Animation enthusiasts are never at a loss for words to describe studios, films, and characters, and Hanna-Barbera is no exception. One word that seems apropos in the context of this exploration is “unpretentious.” Hanna-Barbera created some truly great works, and even when the studio’s reach occasionally extended beyond its grasp, there was always a sense that there were people behind it all, working hard and keeping the cartoons coming.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the case of the Hanna-Barbera characters themselves. In the early days, they established an unprecedented bond with viewers. It’s been imitated, but never exactly equaled.
Hanna, Barbera, and their staff found ways to bring ongoing parades of cartoon characters in such quantity into homes every week, and then every day.
Merchandise, comics, and events bridged the broadcast in the minds of viewers, so the mindset of these “relationships” was virtually continuous. Before Hanna-Barbera, the public saw their cartoon friends at random in theaters, in clusters in local TV reruns, or every few years in feature premieres and reissues. Sure, there were other TV cartoons, but none at the heights of the H-B stable. The others watched and learned.
These characters seemed completely approachable. like your friends down the street, your favorite cousins, or those friends from the old neighborhood. You did not have to go far to find costumed Hanna-Barbera characters to meet in your town. Just be ready to meet them at the shopping center, local fair, or community center. Mark Evanier writes an amusing story about a somewhat inventive mechanical Fred Flintstone figure he encountered at the May Company in Los Angeles here.
Mark 56 Records of Anaheim, California, actually released a small promotional recording called Huck, Yogi and Quick Draw Magic Record, tying in with Hanna-Barbera character appearances, devoid of Daws Butler.
However, since the Screen Gems music and themes were still unavailable for records or broadcast, it is also likely that the H-B Golden Records were used for character appearances.
When Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were contemplating the sale of their company as the contract with Screen Gems/Columbia was about to expire, the intimate connection between their characters and the public, as well as their potential in live and themed entertainment, was not lost on potential buyers. It was one of the reasons that Taft Broadcasting seemed like a good fit. Not only were they in the media business, but they had big plans for the theme park industry.Fifty years ago this year, the first big venture between Hanna-Barbera and Taft opened to considerable fanfare. Kings Island became a fixture in the town of Mason, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati. The name is a combination of the park it replaced, Coney Island, which it replaced, and King’s Mills, the name of its specific location (Kings Mills is listed on the View-Master packet).
“Hanna-Barbera Land” was a key part of the park from the grand opening and crucial to its publicity and growth. The land had several attractions, mostly geared toward younger riders. They were themed to H-B cartoons that had either recently premiered, were currently shown, or were in the process of syndication through Taft. Some of the rides had been transplanted from the earlier Coney Island park. They included a junior Scooby-Doo coaster, Gulliver’s Tub-A-Dub water ride, Marathon Turnpike (themed to Speed Buggy in 1979) and Winnie Witch’s Cauldrons, and others inspired by Squiddly Diddly, Autocat, Motor Mouse, and Funky Phantom.
The expensive (for its time) centerpiece was a ride-through boat attraction called “Enchanted Voyage” with a façade that looked like a giant television. Inside were animated tableaus of various Hanna-Barbera creations set to a theme song that changed styles based on the setting, as the music does in “it’s a small world.”
The song, “Friends in My TV,” was written by studio music supervisor Paul DeKorte, Bill Hanna, and Kings Island veteran Dennis Speigel (who now runs International Theme Park Services). The song was also used with different lyrics in the 1972 special, The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn’t.
Here is an extended recording of the song:
Here is a video record of Kings Island’s defunct Enchanted Voyage dark ride, once home to Hanna-Barbera characters. Featuring photos and facts from the attraction.:
Arrow Development, which created the vehicle structures for Enchanted Voyage, the coasters, and other rides in Kings Island, has a phenomenal history that includes some of the most beloved Disney rides. Walt Disney actually bought part of the company at one point because their work was such an integral part of the attractions at Disneyland. This blog contains fascinating articles about Arrow Development. Even more astonishing is this vast listing of game-changing attractions in which Arrow played a major role.
Like several parks that have been since been established in this country, Kings Island is an upscaled version of the classic amusement park with a perky staff and a family-friendly atmosphere. Its central icon is a replica of the Eiffel Tower, surrounded by a themed Bavarian Village with lots of shops, restaurants, fast food, and treats.
In addition to Hanna-Barbera characters roaming the park, spectacular live entertainment shows were popular from the opening days. One Cincinnati native raised in the themed shadows of Kings Island and became as a young singer and dancer, appearing in several shows and mingling with the H-B gang. Andrea Canny went on to become a veteran of the stage and a longtime Disney Parks leading lady.
Andrea played Belle when “Beauty and the Beast—Live on Stage” premiered at what is now Disney’s Hollywood Studios, one of the longest-running live shows in Disney Park history, predating the Broadway version. At the same park, she played Laverne in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame: A Musical Adventure.” At Disney’s Pleasure Island, she was among the cast of the fabled Adventurer’s Club.
“I absolutely loved working at Kings Island,” Andrea said. “We pretty much grew up going there, so it was pretty cool to be entertaining people who were like I was. And it was incredible training for a young performer. And of course, you never know when you might run into Jabberjaw.”
Of course, the H-B characters were not new to theme parks, since The Banana Splits appeared at Six Flags Over Texas, where the first season theme song and many song sequences were filmed for their series. Joe Barbera was also proud of the “laugh centers” that were implemented into hospitals with characters and activities. These were the casual, comfortable, “friends from your TV.”
The park and its animated stars were perhaps most immortally captured when two neighboring sitcoms of the early seventies made much-remembered visits. The Partridge Family was the first on January 26, 1973, with “I Left My Heart in Cincinnati.” The pop band mom and kids enjoy a gig at Kings Island, singing two songs (coincidentally with some of the same studio vocalists as those in “Friends in My TV”).
By this time, the show almost completely focused on teen idol David Cassidy, so the story concerns Keith’s attraction to a perky park publicist (played by Mary Ann Mobley). He croons to two lovely Kings Island employees, whose costumes are nearly identical to Burger King uniforms of the same decade. Cassidy also sings into the face (or mouth) of Square Bear of Help! It’s the Hair Bear Bunch, one of Hanna-Barbera’s latest series. The finale features a ring-around dance with Partridges and The Banana Splits, Hair Bear, Bubi, and Bristlehound of “It’s the Wolf.” Mildew Wolf and Ranger Smith can also be spotted as background cutouts.
The Brady Bunch bounced through Kings Island in “The Cincinnati Kids” on November 23, 1973. Brady dad Mike had some Very Important Business Meetings to attend at the park, but his Serious Architectectural Blueprints got mixed up with Jan’s groovy Day-Glo poster of Yogi Bear. It was a fine excuse for Bradys (and housekeeper Alice) to romp through the park and switch back the plans.
Meanwhile, in the “B” story, Greg Brady, unaware that Johnny Bravo would one day be a Hanna-Barbera “What-a-Cartoon!” falls for a groovy carnival game attendant. When we see Greg in close-up, he is in Ohio. When we see Marge (Hillary Thompson, who played Veronica on two Archie TV series pilots) she is on a soundstage in Hollywood.
This episode has become such a favorite that members of the cast returned to Kings Island for various anniversaries to perform and to appear on local broadcasts.
This is by no means a comprehensive history, just an affectionate portrait. This site presents a highly detailed timeline. There were other Hanna-Barbera attractions that came and went over the years. Ownership changed along with popular properties of the times.