything technical, it is he sheer number of characters required lengthy and exhaustive negotiations between all the rights holders. You may have noticed that the original film had neither Felix the Cat or Tom & Jerry as the rights to neither were secured prior to production.

Why do I think a sequel won’t work? Well, why do you think a sequel wouldn’t work? Perhaps because sequels invariably share the same set of problems. TV Tropes has a good rundown of the symptons associated with what they call, sequelitis. The plot isn’t a continuation, bit characters that became popular are given way more screen time than they should be allocated, new characters appear that add nothing of value, etc. etc.

The original film was notable for many reasons, not least because it used a huge cast of already popular animated characters and introducing a few that appeared well known despite being brand new. That’s why Baby Herman, Jessica Rabbit and even Roger are still known, they have created a link in the audience’s mind between themselves and the classic characters of yore. A sequel will most likely copy some elements of the character but discard the deeper stuff that matters.

Another aspect is time. It’s been over two decades since the original and the times have changed. Roger Rabbit succeeded because it was different. Animation didn’t get a lot of respect from people in the 80s. Roger Rabbit (along with The Little Mermaid) helped change that and establish animation as an artform that could deliver the goods at the box office. There was little to no competition unlike today, where a new animated film is released, on average, every couple of weeks. The quality of said films is also astounding, thanks to the folks at Pixar who raised the bar so high.

Finally, as everyone knows, sequels inevitably have a lower budget than the original. In animation (moreso CGI than traditional) this is partly because computer models and sets have already been constructed, however, corner are still cut in areas such as story development, size of the crew, etc. The difference is always noticeable and in the case of Roger Rabbit, it would definitely be noticeable. If you make the most expensive movie ever and spend less for the sequel, it will look different.

Of course, there is the test film for a CGI version of Roger from 1998. It’s embedded below along with the test from the original film. The two cannot be compared in overall quality, but notice the difference in the animation. The newer one says a lot about the attitudes of executives towards sequels of classic films.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yw77Vt6sgdc]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0hNbcJO6EM&feature=player_embedded]

Shoutout: Yowp on The Flintstones

Just a quick shoutout to the Yowp blog, which has been running some great posts recently in relation to The Flintstones in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the shows premiere on Sept. 30th. A full read of them are highly recommended as indeed is regularly checking in over there to read about all things Hanna-Barbera.

How the Internet has Improved Access to Animation

Animation is not the only artform to benefit from the best invention ever, in fact, all forms of audio-visual entertainment have benefited from it. What has brought this to my attention was the Chapter 11 filing of Blockbuster Video (click through to see the headline of the Chicago Sun Times that I can only hope was known to be satirical before it was published).

The store near us closed a couple of months ago, and I dutifully paid them a visit to see what I could salvage. I found an Irish film, the Teen Titans movie, Spirited Away and Beavis & Butthead Do America (ah , my teenage years). There was also some even more random items that I passed up on, namely some older children’s stuff and a couple of volumes of Sailor Moon.

The main reason I passed them up (besides not being interested) was that I couldn’t justify the cost nor the loss of space on my shelf. I suppose I subconsciously realized that if I really wanted, I could find them again through other means.

The growth of Netflix and Hulu has meant that for animation fans, finding older or more alternative TV shows and films is not near as difficult as it used to be. In times gone past you had to visit the Goodwill stores and car boot sales (also known as flea markets) to find them. For the slightly sketchy stuff, you might need to visit a speciality shop, or know a place with some items under the counter.

The greatest asset to all of this has, of course, been YouTube. Just on a casual search from memory, I found Astronomeus (a Felix the Cat short) from 1929, Saturday morning cartoon from the 80s Galaxy High (with character designs by John K.) and an obscure English film animated in Poland during the Cold War.

The downside to all of this is that the vast majority of stuff posted on YouTube is illegal against copyright, so there is a good chance that if you’re reading this post in a couple of months those links will be broken. Happily, folks are always re-posting things so it should just be matter of searching a bit harder or by trying another video site.

