Ranking classic animation series is like making a list of your ten favorite things to eat - the outcome may depend on what time of day you make the list.
Top Ten Classics
The Classics are the television series that laid the foundation for the animation industry as we know it today. These shows, generally produced between 1950 and 1966 became the stereotypes for many others that would come later. If you are not an animation geek or at least 50 years old, you may not have seen some of these shows. That’s too bad really, because although not as visually slick as shows today, they were witty, clever and delightful examples of great writing and humor.
10. Huckleberry Hound
Daws Buttler was at his best voicing the slow talking, laconic Huckleberry Hound. With a twist of warm humor and a southern drawl this show was and a groundbreaker for Hanna-Barbera in 1958. Lots of gags and an immediate hit and the show that gave Yogi Bear his start….
9. Felix the Cat
Introduced to television in 1958 by Joe Oriolo, Felix was somewhat altered with introduction of his Magic Bag of Tricks and the infusion of new characters. Arguably the original cartoon superstar, Felix appeared as early as 1919 in a film titled ‘Feline Follies’. Quirky and at times dark, Felix along with his brainy little pal Poindexter took on the evil Professor and his henchman Rock Bottom who hatched one treacherous plot after another to steal the mysterious Bag of Tricks which could change shape to anything Felix needed. Felix was a deceptively simple character but I always thought there was a hidden depth or mystery to him – like playing a record backwards to find the real message….
8. Beanie and Cecil Show
I watched this show as a child when it was first introduced in 1949 using puppets although my real memories of the show are more attached to the animated version which began in 1959. Created by Bob Clampett, it along with The Jetsons and The Flintstones became the first color television series broadcast on ABC. Simpler, warmer and less stressful times produced simpler, warmer and less stressful television and this show was all of that and more. A cute and deliciously sweet offering featuring Beanie, a young round faced boy with a propeller powered beanie, and his friend, sidekick and at times protector, Cecil the Sea Sick Serpent. This was a kid’s staple and is still a wonderful property today.
7. The Jetsons
Ok, this is a cheat in that it was originally broadcast as a Prime time show but as it went to daytime series later I will include it in this list.
Created as a kind of Flintstones in space show, the Jetsons was a light hearted gag driven show much like many other H&B properties of the time. Introduced in 1962 in ran for two years on ABC and later in syndication in the 1980’s. Like Beanie and Cecil, it was one of ABC’s first color broadcast televisions series. The whole Jetson family – Parents George and Jane, kids Elroy and Judy along with Astro the Dog and Rosie the Robot Maid have lived on for many of us and can be found spread out across the far and ever expanding regions of pop culture.
6. Roger Ramjet
Produced in 1965 by Ken Snyder and Fred Crippen at Pantomime Pictures, this was yet another series that relied upon topical and edgy humor with sharp dialogue lampooning anyone and anything the writers deemed in need of a needle prick or a kick in the pants. Roger Ramjet was yet another lame brained superhero who couldn’t tell you who is buried in Grant’s tomb but with the help of his Proton Energy Pills (PEP) could manage to save the world from evil doers… Funny and with at times biting humor, the show was a small gem of contemporary comment with its barbs aimed at hypocrisy, self-importance and anyone who couldn’t take a joke.
5. George of the Jungle
Well from here on down we’re pretty much in Jay Ward territory. George of the Jungle was introduced in 1967 by Jay Ward Studios. Like its predecessors the lead was a helpless character with a negligible IQ. George was a parody with the brain of a child and the build of Tarzan. Likeable but helpless, George called his mate (voiced by June Foray) “Fella” and his friend “Ape” which made some sense as he actually was an ape. Honing gags that played so well with earlier Jay Ward hits, the show was an immediate success and remains a cartoon icon to this day.
4. Dudley Do-Right
Dudley Do-Right was as dumb as a fence post but he always managed to save the day one way or another. He battled his nemesis Sidney Whiplash and pursued the girl of his dreams, Nell Fenwick, daughter of his boss Inspector Fenwick while never seeming to never have a clue about what was going on around him. This show like nearly all in this category lived and died with the writing and Dudley Do-Right did very well with Bill Scott taking the lead and also handling the lead voice. The key to the storylines and humor was Dudley just never understanding anything, from his pursuit of Nell who seemed more interested in his horse, whose name was of course, “Horse”. If you enjoy wit and clever writing this is a show for you.
3. Yogi Bear Show
Originally introduced in 1958 on the Huckleberry Hound show Yogi was given his own show in 1961 although he shared the limelight with two other H&B characters, Snagglepuss and Yakky Doodle. The picnic basket swiping, rule-breaking, fun-loving Bear soon became a household name along with his little buddy Boo Boo and Ranger Smith, his benevolent adversary and head ranger at Jellystone Park. Yogi, who we were told in the show’s theme song was, “Smarter than the Average Bear” was never short of self- confidence no matter how badly his plans turned out. Yogi was lovable but a schemer of the first order and it was fun to watch him get himself and Boo Boo into hot water with zany plan after another, only to be forgiven by the very forgiving Ranger Smith. A big hit for Hanna Barbera and the birth of an iconic character.
2. Crusader Rabbit
Difficult not to place this show at my top spot as it was clearly the first animated series made for television. However the show was exceedingly limited and many critics and pundits don’t rate it highly except for its distinction of being the first show produced exclusively for broadcast television. Crusader was voiced by Lucille Bliss and his side-kick Rags the Tiger by Vern Loudon. The original ran from 1949 to 1951 but an ownership dispute came at the end of the production run with Jay Ward and his partner selling control of the property which was revived in 1957 in a colorized version. The shows formula was typical Jay Ward, a clever character (Crusader) paired with a big, sweet but dumb character (Rags) set out on adventures and would overcome their evil adversaries. The audience (kids) seemed to love it and it was after all, the mother of all television animation that has followed.
1. Rocky and Bullwinkle Show
Finally, the show that featured not one but two leading characters that both would have lead billing at one time or another (Rocky and Friends & The Bullwinkle Show) in their own series. Of all the Jay Ward offerings this is the one that I consider the benchmark. A perfect pairing of the clever and courageous Flying Squirrel Rocky and his pal the lovable think headed Moose Bullwinkle. With the very best of all villains (Boris and Natasha) the show reached that perfect symmetry of wit and humor that proved you could reach children and adults alike. First produced in 1959 as Rocky and His Friends, the shows quickly build a loyal following that remains today. With what would today be called a Hall of Fame voice over cast of Bill Scott, June Foray, Daws Butler, Charles Ruggles, Paul Frees and Edward Everett Horton, the show was blessed with a wealth of talented writers, artists and actors. On this show everything came together and created a true classic.
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