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The film that killed Hanna-Barbera


For a period of time, no company was more synonymous with Saturday morning cartoons. Having produced all-time classics like Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, The Jetsons, The Smurfs, and Yogi Bear, Hannah-Barbera were nearly unmatched in its monopoly on cartoons from the late 1950s to the early 1980s. Recognised for their famous characters all around the world, it seemed as though Hanna-Barbera could print money until the end of time.

However, Hanna-Barbera failed to keep up with changing technology and were rehashing some of its most prominent tentpoles by the early 1980s. Although shows like The Smurfs, Dexter’s Laboratory, and The Powerpuff Girls kept the studio going, they were bought out by the Turner Broadcasting System in 1991. Finding a reliable home on Cartoon Network allowed the studio to continue producing shows, but a partnership with Steven Spielberg‘s Amblin Entertainment gave Hanna-Barbera their first real clout in the movie business.

The partnership resulted in Hanna-Barbera adapting one of their most popular properties, The Flintstones, into a feature film. Starring John Goodman and Rick Moranis, The Flintstones was a commercial smash, earning $341 million over a budget of just $46 million. Now free from the small market of made-for-television films, Hanna-Barbera quickly greenlit a sequel.

When it became apparent that no one from the original film was going to sign on for the next movie, Hanna-Barbera retooled it as a prequel, recast the entire production, and produced The Flinstones in Viva Rock Vegas. The company’s founders and namesakes, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, even made cameo appearances in the film. After the massive success of the first movie, expectations for The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas were high.

When it was released, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas was actually quite a draw on its opening weekend, making over $10 million and ranking second in the overall box office behind U-571. However, audiences quickly trailed off after the initial release, and just like the first film, Viva Rock Vegas received negative reviews from critics. As a result, the film made less than $60 million on an $83 million budget.

The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas wasn’t the sole reason that Hanna-Barbera declined. Josie and the Pussycats, another live-action reinterpretation of a hit animated series, underperformed at the box office in 2001 as well. Another major blow was the loss of Hanna, who died in 2001 less than a month after Viva Rock Vegas‘ release. With financial woes and a lack of distinct leadership within the studio, Hanna-Barbera was fully absorbed into Warner Brothers Animation in 2001.

Today, the Hanna-Barbera name is occasionally trotted out by Warner Bros on some of its classic properties, including the endless Scooby-Doo offshoots that are produced. Recently, Cartoon Network’s European branch renamed itself Hanna-Barbera Studios Europe, reviving the name and the company’s legacy in animation history.

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