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March 4, 2015 posted by

“The Wizard of Id” (1970)

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I always considered The Wizard of Id to be one of my big cartooning influence. I always had a thing for Johnny Hart’s dry sense of humor, and I consider Brant Parker’s art to be wonderful. The artwork is arguably on the “simplistic” side, but Parker did a great job with the character designs, giving interesting sizes and shapes for the characters, and it fits well with Hart’s writing.

Remarkably, there were several attempts to bring the strip to television. In 1969, Jim Henson produced a short pilot based on the strip, using Muppets. Henson himself voiced the Wizard, while Jerry Juhl did the King’s voice.

The Henson pilot didn’t sell, but it wasn’t the last screen adaptation of the strip. About a year later, a five minute cartoon was made, produced at Herb Klynn’s Format Films. Abe Levitow directed, and Chuck Jones was the executive producer.

It was one of the several shorts based on newspaper comics that was animated for Chuck Jones’s TV show, Curiosity Shop. It was an educational show that aired on ABC Saturday Mornings starting 1973, meant to capitalize on the success of Sesame Street. Hart’s B.C. was also animated for the show, along with Mell Lazarus’s Miss Peach, Hank Ketcham’s Dennis the Menace, and Virgil Partch’s Big George.

This version has Paul Winchell voicing the King, while Don Messick does the Wizard and most of the other characters. I know that comic strip readers always have different ideas on how the characters sound, but to me, Winchell’s voice just didn’t fit the King. The Muppet pilot did a much better take on how the character should sound.

Curiosity Shop itself is a difficult show to find, along with all the comic strip adaptations that was in it, but I stumbled upon a 16mm print of the Wizard of Id segment recently. A transfer of it is posted below:

Given the changing climate on what is acceptable in children’s animation at the time, one wonders if it was possible to adapt any of Johnny Hart’s comics to the Saturday Morning market without making compromises. The story in the film (credited to Hart and veteran storyman Bob Ogle) is rather thin. While the animation is faithful to the strip’s style and is well-done, you can tell there were cheats done to save money on production costs, like how the King stood still, watching the woman talk to the butcher off-screen (which happened -twice- in the film), topped by them reusing the same walking animation in those sequences.

But it’s still an interesting curiosity (no pun intended), and one wonders what it would’ve been like if a series was made from the strip. Now if only we can track down the other cartoons that aired on Jones’s show.

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(Thanks to Mike Kazaleh, Kurtis Findlay, Tom Stathes, and Mark Arnold for additional assistance)

10 Comments

  • Great post today! I’m always interested in comic strips that are turned into animated specials (or series). I’d love to learn more about Chuck Jones’ Curiosity Shop.

  • I was well beyond “Curiosity Shop’s” target demographic, but I’d watch for things like the Zagreb shorts about the professor and other curios. Mr. Mum was one of the animated shorts.

    Hank Kechum was the guest host one week. They had some Fleischerish gags, such as the live kid hosts walking around in a comic strip and Dennis complaining to Ketchum from the drawing board.

    It would be nice to see that series again, but I suspect there’d be extreme rights issues with all the non-house material they featured.

    • I was well beyond “Curiosity Shop’s” target demographic, but I’d watch for things like the Zagreb shorts about the professor and other curios. Mr. Mum was one of the animated shorts.
      I’m sure you’re talking about this guy!
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H31vWbKMoSc

      Hank Kechum was the guest host one week. They had some Fleischerish gags, such as the live kid hosts walking around in a comic strip and Dennis complaining to Ketchum from the drawing board.
      That sounds interesting.

      It would be nice to see that series again, but I suspect there’d be extreme rights issues with all the non-house material they featured.
      Wouldn’t surprise me, Zagreb Film would certainly want their money’s worth (and I wonder if ABC still holds any of it today)!

    • Yep, that’s him. For the show, they clipped the credits and had a puppet of Professor Balthazar provide the narration in first person. Always enjoyed the giddy design and animation.

  • While working in a film lab in LA around 1980, a student at Cal State Long Beach brought in a short 16mm sound film for printing. It was a class project of hand-drawn animation of THE WIZARD OF ID and definitely nailed the look of the characters. It was only a couple of minutes long but I wonder if the folks involved eventually went pro.

    • Who knows, shame you don’t remember his or her name.

  • Given the changing climate on what is acceptable in children’s animation at the time, one wonders if it was possible to adapt any of Johnny Hart’s comics to the Saturday Morning market without making compromises.

    And yet this was ‘Recommended by the National Education Association” at the time! I’m sure they would change their minds these days.

    Speaking of Hart, I wonder if the Mastroianni’s “Dogs of C Kennel” will ever see the small screen in animation some day? That one looked too easy to pick up.

  • Thanks for digging up that interesting info, Charles. The Wizard of Idwas a big influence on me, too, early on . . but I’ve never seen that Curiosity Shop clip! (and I apparently never missed much by NOT seeing it!)
    I kind of have Brant Parker to thank for changing my career path when I was in the 5th grade — I went to a special traveling show about American comic strips on the day he was giving a chalk talk . . and he picked me to come up on stage and do a drawing with a piece of chalk the size of a telephone book.
    Crude as it was, the audience applauded me . . and right then I switched from planning to be a veterinarian to being a cartoonist!

  • Anybody pick up these collections from Titan Books? http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-wizard-of-id-the-dailies-and-sundays-1971-brant-parker/1105869229?ean=9781848566835

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