What’s the upside, well for one if people are looking for this stuff it indicates that a demand does exist. What’s even better is that said demand can be satisfied relatively easily and cheaply by using the Internet in the same way that the pirates loyal fans have done. Older, more obscure content should not be left to rot away in the archives. It would be much better to digitize them and allow anyone to view them. Despite what the detractors say, it is always possible to use free content to turn a profit.

Thoughts on The Hub

There has been much talk and debate in recent times about the upcoming launch of the newest TV channel aimed at kids, that’s right, The Hub. Co-owned by Hasbro and Discovery Networks. Anyone over the age of 20 will immediately recognize there is more than one show of that classic 80s vintage, the toy line.

What has proven to be the most surprising developments of the channels launch has been the heated debate about the nature of the shows, namely that fact that the three in question: G. I. Joe, My Little Pony and Pound Puppies are all based on the existing Hasbro toy lines of the same name. This parallels a separate show based on the popular Sketchers line of shoes, which is currently being investigated by the FCC after a complaint by a campaign group.

The new network seems to have escaped this group’s attention for the moment although I suspect that it is because: a) it hasn’t launched yet and b) there were previous cartoon incarnations that have caused them to fly under the radar for the moment.

I have somewhat average hopes for the network, much will depend on the quality of the content. In times gone past you simply knocked a show together based on the toys and Bob’s your uncle. DIC became masters of the art before getting swallowed up by Cookie Jar. In this day and age, The Hub may find this audience a tougher nut to crack than in the past.

The reason, for one, is the quality of shows on other networks. The rampaging juggernaut that is SpongeBob Squarepants has single-handedly ruled that cartoon merchandising empire for more than a decade. Despite their storied past, any of the Hub’s shows are unlikely to overthrow the king.

As noted on Cartoon Brew, the network that may have to watch its back is Cartoon Network. While it is true that they are (somewhat) engaged in the true model of using creator-driven content, they also suffer from a severely deficient marketing strategy that has so-far yielded next to nothing for the vast majority of their shows. The sole exemption being Ben 10, which has been rather successful at hawking a line of toys and ancillary merchandise.

The network doesn’t launch for another bit, but I think I can safely say that with Lauren Faust in the driving seat, My Little Pony may well be making a big-time comeback.

Reflections on the Past Year

While it may seem strange to look back on the year in the middle of September, there is a genuine reason for doing so, at least in my case. For it was in September, that I left Ireland and came to the US and it seems that every year, I seem to sit down and ponder the events of the previous one.

For starters, I’ve been in school a whole year, which is quite hard to believe in and of itself. That would mean that I’m somewhere between a quarter and a third of the way done with my MBA, a sobering thought if ever there was one.

Back in January, I had the pleasure of meeting the one and only Mr. John Canemaker at a screening for the Secret of Kells. He had just returned from a trip to Ireland and had plenty to say about it, namely that it was quite wet the entire time!

In February, I had the great distinction of meeting Mr. Tomm Moore, director of the Academy Award nominated The Secret of Kells. Despite the fact that it was a cold and snowy New York kind of day, it was great to chat to him ins spite of his incredibly busy schedule.

I once again took the day off work to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. A few days later, I celebrated turning a quarter of a century old and began to feel old.

In May, I celebrated one year dating my very special girlfriend who tolerates this silly Irishman on a daily basis and I paid my first visit to the Midwest, going to, of all places, Milwaukee. I can safely say that the beer there is indeed the best I’ve had on this side of the Atlantic. The city itself was also quite fun to wander around, even if it’s clear the recession is hurting things.

My brother came to spend the summer with me. There was lots of reminiscing involved.

Not much happened in June.

My mother and sister came for a visit in July. We did plenty of touring and visiting relatives and also spent three fabulous days in New York City. A good time was had by all.

For 4th of July, we visited my girlfriend’s hometown in upstate New York where her mother owns an ice-cream shop. The ice-cream was delicious and the fireworks were spectacular.

In August, I paid my second visit to the Midwest, in particular, Columbus, Ohio. It was a great weekend but we were so stretched for time that we didn’t get to see much besides the city centre.

In late, late August, we adopted an English Bulldog named Mona, who so far has been pretty well behaved in all consideration and, despite barking at me the first time we met, she has grown much friendlier in the meantime.

