John Province talks to some of the key architects of the modern Stone Age family. When you’re with the Flintstones, you’ll have a yabba-dabba-doo time!
Note: This article originally appeared in Hogan’s Alley #9.
An early character sheet (click to enlarge)
The dawn of a new century marks the arrival of middle age for The Flintstones, one of television’s most enduring families. Making their debut on a Friday night prime-time series on ABC in September 1960, the celluloid citizens of Bedrock circa 1000,000 B.C. have since sunk roots that reach deeply into the popular culture. And those roots grew fast: The program was an immediate—and to many, a surprise—hit with its target audience: adults. (Right away, it made itself at home in the rarefied air of the Nielsen top 20.) The Flintstones were the Simpsons of their era; though its satire of suburbia seems gentle by today’s standards, it was cutting-edge then. Though animation had long been associated with children’s entertainment, The Flintstones audaciously insisted otherwise. Fred and Wilma hold the distinction of being television’s first couple shown sharing a bed, a television taboo not even Lucy and Ricky Ricardo at their stratospheric peak of popularity dared break. Undoubtedly, being animated offered advantages. Bedrock’s best began receiving award nominations and helped establish prime-time animation as a viable vehicle for entertaining adult audiences, a reliable assumption that continues to benefit network programmers.
The Flintstones remained the most financially successful network animated franchise for three decades, until the appearance of The Simpsons. The Flintstones engendered a global merchandising phenomenon. Cartooning from its inception had been used as a means of moving merchandise (no less an august figure than Richard Outcault himself set up shop at the World’s Fair to hawk Buster Brown licenses). The Flintstones presaged today’s marketing strategies by being the first cartoon series to originate characters solely for the purpose of selling licensed products. It’s an eye-rollingly ubiquitous method today but was a radical concept in an era when popularity preceded merchandising rather than today’s inverted approach.
Establishing a trend still flourishing in later programs such as The Muppets, The Simpsons and King of the Hill, the era’s top Hollywood celebrities, such as Tony Curtis and Ann-Margret, guest-starred and provided voices for animated versions of themselves. ABC even pioneered some programming cross-pollination, pressing The Flintstones into service to promote the fledgling series Bewitched, with Stone Age versions of Darrin and Samantha Stephens guest-starring (perhaps coincidentally, Darrin and Samantha were television’s first live-action couple shown sharing a marital bed). In 1964, a nationwide poll of newspaper readers placed the comic-strip version of the animated series at number three, fending off stiff competition from the likes of Blondie, Dick Tracy, Steve Canyon and Li’l Abner.
Some animation historians speculate that without The Flintstones there may have been no animated Peanuts specials, no How the Grinch Stole Christmas and certainly no Simpsons. The effect of The Flintstones on viewers’ evolving attitudes toward animation as entertainment was subtle but important. Their immense popularity not only made it acceptable for grown-ups to watch a cartoon—they made it cool.
To salute this pop-culture juggernaut, durable through both good times and lean, Hogan’s Alley contacted some of the original creators and their artistic heirs to hear their reminiscences. What emerged were personal reflections that provide unique insights into the development and existence of Hanna-Barbera’s most popular franchise. Though The Flintstones’ bloom has long been off the rose, the inimitable power of yabba dabba doo remains robust despite two critically disappointing forays into live-action films and a latter-day comic strip that quickly lost circulation once deprived of studio guidance. A Broadway adaptation that has been kicking around for years holds open the possibility that prehistory may conquer yet another entertainment form. The long-lived appeal of the Bedrock bunch, suffice to say, long ago surpassed the imaginings of the people who birthed them. The Flintstones are passing into the hands of the third generation of creators who will escort the modern Stone Age family into the new millennium with a new feature film that the Cartoon Network will release later this year. Soon, just as when we first met on that autumn night so long ago, we’ll once again be invited to come and ride with the family down the street through the courtesy of Fred’s two feet. I’m calling shotgun, and make my bronto-burger medium rare.—John Province
Benedict was a Hanna-Barbera character designer and layout artist from 1957 into the 1970s and was one of the original Flintstones character designers.
