Barbera, the animation giant who, with partner William Hanna, set Tom chasing after Jerry, Scooby-Doo scurrying after ghosts, and Fred Flintstone peddling after brontosaurus burgers, died Monday at his California home. He was 95.
Barbera, who dreamed up new cartoon ideas into his 90s, had been the surviving half of the legendary Hanna-Barbera tandem, a team so synonymous with Saturday morning TV of the 1960s-80s. Hanna died in 2001.
Tom and Jerry, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, The Smurfs and Josie and the Pussycats were among the pair’s best-known series. There were dozens upon dozens more, many of them variations, spinoffs and/or outer-space riffs on their signature shows. By one popular estimate, Hanna-Barbera produced more than 3,000 half-hours of animated entertainment to eat your Sugar Smacks by.
Barbera, credited with often working out the stories for his and Hanna’s creations, never stopped thinking about the next project.
“Joe Barbera was here at the studio until about three weeks ago,” Sander Schwartz, president of Warner Bros. Animation said Monday. “He usually came in after lunch. Most days, I greeted him. He pitched me a couple of shows.”
And Schwartz bought some ideas, too, including one that became the 2005 direct-to-video movie Tom and Jerry: The Fast and the Furry. (Barbera might have been unusually hip for a nonagenarian, but the Fast and the Furious reference was courtesy Warners, the current studio home of what once was Hanna-Barbera Productions.)
Schwartz admired Barbera’s energy, attitude–and legacy.
“Joe really set the standard for television animation,” Schwartz said, “and pretty much single-handedly with…Hanna invented television animation.”
Through it all, according to Michael Mallory, author of Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, there was one unmistakable trait in their work: “Everything they did had heart.”
“That’s kind of an old-fashioned, but it’s true,” Mallory said Monday. “The characters generally had relationships with each other.”
This was the case, Mallory said, even of the most famously at-odds Hanna-Barbera duo: Tom and Jerry.
Tom may have wanted to eat Jerry, as Mallory put it, but Tom always felt bad if he believed he’d actually killed his diminutive opponent.
“These characters really had a tie to each other,” Mallory said.
And Tom and Jerry really had a tie to Hanna and Barbera. The characters were the duo’s first notable creations, debuting in 1940’s “Puss Gets the Boot.”
The Oscar-nominated short wasn’t billed as a Tom and Jerry cartoon, and the characters weren’t referred to as Tom and Jerry, but the sparring was vintage Tom and Jerry.”