"A Yabba-Dabba-Doo Celebration!: 50 Years of Hanna-Barbera" ran on cable station TNT on July 17, 1989 in a two-hour time slot (with commercials). It was written, produced and directed by Marshall Flaum in association with Hanna-Barbera Productions and included the participation of cartoon producers William Hanna and Joe Barbera, who were 79 and 78, respectively, at the time this aired and were still active in cartoon production. Hanna and Barbera had worked as animators at MGM back in the 1930s and eventually co-directed dozens of cartoon shorts produced by MGM, starting with the very first Tom & Jerry cartoon, "Puss Gets the Boot" (1939) and ending with the last T&J short they produced for MGM, "Tot Watchers" (1958). They then started their own company and moved into the production of cartoon series for television, starting with "Ruff and Reddy." They eventually produced thousands of self-contained cartoon episodes for several dozen series that were on the air from 1957 to the final show with the Hanna-Barbera brand, "Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue!" (2006-2007).
This special works best when it focuses on clips from their work. A lengthy segment at the beginning shows some of the animation the two men did for theatrical films produced by MGM. We see a clip from their Oscar-winning Tom & Jerry cartoon, "The Cat Concerto" (1947). We see the dance performed by a live-action Gene Kelly with an animated Jerry in ANCHORS AWEIGH (1945). We hear Hanna and Barbera tell the story of how they animated a serpent dance for INVITATION TO THE DANCE (1957) by filming Broadway dancer Carol Haney as she performed her own choreography and then we see the delightful sequence, in which Gene Kelly dances alongside the animated serpent.
There is a sequence devoted to clips from the heyday of H-B's earliest TV successes, including "Huckleberry Hound," "Augie Doggie," "Quick Draw McGraw," "Yogi Bear," and "The Jetsons." Some of these clips are better than others. The Augie Doggie clip, in which Augie prevails on his father to spare the life of a baby duck when they're out hunting and eventually asks to adopt the cute little talking duck, is quite charming. The Jetsons clip, obviously from the debut show, does a very good job of setting up the then-futuristic high-tech world the Jetsons occupied, although with more than a few echoes of 1960 suburban life sprinkled throughout. The Yogi Bear segment is one of the highlights of the entire special, given that it features an excellent song, "Like I Like You," sung to Yogi by Cindy Bear (with Jackie Ward providing the song vocal) in a clip from the 1964 theatrical release, HEY THERE, IT'S YOGI BEAR. On the other hand, the Huckleberry and Quick Draw clips are consistently grating in their reliance on lame jokes and tired slapstick.
There are several montages of other characters, few of which are readily identified. As a result, there were quite a few I didn't recognize, although I was able to pick out Scooby Doo and Shaggy, Dastardly and Muttley, Penelope Pitstop, and Hong Kong Phooey (voiced by Scatman Crothers). There is a montage of scenes from action and sci-fi-themed cartoons, including "Space Ghost," "Birdman," "The Herculoids" and "Atom Ant," although even in this montage there were characters I didn't recognize. (I have to confess that I had outgrown Hanna-Barbera by the 1970s and become more enamored of older, studio-produced cartoons like the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies turned out by Warner Bros.)
There are clips from the 1973 animated theatrical feature, CHARLOTTE'S WEB, which was produced by Hanna-Barbera, followed by a musical number from "Jack and the Beanstalk" (1967), a TV special putting live-action actors Gene Kelly and Bobby Riha in an animated setting for a retelling of the title folk tale. It marks the third time Kelly collaborated with Hanna and Barbera and this clip is the first time I've ever seen any footage from this unsung TV special. In the clip, Kelly and Riha sing "It's Been Nice," employing an expert tap dance routine, while trying to get away from the animated giant.
Then we finally get to the Flintstones clips, after a running gag in which Fred and Barney continually interrupt host Tony Danza for their time to go on, and it's a good sequence. Again, the highlight is a musical number from a theatrical release. This one is "Pensate Amore (Think Love)," performed by Louis Prima in the 1966 film, THE MAN CALLED FLINTSTONE, during a fantasy sequence where Fred and Wilma envision themselves in a Romeo-and-Juliet-style scenario during a visit to Stone Age Rome. (Never mind that Romeo and Juliet were nearly as far in the future from the Flintstones' era as the Jetsons!)
We then see Hanna and Barbera examine background paintings for a scene from JETSONS: THE MOVIE (which came out in 1990) and we watch them supervise the recording of a song for the movie by teenage pop star Tiffany, who did the voice in the movie for Judy Jetson.
Finally, we get to the big cartoon orchestral finale, with every cartoon character taking an instrument, all conducted by the live-action guest conductor, Victor Borge (whose only line is "Yabba Dabba Doo"). This echoes the opening number in which a montage of Hanna-Barbera theme songs is played by the cartoon orchestra. It's a clever bit and a good way to end the special.
Interspersed throughout are clips of various celebrities paying tribute to Hanna-Barbera and attempting to sing the Flintstones' theme song. These include Betty White, Phyllis Diller, Jonathan Winters, Whoopi Goldberg, Valerie Harper and Sammy Davis, Jr. I could have done without these. I would have liked more clips from the MGM days and more behind-the-scenes footage of Hanna and Barbera at work. I endorse most of the clip choices, although I wish "Top Cat" hadn't gotten such short shrift. An extended clip from that show would have been most welcome.
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