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Saturday, March 25, 2017

'Hanna-Barbera: The Architects of Saturday Morning' Exhibit at Rockwell Museum is Yabba Dabba Doo Worthy

[EDITOR'S NOTE: An article on an interview with world-class animator/Hanna-Barbera toy collector David Nimitz, who provided the museum every toy for the exhibit, also is on Unreal TV.]

Children of the '60s and the '70s (and other lovers of Saturday morning cartoons) must raise a bowl of tasty sugar-laden cereal that comprises the delicious part of a delicious nutritious breakfast in tribute to Norman Rockwell Museum curator Jesse Kowalski.

This former exhibitionist at the Andy Warhol Museum bringing both his curatorial talent and his love for the Scooby gang and the 1,000s of other Hanna-Barbera creations to Stockbridge, Mass. is why your not-so-humble reviewer and 1,000s of others who have uttered "yabba dabba doo" at least once in their lives have had the privilege of seeing "Hanna-Barbera: The Architects of Saturday Morning" at the Rockwell Museum. Having Kowalski guide me through the exhibit was like personally seeing Willy Wonka show off his chocolate factory.

The copious information that Kowalski shared included that the exhibit has been incredibly popular. He noted that it set a record for Fall shows and blew an exhibit of the work of comic book artist Alex Ross "out of the water."

One Scooby-worthy mystery that Kowalski cannot solve is why the late-'50s H-B cat-and dog series "Ruff and Ready" is a "lost" treasure. The historic significance of this first television effort by "Tom and Jerry" creators Hanna and Barbera includes it being the first Saturday morning show that is all cartoons, rather than a primarily live-action series in which a flesh-and-blood host incorporates cartoons that begin life as theatrical shorts in the program. Speculation regarding "Ruff" not achieving the same status as later H-B offerings is that our animation gods use this show to work out the kinks that their classics lack.

The images below from the exhibit provide a glimpse of what we are missing.

Alas, the exhibit tour did not end with owning the 100s of drawings, animation cels, video clips, and case-smashing worthy vintage merch. that comprises the exhibit. The exhibit catalog, which has reprints of much of the aforementioned art and photos of the aforementioned collectibles, is a nice consolation prize. Buying Funko-style toys of Daphne and Velma of "Scooby" fame when exiting through the gift shop is another highlight.

Folks who have not visited the exhibit have until May 29, 2017 to do so. Parents of K-12 kids particularly have the option of making this an April vacation week activity that the whole family truly can enjoy,

The exhibit fulfills the same ideal as a documentary film in that it equally entertains and informs. The scope extends from the early days of this 60-year partnership/friendship to the near present. Highlights are early rejected sketches of the Flintstones and other classic characters and concepts, such as "Josie and the Pussycats 1,000,000 BC," that never see the light of day.

Awesome verification that your not-so-humble reviewer is in sync with the exhibit is writing the caption for the below image of "The Flintstones" preceding Kowalski telling the tale of a female reporter who responds on seeing it in a pre-exhibit promotional campaign that it deplorably depicts whom your not-so-humble reviewer calls "sexy Wilma." Kowalski states that his respectful response to the real-life Lois Lane includes asking her to consider that this image is from the relative caveman period of the early '60s compared to the more enlightened "Jetsons" era in which we live.

The following samples of this artwork barely scratches the surface of the rare treasures that will delight visitors of the proverbial all ages.

A "Flintstones" toy telephone is one of 300 treasures on loan from the 4,000 items collectibles collection of "Iron Giant" animator David Nimitz.

Version of "The Flintstones" that likely would have increased adult male viewership of the first prime-time animated series.

Another highlight of the show (and a Herculean labor of love by Kowalski) is an interactive touch-screen exhibit with a homepage display of thumbnails of 96 HB characters. Touching a small image opens a page that allows you to read about that character, see video clips with him or her, and listen to related sound effects.

Light-hearted personal disappointment regarding not seeing Goober the disappearing dog of the Scooby clone "Goober and the Ghostchasers" prompted Kowalski to good-naturedly share that he was told to pick 96 characters. He and I both understood that that limitation precluded including the favorite HB creation of every visitor.

An underlying theme of the exhibit that is awesome for folks who suffer from the current big studio practice of producing films that blatantly sacrifice art for commerce is that Hanna and Barbera maintain both quality and the bottom line. The primary technique is the cost-saving practice of limited animation that the exhibit describes. An obvious element of this is the oft-repeating backgrounds on "Flintstones" and other Hanna-Barbera productions.

The audience additionally sees how Hanna-Barbera are true pioneers of television and how they successfully adapt to changing regulatory and cultural environments. This explains how "talking animal" Hanna-Barbera offerings lead to superhero and other action-adventure shows, which leads to animated versions of prime-time hits, which evolve into series such as "The Flintstones Kids" and "A Pup Named Scooby-Doo." (Nimitz began his animation career as a 17 year-old intern on "Pup.") You also will learn how the combination of governmental and consumer influence ultimately kill off Saturday morning cartoons.

Kowalski further proves his entitlement to induction in the Fanboy Hall of Fame in sharing at the end of our sadly less than three-hour tour that he will continue curating animation exhibits for the Rockwell museum. His reasoning that these shows further the objective of the institution to educate the general public about the legendary The Saturday Evening Post illustrator for whom the museum exists makes sense.

The statements of Kowalski that he wants to keep classic cartoons and other animation in pop culture (and that many young visitors do not know about Scooby-Doo) endears him to the heart of your not-so-humble reviewer. Readers of early manifestos know that Unreal TV owes its existence to larger sites rejecting coverage of "TV Land shows" that does not generate enough income to satisfy the suits. The specific founding principles of this boutique site include keeping Lucy Ricardo and Ralph Kramden in the public consciousness.

On a larger level, it is nice to learn that Hanna and Barbera are guys with whom you would want to share a mug of cocoa while watching their creations do the things that endear these men to all of us.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding the exhibit is strongly encouraged to email me. You also can connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.