William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, both through their own creativity and that of their studio, were second only to Walt Disney in the number of memorable, durable, and famous characters they introduced to the art of American animation. Known and loved throughout the world, the Hanna-Barbera cartoons differed from those of Disney in exclusively mining contemporary American life for their ideas, permeating the popular culture with images that reflected it in cartoon form. Their output was prodigious and many of their creations famous, but they will forever be synonymous with the world's most popular cat-and-mouse duo, Tom and Jerry, whose inspired an hilarious adversarial relationship, serviced over 100 cartoon shorts, and won Academy Awards for seven of them, of which Johann Mouse (1952) is perhaps the most outstanding of all.
Born in 1910 in Melrose, New Mexico, Hanna began his professional career at age 20, working as a story editor, lyricist, and composer for an independent studio; Barbera, born in New York City in 1911, was an accountant and a freelance magazine cartoonist. The two men met at MGM in 1937, the year they both joined the studio and, with Fred Quimby, created Tom and Jerry. The imaginative narrative line of the cartoons, in which Jerry Mouse emerged the victor of the battles, pushed the frontiers of animated entertainment and risked using more sadistic imagery than was then usual in the genre. Jerry had the distinction of being taught to dance "The Worry Song" by Gene Kelly in a stunning sequence, combining live action and animation, in MGM's Anchors Aweigh (1945). And for Kelly's Invitation to the Dance (1956), Hanna, Barbera and Quimby directed the third segment of the film, in which cartoon characters and Kelly danced to Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherezade."
In 1957 MGM closed its cartoon division, whereupon William Hanna and Joseph Barbera set up their own production company, Hanna-Barbera, and launched themselves into a new medium—television. They created the first cartoons for television at a time when many people thought it couldn't be done, partly because the expense of the animation process only seemed feasible for feature films. Hanna and Barbera, however, devised a less expensive technique by reducing the size of the storyboards, and if the results lacked the detail and background of animated features, they were nonetheless highly successful. The Ruff and Reddy Show premiered on NBC in 1957, paving the way for several decades of Hanna-Barbera cartoons and Saturday morning viewing rituals, and creating characters who became entrenched in American popular culture, recurring in syndication and cartoons for decades. Among the best known were Yogi ("smarter than the average bear") Bear and his sidekick Boo Boo Bear, Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy, Huckleberry Hound, Quickdraw McGraw, and Snagglepuss. Perhaps their most famous and durable creation was The Flintstones. When it aired in 1960, it was the first animated half-hour prime time sitcom on television. Modeled after The Honeymooners, The Flintstones earned Hanna-Barbera a permanent place in American television history. As the first animated cartoon featuring human characters, the series laid the ground for such later shows as The Simpsons and King of the Hill.
Besides the lovable and goofy characters of its early years, Hanna-Barbera productions created action and super-hero cartoons in the 1960s. One of the first of these was The Adventures of Johnny Quest. Johnny went on adventures with his scientist father and companions Hadji and Race Bannon. First appearing in 1964, the show was revamped in the 1990s with a focus on computer animation. Other heroes of the time were Space Ghost, the Herculoids, Birdman, the Mighty Mightor, and animated versions of the comic-book super team, The Fantastic Four. However, parents' groups eventually objected to the violence and Hanna-Barbera returned to making more humorous cartoons.
The company turned out product at an extraordinary rate and embraced computerized systems. Of their later cartoon characters, Scooby-Doo (named after lyrics from a Frank Sinatra song), was the most popular. A cowardly and often ravenous Great Dane, Scooby-Doo starred in Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? (1969) with four teenage co-stars. They traveled around in a psychedelic van called the Mystery Machine, solving mysteries that usually had a supernatural slant. Scooby and the gang enjoyed several incarnations over the next several decades. Also popular in the 1970s were Josie and the Pussycats, the Hair Bear Bunch, Penelope Pittstop, and the villains Dastardly and Muttley, while Hanna-Barbera's biggest success of the 1980s was The Smurfs, small blue creatures whose names (Handy and Vanity, for example) matched their dominant traits. Led by the red-clad Papa Smurf, the Smurfs constantly fought against the evil Gargamel. Besides the Smurfs, Hanna-Barbera did animated versions of nationally popular live action shows. Cartoon versions of Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy, and The Dukes of Hazzard appeared on Saturday mornings courtesy of Hanna-Barbera. Some shows, such as Josie and the Pussycats and Pebbles and Bamm Bamm, incorporated contemporary rock music into their shows. Though not as memorable as the Disney classics, the songs keyed into the tastes of their audiences at the time, especially the pre-teen audience.
Also during the 1960s, Hanna-Barbera expanded their activities to make a handful of feature films, beginning with Hey, There, It's Yogi Bear (1964), and ending with Jetsons: The Movie (1990), featuring the characters from their TV series of the same name. If individual Hanna-Barbera characters did not reach quite the icon status of Mickey Mouse, they were more typically American and of this world than Disney's famous creations. The Jetsons, for example, were space age counterparts to the Flinstones, all of them archetypal American families. The shows exploited the conflicts that typically occur in American homes, while adding gags appropriate to the period. The contemporaneous approach was what probably made these two cartoon families the most famous and memorable of the Hanna-Barbera stable.
Hanna and Barbera won many awards. In addition to their Oscars, there were Emmys, and, in 1988, 50 years after they met, they received the Governor's Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. That year, too, the company was absorbed into the Great American Broadcasting company, with Joseph Barbera as president. But perhaps their greatest honor is the impact they had on the American public. Their TV cartoon series were significant in the lives of countless, who entered adulthood still able to sing part, if not all, of the theme songs, and reciting such catch phrases as "Yabba dabba do," "Smarter than the average bear," "Jane, stop this crazy thing!," and "Heavens to Murgatroyd," which had their origins in Hanna-Barbera's cartoons.
—P. Andrew Miller
Sennett, Ted. The Art of Hanna-Barbera. New York, Viking Studio Books, 1989.