Ghosts, and Monsters:
Animation Catches a Craze
Noell Wolfgram Evans) In the 1950s and 60s America was scared
of monsters. Monsters; death; the occult have all been a part
of the fabric of humanity since humans first stepped onto the
soil of Earth. In the 1930's in America our interest in monsters
grew tremendously thanks to pulp magazines, radio programs and
horror movies, particularly those released by Universal Pictures.
Even animated films, in a way, got scary.
Monster made a number of appearances in Warner Brother's cartoons,
Bugs Bunny went up against Gossamer (the red haired monster) and
several of the Warners 'heroes' were put up against Jekyll and
Hyde type of characters. UPA gave us a unique look at 'The Tell
Tale Heart' while Disney spent time on the dark side with such
works as the Silly Symphony 'Skeleton Dance'and the animated 'Legend
of Sleepy Hollow'.
love affair the public had with the macabre though soon gave way
to other interests such as the wild west, outer space and television.
When television first took hold in the 1950's, film studios were
fearful of the new competition and fought against it. Over time
though they came to understand and accept that it was here to
stay and perhaps the two could exist and work together.
And so it
was that in 1957 Universal Studios decided to package together
their horror films from the 1930s and 40s and 'syndicate' them
to television. For many people, viewing these images provided
their first exposure to these stories while for others watching
these movies was a dark trip down memory lane. Whatever their
reason, people took strongly to these broadcasts and monsters
were again large in the public consciousness. Thanks to the repetition
of a television broadcast this following would only continue to
grow and gather steam. And so it was that by the mid-60s, classic
movie monsters were a big business. Television, toys, models,
costumes and feature films all were permeated with monsters. Animation
was not far behind.
of the earliest animated spooks was Casper the Friendly Ghost.
Casper was originally created by Seymour Reit and Joe Oriolo in
the 1940's to star in a Famous Pictures theatrical short. This
story of a ghost who didn't want to scare anyone was surprisingly
popular and Casper went on to star in several other cartoons over
the next few years before fading away. In 1963 Casper was brought
back to 'life' for a completely new set of adventures in 'The
New Casper Cartoon Show'. This television incarnation of Casper
featured him in the Enchanted Forest along with his friends Wendy
the Good Little Witch and Nightmare, a talking horse who also
was a ghost.
time that monsters were on the rise in television, so were the
team of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. They had been two of the most
successful theatrical cartoon producers and were now applying
their talents to television. By 1964, thanks mainly to 'The Flintstones',
they had found their place and were well in the midst of trying
other topics, including horror. In 1965 they released 'The Winsome
Witch'. The story of a witch who used her powers only for good
was a bit too saccharine and the show only lasted two seasons.
Monster 'blandness' was not just a problem for Hanna Barbera,
many studios had issues in properly fitting horror characters
cartoon surroundings. In 1965 Hal Seeger tried to jump on the
bandwagon with 'The Milton The Monster Show'. The star of course
was Milton, a massive Frankenstein's monster fellow who had a
near continuous cloud of smoke hanging above his head. The adventures
of Milton and his monster friends never broke out and the show
lived a quiet and short life.
the studios continued to search for the magic mix of Halloween
and animation. In 1966, Hanna Barbera came back with 'Frankenstein
Jr. and The Impossibles' a two-part show with the first half being
made up of the adventures of Frankenstein Jr., a 30-foot tall
Frankenstein's monster style robot who was created by boy inventor
Buzz Conroy. Although the monster here was 'friendly' this show
came under intense pressure from various watch groups for the
amount of violence that it allegedly showed and in 1968 it was
pulled from network rotation. 1966 also saw the well-known production
team of Rankin/Bass enter the field with 'King Kong'. Rankin/Bass
were already a successful force in animation, thanks in large
part to the production of 'Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer' (1964).
At this time they were looking to branch into other areas and
saw King Kong as the perfect vehicle for this. Rather than use
their popular animagic (a stop motion) technique, they decided
to go the hand drawn animation route in telling this tale of Kong.
The series found a friendlier ape living on Mondo Island with
a number of people, including the Bond family. Kong had taken
a special liking to the youngest Bond, Bobby and most of the episodes
consisted of their adventures fighting the evil Dr. Who. The series
lasted three years and while it was Rankin/Bass' first foray into
'monster animation'; it would not be their last.
Jr. and Jules Bass had first met each other in the mid-1950s as
they were working on separate projects for a mutual client. This
chance meeting turned into an immediate friendship and in 1955,
a partnership as the two opened Videocraft International. The
bulk of their early work consisted mainly of television commercials.
While it was work that they enjoyed, the two also had dreams of
producing television programs as well as feature films. It was
with these thoughts that in 1961 they renamed the company Rankin/Bass
Productions and refocused their goals. Goals that they started
to reach almost immediately with the production of Rudolph.
