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August 6, 2015 posted by

“The Fantastic Funnies” (1980)

Fantasticfunnies-promo

Maybe it’s because I draw comic strips myself, but I always enjoy seeing animated adaptations of newspaper comics. Even if I don’t particularly care for the strip, or the animated version of it is not that good, I always like to seek them out anyway, just to see how they retain the strip’s style for the screen.

loni-andersonAnimation based on comic strips have been the staple since the very beginning in the silent days. Even when cartoons transitioned to television, there were more than a few being made, either as commercials or regular series. When Henry Saperstein bought UPA, one of his tasks was to produce 130 cartoons based on Dick Tracy.

After the success King Features had with their made-for-TV Popeye cartoons, they went on to produce cartoons based on Beetle Bailey, Snuffy Smith, and Krazy Kat for syndication in 1963. The crown jewel, of course, were the numerous Peanuts specials produced by Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez.

Other comic strips getting their own specials include Walt Kelly’s Pogo in 1969 (directed by Chuck Jones), Johnny Hart’s B.C. in 1973 (directed by Abe Levitow), and Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury (directed by Trudeau, John and Faith Hubley) in 1977, the latter getting an Oscar nomination.

Filmation jumped into the bandwagon by producing two shows featuring various comic strips, Archie’s TV Funnies (1971) and Fabulous Funnies (1978), while Rankin-Bass did a show based on “Wee Pals” called Kid Power in 1972.

Fantastic-cel-1So it seemed appropriate that, on May 15, 1980, CBS aired a one-hour special called The Fantastic Funnies, which was produced by Lee Mendelson in association with the National Cartoonists Society. Loni Anderson was the host, and over a dozen cartoonists were interviewed, talking about their work.

Loni’s fellow WKRP in Cincinnati co-star Howard Hessman, also appears in one segment, playing Johnny Fever reading the comics on the radio. Musical numbers were also present, and, of course, there are the comics themselves, most of which are specially animated for the special.

Here’s the intro, where Loni Anderson is turned into a cartoon character. Michael Mandy was voicing Charlie Brown around the time this special aired, so that might be him here. I think that’s Scott Beach voicing Hagar the Horrible (if anyone wants to chime in, feel free in the comments). Broom-Hilda is June Foray, reprising her role from Fabulous Funnies. Bill Littlejohn animated Hilda at the end of the clip.

One would think that all the strips Loni introduced would be present in the rest of the special, but that’s not the case. Nancy, Dick Tracy, Alley Oop, Miss Peach, Drabble, and Fred Basset were never seen again after they finish singing the song for Loni. While Miss Peach creator Mell Lazarus was interviewed, they decided to showcase his second strip, Momma, instead.

Momma:

Other cartoonists interviewed are Mort Walker, Charles M. Schulz, Dik Browne, Cathy Guisewite, Morrie Turner, Russell Myers, John Cullen Murphy, Dean Young & Jim Raymond, Johnny Hart, and Hank Ketcham. In promotional materials, they list Garry Trudeau as another cartoonist interviewed, but while Doonesbury was featured, the creator never showed up.

Snoopy singing “Suppertime”

Beetle Bailey, Peanuts, Hagar the Horrible, Marmaduke, Cathy, Blondie, Momma and Dennis the Menace all had animated snippets shown when their respective creators were being interviewed. Clips from B.C., the First Thanksgiving, Fabulous Funnies (for the “Broom Hilda” segment), A Doonesbury Special, and I Go Pogo (which wasn’t released yet, shown as a “sneak peek”) were also shown. Also present was a scene from the Annie Broadway musical, with Patricia Patts as Annie and Keene Curtis as Daddy Warbucks singing “I Don’t Need Anything But You”.

Hagar the Horrible and Cathy:

In addition, Billy DeBeck’s Barney Google (minus Snuffy Smith, even though Barney had disappeared from the strip by then), Reg Smythe’s Andy Capp (which wasn’t even introduced by Loni Anderson), Tom Ryan’s Tumbleweeds, and Jim Davis’s Garfield all had brief animated segments.

Dennis the Menace, directed by Michael Lah:

This being a Lee Mendelson production, most of the animation created for this special was animated by Bill Melendez Productions, with direction split between Melendez and Phil Roman. The Dennis the Menace sequence was produced by Quartet Films, with veteran animator Michael Lah directing, while the Marmaduke sequence was done at Lion’s Den, an animation studio that was based in La Jolla, CA.

