The 10 Worst Things Hanna-Barbera Ever Made

By Alicia Ashby in Cartoons, Daily Lists
Friday, December 9, 2011 at 8:00 am
If you like watching cartoons on TV, then you owe a huge debt to William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. While Jay Ward initially cracked the problem of how to create original animated programming on a TV budget with Crusader Rabbit, Hanna-Barbera figured out how to turn TV cartoons into a true mass-production industry. Hanna-Barbera produced Saturday morning cartoons, weekday cartoons, prime-time cartoons, and plenty of one-shot TV movies and specials. At one point in time, well over half the cartoons airing on TV on any given day were likely to be made by Hanna-Barbera.

Early Hanna-Barbera cartoons like the original Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound shorts hold up surprisingly well today, too. They're pretty slow compared to more frenetically-paced modern comedy cartoons like Phineas and Ferb, but you can still enjoy a lot of strong cartooning and interesting background work. Hanna-Barbera kept up this standard of quality, or at least a basic sense of watchability, right up until the end of the sixties.

At that point, something went terribly wrong with Hanna-Barbera's output. Maybe it was the inevitable excess brought by a solid decade of steady success or maybe the studio just took on too much work. It's hard to say. Regardless, the cartoons on this list exist as relics of the terrible period from the late '60s to the late '80s, when HB began to produce some of the worst cartoons ever to air on television. If you've grown up on modern cartoons, you've probably never seen anything even a fraction as bad as these shows. Lucky you.

10) The Thing
There was a point in time when fans of superhero comics greeted the announcement of new cartoons, TV shows, and movies with little more than a resigned sigh. Stuff like Hanna-Barbera's The Thing cartoon is exactly why. This cartoon basically took the Marvel Comics' character, drew him exceedingly poorly, and then dumped him into a surreal mish-mash of Hanna-Barbera comedy stock tropes. So instead of battling super-villains, The Thing tends to end up punching sharks and destroying the motorcycles that belong to the mildly irritating recurring villains, the Yancy Street Gang. As a bonus, the show ran back-to-back with a merely lame Flintstones short, so its opening footage depicts the Thing dancing around with the Flintstones cast.

The Thing cartoon isn't nearly as bad as anything else on this list, but it's such a baffling thing to do with the character that the cartoons are impossible to enjoy. Even someone who had no idea who The Thing was, who had never read a Fantastic Four comic, couldn't possibly look at this premise and think anything about it made sense. In the Hanna-Barbera version, The Thing is a wise-cracking alter ego summoned when the nebbish hero Benjy Grimm slams together his two magical Thing Rings, while saying, "Thing Ring, do your thing!" It's not clear if this is a magical incantation required by the rings, or if Benjy is just an asshole.

The Thing is drawn in a blatantly different (and more awful) art style than the other characters, who all range from reasonable to actually pretty good Hanna-Barbera stock comedy character designs. Benjy Grimm usually hangs around with a spunky girl named Kelly, her hot older sister whose name is never used, and a smug rich bastard named Ronald. Most episodes concern Ronald taking everyone somewhere and flaunting his wealth until the comical Yancy Street Gang show up to bully them with mild pranks. Benjy sneaks off to save everyone by secretly transforming into a rock monster that can bench press 80 tons, who crushes the Yancy Street Gang's futile rebellion against the moneyed overclass beneath his stony heel.

If not for The Thing's random involvement in the shenanigans, this cartoon would merely be as lame and forgettable as most of Hanna-Barbera's other '70s output. Instead, all of these cartoons are memorably strange and become downright awful once The Thing shows up. The Thing usually suffers in cartoons because animators can't be arsed to draw all the fiddly lines on him, but this version of the character may be the worst he was ever drawn, period. He has a flappy muppet mouth and utterly disconcerting blue eyes that pierce into your soul. The Thing knows what you did.

9) Sky Commanders
In the '80s, action cartoons based on hot toy lines dominated both weekly syndication and Saturday morning line-ups. The most enduring toy-based cartoons of the era were produced by Sunbow in cooperation with Marvel Entertainment, particularly G.I. Joe and Transformers. These cartoons combined hot toy lines with goofy yet sometimes genuinely creative writing to create massive hits. Sky Commanders is pretty clearly the result of Hanna-Barbera looking at Sunbow's shows and going, "Pfft. I can do that."

