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Blu-ray Review: “The Flintstones & WWE – Stone Age Smackdown”

Blu-ray Review: "The Flintstones & WWE - Stone Age Smackdown"

It’s been a
long wait, but the Flintstones are back in our first visit to Bedrock in over a
dozen years (unless you count commercials, there hasn’t been a Flintstones film
since 2001’s Flintstones On The Rocks).
To fans who remember when The Flintstones
was Hanna-Barbera’s flagship creation, and the first primetime animated series AND
the longest-running series before The
Simpsons
, this is an event and somewhat of a miracle.

 

The
partnership of Flintstone characters with WWE wrestlers started some time ago,
when WWE stars such as John Cena appeared on Pebbles cereal boxes with the
their prehistoric pals. The logic is connective; longtime fans might enjoy a
modern resurgence of the Flintstones, and kids less familiar with the
Flintstones will be bridged to the classic property through the very popular
WWE performers; perhaps becoming Flintstone fans, too.

 

Plopping
celebrities into Bedrock is nothing new, since the likes of Stony (“I hear and
obey”) Curtis and Ann-(“I Ain’t-a Gonna Be a Fool”)-Margrock and many other
notables were rendered in H-B’s limited animation (or “planned animation” as
Bill Hanna called it). This new 52-minute direct-to-video special sticks closely
to cozy, familiar Flintstone sitcom plotlines; Fred sees dollar signs when he
decides to “create” the concept of show business wrestling, blows money on
fancy clothes, ticks off his family and friends and then comes through with his
deep-down decency.

 

What the
new film offers—part of the miracle—is something that was missing from
Flintstone projects for decades, ever since the original series ended in 1966—even
in projects that involved Mr. Hanna and Mr. Barbera. Though we always wanted to
go home again, we never really because it all started to sound and especially
look different.

 

In the days
of black-and-white TV and poor reception, the Flintstones environment was a
world of heavy black lines with backgrounds dominated by blues and whites.
Color TV offered the cartoons a wider palette, so Bedrock became a town of
earth tones. This look influenced the two live-action theatrical films. It
wasn’t a bad thing; it just wasn’t the original look.

 

At the same
time, the Xerox process, which eliminating hand inking, gave all the lines the same
value and filled in Barney’s eyes. As members of the voice cast left the scene,
new actors stepped in to rise to the task. But as years passed, the look continued
to be altered, voices came and went, and the new material—some of it quite
good, actually—just wasn’t the same. Sometimes various filmmakers, artists and
actors would get very close but seldom at the same time until now.

I’m not a knowledgeable
wrestling fan, but my adolescent son recognized all the WWE guest stars in this
show (bull’s-eye, Warner!) I am, however, a diehard Hanna-Barbera fan will go
to his grave diligently mining the joys of even what some deem their “lesser” endeavors.
So when the voices are done as earnestly and skillfully, and the art direction
is so true to classic H-B, the whole think makes me go all misty-eyed,
especially as seen in high-def. Blu-ray. The angular style of early-to-mid
sixties Hanna-Barbera cartoons is now presented with a more defined crispness
than was possible in the early cartoons (with color by Pathé).

 

Every
detail is spot-on: there’s a funny caricature for adults to “get” (Phil
Silvers); incidental characters with the precise countenances; poses and set
ups right out the show (like the panorama of Bedrock from the 1960 show bumpers
and Fred’s Yogi Bear-like front view). They even improved an early oversight.
When Stone Age Smackdown beings, we see Fred waking up, late for work; Wilma is
asleep beside him, posed in the same manner as in the 1960 end titles—only this
time she has a mouth.

 

Modern Stone
Age jokes and animal appliances—a must for every Flintstone film or special—are
here, too. The standout is a “Stonebucks” with—yes!—Squiddly Diddly in the
logo. Wilma mentions buying her swimsuit at “Marshales” and so forth.

 

This being
the age of enlightenment, there are also a few touches you would never have
seen in ‘60s TV of any kind. Barney pees. The wall under a window obscures him,
but it’s clear what’s going on with the stone toilet as he hums contentedly.
Fred interrupts him at the window (which has no curtains). The upside is that,
even in the Stone Age, bathroom tissue was not made of rocks.

Stone Age Smackdown is not without its issues. Purists
might balk at the slight enlargement of Betty and Pebbles’ eyes. Austin
Wintory’s big stereophonic score isn’t heavy on Hoyt Curtin arrangements,
though to his credit, there is some Flinstonian bassoon and percussion work.

 

Jeff
Bergman’s Fred is so accurate to the 1960s version that that one can forget
that it is not Alan Reed. I enjoy the work of the second Fred voice, Henry
Corden, but his approach to the role was very different). The actor in Smackdown with the trickiest task is
Kevin Michael Richardson as Barney (who, with Bergman, also played these roles in
On the Rocks).

 

The
decision to recreate Mel Blanc’s early Barney sound—a higher, more nasal tone—can
be disconcerting to those who are less familiar with the first half of the 1960-61
season (you can hear Blanc do both Barneys in an episode called “The Prowler”).
Barney’s latter-day voice is easier for the average person to imitate (note the
word “imitate”, since the voice actors who have taken on this version of Barney
add their professional acting skill to it).

 

Barney’s 1960
sound was similar to Mel Blanc’s own speaking voice, somewhat akin to Billy
Crystal’s Mike Wazowski. Recreating it has to be a particularly daunting
challenge. To give you an idea of how well Richardson accomplishes it, watch
“The Engagement Ring” episode (11/25/60), included on as a bonus feature in
this Blu-ray/DVD release. He gets the phrasing perfect and his tone is astonishingly
similar to Blanc’s.

 

In addition
to “The Engagement Ring”, this Blu-ray/DVD includes a classic Flintstones episode from Season 2: “Take
Me Out to the Ball Game” (4/27/62). Both contain story elements also found in Stone Age Smackdown.

 

Additional
features include “The Superstars of Fred Flintstone Entertainment (FFE)”
featuring each of the real-life wrestlers and their animated counterparts (very
helpful to uninitiated viewers like me), and “How to Be a Stone Age Superstar”,
in which the wrestlers offer advice to those aspiring to follow in their
powerful footsteps.

 

Also of
note: Russi Taylor, who voices baby Pebbles in this film, also played teenage
Pebbles in the 1980 Saturday morning Flintstones series, giving her the longest
Flintstone career after Jean Vander Pyl. And check out the mask worn by “Rey
Mysteriopal”; it has eye holes exactly like those worn by the evil Green Goose
in the 1966 feature, The Man Called
Flintstone.

 

A brand-new
release that so meticulously recaptures the salad days of Hanna-Barbera only
makes one yearn for more Flintstones cartoons and similar H-B revivals (and while
we’re at it, let’s bring back the Hanna-Barbera name, not just for nostalgia’s
sake, but to strategically grow the brand potential). There is more than a hint
of this when Fred dashes off to try out for “Bedrock Idol.” Hmm…Ryan
Seashell…Paula Slabdul…

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