An early Benedict sketch of Fred and Barney
“I don’t remember much; it was a very long time ago and I don’t understand why people are interested in this kind of thing. It’s a lonely profession, sitting at a table drawing all day, and there’s often not much to relate of any interest because nothing happens. When I was told the studio was coming out with these new characters set in the Stone Age, I thought about it for a while and tried to imagine what the family and the neighbors would look like, maybe like Mutt and Jeff or Alley Oop. They were cave people, so I sketched up some characters carrying clubs and wearing long beards, with scraggly, unkempt hair and in slightly distorted, hunched-over shapes; UPA-like is what I had in mind. Joe [Barbera] didn’t like that much, so I tried another approach, which was much more similar to the way we see them today. I straightened them up, took off the beards and make them look more neat and clean-cut. I worked on the the loincloths so they would hang properly. Barney as originally designed had a strap over one shoulder, and when he turned he had a bare shoulder. It just didn’t look right, so we had to correct that. I was told they had a pet, so a dinosaur seemed appropriate, and that’s all Dino is: a small dinosaur.
“Joe continued to make minor changes on my designs, removing a curl here and or line there, making continuous, tiny but meaningful changes and tightening them up. I suspect he was thinking in terms of removing unneeded detail and making them easier to animate. I had six spots on Fred’s loincloth and remember exactly that it was reduced to four [laughter]. I continued to add little things, like the necktie on Fred and the stone necklace that Wilma wears. Joe just continued making very small changes, bit by bit. Joe was going more for a neat, cute look, but not cute for its own sake.
An early drawing of Fred
“I’d like to say for the record that he was right in that respect and that he was way ahead of me. He was thinking about the look of the characters in terms of the stories we could put them into. My characters might have lasted two generations. His will last ten.”
Hazelton worked on The Flintstones newspaper strip from 1961–1984. Since 1988 he has produced Flintstones serigraphs and studio concept pieces.
“The Flintstones, you ask? Yes, I know ’em! I worked for Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera for years at MGM doing layouts and designing and styling characters for theatrical cartoons. In 1955, when MGM thought they had enough cartoons to shut down the animation department, I was kicked out along with some tremendous creative talents, like a fella I also worked with named Tex Avery. By 1961 I had been in advertising for some time producing TV commercials with two former MGM colleagues and was working nights on the Yogi Bear syndicated daily and Sunday feature for the McNaught Syndicate, when they proposed a strip based on The Flintstones television show. I brought the syndicate together with Bill and Joe and it took about a year to make the deal. Under full-time pressure to leave advertising and come aboard as director of the comic-strip department, with a bonus and complete control, I was back with Hanna-Barbera and never felt so needed. They felt I could devote part of my time to the syndicated features as well as animated commercials, and this made my workload quite heavy.
Gene Hazelton (top) and Dick Bickenback, 1950s.
“It was quite a job to take The Flintstones from television and put them into print. I was taking the designs and adapting them to another medium. Newspapers editors were hesitant to run a Flintstones comic strip. They were from television; TV was hurting newspapers and they were very worried about competition. It was on my shoulders because Bill and Joe were up to their necks producing more animation per week than any other studio in town. They had no interest whatsoever in the comic strips and were not experienced with newspaper syndicates: the time involved, gags, inking, deadlines, shipping, etc. They were in the animation business and that’s where their attention was. I never took work to them for their judgment. It was my responsibility and I felt duty-bound to produce what they expected of me when I signed on.
“The strip really took off. We had a worldwide syndication, despite the fact we were distributed by McNaught, which was one of the worst outfits in the business. At one time The Flintstones was voted one of the top five comic strips in the country, and I’ve always been very proud of that.
“In the early days, some of the secretaries at the studio thought Wilma was plain and actually a little homely. For the strip, I put a ribbon in her hair and gave her more of a shape and perked her up a bit. All the characters changed over the years and became more lovable and cute. I recall the Ideal Toy Co. coming to Hanna-Barbera saying there was great potential if Wilma had a baby girl and they could make a lot of money selling dolls. I worked with them and came up with a good number of models. The Pebbles with the little bone in her hair was chosen as the winner. Ideal made dolls for many years with that.