Marmaduke (produced by Lion’s Den) and Blondie:

Some of the comics featured, like Broom-Hilda, Beetle Bailey, Barney Google, and Peanuts, were animated before. For others, this was the first time. This was the animation debut of Garfield, voiced by Scott Beach rather than the more well-known Lorenzo Music. Phil Roman directed the sequence, who would later produce and direct the subsequent TV specials and the long-running Saturday Morning series throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Marmaduke, Cathy, and Hagar the Horrible would all get more animation appearances later on. To date, this is the only time Drabble and Momma were officially animated; Tumbleweeds was animated once before by Filmation for the first episode of “Fabulous Funnies”, but they forgot to clear the rights with creator Tom Ryan, and thus was forced to remove the strip from its lineup on subsequent episodes.

Tumbleweeds and Garfield:

The special was a celebration of newspaper comics, and many of the statements the cartoonists interviewed said were already said elsewhere, but I think it did its job promoting themselves to TV-viewing audience. And for fans, seeing their favorite comic strips animated makes it worthwhile.

Original animation cels from "The Fantastic Funnies"

Original animation cels from “The Fantastic Funnies”


(Thanks to Jerry Beck, Mike Kazaleh, Phil Roman, Milton Gray, Al Lowenheim, Kevin Fagan, and Darryl Heine for assistance)

24 Comments

  • I remember this special vividly! I was 11 years old and in our pre VCR 1980 household I audio tape recorded it.It was nice to see some of the visuals after all these years! Around the same time I also tape recorded a Hanna Barbera special hosted by Bill Bixby.
    I’ve been searching YouTube for it but it hasn’t turned up yet.Again,thanks for posting!

  • Amazing. I recall around that same time when The Fantastic Funnies came out Heathcliff (animated by Ruby-Spears Productions) was airing on ABC TV (with a filler episode called Dingbat and the Creeps that aired in the first season later replaced by to my opinion a poorly drawned Marmaduke in season two voiced by Paul Winchell ) with Mel Blanc, June Foray and Allen Melvin providing the voices. Nancy was first animated by Paul Terry of Terrytoons fame. Later Cathy and Blondie would get thier own series of animated specials, Dennis the Meance had both a Mother’s Day special featuring the voice of Elizabeth Kerr from Mork and Mindy fame as Mrs Martha Wilson as well as a PSA for UNICEF. About a few years later DiC animated (and rather poorly in my opinion) Dennis the Meance and Heathcliff with so many changes to the characters and supporting characters on both Dennis the Meance and Heathcliff it made the changes of the Famous Studios’ Popeye looked mild to comparison along with the addition of French animated series The Catttilac Cats to Heathcliff. DiC did had Mel Blanc to reprise his roll as Heathcliff and Spike but dropped June Foray who was the voice of Sonja,Marcie and Grandma Nutmeg from the series but brought Ms Foray back to voice Mrs Wilson in The New Adventures of Dennis the Meance.

    Fun Fact: on Kid Power (aka Wee Pals) the voice of Connie was voiced by a young April Winchell, daughter of the legendary Paul Winchell.

    • Amazing. I recall around that same time when The Fantastic Funnies came out Heathcliff (animated by Ruby-Spears Productions) was airing on ABC TV (with a filler episode called Dingbat and the Creeps that aired in the first season later replaced by to my opinion a poorly drawned Marmaduke in season two voiced by Paul Winchell ) with Mel Blanc, June Foray and Allen Melvin providing the voices.

      Yeah, watching Lion’s Den’s take on the pooch is miles apart from what R-S had to work with

      About a few years later DiC animated (and rather poorly in my opinion) Dennis the Meance and Heathcliff with so many changes to the characters and supporting characters on both Dennis the Meance and Heathcliff it made the changes of the Famous Studios’ Popeye looked mild to comparison along with the addition of French animated series The Catttilac Cats to Heathcliff.

      Heathcliff was a mixed bag given the odd design choices and additions. I didn’t care for an Iggy who didn’t look like Iggy at all, just some random kid dressed up like he’s going to Sunday School or to get his portrait taken. A little too straight-laced for my taste.

  • Tremendous post. Thank YOU!

  • Well, when watching the BLONDIE segment, I couldn’t help thinking of how Arthur Lake and Penny Singleton identified the characters so neatly in those live action films. And Lorenzo Music was the perfect voice for Garfield.

