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Information The Art of Hanna-Barbera: Fifty Years of Creativity


The Art of Hanna-Barbera: Fifty Years of Creativity
Written by Ted Sennett

"As kids, Bill and I had always loved the big heroic figures like Frank Merriwell and Tom Swift. Now it was our turn to create our own." -- Joe Barbera

At the same time that Atom Ant and Secret Squirrel were carrying out their own brand of tongue-in-cheek heroics, Planet Earth was experiencing a true-life adventure in which fantasy suddenly took on an astonishing reality. Since the late fifties and the first moon probes, scientists had begun to take giant strides toward realizing the centuries-old dream of exploring outer space. By the mid-sixties, despite failures and miscalculations, unmanned rockets had orbited close enough to the moon to take remarkable photographs. The public's imagination had been fired not only by the possibility of discovering new worlds beyond our own but also by the chance of coming upon new and extraordinary life forms in the vast stretches of space "out there." Science fiction began to seem more like science and less like fiction.

Each decade brings its own breed of true-life heroes, and as interest in actual space exploration heightened in the sixties, the new heroes appeared to be the pioneering men who had conquered space. While astronauts like Gordon Cooper, Alan Shepard, and John Glenn won public adulation, comic-book artists were using the remarkable advances in technology to create fantasy space heroes of their own. Reconstructed and vastly improved versions of Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and other futuristic heroes of the thirties began to find their way out of comic-book pages and into television. For Hanna and Barbera it was a new direction, a considerable distance from the lovable bears, dogs, cats, and mice that had dominated their work from the beginning.

Their first venture into the world of superheroes came in the fall of 1964 with the launching of "The Adventures of Jonny Quest" on Friday evenings over ABC. In a series of adventures mixing fantasy and science, the program focused on a quartet of characters who were constantly called on to unravel baffling mysteries and who, in the course of their investigations, were required to do battle with an assortment of bizarre villains. Heading the group was Dr. Bention Quest (voiced by John Stephenson in the first season and then by Don Messick), a bearded scientist usually working on secret experiments. For security reasons his spunky, tow-headed son, Jonny (Tim Matthieson), was guarded at all times by a handsome, rugged pilot named Roger ("Race") Bannon (Mike Road), who served as Jonny's "tutor, companion, and all-around watchdog." Completing the heroic group were Jonny's turbaned young East Indian friend Hadji (Danny Bravo) and a feisty black-eyed bulldog called Bandit. (Don Messick provided the barking.) Each episode contained some scientific or educational data, explained by Dr. Quest.

Joe Barbera recalls the origins of "Jonny Quest": "It had always been one of my long-standing dreams to do an action-adventure series. We tossed around a lot of ideas at the time. Actually, the inspiration for the series was ''Terry and the Pirates,' the longtime popular comic strip by Milton Caniff. I had always liked and admired this strip which had a blonde, a good-looking hero like Race Bannon, and an adventurous young kid like Jonny Quest. They also operated all over the world, taking on exotic villains like the Dragon Lady. You could say that 'Terry and the Pirates' even influenced the artwork for 'Jonny Quest,' just look at any strip of 'Terry and the Pirates,' at how the shadows are done and the way the characters are drawn."

Once the concept had been decided on, noted comic-book artist Doug Wildey was called on to design all the features for the show. Influenced by material he had read in such magazines as Popular Mechanics and Scientific American, Wildey created the character models, the hardware, and the special ambiance which gave "Jonny Quest" its air of authenticity. (He also provided the premises for many of the episodes.) Working long and arduous hours, Wildey joined with Hanna and Barbera to prepare and polish the short film that was used to sell the series. When the film was shown, according to Barbera, "it blew everyone out of the theater. It was a big departure for its day."

Today Doug Wildey remembers the beginnings of some of the popular characters: "Joe Barbera wanted to add a dog to the show, probably because the company was heavily into the licensing of characters for toys, and the dog could be a salable addition. So we added Bandit. I tried a lot of exotic animals, particularly a monkey, but I was overruled. Then we realized that we would be doing a show in which the young hero would have to talk to his dog. So we thought up another character, a young fellow with a magical, mysterious background. In this way, the kids would be talking to each other, and the audience could accept something like that. We added the character of Hadji, who was loosely modeled on the Indian actor Sabu."

With the characters in place, "The Adventures of Jonny Quest" made its debut with an episode entitled "The Mystery of the Lizard Men." Typically, the story line begins with an unexplained mystery: the sudden disappearance of ships in the Sargasso Sea, and moves to the adventures of Jonny and his friends as they try to unravel it. With the help of a futuristic computer called the Unitized Neutronic Information Center, Dr. Quest discovers that a power-hungry scientist, with the aid of an army of bizarre green "lizard men," has been destroying the ships with his laser gun and is now plotting his final and most spectacular" experiment: shooting down the first space rocket headed for the moon. Jonny, Race, and Bandit are captured but manage to escape, and after a wild chase through the Sargasso Sea, Dr. Quest succeeds in destroying the mad scientist's ship before it can blow up the space rocket. (The "lizard men" turn out to be ordinary men in grotesque costumes designed to frighten their adversaries.)

Another typical episode, "The Curse of Anubis," involved the group in an Egyptian adventure. Here Dr. Quest is summoned to Egypt by his friend Dr. Karim, who claims to have made an amazing archaeological discovery. In truth, Dr. Karim is a treacherous schemer who has stolen the sacred statue of Anubis. He plots to accuse "foreigners" Dr. Quest and Race of stealing the statue and thus unite the angry Arab nations under his leadership. Of course he fails to count on the youthful bravado of Jonny and Hadji, who finally succeed in rescuing Dr. Quest and Race from the catacombs. He also fails to acknowledge the "curse" of Anubis, through which a mummy emerges from its casket to exact revenge on whoever purloins the stature of Anubis. In the end, the ceiling of the catacombs collapses on Dr. Karim and the mummy, while the group escapes. Along the way to a happy conclusion, they have to deal with murderous thugs, poisonous adders, and a deadly scorpion.

Although not fully animated, "The Adventures of Jonny Quest" conveyed the illusion of full animation by using a large number of strikingly realistic drawings. Many of the episodes called for special effects that could not be rendered in the expedient shortcut style of limited animation. The climax of "The Mystery of the Lizard Men," for example, draws its excitement from the rapid juxtaposition of vivid details: the churning water as Jonny and Race hurtle through the sea in their hydrofoil, with the lizard men in pursuit; the sea in flames as Race boldy drives the hydrofoil directly into the lizard men's boat, causing it to overturn, and the fierce explosion that demolishes the villain's home ship when Dr. Quest uses a mirror to divert a deadly laser ray back to its source. Animator Irven Spence, who worked on many episodes, remarks, "You can't cheat on these effects. You've got to make them full."

Thank you to jperry for typing this up and bringing it to my attention. ^_^