Original Airdate: September 18th, 1960 on first-run syndication
I doubt that Huckleberry Hound is anyone’s favorite cartoon character. Hell, I doubt he’s anyone’s favorite Hanna-Barbera character. But he plays a relatively prominent role in the history of western animation. Hanna-Barbera was one of the first studios to make cartoons specifically for television, and Hound was their second offering and their first big hit. If my reviews have demonstrated the lowlights of children’s fare from the 2000s, 90s and 80s, trust me that before 1960, kids TV was a vast wasteland of hideous puppets and Krusty-esque clown shows on local TV stations. There were cartoons like Looney Tunes and Mighty Mouse, but they had first appeared in movie theaters back in the days when a two-hour feature film was the culmination of an entire evening’s worth of entertainment. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera got their start in this world, making theatrical cartoons for MGM Studios, including the smash hit Tom & Jerry series. In the late 1950s, MGM decided they had a sufficiently robust catalog of animated features that they could just start reusing them and that there was no need for Hanna & Barbera to keep making cartoons. The animators scrambled to get the backing to start their own production company. They didn’t have the natural pathway into movie theaters that animation studios run by MGM, Warner Brothers or Disney did—so they looked to television. The rest is history, but how closely should we revisit this particular history? Well…
- Unique, if esoteric, setups. Okay, so it doesn’t speak highly of Hound that its solitary strength is also something of a deficit, at least for anyone wondering if their kids would like the show. But I’ll tell you one thing—you don’t see many cartoons about dogs/stereotypical Southerners fighting with the French Foreign Legion in the Algerian War. Nowadays, you don’t hear much about the French Foreign Legion—I didn’t even know what it was until high school—but when they were on the front lines of an exotic desert war, they had more pop culture cachet. There was even a TV show on NBC a scant three years prior to this episode, but nowadays kids might just find this setup baffling. The other two segments are equally charming in their dated/unhinged nature—the cumbersomely named “Pixie & Dixie and Mr. Jinks” feature has Jinks (Daws Butler) selling his mouse friends to rocket scientists intending to qualify them for status as Laika-esque animal astronauts. Jinks is the one that eventually gets sent to the moon, and if he follows in Laika’s pawprints and dies from hyperthermia it happens off screen. The premise of the “Hokey Wolf” installment is less topical but no less bizarre–Hokey (Butler) tricks three little pigs (uncredited) into relinquishing their home to him by posing as the ghost of another wolf they fucking murdered and haunting them. Okay then!
- Unfunny. I will credit Hound by saying that this isn’t the obnoxious, toxic “humor” where you’re peppered with an endless stream of try-hard non-jokes in the manner of Danny Phantom. Instead, Hound mostly doesn’t try at all. It’s very gentle. The proceedings mostly take the form of the classic Looney set-ups of hero vs. antagonist, but these shorts don’t have the anarchic joie de vivre that made Looney and its siblings famous. They’re generally much more sedate—while your typical Bugs/Fudd stand-off involves at least 5 or 6 encounters and opportunities for Bugs to outsmart and flummox Elmer, when Huckleberry (Butler) confronts Powerful Pierre (also Butler) there are only two confrontations until Huckleberry has the matter in hand. Huckleberry is also a less compelling hero than Bugs. Bugs outwits his rivals, while Huckleberry only manages to prevail through dumb luck. Bugs moves quickly, while Huckleberry moves at the pace of the South. This one probably won’t matter as much to the kiddies, but Bugs Bunny, Roadrunner and Jerry the mouse are underdogs fighting for their survival, whereas here Huckleberry is an officer on the side of a colonialist government in a war of liberation and Pierre is a renegade insurgent. Regardless, here’s an example of Hanna & Barbera failing to recapture the magic of their more famous film counterparts.
- Derivative. It’s common knowledge that the most famous Hanna-Barbera creation, The Flintstones, was a thin gloss on The Honeymooners, and one of their other famous creations, The Jetsons, transparently relocated the Flintstones to the distant future instead of the distant past. If you add that to the creativity on display here, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Hanna & Barbera never had an original idea in their lives. Hokey Wolf bears a suspiciously strong resemblance to Yogi Bear, the woodland animal he replaced in the lineup, right down to his porkpie hat, neck-tie and diminutive sidekick (Doug Young, The Flintstones.) Pixie et. al seems like what would happen if a particularly uncreative writer’s room pitched “Tom & Jerry, except there are two mice!” At first blush, Huckleberry himself passed this test, but that was until I saw a clip of Southern Wolf, a character that animation legend Tex Avery created during his time working alongside H & B at MGM. It doesn’t help that all three of the originals are funnier than what we see here.
- Poorly plotted. There are two moments in these cartoons that really test one’s suspension of disbelief, even considering that we’re extending a fair amount of cartoonist’s license as a matter of course. The scientists (uncredited) in the Pixie & Co. short are looking for animals smart enough to send into space, and yet when they first meet Mr. Jinks they don’t seem to consider him as a candidate, despite the fact that he can talk. It’s only until later, when Pixie (Don Messick, The Flintstones) & Dixie (Butler) aren’t working out, that Jinks seems perfect for the job. Geez, if you’re determined to murder super-intelligent animals, you could have saved a lot of time by paying attention to the cat smart enough to exchange mice for cash. The Hokey Wolf story is even flimsier. As mentioned, Hokey hopes to acquire real estate via the time-honored method of simulated haunting, and all goes well until the pigs are confronted by the original wolf, who is somehow still alive despite the fact that he climbed down a chimney and into a burning fire. Sure, it’s a cartoon and he probably got away with some singed, sooty fur, but how did that happen without the pigs noticing? I had assumed all along that they had buried his charred corpse in a shallow grave and resolved to hide their shameful secret from the public. I know it’s pointless to argue with cartoon logic, but it’s an awfully big hole in the story and everything hinges on the wolf’s miraculous return to life, and there’s not even a single line of dialogue attempting to explain.
Motivation: Mr. Jinks and Hokey both want money (in the form of cash and real estate, respectively) and Huckleberry is questing for the power of the French empire.
Final Episode Judgment: 3/10. There’s hours and hours of classic Warner Brothers cartoons for free on YouTube. Maybe stick to that?
NEXT TIME: What happens when aliens invade England during the Blitz? Find out as I review Invasion: Earth!