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Thursday, February 04, 2010

RICHARD FREEMAN: Hanna Barbera’s teens and monsters

On the back of the runaway success of Scooby-Doo, Hanna-Barbera commissioned a number of knock off series with basically the same concept. A bunch of kids with cute non-human sidekick solve mysteries.

Josie and the Pussycats had an all-girl band, their manager and a black and white cat called Sebastian getting involved in Scooby-esque capers. Antagonists tended to be spies or mad scientists rather than monsters per se, though one episode was based on The Island of Dr Moreau. The episode 'A Greenthumb is Not A Goldfinger' features giant man-eating plants created by an insane botanist. In 'Plateau of the Apes Plot' the group meet ape men and dinosaurs in a lost valley.

The series was reinvented after its initial run of 16 episodes (1971-1972) as Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space. It crawled on for another 16 episodes before vanishing. In 2001 a live action film of the series was made (why? It was never even a popular or successful cartoon).

The Funky Phantom revolved around a revolutionary-era ghost called Jonathan Wellington 'Mudsy' Muddlemore and his ghost cat, Boo. After hiding from the British inside a clock Mudsy and Boo die and remain their until freed by a gang of teenagers and their bulldog Elmo. 17 episodes were made between 1971 and 1972. Only one had a truly cryptzoological theme: ‘ We Saw a Sea Serpent.’ Oddly, Mudsey himself was scared of ghosts despite being one. His voice was identical to the Hanna Barbera character Snagglepuss (who himself looked like an overweight Pink Panther).

From 1973 to 1975 Hanna-Barbera gave us 16 episodes of Goober and the Ghost Chasers. Once more a group of teenagers and their dog solve crimes. The titular Goober was a weird blue hound with a tapir-like nose, long legs and a woolly hat. He could become invisible at will. Unlike Scooby-Doo most of the ghosts they chase turn out to be real! Oddly, the gang included animated versions of the kids from the sitcom The Partridge Family! Just what the writers were drinking or smoking is debatable but in one episode, 'Assignment: The Ahab Apparition', they meet the ghost of Moby Dick (shades of the Bake-kujira, the zombie whale from Japanese folklore).

If you think that was odd, how about Hanna-Barbera’s Speed Buggy in which the dog or cat sidekick of the teenagers was replaced with a panting, talking car! Think Scooby-Doo meets The Love Bug. 16 episodes were made in 1973. Episodes included ‘Kingzilla’, which featured giant apes; ‘Island of the Giant Plants’, about monster man-eating plants; and ‘Captain Schemo and the Underwater City’, which featured a giant shark that turns out to be a submarine.

1978 saw Dymomutt, a sort of bionic super hero dog who fought crime with a Batman-style hero called the Blue Falcon, but as there were no teenagers involved, it falls a little outside our remit.

Things were about to get even more surreal. In 1979 The New Shmoo arrived. This teamed up teenaged reporters from Mighty Mysteries Comics with a shape-shifting creature called the Shmoo. This weird-looking beast had its debut in All Cap’s 1940s hillbilly newspaper strip Li'l Abner wherein it produced everything humans could want but for free and hence led to economic crisis. As in Scooby-Doo the characters frequently face faux monsters. In ‘The Valley Where Time Stood Still’ it is surviving dinosaurs, in ‘The Beast of Black Lake’ it’s a lake monster (though a real one turns up at the end) and in ‘The Terror of the Trolls’ its trained chimpanzees masquerading as trolls!

1980 saw the last of these kind of cartoons with the 40-episode Captain Caveman. Defrosted by three teenaged girls (sounds good!) Captain Caveman, or ‘Cavey’ to his friends, is the world’s first superhero. He looks somewhat like a hairy marrow with arms and legs and keeps pet dinosaurs and Stone Age crime fighting devices in his furs. During his stint Captain Caveman met dragons, werewolves and Bigfoot to name but a few.

These teen / sidekick/ monster cartoons seem to have died out after the 1970s with the notable exception of Scooby-Doo, the first and best. But with the current fad of remaking long forgotten cartoons as live action films how much longer can it be before we see Speed Buggy the movie?


Dale Drinnon said...

This is only a small sampling. You did not mention Jonny Quest, Space Ghost, or the Herculoids, most of which all had their monsters designed by only one man, Alex Toth, who also designed Moby Dick, Mighty Mightor, Superfriends and countless others.

Robert said...

I don't suppose that the series "Johnny Quest" quite qualifies as Johnny, his friend Hadji (sp?) and his dog Bandit were preteens in the series. The creatures they encountered were depicted with more realism then later series like Scooby-Do. This series also come out is prime time originally as did "the Flintstones"

Richard Freeman said...

I know Jonny Quest and Space Ghost but the Herculoids never screened over here.Apparently there's a new series call 'Secret Saturdays' thats all about cryptids! There is even an Owlman episode compleat with a castle the like of which Mawnan Smith has never seen.