Before "The Simpsons" became the reigning animated primetime series king, another kooky family was entertaining audiences way back in the 1960's, giving the animation genre a needed shot in the arm as it forayed into the realm of television. Before there were Saturday morning cartoons, there were, well, no original cartoons at all on television. You see, television executives back then were wary about the costly and time-consuming task of producing an original cartoon every week. Most directors in those days could only muster one a month. Many would go the route of recycling animated theatrical releases for the small screen. Then the legendary animation team of William Hanna and Joe Barbera solved that problem by developing a streamlining technique that later became known as "limited animation" where only certain parts of the characters were animated (like a mouth or a hand), backgrounds can be used repeatedly and at fewer frames per second. Selling this concept of cheap and quick, Hanna-Barbera got NBC to finance "Ruff and Reddy", their first television animated show. Running original episodes from 1959-1960, "Ruff and Reddy" was Hanna-Barbera's first hit. Then came other H-B favorites like Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw and Yogi Bear, which were broadcasted in the early evenings.
After these successes, the next evolutionary step is of course, to tackle primetime. To create a primetime animated show that would appeal to both kids and adults alike meant coming up with a fresh idea. Although not really original, Hanna and Barbera decided to create a show that is loosely based on the beloved Jackie Gleason comedy series, "The Honeymooners" but with a gimmick of its own. Experimenting with many scenarios including a story based in ancient Rome, they finally settled on the brilliant idea of setting the story during the prehistoric times but with a modern slant. Say hello to The Flagstones! The who? Yes, although it was an OK name, fortunately for us, the name Flagstones was too close to Flagston, the last name of the characters on the "Hi & Lois" comic strip. So finally, after juggling with another name, the Gladstones, "The Flintstones" was finally born!
At its core, "The Flintstones" is a unique Stone Age spoof on modern life. Living in a prehistoric town called Bedrock, the Flintstones, Fred (voiced by Alan Reed) and Wilma (voiced by Jean Vander Pyl), together with their neighbors Barney (voiced by the incomparable Mel Blanc) and Betty Rubble (voiced by Bea Benaderet) are your typical suburban Stone Age families. One rather unique feature of this show is the lack of consistency when it comes to keeping the story straight, due in part to the practice of having different teams of animators and artists work simultaneously on different episodes. Among the more trivial things to watch out for are the many names and even appearances of secondary characters like Fred's boss. Depending on which episode you are watching, he is referred to as Mr. Slate, Mr. Boulder, J.J. Granite or Joe Rockhead. Even Fred's place of employment changes from time to time and I am not even sure where Barney works! The family car alternates between a 2-seater and a 4-seater and one with a cloth roof and one without. So keep your eye out on these small discrepancies the next time you watch the show.
"The Flintstones" made its debut in primetime on September 30th, 1960 and ran for a total of 166 episodes before ending its magnificent run in 1966. Forty years later, the show still lives on through commercial spots and syndicated reruns. So what is the secret to the show's enormous success and longevity? For the geek in me, it is the innovative "modern" conveniences that are set against a prehistoric backdrop that give the show such a unique and often hilarious twist. Consider the mini wooly mammoth vacuum cleaner or the camera with a little bird inside that sketches out the picture with its beak or on a bigger scale, the pterodactyl-powered airplanes and you can easily see what I mean. Dubbing the Flintstones a modern stone-age family, Hanna and Barbera were able to bring us their own distinct and funny take on the many modern conveniences that we are so accustomed to. As for the critic in me, it is the sitcom-like routines bundled with excellent comedic timing and slapstick actions that are sometimes only possible in an animated program, that puts the show easily on par with many of the television comedies of its time. Contrary to popular belief, comedy is not an easy endeavor but Hanna and Barbera, together with the many writers for the show had such enormous talent and flair for recognizing funny situations and making full use of them to make us laugh.
Like I mentioned earlier, the un-credited template for "The Flintstones" is "The Honeymooners" and there are clear similarities. First, both shows are made up of two sets of couples, the Kramdens and the Nortons versus the Flintstones and Rubbles. Second, the husbands on both shows are always hatching harebrain schemes that seem to backfire in the end. I never thought about it before but when I was a kid, I always thought of the show as a children's program. However, watching it again now, "The Flintstones" is more like a sitcom than a zany cartoon in many ways than one. Just like a slice of real life, Fred, together with his trusting sidekick and best friend Barney are constantly trying to get out of things that their wives want them to do while Wilma and Betty like to gossip on the phone and go shopping like the good prehistoric consumers that they are. These main characters even grow and evolve with time, with the inclusion of their children Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm later on.
