Saturday, 11 September 2010

"What's Up, 'Doc'?"

In a previous blog post, I paid light tribute to some forgotten, short-lived stars Walter Lantz produced in the late 1950's (again when their animation style and budget starting a slow spiral downwards for TV Animation), namely "Windy and Breezy".
So here's another interesting tale of what seemed like another "copycat" plan slowly turned into something different altogether.
When Hanna-Barbera brought out "The Huckleberry Hound" show for television, the "new crew" at Walter Lantz seemed as if they wanted to try their own version of Pixie & Dixie and Mr Jinks. So in 1959, they brought out Hickory, Dickory, and Doc - as you can guess, the mice were Hick and Dick and Doc became the cat - along with an unknown, stereotypically brute of a bulldog to make the classic "Dog -> Cat -> Mice" scenario.

Unfortunately, unlike Warren Foster at the time when he took over the second season of Huckleberry Hound, it seemed that the writers must have had considerable trouble trying to make the most of this formula, namely keeping Hick and Dick involved within the plot. Unsurprisingly, Doc the Cat and the unnamed bulldog (briefly named "Cecil" in one short) took up most of the stardom very early. So it came to pass that Hick and Dick were eventually booted out of their own series, allowing Doc to go solo.
Who can blame them? From what I've seen of the first three cartoons - "Space Mouse", "Mouse Trapped" and "Witty Kitty" - the crews constantly get Hick and Dick's chipmunk-like voices mixed-up with one another, and they didn't really show much personality to begin with. Heck, their final cartoon only granted them 15 seconds of on-screen stardom before they faded away completely...unless you counted the numerous items of merchandise they appeared in afterward.
Plus, really, Pixie and Dixie Hickory and Dickory never stood a chance with Paul Frees (ever a winner with even the most obscure of characters) voicing Doc, the sophisticated, charming, witty fellow of an alley cat. In fact, had Frees not voiced Doc at the time - his brilliant, upper-class tones to give the cat more character - then he would never have had the chance at all to earn himself 5 more cartoons to follow.

What came as a nice surprise was seeing the bulldog developed overtime. Later becoming Champ (voiced by Dal McKennon), a retired boxer, who became Doc's loyal dogs-body, often involved in Doc's schemes to get ahead in life. This, I feel, was a great twist on the samey "Cat vs. Dog" theme being churned out long before. With Champ's muscles and natural loyalty, and Doc's Shakespearian acting charm, this was one series I was sorry to see end as a short-lived one.
Weren't these guys even granted their own comic strip when their theatrical career ended, like so many others before...?
Nevertheless, with gifted directors like Alex Lovy and Jack Hannah to make the most of the studio's limited animation, it just goes to show how far one can go when you try to be different instead of another cookie-cutter money maker stint. Least that's how I see it, anyway.

And for your pleasure, here's a couple of Doc cartoons (minus mice!) for you to enjoy =D

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