    • Yeah, this isn’t the most polished of TV specials. I could tell the roughness in those places, especially when this was the only time these guys would be animated at all, and for the short amount of time they would appear. Also interesting the choice for the plot of that Blondie segment that didn’t really make me laugh at all.

  • I, too, have a fascination with comic strips-turned-animated specials. What a fine post today, Charles!

    It’d be great to see the complete (restored?) version of The Fantastic Funnies (or the Fabulous Funnies you also referenced).

    • Highly unlikely, given the multiple licenses which would be required. Would be fantastically expensive!

    • Highly unlikely, given the multiple licenses which would be required. Would be fantastically expensive!

      I’m sure nobody wants to pay the exuberant amount needed for that “I Go Pogo!” footage.

  • I remember the “Fabulous Funnies” special from 1968, which featured a video of the Royal Guardsmen singing “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron,” as well as a video for the Hollywood Argyles’ “Alley Oop.”

  • Brubaker-

    I remember reading in “Garfield at 25- In Dog Years I’d Be Dead” that Beach supplied Garfield’s voice here.
    PS- Know anything on the Fiji TV program “Dream Factory”? All I know of it is that it was made into a video game for
    the NES in 1987 (“Doki Doki Panic”, which translates into English as “Heart-Pounding Panic”), and was changed into Super Mario Bros. 2 for the American market in 1988.

  • Faintly remember this, and an earlier special — “Those Fabulous Funnies”? — with Carl Reiner.

    As RNIGMA notes, it had filmed performances of “Snoopy and the Red Baron” and “Alley Oop” (the latter shot outdoors with a New Christy Minstrels-type group, with animated dinos occasionally peering from behind rocks and Oop himself running into frame to take a bow). It also had “Jubilation T. Cornpone” from the “Li’l Abner” musical, with Ken Berry posing as the character. Also a funny animated bit set to “Little Orphan Annie’s” radio theme song, with Annie and Sandy versus some villains.

    High point was Reiner turning into a cartoon character to interact with Dick Tracy (wanting to touch his nose to see if it was as sharp as it looked) and Brenda Starr (who he tried to bring back to the real world).

    A follow-up, “Those Fabulous Shorts”, had Jim Backus introducing an odd assortment of shorts (and, maddeningly, clips). Don’t remember any new animation in that.

    • I don’t suppose CBS or anyone else would want to do an update to this sort of special these days. I wouldn’t mind seeing animated takes of The Dogs of C Kennel for example.

  • There was one more comic strip oddity: a TV special titled “Funny Pages”, with a series of comedy skits casting Raquel Welch as various comic strip characters. Digging about, I could only confirm that it did exist; it aired in 1972; and Welch played an outrageously well-developed Orphan Annie assisted by a flat cutout of Sandy.

    What I actually remember is that Carroll O’Connor was the celebrity co-star; the rest of the cast were people I hadn’t heard of but looked like the characters they played; and the campy Annie skit involved evil communist hippies (“Right onski!”). Also O’Connor doing a monologue as Major Hoople, and a Steve Canyon sketch where villainess Welch tries to drug Steve.

  • I wonder how many of the strips acknowledged in the show are still around? The only two that are still running in my local newspaper are “Doonesbury” and “Garfield.” Several years back, the paper did a purge of what are referred to as “legacy strips.” That is, older strips whose originators/creators are retired or dead, with the strips carried on by other hands. They cancelled most of these kinds of strips, with the rest disappearing over the next few years. Let me tell you, you want to get people riled up, cancel their favorite comic strips out of the local newspaper. It wasn’t altogether a bad thing. Our local comics editors at the time didn’t seem to like any strip they hadn’t been reading for at least twenty-five years, and our local comics section was looking an awful lot like the Comic Strip Nursing Home.

    • Actually, most of the strips featured are still around in some form. “Peanuts” and “Wee Pals” are both in rerun mode with the deaths of their creators. “Annie” ended several years ago, but the characters are now transplanted into “Dick Tracy”

      The strips that are now outright cancelled are “Miss Peach” (ended 2002), “Tumbleweeds” (ended 2007), and “Cathy” (ended 2010). “Pogo” has been cancelled for several years by the time this special aired, but it’s clear they included him anyway just to promote the then-upcoming “I Go Pogo” film.

    • There was Larry Doyle’s brief attempt to revive “Pogo” in the ’80s; it wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t Walt Kelly (though his children had a go at drawing it after Neal Sternecky left). When Walt’s widow Selby tried to continue “Pogo” after his death, a critic wrote that it was like watching “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” with Rich Little instead of Jimmy Stewart.