Pencils of a Hazelton Sunday Flintstones page (click to enlarge)
“I’m happy they had Dick Bickenbach draw the model sheet for the animators. Bick was not only a neat guy, but in my mind much of the character styling at H-B showed Bick’s ability to keep them in the Hanna-Barbera format, just as he kept Pebbles in the style that I designed her. A couple of years later when Barney and Betty adopted a little boy, I did the character designs for Bamm Bamm, who was modeled after my son Wes. The sketch I’ve provided was one of my very first concepts, but with a few additional treatments we had a nice-looking little kid. Again, Bick drew the animators’ model sheet, adding as he did that star quality to little Bamm Bamm.
A Hazelton drawing done for Hogan’s Alley (click to enlarge)
“I had very definite ideas about how concepts could best be worked out and I checked and rewrote most of the material before it was put to Strathmore. The Flint-stones had to be squeaky-clean. I could sometimes take topical subjects and place them in prehistory, but any time I did a gag that smacked of something children shouldn’t know, the roof fell in on me. It had its limitations as to the kinds of stories I could do. A lot of gags took place around the house, and Wilma and Fred needed someone else, so I created Fred’s grandfather, ‘Pops.’ He was a jivey little guy and made a valuable addition. In the TV show, Pebbles only said ‘goo goo da da’ which would have bombed in print. I developed her into more of a character and worked her more by giving her thought balloons, and she improved 99 percent. Complicated subjects coming from the mouth of a baby quickly shot her into a starring role. I did the same with Dino: Bark bark bark would have reduced the family pet to a sleeping dog, but with thought balloons he became a very [central] member of the family and no situation was beyond him. Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty became even stronger characters with Pebbles and Dino giving them input.
“I penciled and wrote the strips and with my assistants was turning out a lot of work: 14 pieces per week—six dailies each of Yogi and The Flintstones and a Sunday page each. It was suggested that I send the strips upstairs for the secretaries to ink, but I never did that. I felt the type of inking I wanted to make the strip look good had to be more professional, and working at the studio I had access to some very talented people who knew the characters well after years of writing and animating the TV shows. I would tightly storyboard the pages, so complete and detailed that they almost became miniature Sunday pages themselves. My help appreciated this and it was a load off of them with their regular TV work to produce as well, but it was also my assurance of a good final product. My Disney training came in handy. I could never just draw a simple straight line for a background like some strips do today. If you’re going to do it you should make it look like you put something into it, so I’d always draw a few trees, some birds or a squirrel, maybe some rocks and flowers and a maybe a cloud or two; I’d dress it up and make it look nice. I really put a great deal of myself into it and we did a careful job.
Hazelton daily strips (click to enlarge)
A Bamm Bamm model sheet (click to enlarge)
“Who were these cartooners? Harvey Eisenberg and his son, Jerry, Dick Bickenbach, Iwao Takamoto, all top guys in the business. Then there was me doing what I thought both Hanna-Barbera and the syndicate wanted. Writers Dale Hale, Mike Maltese, Warren Foster and other studio people worked closely with me to make sure the characters were maintained as they appeared on the highly successful TV show. For years I worked at the studio, but after a while I was able to make a deal with Bill and Joe where they allowed me to work at home. By 1984 I’d kind of had it and wanted to retire, and McNaught took it back and passed it on to their contacts; how good or bad I don’t know. Tons of my originals never came back and I’m sure they were used as an example for others of how to do the strip.
“In the late ’80s through the early ’90s, I was occasionally called upon by the studio to produce original concept pieces for development and release as limited-edition serigraphs that were signed by Bill and Joe and sold in galleries all over the world. Some of these were tremendous jobs, such as “Circus of the Stars,” involving as many as 45 characters. Just as I did with the strips, I put a great deal of work into them. Several sold out quickly and are now collectors items, such as ‘Paws Applause,’ featuring the Hanna-Barbera dogs. ‘First Kiss’ with Pebbles and Bamm Bamm seems to be the most popular, though. Women particularly respond to Pebbles, for some reason.