1966 producer Joseph E. Levine had thoughts of merging the popularity
of monsters with the golden touch of Rankin/Bass and he signed
them to a feature film contract. What he got was not a quickly
produced exploitation film but rather a lovingly crafted animated
musical. The animagic 'Mad Monster Party' (1967) told the story
of the Worldwide Organization of Monsters gathering together for
the retirement of Baron Von Frankenstein. On this occasion, the
Baron would announce that his non-monster nephew Felix would now
head the group. It's an announcement that causes much dissent
amongst those in assembly and the entire group spends the rest
of the ninety-minute film trying to sort it all out.
Jr. wrote the story and then turned it over to Len Korobkin and
Harvey Kurtzman (a writer for Mad Magazine) who turned it into
a screenplay while Jules Bass worked with Maury Laws in creating
the musical score. The jazz based music and songs fit in perfectly
with the times and, while hinting at parody towards what would
be found in a spy film of the day, they remain as something more
than just a curious relic of the era.
and songs complete, they now needed a look for the picture and
in a fit of inspiration they turned to another man of Mad Magazine,
Jack Davis. Davis was the perfect man to turn to as he had started
his career drawing horror comics for EC in the 1950's. He was
able to use these experiences perfectly in creating the film's
modern approach to the classic horror characters and settings.
Once this was established, Don Duga and Paul Cocker took Davis'
work and turned it into a series of meticulous storyboards. This
was a key point in the production, as scenes had to be meticulously
planned out because the actual animation was not being done in
an easy to supervise location.
1958 Rankin took a tour of Japan and along the way visited several
animation houses, including Toei Studios. He was impressed by
their quick production and unusual animation techniques and saw
in these elements something that could be a great benefit to his
companies work. Upon returning home, he contracted Toei to do
the physical animation of the Rankin/Bass stories.
The last piece
of the Mad Monster Party puzzle was signing the voice talent.
In a serendipitous bit of casting, they were able to convince
Boris Karloff to step in as the voice of Baron von Frankenstein.
Who better to give life to this version of Frankenstein than the
man who starred as the original Frankenstein's Monster in the
movies? His legitimate acting ability and horror movie pedigree
leant considerable weight to the production. Boris was joined
behind the microphone by Phyllis Diller, Gale Garnett and Allen
same time (1966 to be exact) another animated fright fest came
into being. While more nostalgically entertaining than legitimately
scary, 'It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown' has taken a place
in our minds as the Halloween animated program. Directed by Bill
Melendez, the Emmy nominated show is a meditation on faith and
devotion shown through Linus' unwavering belief in the Great Pumpkin.
The scares come in the literalization of every child's nightmare
when Charlie Brown gets rocks during trick or treat.
years after 'The Great Pumpkin' first aired, another cartoon with
a dog for a star would appear and its mixture of horror and hi-jinks
would influence animation for the next three decades. In 1969
Hanna Barbera had a concept for an animated horror series, which
they took to Fred Silverman, an executive at CBS. Titled 'House
of Mystery' the show revolved around a group of teenagers who
solved mysteries. Silverman immediately ok'd the concept and pre-production
began. As this started, the name changed to 'Mysterious Five'
and a dog was added into the mix. As the premise continued to
be worked it started to become apparent that the character of
a dog here could have the all-important marketing potential. Writers
Ken Spears and Joe Ruby started to build the dog more substantially
into the plot and finally Silverman had a solid show, now called
'I'm S-s-s-s-scared', to take to his board in New York City. The
board at CBS took one look at the storyboards for the program
and vetoed the entire series under the fear that it would be too
scary and intense for children. As legend has it, Silverman was
flying back to California to break the news to the team and as
he tried to relax, he plugged into the airplane radio system.
The soothing sounds of Frank Sinatra singing 'Strangers in the
Night' floated out of the headset and as Sinatra came to the scat
refrain, Silverman shot out of his chair with a newfound excitement.
If you are unfamiliar, this section of the song goes '
'. Silverman knew what needed done.
home, he put the focus of the show completely on the dog and named
him Scooby Doo. Voice artist Don Messick gave Scooby a half-human/half
animal voice, the comedy element was heightened against the horror
and a star was born. 'Scooby Doo, Where Are You?' debuted in 1969
and has remained on TV, in one incarnation or another, ever since.
and films are just at the top of what has become a long and continually
growing list of animated monsters. Over the years many more creatures
and ghouls have crossed our screens including Fangface (1979),
The Groovie Ghoulies (1970), Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1969),
The Galloping Ghost (1978), Goober and the Ghost Chasers (1973),
Halloween is Grinch Night (1977), Ghostbusters and The Real Ghostbusters
(both 1986), AAAH!! Real Monsters (1994), Tim Burton's Nightmare
Before Christmas (1993) and Monsters, Inc. (2001). We now thankfully
have an animated monster to match everyone's needs and desires.
So as you turn your lights out tonight sleep tight knowing that
somewhere, there is a ghoul for you.
Evans is a freelance writer who lives in Columbus, Ohio. He has
written for the Internet, print and had several plays produced.
He enjoys the study of animation and laughs over cartoons with
his wife and daughter.
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