Kissyfur. In 1986, producer and animator Phil Mendez had created his own little animation empire based on his creation of Kissyfur, a little bear that spawned four prime-time specials, two seasons of Saturday morning shows and a ton of merchandise.
“It started because my son Christopher couldn’t get his sister to read a book to him,” remembered Mendez. “He was four at the time and I said I’d make him a book that he could read. I drew a book of pictures about a bear cub and his troubles. I called the book ‘Kissyfur’ because that is the way Christopher said his own name when he had a tooth missing.
“I put up seven thousand dollars and another seven thousand was lent to me by a friend. After I had the books printed I gave one to Christopher and I had 1,999 copies left. A friend of mine owns a bookstore and he took 30. They quickly sold out and they kept selling.
“Phyllis Tucker Vinson, who’s in charge of Saturday morning programming at NBC saw the book and asked if I’d do a Saturday morning show. I said ‘no’. I’d worked as an animator at the Disney Studios and Hanna-Barbera and done commercials for Dancer Fitzgerald Sample advertising agency and I knew what quality was. And I knew the quality of the Saturday morning shows.
“Instead I produced the four specials for prime time. Kissyfur is the story of a bear cub who has lost his mother and is raised by his father, Gus. They were circus bears but escaped and now live in a swamp with a variety of characters. The whole concept is that it’s a single parent show. NBC wanted to call the show Paddlecab County but I refused. I said that I’d promised my son I’d name the show after him. I said if they changed the name I wouldn’t do the show.”
Vincent Price. In a 1986 Globe interview with film critic Michael Blowen, actor Vincent Price said about his work on Ratigan in The Great Mouse Detective (1986): “The voice is crucial in the animated film. I guess mine evokes a certain mystery or horror or melodrama and that’s what they wanted for this character. At first, I was furious I had to audition for the part. I had done more than a hundred pictures and if they didn’t know what my voice sounded like then the hell with them.
“After a while I realized I was being very silly and egotistical. They knew my voice but they weren’t sure whether I could adapt to the style of acting required by the role. So like a kid, I tried out. I had never done a cartoon voice before and I liked the idea of doing something I had never done before.”
Greg Daniels. In the New York Times January 12, 1997, former The Simpsons writer Greg Daniels talked about his latest animated series King of the Hill: “Hank Hill is upset about how America is changing and he doesn’t know what to do about it. The theme of the show is populism and common-sense Americans versus the silly elite.
“We tried to keep it realistically paced and about real people. A lot of animation moves fast because it’s fun. We want our characters not to move at all, and then to do something small but well executed, like moving their glasses up on their nose. And we want to start out very slowly so that people get to learn what the characters are like and care about them. Once it evolves, we can cut to someone quickly for a joke and add more characters.
“I took the show’s writing staff on a field trip to Texas. We traveled in a van, took pictures of Wal-Marts and visited schools to get ideas for characters. A lot of the writers had never been to Texas. We wanted to make sure they knew that everybody didn’t wear cowboy hats and say ‘yee-hah’.”
Space Jam. From USA Today, November 14, 1996, Space Jam producer Ivan Reitman said, “(Studio head) Bob Daly said to me, ‘We’re handing you our family jewels. We’re entrusting you with the most important thing in the Warner Bros. library, and, by the way we need the picture by November 15th’.
“Part of my mandate was to try to bring back the spark and the facetiousness of the classic ‘40s Looney Tunes. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, they were ‘televisioned’. Television animators worked very hard but the thing that made the characters funny was no longer there.
“The original characters were intended to please adults as well as children because of the irreverent attitude, beautifully delivered dialogue and expressive animation. It all eventually got watered down.”
Teen Titans. In 1984, Hanna-Barbera produced a fast-paced animated sixty second PSA spot of DC’s Teen Titans encouraging school children to turn down offers of uppers, coaine and marijuana. It was distributed to the major television networks and local stations around the country. (A silent work print is embed below).
“The film makes the point that every one of us cn be a superhero by exercising our power and privilege to make a correct choice not to use drugs,” said Jean MacCurdy, vice president of programming for HB to a Senate subcommittee hearing on alcoholism and drug abuse as reported in L.A. Life April 9th, 1984. The spot was connected to a six million copy distribution of a Teen Titan comic book with an anti-drug theme.
By the way, a few years earlier, HB had pitched the idea of a Teen Titans Saturday morning series with concept art by comic book legend Mike Sekowsky.
Robert Allen Ogle. When Robert Allen Ogle died in February 1984, his obituary claimed that in the late 1940s “he brought (Walt) Disney his lunch every day” and besides being an inbetweener would “occasionally pinch hit as the voice of Donald Duck”. He went on to work with Larry Harmon (writing for Bozo), UPA (writing for Mr. Magoo and doing the voice of Magoo’s bulldog McBarker), and then to Hanna-Barbera where he was editor on Scooby Doo, Kwicky Koala (also doing the voice for Kwicky) and Shirt Tails (where he voiced Digger the Mole). He also had a short stint working with Chuck Jones as a writer on Horton Hears a Who and The Phantom Tollbooth.