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Over the years, I’ve occasionally heard Hanna-Barbera criticized for “cheapening” the
art of cartoons by inventing a technique for television called “limited animation”.

Here’s the true story: When theatrical cartoons were on death’s door, William Hanna
and Joseph Barbera single-handedly (or, rather, double-handily) rescued cartoons from
oblivion. As a cartoon blues man might say, “If it wasn’t for limited animation, we
wouldn’t have no animation at all.”

Seven Oscars weren’t enough.
In 1957 Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were veteran cartoon directors with over forty
years experience between them. These two men had created the cartoon cat and mouse
team, Tom & Jerry. (That’s tantamount to having “invented” Abbot & Costello.) They
had won seven Oscars with Tom & Jerry, more than anybody else in cartoon history.

But in the mid fifties none of that mattered anymore. Television had arrived. The
theatrical market for cartoons had dried up. And MGM, where Hanna and Barbera had
risen to the rank of executive producers, suddenly closed up shop without warning.
Overnight, Bill and Joe found themselves out of work, along with virtually all of their
cartoon colleagues in Hollywood.

Never say die.
But these two cartoonists refused to go gently into th-th-th-th-that’s all folks. They
started a studio, and figured out a way to make cartoons viable for television. You think
that’s easy? Consider this: The “full animation” cartoons that Hanna and Barbera made
at MGM took six months per seven minute episode, with budgets that often exceeded
$60,000. Now they had to create thirty minutes of cartoon material every week, with
budgets that were half the size of what they used to spend to make a single short!

They had a plan.
How did they do it? They called upon the “planned” animation technique they had
developed to test out new Tom & Jerry cartoons at MGM. Instead of making twenty or
thirty thousand drawings, a planned or “limited” cartoon only used 2 or 3 thousand
drawings. Now Hanna and Barbera had to make this “planned” approach work for them
on actual cartoons. They adopted the minimalist cartoon style which was becoming
popular at the time, with its simple lines and suggested backgrounds, and turned it to
their advantage. They made backgrounds that could be used in multiple scenes; cloud
formations that worked whether the action was going up, down, or sideways; characters
with “muzzles” so only their mouths had to be animated; characters that blinked a lot, to
enhance the illusion of motion.

Shooting stars.
And to keep the entertainment value of their TV cartoons high, Hanna and Barbera
turned up the burners on their imaginations. With Tom & Jerry they had worked with
the same characters over and over, dreaming up different cat and mouse gags each time.
Now these men in their late forties responded to the challenge of their careers by
bringing out an avalanche of vivid, hilarious, new cartoon stars and stories.

Ruff & Reddy, Pixie & Dixie, Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw
(and his alter ego El Kabong), Topcat, Magilla Gorilla, Snagglepuss, Scooby Doo, The
Jetsons, Jonny Quest, Space Ghost ...the list goes on and on. (Oh, and let’s not forget
the most successful television cartoon team of all time, The Flintstones.)

In the list above I’ve barely scratched the surface of what sprang from the
imaginations of Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera, and the other great cartoon talents they
assembled at their studio in the fifties and sixties.

Stories, characters, ingenuity, and a dedication to the cartoon cause. That’s how
Hanna-Barbera rescued cartoons from death’s door. Anybody who says different will
have to answer to El Kabong! (I wouldn’t risk it if I were you.)

Bill Burnett
Creative Director
Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc.