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