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The great escape

To look at the importance of laughter and fantasy in our lives.

by James Lamont

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5

Aims

To look at the importance of laughter and fantasy in our lives.

Preparation and materials

  • Download some pictures of the Hanna–Barbera characters.
  • Optional: a Hanna–Barbera ‘short’ to show at the end of the assembly (check copyright).

Assembly

  1. In March this year it will have been 100 years since the birth of Joseph Barbera. Barbera is best known for his work on cartoons. Working with William Hanna, he created such classics as Tom and Jerry, Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones and The Jetsons.
  2. What is notable about all of these series is that they have a strong fantasy element to them. Tom and Jerry concerns the antics of a cat and a mouse; Huckleberry Hound, a dog; Yogi Bear, a talking bear; The Flintstones, a family living in prehistoric times; and The Jetsons is set in the future. All of these shows were produced before the advent of digital special effects, which meant that animation was the only way of telling such stories in an inexpensive way. The fantastic moments of Tom and Jerry, for example, could only be done through animation, and animation allowed for the imagination to flow. Characters change shape and size in response to events: a classic example is a character being crushed by an anvil, only to regrow to the original size – plus a large bump!
  3. Nowadays, or at least since the mega-budget Avatar and Lord of the Rings films, unreal or fantastic happenings are, in fact, regular occurrences on our screens. These films are hugely expensive but recoup their costs and make large profits at the cinema. People go largely because of the extraordinary spectacle – in order to be noticed by critics, a visual-effects-driven film has to do something never before seen, or be the product of a grand imagination. During the golden age of Hanna–Barbera, such sights were unaffordable, and yet the impossible and unlikely were broadcast into the newly available television sets of the masses.
  4. The cartoons that Hanna–Barbera produced were groundbreaking: hugely witty, and enjoyed by whole families watching together. Most were produced for a TV audience as opposed to film, recognizing the place of the TV in the home as increasing numbers of families could afford the magic box in the corner of the room. There is no target age for these cartoon – they are just fun, and designed to make people laugh.
  5. Human beings will always be looking for something fantastic and unusual in entertainment. Animation is perfect for that because the laws of physics do not apply to the drawn world. It allows the animator to control everything in their production, something most filmmakers can only dream of. The film is straight out of the animator’s mind: a record of his or her imagination. In that sense, animation – even highly commercial cartoons like those of Barbera – is a beautiful form of art.
  6. With most commercial art solidly grounded in the lived world of work, recreation and human relationships, to shift to the world of tomorrow or the distant past is something rare and special indeed.

Time for reflection

Think about the sort of cartoons that you’ve watched during your life.

Often they appear just to be there to fill a schedule, but did the cartoon have a more real place in your life?

How has laughter affected your mood, especially at the end of a long working day?

Now give thanks for the enormous creativity of the people who create such acts of work – the cartoonists, film directors and other artists.

(You might like to show a Hanna–Barbera ‘short’ to end this assembly.)

Music

‘Play some theme music for one of the mentioned films, widely available to download.

Publication date: March 2011   (Vol.13 No.3)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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