As it turns out, no, Hanna-Barbera actually could not do that. Sky Commanders apes the look of Sunbow's cartoons well enough, but the actual show is bad on every level it possibly could be. For one, it was based on one of Hasbro's all-time worst toylines for boys. The gimmick of the Sky Commanders toys was that they came with lengths of plastic "string" you could run between objects, so you could then slide your Sky Commanders thrillingly from point A to point B. The line took this gimmick absurdly far, even crafting vehicles that could slide around on strings. Not only did the toys look like boring G.I. Joe knockoffs, but once you broke the string (and trust me, the string always broke) they were basically unplayable.

While the G.I. Joe cartoon applied a lot of imagination in turning the action figure line into a horde of shallow but distinct characters, Sky Commanders was a painfully literal take on the toyline. The cartoon alleged that the characters had mastered new "laser cable" technology, which meant the good guys and bad guys slide around on grappling cables they can summon instantly, slowly firing rainbow-colored lasers at each other and somehow missing. The cartoon took place on a bizarre "new continent" in the Pacific that conveniently consisted of nothing but sharp mountain peaks and contained a form of unobtainium called Theta 7 that was apparently explosive, corrosive, and able to spontaneously generate betentacled mutant plant creatures.
Although there were only six characters each on the good guy and bad guy factions in Sky Commanders, it somehow felt like too many. The characters were impossible to tell apart, due to every character on a given faction wearing basically the same colors and similar stupid sliding The main good guy would shout "It's time to slide!!" before engaging in another slow on-rails laser-shooting bout with the bad guys. Every fight's climactic moment was someone's cable getting shot through and their stupid harness plummeting, because seriously, what the hell else can you possibly do with a fight where everyone's riding around on a personal laser-spewing ski lift?

8) Paw Paws
To understand how the hell Paw Paws got made, you've got to understand how ridiculously popular Hanna-Barbera's cartoon iteration of The Smurfs was in the early '80s. Supported by a line of super-trendy collectible figurines, The Smurfs was the Spongebob Squarepants of its day. Hanna-Barbera's version was severely watered-down compared to Peyo's original Belgian comics, but an America getting its first taste of Les Schtrompfs just didn't care. In the mid-'80s, American kids seemed to have an endless appetite for all things Smurf-like, so H-B happily set about trying to clone the formula with characters it wouldn't have to license.

Problem: H-B's "original" Smurfs-like characters tended to be, at best, incredibly lame even when compared to the Smurfs. At worst, you get Paw Paws, characters that live in a bizarre tribal village that's a mish-mash of every native culture the creators could be arsed to look up in the encyclopedia. You'll see teepees, wigwams, and pueblos standing inexplicably side-by-side in a baffling forest setting. When the show does its winter episode, an igloo appears. The characters all have names that mash up Smurf naming schemes with blatant Injun stereotypes like Laughing Paw, Medicine Paw, and a dog named (seriously) Papooch. You could easily call this show Hanna-Barbera's Racism Bears.

In theory, your average episode of Paw Paws is about outcast Dark Paw trying to wrest control of the Paw Paw tribe from the virtuous Princess and her father Wise Paw. His schemes are usually foiled by generic hero Brave Paw or the tribe's Totem Bear, an honest-to-god totem pole composed of a bear, an eagle, and a turtle that comes to life and wrecks everything when Princess points her "mystic moonstone" at it. The Totem Bear is by far the most entertaining part of the show, so naturally it gets very little screen time and is omitted entirely from some episodes.

Paw Paws isn't one of the worst-animated or ugliest shows you'll read about on this list, but it suffers from some of the most surreal writing and voice casting you'll ever see. It seems like the writers set out to do simple stock plots, but then added more stock plots to the initial stock plots whenever they failed to fill up the show's twenty-minute running time. This means you end up with episodes where it begins with something simple like a villain shape-changing to infiltrate the heroes' village and ends with blithering insanity involving the villain having permanently split into two different people by the end.

7) CB Bears
One of Hanna-Barbera's most reliable formulas for creating successful (if not necessary good) cartoons was to combine a bunch of different then-current cultural trends in a kid-friendly package. Scooby-Doo, for instance, combined Dobie Gillis, TV mysteries, and occult debunking with a talking dog. So at some point in the '70s, someone at Hanna-Barbera decided to make a cartoon that combined Charlie's Angels, CB radio, and garbage trucks with talking bears. If you're thinking, "That doesn't sound like it would make a very good cartoon," well then no shit, Sherlock.

Of course CB Bears was a shitty cartoon. While HB's method of combining trends certainly sold a lot of shows, all of the studio's best programs had a more solid basis in an appealing core premise or title character. CB Bears is one of those TV show ideas so completely half-baked that it almost forces the final product into incoherence. In CB Bears you've got a trio of talking bear janitors named Hustle, Bump, and Boogie -- kids also liked disco -- who are given secret missions by a sexy-voiced lady named Charlie who contacts them exclusively through the CB radio installed in their magic transforming garbage truck.

That's not a cartoon pitch, that's a fever dream. Since it's a premise too insane to comfortably use any of Hanna-Barbera's formulas, CB Bears cartoons end up being rambling, incoherent chains of events that don't end so much as stop. Many of the team's missions could've just as easily been resolved by placing a phone call or checking a records department. The rare mission that does make good use of the CB Bears and their transforming garbage truck tends to involve a problem that simply doesn't make any sense, like an island sinking because a fucking shark is eating the coral supports that hold it up.

CB Bears is also, unsurprisingly, a really poorly-drawn and animated show. The characters are poorly-designed and animators have clear difficulty just drawing them doing simple things like walking around. The animation ends up extremely stiff, even by the standards of Saturday morning limited animation. Characters are kept in hold positions way longer than makes any sense, often while discussing conveniently off-camera action. Likewise, scenes that only call for animators to drag still drawings across the screen get way too much camera time, often with characters speaking over them for minutes at a time.

6) Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo
Generations of cartoon lovers stand united in their unmitigated hatred of Scrappy-Doo. It is so completely a given that everyone hates Scrappy-Doo that the character was unironically made the villain of the 2002 live-action film and then appeared as a stuffed and mounted taxidermist's model in the current Mystery Incorporated cartoon. If you've only seen the initial cartoons with Scrappy, where he joined the usual Scooby gang characters, it might not be clear to you exactly why people hate Scrappy so much. He's pretty inoffensive in those shows. If you've seen this run of awful cartoons produced in 1979, you will understand a generation's murderous rage at Scrappy-Doo perfectly.

Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo decided to take the basic Scooby-Doo formula, which revolved around a teen gang wandering around solving mysteries, and removed the part where a teen gang wanders around solving mysteries. What the cartoons were left with was Shaggy traveling the world as a sort of itinerant hobo with his two dogs, either working odd jobs or bumbling into trouble in exotic locations. The old Scooby-Doo "rule" that the monsters were never real was broken for the first time in these cartoons, so they could do short, uninspired rip-offs of Abbott & Costello movies.

These cartoons are pretty terrible on a lot of levels. They're excruciatingly repetitive, the comedy is tired at best, and the animation is a complete mess. Even at that, it's really just Scrappy-Doo himself that elevates these cartoons from merely lame to completely fucking awful. This iteration of Scooby-Doo runs for three seasons, a total of 99 6-to-8 minutes episodes, each completely reliant on Scrappy doing mind-numbingly stupid shit all the time to propel what passes for a plot forward. Scrappy will always provoke the monster, force Shaggy and Scooby to chase him around dangerous areas, and generally act like a self-absorbed little shit all the time.

Scrappy usually has no good motivation for his stupidity, often doing things simply because he's bored. So the entire show feels like the adventures of a sadist who tries to repeatedly get his uncle and his legal guardian killed purely for his own amusement. Small children may vicariously enjoy Scrappy's murderous tyranny, but to everyone else these cartoons are an exercise in mounting disgust and rage. Scrappy's god-awful "Puppy power!!" catchphrase and generally terrible dialog just make his behavior irritating in addition to reprehensible.

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