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Photo: William Hanna and Joseph Barbera
When talking about the growth of animation in Cinema and television, there are plenty of names you could list: Pixar, Disney, Warner Bros., Studio Ghibli, etc. While all these companies have made strides in their contributions to the field and to the childhoods of many, there’s one company that stands out among its peers in terms of its output and reverence: Hanna-Barbera. Created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, Hanna-Barbera absolutely dominated the TV animation field for decades, creating a plethora of shows that are universally loved. With cartoons like ‘The Yogi Bear Show’ and ‘Scooby-Doo: Where Are You!’, their reign over American television and Saturday morning cartoons is unlike anything else.
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However, by the 1990s, the company fell drastically from its place as the king of animation in television. Now, it finds a home on Cartoon Network and Boomerang, where its properties still air as either reruns or remakes. So, how did one of the biggest animation studios in history go from being at the top of its game to where they are now? And why are they as influential and respected as they are today? As the new series ‘Jellystone!’ recently premiered on HBO Max, based on the characters of the past from Hanna-Barbera, it’s important to look at the effect the company had on animation in entertainment history. Hanna-Barbera’s impact on television starts in the middle of the golden age of American animation.
William Hanna and Joseph Barbera – The Birth of an Iconic Partnership
William Hanna and Joseph Barbera first met working in the animation unit at MGM Studios during the late 1930s. Looking for something new to create, they eventually decided on a story about “two equal characters who were always in conflict with each other,” as stated by Barbera. Together, they made their first cartoon together, 1940’s ‘Puss Gets the Boot,’ and it became the first theatrical short in what would soon become the long-running and ever-popular series, ‘Tom and Jerry.’
Both men directed the short and continued to direct the series for the next two decades. Hanna, a superb animator, often supervised the series’ animation while Barbera, a gifted storyteller, worked on the stories and other pre-production aspects. Throughout their time working on ‘Tom and Jerry,’ they proved to be successful, earning seven Academy Awards and being nominated for five others. They were proven to be a great duo who knew the workings of how to make a funny cartoon and great comedic characters. This would be useful for them in the future, as things would take a turn for the worse by the late 1950s.
A New Beginning
Throughout the 50s, a change occurred in the entertainment industry that was both a blessing and a curse for Hanna and Barbera: The rise of the TV. As TV emerged to become a dominant media outlet, it became less profitable to create new animated theatrical shorts. MGM realized this and also found that re-releasing old shorts proved to be just as profitable. Thus, in 1958, MGM decided to close down its animation department, leaving both men out of the job. Luckily for them, during their last year at the studio, they had begun the process of starting their own animation company under the name of H-B Enterprises. They became the first animation studio to create cartoons entirely for TV and gradually began growing as a company.
By 1959, H-B Enterprises had been re-branded to Hanna-Barbera Productions, Inc. and the company continued to see unparalleled success in television. Their biggest win came with their 1960 series ‘The Flintstones,’ a show that became the first ever animated show to air in a prime-time slot. This was the beginning of their own golden age. Through the 1960s, they produced dozens of shows of different varieties, such as ‘The Jetsons’ and ‘Wacky Races.’ Their period of success all came from Hanna and Barbera’s willingness to innovate, change animation and make it profitable on television.
Changing Animation Forever
William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were able to take animated shorts that were usually expensive and thus saved for theatrical releases and get them to work as television shows. When making shorts for theaters, the budget per short is much higher than for TV, as more episodes are expected to be made over a shorter period of time. Working with a constrained budget allowed the two to push the concept of “limited animation” during production. Limited animation was all about finding ways to cut costs when animating a sequence. This would include reusing backgrounds or character movements rather than re-drawing them later. When animating a character in this restricted style, animators would just move certain body parts, like arms or legs, and leave the rest of the shot static. This allowed for only needing a few thousand drawings per short, rather than the typical 20,000+ drawings typically needed. It saved time, and it saved money.
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Their use of limited animation changed television forever, in ways of cutting costs and making the mass-production of cartoons much easier. As the company’s reputation grew rapidly in the 60s, it began pumping out television shows left and right to capitalize on its success. Because of this, the birth of Saturday morning cartoons had begun. The studio created new action cartoons based on both pre-existing properties, like ‘Fantastic Four,’ and new characters and ideas, like ‘Birdman and the Galaxy Trio.’ With the continuous creation of cartoons that would be released between the 1960s and the 1980s, these animated shows would be released on Saturday mornings and find popularity there, creating a new programming block that entertained children worldwide.
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Applause for the Innovators
The full impact of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera is immeasurable in the worlds of TV and animation. They created one of the most famous and iconic cartoons of all time with their cat-and-mouse story, ‘Tom and Jerry,’ and never stopped there, going on to make some of the most well-known and beloved shows to ever grace the small screen. Despite the studio’s eventual decline and absorption into Warner Bros. Animation, they still created plenty of cartoons that were adored by the masses. Now, as a member of a new studio, the company upholds its legacy with reruns of its old works while also marching forward with the completion of new cartoons as well. Sadly, the two men weren’t able to see how important their shows still are today; William Hanna passed in 2001 while Joseph Barbera passed in 2005. But their legacy lives on, and their contributions to furthering the field of animation will never be forgotten.
By Ben Ross
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Ben Ross is a writer at Hollywood Insider. He loves watching films and finding the message behind the art. With a love for movies and television, his goal is to understand as much as he can about anything he watches, and engage with readers about different topics related to the industry. He aims to find work that sheds a light on issues not really talked about and showcase it, feeling that it is important to understand the truth. Together with his readers, he hopes to celebrate beautiful stories in film and explore topics that are worth discussing – a value that defines Hollywood Insider.