“Some time ago I began to realize that the Flintstones are part of American culture, along with Mickey Mouse and the Peanuts characters. The other day I saw a cartoon in the newspaper of two stone bowling balls. One had ‘Fred’ chiseled in it and the other had ‘Barney.’ The Flintstones are a permanent part of American culture, and it was a yabba-dabba-dooooo long ride. My many thanks to those who helped make it a happy trip.”
Armstrong worked on The Flintstones newspaper strip and comic book.
Armstrong dailies (click to enlarge)
“My experience with The Flintstones comic strip was a very thin slice of my career, which included years drawing syndicated features such as Napoleon, Ella Cinders, Bugs Bunny, Little Lulu and the 10 years I spent on the Scamp strip, but I drew the first two or three weeks of The Flintstones comic strip. At that particular time, though, I was looking for work and got a call from my ex-assistant, Joe Messerli. He was at Hanna Barbera and told me there was a new comic strip they were working on called The Flintstones and that I should go over and show them some of my samples.
“I went over and the guy I interviewed with was a fella named Gene Hazelton. I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me, but we talked and I submitted my stuff and he said fine, he liked it. I was given some model sheets to work from and Gene sent some strips to me to letter and ink. I took a lot of liberties and took it a step beyond and put a lot of myself into it rather than just slavishly following the pencils. Like so much art by people who worked in animation, it was penciled very roughly, and I did what could be called an approximation of Fred Flintstone; the gags every once in a while reminding the audience that they were reading a comic strip. A feature called Sam’s Strip is what I actually had in mind at the time, and I thought I had a job.
“I had to go back to New York for two weeks for some reason, and when I came back expecting to go on with the strip I was told they had decided to go with someone else. There were a lot of fellows who followed me on it over the years—Dick Bickenbach, who did the Sunday pages and who just passed away recently, and Harvey Eisenberg, a great cartoonist. Dale Hale worked on it and Gene did it for quite a while. The comic-book work came a couple of years later. I got a call from Chase Craig. He said Western Publishing Company, for which he was the West Coast Comic Editor, had the contract to do the Flintstones comic book and he thought I’d like to do it. I worked on that from the inception, then Hanna-Barbera took back the contract and went with Marvel, and I was called back to do it for them.
“As for The Flintstones’ continuing appeal, I understand it about as much as I understand the continuing appeal of Mickey Mouse. Mickey is an icon but without a doubt one of the least interesting characters to ever come out of animation. Like The Flintstones, he has ceased to be any kind character and has become a corporate trademark and a cultural symbol rather than a vehicle for entertainment or any kind of redeeming value. I think it has mostly to do with their longevity more than anything else.”
Between 1961 and 1971, Hale was a storyboard artist and gag man on the animated series and a gag writer and penciler on the newspaper strip.
“When I first came to Los Angeles, I had just finished working for Charles Schulz and was trying to break into the studios. One of the things I did was go over and meet Joe Barbera as well as Alan Dinehart, who was doing animation voices and working with the writers and was in charge of things at the time. I penciled storyboards for some of the first Flintstones animation programs. My first job was the episode starring Hoagy Carmichael. They felt they needed someone who had a feel for music, which I don’t think made much of a difference; I just drew it and put some gags in, but that got me doing that.
“I wrote for the Flintstones comic strip for at least eight years starting in the mid-’60s. I wrote all the Sunday pages and, when I had time, some of the dailies as well and the Yogi Sunday page. I’m really a visual gag man, and though I did write shows, visual gags are really my field. I love visual comedy with no dialogue. Doing visuals, to me, is really the challenge.
A Dale Hale Flintstone Sunday strip (click to enlarge)
“Part of my job as a storyboard guy was to stick in gags such as using the animals as household appliances and things like that. I’m fairly inventive and I was always able to do that. It was a lot of fun. I would rough the strips out in storyboard form; thumbnail sketches, very loose with a lot of slips. I worked at home and so did Gene [Hazelton], who lived near me. I’d then take a load of them over to Gene on Monday and present them to him. He was a very nice man, easy to work for and he never “went Hollywood” like some of the studio’s guys. We’d spend an hour or so going through them and looking at the ideas. He’d decide on the ones he wanted. If it needed cleaning up, I’d take it back home and work on it some more and get the finished stuff back to him on Friday. If it didn’t need any work, he’d take it from there.