One interesting thing to note on this first season DVD set is the use of a different theme song and opening/closing sequences. Instead of the familiar and catchy "Meet The Flintstones" theme song, the first two seasons of the show feature an instrumental song called "Rise and Shine". Also, on another trivial note, most of the episodes on this DVD set include the original laugh track. Most reruns of the show today air without the track and Warner Bros. is kind enough to restore those episodes to its original broadcast versions.
A total of 28 episodes make up the first season of "The Flintstones". Spread over four discs, each disc contains 7 episodes. Disc 4 is a 2-sided disc with the last 7 episodes on Side A and the Special Features on Side B.
Disc 1: "The Flintstones Flyer", "Hot Lips Hannigan", "The Swimming Pool", "No Help Wanted", "The Split Personality", "The Monster From the Tar Pits", "The Baby Sitters"
Disc 2: "At the Races", "The Engagement Ring", "Hollyrock, Here I Come", "The Golf Champion", "The Sweepstakes Ticket", "The Drive-In", "The Prowler"
Disc 3: "The Girls' Night Out", "Arthur Quarry's Dance Class", "The Big Bank Robbery", "The Snorkasaurus Hunter", "The Hot Piano", "The Hypnotist", "Love Letters on the Rocks"
Disc 4: "The Tycoon", "The Astra'Nuts", "The Long, Long Weekend", "In the Dough", "The Good Scout", "Rooms For Rent", "Fred Flintstones: Before and After"
Like the Looney Tunes Collection released last year, the video restoration work on "The Flintstones" is excellent. For a television program that first aired forty years ago, "The Flintstones" has never looked so good. Presented in its original fullscreen aspect ratio of 1.33:1, the colors of the images are bright and vivid, with very little and almost unnoticeable grain. The only downside to the overall video presentation is the ever presence of dirt and scratches. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.
Although only available in Dolby Digital monoaural, the audio presentation is better than one would expect. Given the limitations of this type of audio track, it serves the purpose of the show pretty well with no hiss and clear dialogue and music. In a 5.1 speaker setup like mine, the audio is only audible through the center channel. Other audio options include French and Spanish language Dolby Digital monoaural.
Although not as extensive as I would imagine--obviously Warner Bros. have to keep some extras aside for future season releases--the special features included on this DVD set is enjoyable. The most important feature is the one and a half minute long lost pilot episode of "The Flagstones" which were used by Hanna and Barbera early on to market the show to potential sponsors. Titled "The Flagstones: The Lost Pilot", it is a scratchy and faded animated short of the main characters doing their usual things. Television historians will revere this short but important episode. Coincidentally, this lost episode is almost identical to the episode "The Swimming Pool" found on Disc 1.
Next we have "All About The Flintstones" which chronicles the history of the series. I was expecting this featurette to be encompassing but it turned out to be short and slightly disappointing. It features old black and white television interviews with William Hanna and Joe Barbera and excerpts of other documentaries as well. In "Wacky Inventions", the show's prehistorically modern tools and gadgets are celebrated. Also included are early television commercials that feature the Flintstones. Titled "Original Flintstones Spots", you can watch commercials that market Alka Seltzer, One-A-Day Vitamins and Post cereals. Lastly, in "Family Favorites", there are trailers for the just-released "Scooby Doo Where Are You Season 1 & 2" DVD set, "Tom And Jerry" and the "Loony Tunes Golden Collection".
The four discs in this DVD set are housed in an attractive 5-panel gatefold Digipak package that is similar to the Looney Tunes Collection release earlier. Over this package is a transparent plastic slip-on cover that features a nice cover art of the Flintstones characters.
"The Flintstones" already occupies a unique place in television history for being the first animated primetime series. With this excellent DVD set of the first season, Warner Bros. seeks to further solidify the show's importance to most of our lives and to popular culture in general. Whether you are young, middle-aged or just young at heart, "The Flintstones" enjoys an almost universal appeal to every age group. For many of us who grew up watching "The Flintstones" every Saturday morning, this DVD set represents a nostalgic look back to simpler times, much like what a security blanket is to a small child. The allure of "The Flintstones" forty years on is really the era that it represented and to be able to experience it again and again, is pure magic.
Before I go, I have to wonder what good is a review of "The Flintstones" without at least a mention of Fred's famous celebratory phrase. So here goes: