Sunday, 23 December 2018

THE LEIGH SPENCE MOMENT: THE BEATLES CARTOON


96. “You’d never be as hungry in your entire life as we were when we got stuck in Africa without a penny in our pockets.”



23/12/2018




For the life of me, I cannot remember how I tripped up on this cartoon when looking on YouTube, but here it is, it exists, and somehow, I must now deal with that fact: the Beatles had their own Saturday morning cartoon series in the United States, made from 1965 to 1967, and it looks bloody awful.

The idea for “The Beatles” came from Al Brodax, a TV producer with a track record of developing new programme formats who, in 1960, joined King Features Syndicate, a company which syndicates content to newspapers like columns, puzzles and games, and comic strips. “Popeye” was the first of their strips to get a new series on television, with Brodax overseeing 220 new shorts between 1960 and 1962 – these are the ones where Bluto was renamed “Brutus,” when they thought they didn’t own the character, but actually did. These were followed with a revival of “Krazy Kat,” “Beetle Bailey” and “Snuffy Smith,” but seeing The Beatles perform on “The Ed Sullivan Show” defined the rest of Brodax’s career.


Unfortunately, the animation style of “The Beatles” is mired in the funk of limited animation that affected the reputation of “Popeye” and “Krazy Kat.” The head of animation for the series, George Dunning, had experience in using limited animation to great stylistic effect when working for the famed animation company UPA, they of “Gerald McBoing-Boing” and “Mr. Magoo,” but the modernist ambitions of UPA were traded here for a more realist style that, in the face of the glut of Hanna-Barbera cartoons, just looks a bit cheap.

The storylines themselves are, well, not really there: each half-hour show is built out of a number of 5-6 minutes shorts, again much like “Popeye” and “Krazy Kat,” and are animated around a song. The Beatles arrive somewhere, and things happen – John fights a bullfighter to “When I Saw Her Standling There,” while the band are shown where leprechauns keep their gold to “Do You Want to Know a Secret.” Characterisation was also kept simple: John was the squared-jawed leader, Paul his his pretty deputy, George is dry and witty (with a slightly Irish accent), and Ringo is as dopey as hell. Brian Epstein even made an appearance one, but he was drawn to look like Al Brodax.


The Beatles did not provide their voices: Paul Frees, of “Rocky & Bullwinkle,” voiced John and Paul, while the British actor Lance Percival took George and Ringo. The band themselves originally disliked the series, but it appeared to grow on them later. What didn’t help was how the series froze them in time as lovable mop-tops in navy blue suits, especially as their music and style developed incredibly quickly: once reruns of the series had ended in 1969, “Sgt. Pepper,” “The White Album” and “Abbey Road” had been released, and their early work is almost that of a different band. What is more, the network showing the cartoon, ABC, now had their own legally distinguishable version, named “The Monkees.” Giving Al Brodax and George Dunning the last film of The Beatles’ contract with United Artists would have been admission that they simply did not care what was produced – good thing that, without the confines of TV animation, they delivered “Yellow Submarine” instead.

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