“Gene would pencil and ink some of the time, but while I was with him I believe he would them send them off to Harvey Eisenberg, who was doing a lot of the finished inking at that time.
“Everyone will deny it, but I think I was the one who came up with the idea of putting a little baby in there and came up with the idea of focusing on the merchandising that could come from that. It’s sort of like at Warner Bros., where everyone takes credit for inventing Tweety Bird. You mention ideas in meetings and nothing happens and then some time later someone says, ‘Hey, I have a great idea!’ In 1971 my own feature called Figments began, but I continued to write gags for The Flintstones. Comic strips kept me busy for many years but these days, at the urging of my agent, I’m occupied with my website at www.DaleHale.com.
“The characters, popularity, merchandising and money are what it’s really all about; no two ways about it. The idea for the show supposedly got started when someone at Hanna-Barbera commented how much they liked Johnny Hart’s B.C. and that they should get him to do a show for them. I know Johnny Hart came to the studio at one point and worked on some project they had in mind, but it went nowhere. They decided to go with another style or something. Someone figured that they really didn’t need him and that they would just do something like it. I’ve heard this from more than one person. It’s an occupational hazard in the cartoon business, taking someone else’s idea and making it your own.”
Shaw! has worked on The Flintstones in a variety of capacities since 1978, including writing and drawing Flintstones comic books, designing characters and storyboarding for Flintstones animation and working as art director for promotional work.
“When I was a kid, until Rocky and Bullwinkle and The Flintstones, there was really nothing in the way of TV animation for our generation. What was on TV was mostly old Terrytoons from the ’30s, like Farmer Alfalfa and Gandy Goose. They were great old cartoons but nothing we could really relate to. As a kid, I loved animation. My other consuming passion was dinosaurs. Then here comes The Flintstones, and it was everything I liked in one cartoon. I always told people growing up that my Dad looked like Jackie Gleason. He was heavy-set and sort of jowly, and my mother who was a redhead looked like Lucille Ball—so, in fact, The Flintstones looked pretty much like my parents.
“Even at that early age I had a love of that UPA hard-line design look that came from Ed Benedict and was later refined by other people, and I absolutely fell in love with the show. It came out on September 22, 1960, and for the first Halloween there was no Flintstones merchandise—the popularity hadn’t caught up with them yet. So I made my own Fred Flintstone suit for Halloween. I was proud of liking The Flintstones because it was a pretty hip thing. I remember adults talking about it and seeing them on the cover of TV Guide and the fact that it was shown at night. Some of my best collectibles are things like ashtrays and shot glasses, where the licensing was picked up by companies that didn’t have kids in mind at all. I’ve always thought one of the reasons those cartoons were so successful is that Hanna-Barbera came along at the time when other studios were closing their animation units, and they were able to cherry-pick top talent like Mike Maltese and Warren Foster from Warner and animators and designers from UPA and MGM. Hanna-Barbera was condemned for years for bastardizing animation, but their stuff had great production value because they had guys who knew how to make the cartoons funny whether the characters were moving around a lot or not. When Pebbles came along, the series began to change and it became cute. They began putting in characters aimed at kids like The Gruesomes and The Great Gazoo; it was more about the flavor of the week than Honeymooner types trying to get along, and the humor lost its edge. Unfortunately, most kids who see the Flintstones today think of Fred and Barney as those two guys who are always fighting over cereal.
The first four Flintstones dailies by Gene Hazelton, from 1961 (click to enlarge)
“I followed the strip almost from the beginning, and when I was a little older I met Gene Hazelton and visited him quite a number of times. He would take time out for me and looked at my drawings and was very generous and wished me well. We spent almost the whole day together right before I moved to Los Angeles to try to get into the business. My first actual Flintstones job was inking Pete Alvarado’s pencils for a Flintstones story that appeared in a Yogi Bear comic book. “Chase Craig was the editor and had an office at Hanna-Barbera and was trying artists out. I recall inking some of Dick Bickenbach’s comic-book pencils as well, though Lee Hooper was doing most of his inking for him. I also inked a lot of Owen Fitzgerald’s stuff in those early days. This led to me eventually not just inking, but penciling, then writing. They needed huge amounts of material for the overseas market, so sometimes I was writing, penciling and inking entire stories myself. I enjoyed being a freelancer and really didn’t have an interest in working at the studio until 1978, when I found out that they were doing a new Flintstones series called The New Fred and Barney Show. Then it was like, How soon can I get there?
