Joseph Barbera, R.I.P.

104227__barbera_hanna_l You may not recognize Joseph Barbera (pictured, left, with partner William Hanna), but you grew up on his work. The animator, who died of natural causes yesterday at 95, was half of the Hanna-Barbera duo that created countless cartoon characters you remember from misspent Saturday mornings — the Jetsons (pictured), Scooby-Doo, the Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Tom & Jerry — and countless more you’ve probably forgotten. After all, Barbera and Hanna (who died in 2001) were partners for more than 60 years, generating enough toons to keep cable’s Boomerang channel running 24/7.

Critics often blame Barbera for ruining kids’ animation; his quick-sketch style and flat background work made TV animation cheap and quick to produce, but it lacked the visual richness of, say, Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes creations. His and Hanna’s TV work also lacked the sophistication of the Bullwinkle cartoons — it’s likely that Bullwinkle writer and Dudley Do-Right creator Chris Hayward, whose recent death from cancer at 81 was reported two days ago, will get far less press than Barbera. Yet critics praise the even-more-minimalist Bullwinkle toons while dismissing Barbera’s work as desultory. (And there is a certain desultory quality to the Hanna-Barbera toons that’s easily parodied: Robert Smigel does it nearly every week in his "TV Funhouse" shorts on Saturday Night Live, while the duo’s own work is twisted in self-parodic ways on Cartoon Network’s "Adult Swim.")

Then again, Hayward was writing for adults, while Hanna and Barbera were aiming strictly at kids. Barbera’s economy of gesture and instantly recognizable style helped make his characters vivid and memorable. He deserves to be remembered as a pioneer, not just for the pre-TV Tom & Jerry toons he and Hanna made in the 1940s (which won several Oscars and included the early live-action/animation mix of Anchors Aweigh), but also for such innovations as the animated primetime sitcom; yes, The Flintstones was derivative of The Honeymooners, but it paved the way for The Simpsons and South Park. At a time when kids are rejecting traditional hand-drawn animation for even more abstract computer-generated cartoons, Barbera starts to look like a master of a vanishing art form.

addCredit(“Joseph Barbera and William Hanna: Fotos International/Getty Images”)


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  • Chris

    I loved waking up on Saturday morning to watch Hanna- Barbera cartoons. I still watch them till this day.
    The world is a little sadder now that these two men are no longer with us.

  • Mario

    R.I.P. Joseph Barbera, R.I.P. — Thank you for the boundless amounts of entertainment while I was growing up, you are loved and will be sorely missed.

  • aramis

    I must say, I can’t think a single person who hasn’t been touched, entertained, or inspired by the work of this great animation engineer.
    I myself grew up with a devotion to Scooby Doo and the Flintstones (if only because of those chewable powdery vitamins).
    I’m not saddened by his passing though, he was 95. That’s a good long and fruitful life to lead, and he left us with material that will carry on his tradition long after his passing.
    Thanks ever so to the ingenious, Joseph Barbera. Via con Dios.

  • Stephanie Travitsky

    Hayward’s writing was clearly aimed at adults because that was Jay Ward’s plan. With the exception of “Luno” and “Leonardo Lion”, “Fractured Fairytales”, “Bullwinkle”, and “Dudley Do-Right” had an intellectual of humor to it, something that most children would not get. Looney-Tunes had the same idea but before it was on television, they were animated shorts that were on before movies. Some of the jokes (especially Bugs Bunny) were aimed at adults to relax them, and take their minds off the monstrosity that was WWII.
    Back to Hayward, Hayward and Ward along with Hanna-Barbera used their adult humor to make animation more attractive to the television screen, and H.B. made the Flinstones and Jetsons into adult primetime phenoms. They tried that in the 70’s with “Wait “Till Your Father Gets Home”, the precurser to “Family Guy”, but it was not such a hit. Without these guys “The Simpsons”, “Family Guy”, “American Dad”, “King Of The Hill”, and Robert Smigel’s shorts would not be here.

  • Ep Sato

    Hanna-Barbera’s toons are the basis for all of the retro toons we all have come to love on Adult Swim. Without these two, there would have been no Sealab, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and worse yet, NO HARVEY BIRDMAN. It was a sad day when Hanna died, but now that Barbera has passed, it’s as if 2006 is playing some sick joke on me for asking that no more key pop culture creators die this year.
    Joseph Barbera, may you rest in peace. Your creations inspired us as kids, and gave us red eyed midnight munchie inspired laughs as grown ups. Save some Scoobie Snacks for the rest of us.

  • Josh

    When I was home one weekend in mid-November, my parents were getting a free preview weekend of “Boomerang”, which neither of us get otherwise. It was great to just relax and enjoy a few of the shorts. Kid-aimed? Perhaps. But adults can still find value in the many memorable characters as well. I also remember Rocky and Bullwinkle being on Sunday mornings in my area growing up. Both animators will be missed.

  • Nancy Walker

    Sorry to hear of his passing. While I was growing up I loved watching the Jetsons. I loved the robot named Rosie. And definitely loved the way everything worked in their kitchen.

  • bootsycolumbia

    I was addicted to The Flintstones as a kid. I watched it every single day for years, and still watch it from time to time when I get a chance. I’m very sorry to hear of Joseph Barbera’s death. I’d just like to thank him for the many laughs he gave me as a child. May he rest in peace, and my condolences to his family.

  • V.M.L.

    I use to watch a lot of reruns of Hanna-Barbera cartoons during the early years of Cartoon Network. Barbera and Hayward will greatly be missed. They were pioneers.

  • carole

    I love scooby doo to this day…and hanna barbera were the first credit names I ever bothered to learn. So many of my memories are tied up in their cartoons. Thanks for a great time.

  • Ned

    Speaking of “South Park,” that “pirate ghosts” Hanna-Barbera parody they did (featuring Korn) was one of the funniest things I’ve seen on TV in a long time. It perfectly captured everything that was incredibly stupid and irritating about a bad H-B cartoon like Scooby Doo. (Can you tell I’m not an H-B fan? Even as a kid, I thought all of their cartoons were awful.)

  • Can I Get A What What

    R.I.P. Joseph Barbera

    Link: Joseph Barbera, R.I.P. | Popwatch | Blog: Entertainment Weekly. What a sad week this is turning out to be. First we lost Peter Boyle a.k.a. Frank Barone and now Mr. Barbera. R.I.P. to both of these great gentlemen and

  • Nancy Walker

    Ned: If you read this, please know that you are a silly clown that did not need to post and be so disrespectful. Go fly a kite!

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