Thanks for the Memories

Flintstones among the turkey slices

Published: Oct 12 2013, 01:01:am

Friday, May 27, 1994.
THE FLINTSTONES. Written by Tom S. Parker, Jim Jennewein and Steven E. de Souza. Based on the animated television series characters created by Hanna-Barbera Productions, Inc. [ABC-TV series, 1960-66]. Music by David Newman. Directed by Brian Levant. Running time: 92 minutes. Rated General, with no Classifier's warning.

Met The Flintstones.
They're a lot like they were on T.V.
From an age of dim wit.
They're a page right out of history.

     Painful? Yes, it was painful because, truth to tell, I never liked that show. It was just another example of the smug, patronizing junk that was passed off as mass entertainment during television's notorious brass age.
     I have neither affection nor nostalgia for the laugh-track-enhanced humour of the "original" Flintstones. As for their high-tech, mega-hype return, it's a great waste of the time and considerable talents of almost everyone involved.
     History? With its broadcast debut on the evening of September 30, 1960, The Flintstones became a boldface footnote in American popular culture textbooks. It could claim three inconsequential network television firsts -- first prime-time cartoon series; first cartoon sitcom; first program-length cartoon. The date will live in artistic infamy alongside days in:
* 1938 — M.G.M. cartoon producers Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera "invent" limited animation, a process designed to cut costs and speed up the production of theatrical cartoons.
* 1957 -- Hanna and Barbera open their own shop. They combine their talent for cheap production with television's insatiable thirst for cheap programming to "invent" Saturday morning cartoons.
* 1994 — Having bought into "limited inspiration," feature film producer Steven Spielrock — that's his actual screen credit — "presents" The Flintstones. Yes, it is a live-action, big-screen adaptation of the sort of cut-rate filler that makes moderately thoughtful people think that television is a boob tube.

     Talent? It's consumed by the carload. Artists from Jim Henson's Creature Shop and George Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic bring the modern Stone Age community of Bedrock to life, complete with brand-name shops and fast food emporia for tie-in marketing.
Within the limitations of producer Spielrock's mission statement — to "be faithful to the tone and spirit of the original series . . . to recreate the signature moments" — their work is perfect. So, too, that of the principal performers .

     No surprise here. I've always liked John Goodman, Rick Moranis, Elizabeth Perkins and Rosie O'Donnell. But is it really a compliment to say that these wonderful, thoroughly professional actors are convincing as cartoon characters Fred Flintstone, Barney Rubble and their wives, Wilma and Betty?
     The committee-written screenplay is another matter. It's the usual sitcom stuff: Fred's promotion causes bad feeling between the Flintstones and the Rubbles. Little does our good-hearted, pea-brained hero know that he's being used by perfidious corporate executive Cliff Vandercave (Kyle MacLachlan) in a plot to defraud Slate & Co. Low-brow suburban schtick, it plays like something that fell out of John Hughes's wastebasket.
     Hollywood dog fancier and lifelong Flintstones fan Brian (Problem Child 2) Levant's direction is no better than it has to be. As for presenter Spielrock, he's rather like the food sculptor who sets out to recreate the Venus de Milo in lard.
     No matter how good it looks, it's still a load of pork fat. Or, in the case of The Flintstones, yabba dabba doo doo.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1994. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

AFTERWORD: I have always hated The Flintstones with a passion, in part because it demonstrates television's terrible ability to strike people stupid. In creating their show, the Hanna-Barberians reworked an early television classic called The Honeymooners (1951-55), a recurring sketch from Cavalcade of Stars (later known as The Jackie Gleason Show). It resonated with viewers because of its focus on two working-class couples — bus driver Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason), his wife Alice (Audrey Meadows), sewer worker Ed Norton (Art Carney) and his wife Trixie (Joyce Randolph) — who live in a Brooklyn apartment building and encounter real-world problems. The Honeymooners was gritty, satiric and occasionally challenging. The Flintstones, by contrast, is empty-headed suburban nonsense, animation that's limited both art and intelligence.

THANKSGIVING TURKEY LINKS: The Addams Family (1991); Car 54, Where Are You? (1994); Coneheads (1993); The Nude Bomb (1980); Strange Brew: The Adventures of Bob and Doug McKenzie  (1983).