Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Hanna- Barbera Legacy

A stretch of green grass, a bright blue sky and a smattering of large trees give out the prospect of a lovely day. A pretty little family of four flounces in, picks a spot and settles down for a family picnic. It’s a typical happy- family scenario, when suddenly, from behind a tree, peeks out- a bear. A big, fuzzy, brown bear wearing a naughty- gluttony expression and a hat. His eyes roam around the park, ultimately zooming in and focusing upon the picnic basket. Instant reaction- mind goes bonkers, mouth begins to drool and the deep, soft voice utters- “Pic-a-nic basket!” Out comes a fishing rod out of nowhere, and before you (or the happy family) know it, the basket is flying across the air towards the hungry bear, on a hook. By the time they do know it and begin searching, the basket has been emptied of sandwiches and sausages and the adorable- genius- perpetually- hungry- thief of a bear makes off- on the sniggering sly, of course.

Yogi Bear was one of the lesser sung, yet equally classic creations of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, who managed to keep toddlers and school- goers of our generation hooked and glued to the TV for over three decades. There was a time when I would come home from school, dump my bag, sit down to watch Scooby Doo over lunch, watch my way through all the programmes upto Popeye and then go to my room (sometimes my Mother managed to make me wash and change during the breaks; mostly she gave up). I can’t imagine my childhood without Hanna- Barbera. I still can’t imagine Cartoon Network without Swat Kats, without the Jetsons, The Flintstones, Scooby- Doo or Shaggy (the meaning of his name struck me only last year), without Huckleberry Hound or Two Stupid Dogs. All of them were given to us by Hanna and Barbera.

Remember the water- skiing alligator with the theme- sound “See you later, Alligator”? Remember dreaming about flying a jet plane like the Turbokat, and dropping from the jet onto the roads on a bike like that? Remember being dead sure that you’ll never be as chicken before a ghost as Shaggy and Scooby, and being surprised every time that it wasn’t a real ghost? Remember wanting to visit Questworld with Johnny, Hadji and Jessie? Remember hollering with happiness the day cartoon Network became a 24/7 channel?

In India, at least, Hanna- Barbera and Cartoon Network go hand in hand. The team of two was behind most of the channel’s presentations, if not by creation, then by production. The channel, the shows and their characters formed a very big part of our childhood. As we grew and changed, somehow, so did they. New ones kept coming, provided by the magical duo. The adventures of Johnny Quest became The Real adventures of Johnny Quest- the ten- year- olds became teenagers (and lived in a fancy house on a rocky beach, still fighting bad guys in a virtual world). At a much later stage, in came a species of little blue people the size of sparrows, who lived in a village in a forest and called themselves Smurfs. They had “smurf” in their names and “smurf” in their speech, they listened to their elders and their children played about on the streets and on the trees, and we loved them as much as we loved any of the rest.

One creation (or two, rather) by this brilliant team surpasses all the rest. The beauty of two particular characters lie in the fact that they engage with the audience more strongly than anyone else, without saying a word. That doesn’t mean that they’re quiet, however, not by a very long stretch, and anyone who’s seen Tom and Jerry would agree. It’s all about the chase, the fights, the schemes, the crashes and the din. How the mischievous smiles of a mouse and the annoyed expression of a cat managed to tickle audiences the world over is something only the creators can explain. But we have all been hooked. We have all laughed at Tom’s huge mistress’s fear of mice, and wondered why the pretty she- cats give him any importance at all. We’ve all melted at the sight of Jerry’s adorable orphaned nephew. We’ve all laughed at the sheer magnitude of chaos one cat and one mouse can create. This is one creation by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera that is truly timeless, and all I can say is that my thanks came a little too late.

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