Joseph Barbera

Joseph Barbera, one half of the Hanna-Barbera animation team, passed away yesterday, and that pretty much puts the cap on the golden age of theatrical animation, the one that birthed Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse and Hanna and Barbera’s own Tom & Jerry. Of course, Barbera is also of the TV animation generation: after theatrical animation started collapsing, he and Bill Hanna retreated into TV and pioneered the idea of “limited animation,” in which animators made do with six frames a second instead of twenty-four, and hoped the kids wouldn’t notice, hopped up as they were on sugar-coated cereals at 7am in the morning.

I’m not a huge fan of the concept of limited animation, and even less a fan of most of Hanna-Barbera’s output from the late 60s until they were bought by Turner Broadcasting (who mined H/B for Cartoon Network and Boomerang), because most of it, to put it charitably, was crap that really did rely on the lack of discrimination that six-year-olds bring to their television viewing. But to be fair to H/B, at some of that had to do with the market and what broadcasters wanted. I can’t imagine they wanted to make crap, and if you look at their history with Tom & Jerry series of theatrical shorts (which won 7 Academy Awards between 1940 and 1957), and even the early Huckleberry Hounds and Yogi Bears (some of which were written by Michael Maltese and other refugees from the collapsing theatrical animation business), it’s clear they could make some great stuff when they were given their leave. It’s that stuff I’ll be remembering Barbera for.

I had the opportunity to interview Joe Barbera once, back when I worked for the Fresno Bee; he was doing some sort of exhibit in Carmel, and I drove out (a lovely drive, on which I was treated to the most amazing rainbow I ever saw) to see him, and got about an hour’s worth of time from him. It was one of the best interviews I’ve ever had, because, after all, here was a guy who were there for almost of all the history of animation — and wasn’t just there but was one of its icons — and was both candid and entertaining about all of it. Not only was he delightful to speak to, but he wouldn’t let me leave the table until he sketched a Jerry Mouse for me. Naturally, I was jazzed about that; I also think it was indicative of the enthusiasm he still had for his work and his characters, even after all that time. Would that we all feel the same way about our own work, in time. He’ll be missed.

16 Comments on “Joseph Barbera”

  1. Being a child of the early 80s, most of my experience with Hanna/Barbera were the crappy “limited” tv cartoons. I never enjoyed them, and in fact generally loathed them. Even as a child I recognized crap when I saw it.

    On your recommendation, I watched the short above. The animation was better than I expected, and the cartoon actually made me laugh a couple of times. It was nice to see some storytelling without direct dialog. Also, ass-less chaps.


  2. Like yourself, I’m disinclined towards anyone who thinks crap is good enough for kids. That said, I don’t imagine that anyone at HB really believed that.

    To be remembered for Tom & Jerry, for giving that amount of pleasure to billions, now that’s a legacy.

  3. “animated” or “animators” in first paragraph?

    They certainly saved on in-betweeners. H&B did some of the first TV eye candy, but there were also involved with more than just cell-animation shows on TV. I seem to remember the H&B logo on many shows while growing up.

    Tom and Jerry were fabulous, eventually being parodied in the Simpsons as a running gag.

    Genndy Tartakovsky, while great, just doesn’t have that full bore lunacy those older guys had.

  4. My girlfriend has two pre-school boys. Two words: Scooby-Doo. They watch and enjoy both the original 60’s cartoons (which I remember) and the newer stuff.

    I always loved the theme to “The Jetson’s”. It had this really lush big band swing sound along with the cheesy sound effect of George Jetson’s space car. The theme sounds totally cool on a stereo.


    “I would have gotten away it if it weren’t those darn kids and their dog.”

  5. It seems from the news coverage that he’ll be remembered more for the cheap as dirt “Flintstones” than for the near-Warner Brothers quality “Tom and Jerry.” Which is too bad. “The Flintstones” was a slapped together Honeymooners rip off. Even as a six year old I remember thinking “Hey, Fred just ran past that houseplant two seconds ago.”

    “Tom and Jerry,” on the other hand, pure genius. I can attribute my ambivilence towards cats to growing up in front of a TV with “Tom and Jerry” playing on it.

  6. I hold a special place in my heart for HB. You see, my father-in-law was first generation (in his case the “old country” was Lithuania) and he loved American cartoons. So his two sons were named “Tom” and “Jerry.” When his older son, who happens to be my spice, realized what this meant he was hoorified, to which his mother replied, “Hush, he wanted to name you Sylvester!”

  7. My first reaction to this news was, “Hey, didn’t I go to college with his kid”?

    A little more thought on the subject and my memory cleared. I went to school with Jules Bass’ daughter. (Think Rankin/Bass…Rudolph, Burl Ives….Gahhhh!)

    Then off to the Alumni website and I discover that she is now a Certified Poetry Therapist.

    I admit that I may be a complete Philistine, but what the hell is that. Do they make sure you’re properly angst-ridden to be able to write moodier poetry? Do they read Jabberwocky at you until that ugly wound clears up?

  8. For any who may be interested in the fabulous music of those classic 50’s T&J shorts, the good folks at Film Score Monthly just last month released a volume of Scott Bradley’s music, coupled with some of his work on the Tex Avery shorts.

    You can view it here.

  9. Wow. Suddenly everything HB put out was totally unsalvageable, merely due to the animation being inexpensive? That seems more than a little broad of a brush to be painting with, IMHO.

    And let’s not forget that The Flintstones was a prime-time show…it didn’t end up on Saturday morning until years later. There’s a reason the show is littered with all those pop culture references that might not even make sense to younger viewers. It wasn’t the Simpsons, but it was 1960, for pity’s sake. Oh, and let’s not forget stuff like this:
    That sure wasn’t aimed at kids. We HOPE. :P

    In fact, one thing John Kricfalusi (he of Ren and Stimpy) goes on about in his blog is how the Hanna-Barberra’s old stuff actually had lot of great colors, designs and art style that has completely faded from contemporary animation. I’m not sure I agree all that much, but he series in November on colors and framing certainly goes a long way to arguing the case.

  10. Matt,

    “The Flintstones” was a slapped together Honeymooners rip off.

    Yeah, this was more obvious during the early cartoons. I specifically remember Barney saying something like “Hey there Freddy boy” in an Art Carney voice, ripping off Carney’s Norton character who’d say “Hey there Ralphy boy” frequently on the Honeymooners.

    But the Flintstones moved beyond the Honeymooners, spoofing topical Hollywood (Dash RipRock) and then including Pebbles, Bam-Bam, and (shudder) the Great Gazoo.

  11. Oh. Great. “Cousin Oliver.” Shudder.

    It didn’t help that the original Cousin Oliver looked like a pint-sized John Denver. I mean, shouldn’t a cute kid be, um, cute?

  12. I could always tell the newer (crappier) T&J from the music – it sounded like some performance art crap like a symphony for flute, tuba and triangle. I wasn’t even ten years old and could tell the difference.

    The Great Gazoo – when the Flintstones jumped the shark…

  13. Joseph Barbera is the man who is responible for smile on millions of children through his unique Cartoons Tom & Jerry.
    Joseph Barbera is immortal.He is between us through his cartoons