Review: ‘Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 1’
Back in the days after the dinosaurs died out, Saturday mornings meant all three networks would run children’s programming from as early as 7:30 until noon or so. Every fall, as we started a new school year, we eagerly anticipated what new animated fare there might be and were mesmerized by the cartoon antics of anthropomorphic animals, adventurous humans and some downright silly-looking monsters. The baby boomers born at the end of the generation were raised on this diet animated diet as it proved cheaper to produce than live-action fare.
Warner Home Video has collected a wonderful sampling of those shows in Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1960s Vol. 1
, going on sale Tuesday. There are 12 different series presented on two discs, providing me with five hours or reliving my childhood.
Back in the day, with few channels to pick from, we would watch these shows endlessly, repeated throughout the year and then when they went into syndication packages, watch them again. I certainly did with my younger siblings and it was frightening how many of these episodes felt familiar and recognizable.
Wisely, the collection heavily features Hanna-Barbera offerings since they effectively ruled Saturday morning animation. Upstarts such as Filmation, didn’t arrive until 1966 so maybe we’ll see some of those shows in subsequent volumes. Instead, we begin with the enduring figures from The Jetsons to Quick-Draw McGraw.
The earliest offering is The Flintstones, H-B’s biggest hit which actually first aired in prime time and then got recycled on Saturdays beginning in the 1960-1961 season. A year later, Top Cat, another prime time series, moved to Saturdays. Lesser known than Fred and Barney the series used cats led by a finagler, T.C., styled after Phil Silvers. It’s pretty interesting to see Silvers, who immortalized the wheeler-dealer character with his Sgt. Bilko, became the template for more than a few of the characters in these H-B series.
The vocal casts were limited and you began to recognize Don Messick, Mel Blanc, June Foray, Ted Cassidy, and others are they voiced multiple characters throughout the decade. Similarly, H-B’s cartoony style varied little so you got to see stock characters repeated, modified by the addition of a mustache or change in hair color. When the adventure characters come into the spotlight, Alex Toth’s strong design sense comes through again and again.
The shows are not organized in any order but you do get to see pop
culture trends infiltrate the shows, modified for their youthful
audiences. Secret agents followed by super-heroes slowly edged out the
animal exploits so Quick-Draw gave way to Space Ghost.
And with the wild success of Batman on ABC’s prime time schedule, the
latter half of the 1960s featured many a masked hero. Oddly, the
robotic Frankenstein Jr. wore a mask as if a 30-foot tall robot needed
an alter ego. The Herculoids is the latest series in the collection,
debuting in fall 1967 so the social trends that were reflected in
animation will have to wait for volume 2.
Each series is
included as a complete 30-minute installment so the secondary features
that were commonplace back then, are included. For example, 1965’s Atom Ant also had The Hillbilly Bears and Precious Pup, two features with entirely unconnected themes and casts of characters. Heck, I forgot about Precious until I watched.
The episodes selected are certainly some of the strongest offerings from each series such as the introduction of Rosie on The Jetsons or a confrontation with Zorak on Space Ghost.
Watching these, you could feel the writers sometimes struggle to make
their simple stories stretch to fill the time allotted. Back then, each
30-minute show ran close to 25 minutes with just a few commercial
breaks. As a result, rather the plot twists or characterization, the
chase scenes got extended or you had long panning shots of space
vehicles or landscapes (such as The Herculoids). The stories
all had beginnings, middles, and ends, and while they may not have been
the strongest stories, at least made some sense.
The oddity in the set was the inclusion of Marine Boy,
a Japanese series, that aired there starting in 1966 and came to
America a few years later but never on Saturday mornings; instead, it
ran in syndication and played weekday afternoons in New York. The
series is a nice touch but the weakest in the bunch given its overly
simplistic story and animation. The classical music soundtrack really
doesn’t fit the series’ look and the character seems entirely
over-dependent on his boomerang (which shouldn’t even work underwater).
admit it; these were comfort shows at the advanced age of 50. I see
their flaws today but also recognize that H-B created an enduring set
of players that were unique and fresh and have reason to still be
revived in one form or another today. The two-disc set has several fun
features including bonus episodes of Quick-Draw McGraw and Snooper and
Blabber Mouse. Mini-documentaries celebrate Quick-Draw and the
Herculoids with Paul Dini, Mark Evanier, and Jerry Beck holding forth
with great delight.
The silliest aspect of the set is that, like
the Fleischer Superman cartoons, is labeled “intended for the Adult
Collector and is Not Suitable for Children”. To which I say, hogwash.
Yes, there’s violence – over-the-top, impossible to repeat bits of
business but find this reactionary warning a sad sign of how some
things have not changed for the better.
Here’s a quick preview: