Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Herculoids: An Appreciation


So over on the TAG blog there has been some discussion about old Saturday morning cartoons that are available for watching on YouTube. I have a personal favorite... the Herculoids. It was a Hanna Barbara cartoon set on a far-flung planet with a small nuclear family and monstrous friends/pets with super powers. They would fight of invaders to the planet as well as the hostile locals.

These cartoons were pretty short on story and long on action. Chuck Jones had once called TV cartoons "illustrated radio" because the characters would always say what they were doing rather than use complicated and costly animation to tell the story. However, by this point HB had gotten pretty good at making due with very limited resources. The quality of the drawing varies wildly from shot to shot, but they have fairly complex action “gags” that are easy to follow and fun to watch.

The Herculoids also benefit from having Alex Toth for a character designer and veterans like Homer Jonas working on the backgrounds. The inventive sound FX, voice acting and music round out the package.

Watching these as I did last night I noticed a few things. One is that this is a super team, just like the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. Because most of the characters are “animals” of a sort, they writers can by-pass all of the time consuming character development (such as it was and is in the TV cartoon world) and focus on the action. The human characters filled their stereotypes: Mother, Father, and Son. This also streamlined the story telling. There may be some sort of back story as to why these folks are on this planet living the way they do, but it doesn’t matter… it’s all about the action.

The other thing I noticed upon reflection is that my story Tux is clearly influenced by these cartoons that I watched during my formative years. As with the Herculoids, Tux is about a super team of a sort, with animal-ish characters fighting exotic enemies. I never made the connection until last night.

5 comments:

Tom Moon said...
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Tom Moon said...

What a great observation that these cartoons are "animated radio". I see this as an ingenious solution to producing a low budget show. Yesterday Rich Sjoberg and I were discussing how great it was that the original Star Trek got by on a shoestring budget, and still produced classic episodes. We had just watched the remastered, "The World is Hollow..." episode. It's a tribute to Rodennberry's storytelling power that the actors, using a very "stage play" ethic, only have to mime putting into McCoy's head the obedience chip. It all works though, and it makes sure that the characters are never upstaged by gratuitous special effects. Hanna-Barbera deserves similar credit for producing all their low budget classics. Maybe that's part of the appeal of comic books for me. You can build a whole universe on your 18 x 24 drawing board with just pencil and paper.

rickart said...

I've been watching some old Doctor Who shows with the kids and it's the same thing with those shows... a ripping good story with lively characters can bypass a lot of other short comings that a production may have, and a poorly written story can't be saved by the grandest of FX.

Jack Packard said...

The Herculoids were good because they were and relentless. No villain could plead his way out, and the team was unable to stop hurting people until the end of the show. The episode begins: we find, say, a mine run by slavers. The Herculoids come out of the sky, kicking all the ass they find. It goes on until the bad guys are driven off or forced to work their own damn mine for a change. And then the cold viciousness of the episode-ending joke.

Tom Carroll said...

So sad ... I don't think I ever watched The Herculoids ... Don't know what I was doin' ... building model rockets, playing Little League, reading Jules Verne ... My bad ...