“I came in having never worked in animation and was made a supervisor, presumably because I knew so much about the characters. It was like going to school working with all the great old cartoonists who had either worked on the original show or on the comic books or the strips: Alex Toth, Doug Wildey, Tex Avery. It was really the last hurrah as far as having the original guys around. The series segued into my working on the Flintstones TV commercials, and at the same time I did presentations and art proposing new ideas about possible Flintstones shows. I did artwork for advertising showing The Flintstones with fast food or cereal. Around 1982 I began doing work for the Pebbles cereal TV commercials and continued into the late ’80s, when I began working on The Flintstone Kids show. In the early ’90s I left the studio and became art director for the ad agency that handles all of the Flintstones commercial accounts. That led to my doing the box art and the premiums. I also worked on The Flintstones Christmas Carol TV special a few years ago. And I’m still doing all of that to this day.
Hazelton’s first Flintstones Sunday page, from 1961 (click to enlarge)
“The reason I think they’ve been so popular over the years is that, when you think about most cartoon characters, people think of cute, lovable little animals. The Flintstones aren’t lovable and, like The Simpsons—who coincidentally I work on as well—really play up the imperfection of the average person. Fred and Homer are both, at best, jerks. They don’t even necessarily have good intentions. They’re greedy, scheming, venal dopes who, despite all of that, you still kind of like. They’re both scoundrels, particularly Fred, who is not only a scoundrel but obnoxious as well. Like Jackie Gleason on The Honeymooners, which The Flintstones was modeled after, Fred strays very close to spousal abuse. Today that’s funny because it’s shocking and politically incorrect, and we’re not saying these characters are wonderful. They’re like people you know or might be yourself. With The Flintstones, their world is a character as well. It’s one of the very few animated series where you can show just a background to an audience and they can tell you who the characters are who live there. The prehistoric gadgets and the cars and the animals doing the household chores in a begrudging manner—people never get tired of seeing that stuff. I think it appeals to people’s enjoyment of that Rube Goldberg cause-and-effect kind of humor. They’ve been tried in live action, but the look of their world has never been captured.
“I don’t think animated cartoons should be made into live-action films in general. In animation they already have a movement and a color and a voice. I detest the Flintstones live-action movies. I know the director and he loves the characters, but trying to recapture cartoon gags in live action, like Fred tip-toeing while he’s bowling or jumping up and yelling ‘yabba dabba doo’ just looks really stupid. Taking something from print is different. You’re not doing something that is literally alongside of it. Its a big jump from print to live action, but live action and animation are so close that inevitably they’re not going to match up.
“As far as their future, the Flintstones definitely haven’t been exploited as much as I’d like to see. I don’t get the idea that Warner, who now owns them, is anxious to exploit any of the Hanna-Barbera characters with the exception of Scooby. Doo who came along around 1970, just about the time I lost interest in what was coming out of the studio. The first Flintstones live-action film was hyped to a degree that people got sick of hearing about them, and there’s still some negative fallout from that. I realize we’re selling cereal now, and it’s to kids, not to adults. I don’t know how we’re going to get out of that, but at least they’re not advertising Winston cigarettes anymore. The new production from Cartoon Network might help, but I don’t know what the demographics are concerning adults who will watch it. I think with the right people and the right approach, the potential is certainly there. One of the great things about The Flintstones is that no matter how much time passes, you can always use them to mirror what’s happening in society today.”
Foray was the voice actress for the series’ 1959 pilot, The Flagstones.
“I had worked for Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera when they were still at MGM doing Tom and Jerry cartoons. It was probably in 1959 I did a demo with Daws Butler for a new series still in development called The Flagstones [watch the video above], which was later changed to The Flintstones.