My attendance at various ASIFA-East events has been slightly curtailed this year because of school. A couple of events I would have loved to attend were on nights where class was in session and with the pace we were going at, I just couldn’t afford to take a night off. The sad thing is that I was all set to attend a board meeting when a deadline at work popped up. I didn’t leave the office till 9 o’clock that night so suffice to say, I didn’t make it.

So, what does the coming year hold? Hopefully more of the same, although I am most looking forward to a trip to Ireland in July 🙂

Accounting in Hollywood

I read this article on Wikipedia the other day and found it quite amusing. As I’m currently studying for my MBA, I have to take a few accounting classes and suffice to say, the teacher never explained this to us!

I’ve known about not accepting net terms on a Hollywood contract ever since Freakazoid! told me not to way back in the day but the levels that it seems to go to are extreme. It’s safe to say that the major animation studios are involved, they too, after all, play in the same sandbox.

At one end, it is necessary, with so many fingers trying to grab a piece of the pie. At the other end, it is dishonest and misleading. Why distributors feel the need to secure a slice of the gross is beyond me, surely they’d be much happier with a flat fee thereby removing the risk element involved, no? It’s beyond me, but not beyond self-styled Hollywood Economist Edward Epstein. His blog provides a great insight into the financing machine that is the movie industry and is well worth a read.

I’ll elaborate more in a future post.

 

Bill Plympton Talks Idiots and Angels

Yes, I mentioned it last week, but in the meantime, Katie Cropper has conducted a great interview with Bill over on ASIFA-East’s Exposure Sheet blog where he gets into some detail about how he eventually came to the conclusion that he had to distribute it himself.

It’s a great interview and I highly encourge you to head over and read it right now!

The Differences Between The US and UK Trailers for Tangled

It’s pretty much a given that the opposing sides of the Atlantic have different cultures. Ask any one from either side which version of The Office they prefer and invariably, the local version is the one that is chosen. This is an obvious choice: American like blatant jokes whereas the British are much more for sly, under the radar humour.

The differences extend to pretty much all aspects of entertainment that happen to cross the pond. Take for instance Harry Potter, the first book/movie in the series was called the Philosopher’s Stone in Britain but the Sorcerer’s Stone in the US. The movie even had scenes where the stone in question is spoken filmed twice, just to be consistent.

Since films are not excepted, neither are film trailers. Take for instance the upcoming Disney feature, Tangled. The trailers for both are embedded below for your viewing pleasure. Watch them both and then continue below.

The US version:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxY35VkI0NI&feature=player_embedded]

The British version

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycoY201RTRo]

In light of the two, which is better? Well neither really. A trailer is supposed to give you the best idea of the plot without giving away the ending or any important plot details. A classic failure is the one for The Simpsons Movie, which pretty much gave away the entire plot, minus Lisa’s love interest.

About these two, well, for starters nether one gives the entire plot away and if I had to choose which one I prefer on that front, it is the American one, which only hints at what makes Rapunzel so special. The British version on the other hand, seems to focus much less on Flynn. I suppose it’s in Americans nature to see a movie about the struggle of one, rugged individualist fighting against oppression. That’s why their trailer is cut as such. The British one focuses much more on Rapunzel and what she gets up to. In other words, it’s much more cryptic as to how the two came together.

While both trailers are good at doing their job, it is clear that in the US, there is much more of an emphasis on trying to hook the audience. The British one is more direct in what the film appears to be about. From poking my nose around the web, there seems to be plenty of assurances from those on the inside that Rapunzel does play a greater role in the film than the US version leads us to believe.

Having said that, trailers can be fantastically misleading. Don’t believe me, check out this one for the romantic comedy that is The Shining. Another example is the one for Fight Club, a film I avoided until one day, when I was shocked to learn that the film is barely about underground bare-knuckle boxing.

Overall, the differences between these two trailers do not make that much of a difference. Personally, I prefer the British one because it reveals a story and characters who are much more complex than the American one suggests. Being a guy who likes complex, strong characters, that makes it a winner.

Now I just need to figure out if there’ll be a late-night screening that I and my better half can sneak off to without having to deal with hoards of pimply teenagers.