      Many of the “soap” strips are still schlepping along (Mary Worth, Judge Parker, Rex Morgan M.D.). Faring the worst is “Apartment 3-G,” with sadly deteriorating art by the aging Frank Bolle; why the syndicate hasn’t replaced him or at least provided him with an assistant or ghost, I have no idea.

      Another cartoon chock-full of newspaper-strip characters was “Popeye Meets the Man Who Hated Laughter,” shown on ABC’s “Saturday Superstar Movie.” Almost all the characters featured therein were from the King Features stable, the only exception being Steve Canyon, syndicated by Field Enterprises (which after a couple of mergers would become North America Syndicate, a Hearst corporate sibling to King Features). Aside from Popeye and his gang, there were Beetle Bailey, Snuffy Smith, Little Iodine, Quincy, and dozens more, kidnapped by the villain (with Brutus as his henchman) who assumed that comic strips were the source of the world’s laughter and abducting the comics’ characters would end said laughter. The Phantom, Flash Gordon and Steve Canyon were sent to rescue them.

    • Actually, most of the strips featured are still around in some form. “Peanuts” and “Wee Pals” are both in rerun mode with the deaths of their creators. “Annie” ended several years ago, but the characters are now transplanted into “Dick Tracy”

      If anything, think of this as a nice tradition that transcends mortality. Heck, we’re getting a Peanuts movie pretty soon, be happy!

      The strips that are now outright cancelled are “Miss Peach” (ended 2002), “Tumbleweeds” (ended 2007), and “Cathy” (ended 2010).

      I forgot Cathy’s no longer with us. I didn’t think it would ever end. My paper (The Toledo Blade) still carries plenty of legacy strips among its roster (though they haven’t had B.C. since the 70’s I think). They haven’t tried to tick off too many readers though the strips have gone through some terrible formatting choices just to stay in (Garfield running vertically for instance).

      “Pogo” has been cancelled for several years by the time this special aired, but it’s clear they included him anyway just to promote the then-upcoming “I Go Pogo” film.

      There’s that. Not that people forgot too easily then.

  • Sorry if I’m repeating something that has already been stated, but i think one of the reasons Loni Anderson was chosen for the host of this special, besides being on the hit WKRP in Cincinnati, was that Loni had wanted to be a cartoonist for Disney! This was part of a bit when she co-hosted the Mike Douglas Show and Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnstone were guests. I’m not sure if I’ve seen this on Youtube or if I have it in my collection. And yes, I remember seeing this special too. I wish I could see the one about animated cartoons from a decade before this that featured a behind-the-scenes look at the Warner Bros.-Seven Arts Cartoon Studio from the late 60’s and animation from “Knighty Knight Bugs”.

  • “Okay Chief, I’ll get on it right away. Dick Tracy calling some ringer who was never in the strip, it might even be a talking animal, and why the heck am I farming out the detective work when I’m in fact Dick Tracy?”

    (If you don’t get it, don’t worry, you didn’t miss anything.)

    • Crossover:
      Tracy mistakenly sends a couple of rookies, Waldo and Presley, after an escaped lion that turns out to be a small boy who impersonates animals.

  • Nice to get credit. Besides those comic strip cartoon shows and specials mentioned, don’t forget:
    * Filmation’s Archie’s TV Funnies on CBS Saturday morning in 1971-1973, featuring animated versions of Broom Hilda, Dick Tracy, Captain and the Kids, Dropouts, Nancy, Moon Mullins, Emmy Lou, and Smokey Stover.
    * Filmation’s Fabulous Funnies on NBC Saturday morning in 1978-1979, featuring animated versions of Broom Hilda, Nancy, Captain and the Kids, Alley Oop, Emmy Lou, and Tumbleweeds.
    * The 1971-1973 educational kid aimed Curiosity Shop featured animated segments with Dennis the Menace, Miss Peach, B.C., Big George, Mr. Mum, and Wizard of Id.
    * There was even a live action comic strip related special on NBC in May 1983 called Mother’s Day Sunday Funnies.

  • The Mother’s Day Sunday Funnies featured live action versions of “Broom-Hilda”, “Hagar the Horrible”, “Crock”, “Cathy” & Bill Schorr’s “Conrad” strip (Conrad himself was a puppet on the special).

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