“Daws played both Fred Flintstone and Barney, and I played Betty. They submitted our tape, but apparently whoever was in charge—the network or someone—turned down both Daws and me. I was terribly disappointed, and when my agent talked to Joe Barbera, he said they wouldn’t even let me come in and retest for the part or any of the others. Joe was extremely thoughtful, though, and said he felt very bad. He
asked my agent if I would come and do some other things for them. I was so upset I said I would not and didn’t want to go through that again. Jean Vander Pyl, who later played Wilma, was a radio actress and had done some things. Bea Benadaret, who played Betty, had been in radio and was a TV star, so she was a natural. My only other experience was several years later, when I was in A Man Called Flintstone playing a nurse or someone sitting at a desk. But I do remember being terribly disappointed at not getting to play Betty.”
CHRIS SAVINO and DAVID SMITH
Savino is a director on a new Flintstones animated feature from Cartoon Network. Smith is co-director on the feature.
Chris Savino: The name of our feature is The Flintstones: On the Rocks, and the release date is tentatively November 2001. It’s undecided if it will be a video release first or TV, but I’m pretty sure it will be TV. It changes from day to day.
(Watch three TV commercials with the Flintstones peddling Winston cigarettes:)
David Smith: The characters are based on Ed Benedict’s original designs. Anything from 1970 to present day we did not look at. Craig Kellman, our character designer, was so inspired by Ed Benedict’s original work and he based his redesigns on that.
(Below are Smith and Savino’s updates on the characters for their adaptation. To view the images, click on the thumbnails.)
Savino: There were some similar designs done six or seven years ago for merchandising of the thirty-fifth anniversary of The Flintstones. The merchandising did not do too well, but at the same time those designs were never used for anything else. We thought this was a perfect opportunity to use them again and bring back the look and feel of what The Flintstones originally were. We feel the original Flintstones as they appeared in Episode One in 1960 was not a kid’s show, but a sitcom dealing with adult relationships and marriage. Over the years The Flintstones became very iconic. Fred was no longer a fat loudmouth. Barney was no longer a short idiot. They became very contemporary, even-tempered and unappealing. We treat our film as though 1961 has rolled around again and are taking it from there. We’ve neglected Pebbles and Bamm Bamm as though they didn’t exist, or maybe they do exist and are grown up and have kids of their own, but it’s up to you to decide. We don’t touch on that at all. We focus on the problems of marriage and deal with that 1950s era where the woman stayed at home and the man was the breadwinner. We don’t reinforce that idea in any way, but we’ve kept Fred in that traditional role and have given Wilma more of an update, which causes them even more conflict.
Smith: It’s traditional hand-painted animation. There’s no digital anything in this. We specifically wanted it to look exactly or as close as possible to the original. We had a background painter from the original series, a gentleman named Don Watson. He started around Episode 113 of the original first run. It was an incredible experience to work with him. His knowledge and experience worked well with our ideas and it was a privilege to have him with us. He really brought it back to 1960 for us. The backgrounds are probably the closest thing to the original series, because we’ve really ripped them off.
Savino: If you look at one of the first sequences of our film, you’ll see there are obviously differences from the original, but what we’re going for and have said all along is, this is how you remember The Flintstones: You’ll get the feeling of what it originally was. We’re using Hoyt Curtin’s original music, but since we’ll be taking Fred and Wilma into a Latin American country, we’ve added some Latin American music.
Smith: We hope we’re not doing something with these characters that has been done for many, many years, which is ruin them. We could be doing it and don’t know! [laughter]
Savino: I’d also like to point out that there were four people who wrote and storyboarded this: myself, Dave and a married couple, Cindy and Clay Morrow. We were all born in the ’70s and are not of the 1960s era. I think it’s kind of funny that we’re taking an existing product like The Flintstones and bringing back the nostalgic feel, even though we were never part of that filmmaking time.
If you’re interested in owning a complete, high-resolution PDF copy ofthe sold-out Hogan’s Alley #9 (cover above right), where this article first appeared, just click here!