A double dose of ”The Flintstones” on home video
The single most impressive scene in The Flintstones comes right away, in the opening credits that re-create those of the old animated TV show with uncanny computer-assisted faithfulness. The theme song dins cheerily as Fred (John Goodman) scoots down the tail of his dinosaur, padiddles his roller-car home, and picks up his family for a night at the Bedrock drive-in. The timing, the sound effects, even the shot composition is the same.
This is intended to be amusing, and it is. It’s also a bit sickening in the way only a heavily bankrolled artifact of pop fetishism can be. The sequence tells us that all the assets of modern Hollywood — 32 writers, Jurassic Park F/X, big-name stars — are being used to clone a show that not only was a blatant Honeymooners rip-off but also spelled the death of decent animation on television for a good 20 years.
Yeah, call me Captain Bringdown, but have you actually watched the Flintstones TV show lately? It’s hard to avoid; since Turner Broadcasting Systems bought the Hanna-Barbera Studios in 1991, the animated episodes (originally aired from 1960 to 1966) have resurfaced on TBS while continuing to be syndicated to local stations. And this year, eight videotapes of The Flintstones, two shows each, have been released to ride the coattails of last summer’s feature film.
The format doesn’t matter, though — this has always been one lousy show. It’s only fitting that The Flintstones was set during the Stone Age, since the quality of animation is prehistoric. While William Hanna and Joseph Barbera had perfected a fluid animation style in their Oscar-winning shorts for MGM in the ’40s and ’50s, they pioneered a different technique to fit TV’s smaller budgets. You can see it whenever Fred or Barney has to run anywhere: The body remains unchanged while the feet zizz around at high speeds, and the character passes the same crummily drawn cave over and over again.
To be fair, other TV animators have saved money and labor in similar fashion. Jay Ward Productions’ The Bullwinkle Show was more visually abstract than The Flintstones, and Matt Groening’s The Simpsons positively revels in iconic simplicity. But those cartoons have grown-up wit. The Flintstones has Ann-Margrock and Perry Masonry. Its puerile plots, painstakingly obvious dialogue, and silly geology puns are strictly kid stuff.
But that’s just it: Many of us were kids when the show first aired, and since Hanna-Barbera followed it with a flood of titles, from The Jetsons to The Peter Potamus Show, entire childhoods were spent steeped in the stuff. Our adult fondness has everything to do with nostalgia: Drop a line from Snagglepuss (”Exit, stage right”) or Hardy Har Har (”Oh dear, oh my — Lippy”) at a party, and you’re guaranteed to connect with half the people in the room.
Which is what the Flintstones movie is about: hooking into millions of boomers’ and busters’ toasty memories of sitting on the rug in front of the Quasar. Visually, it’s a work of daft charm, with a Dr. Seussian set design that one-ups the TV show by translating clunky cartoon backgrounds into real geography. The plot is properly weightless, too: Betty (Rosie O’Donnell) and Barney (Rick Moranis) adopt little Bamm-Bamm while Fred falls prey to the machinations of a corporate Ur-yuppie (Kyle MacLachlan).
None of it has any more substance than a Tootsie Pop, and the sound you hear is millions of moviegoers and video-renters happily sucking. Is that such a crime, though? For all its dumbness, the original Flintstones kept us mesmerized until bedtime. The new Flintstones honors the compact: It’s a bigger, shinier pacifier. The Flintstones, the movie: C+; The Flintstones, the show: C-