Review by KC Carlson
Although not as well known as other animation studios like Disney or Warner Brothers or even their contemporaries Hanna-Barbera, Filmation produced a huge number of hit shows and cult classics during the time they were in business, from 1963 to 1989. TwoMorrows’ new book, Lou Scheimer: Creating the Filmation Generation, tells the origins, history, and secrets of this largely unknown but much beloved animation studio.
Founded by producers Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott, and with director Hal Sutherland, Filmation would be involved in the production of several early animated projects. Their works include Rod Rocket, Journey Back to Oz, and Pinocchio in Outer Space, while also producing animation for commercials as well as a series of animated films on the life of Christ. This is notable, as Filmation went on to become distinguished for producing many series with strong moral bases or “life lessons” for their young viewers.
Their big break came in 1966, when DC Comics editor Mort Weisinger approached the studio to create a series. The New Adventures of Superman became extremely popular ratings-wise and was influential in creating the Saturday morning superhero “boom” of the late 1960s. Filmation was also responsible for other DC characters’ cartoons, including Aquaman (1968), Batman and Robin (1968), and other DC characters in minor roles including Superboy, Justice League (and many of its members), and the Teen Titans. Filmation also produced the live action Shazam! and Secrets of Isis shows in 1974-75.
In 1968, Filmation had another comic-book-based hit with The Archie Show, based on the never-aging teenagers from Riverdale. This was as successful as Superman, as this show led to many spin-offs, all produced by Filmation:
- The Archie Comedy Hour (1969)
- Archie’s Funhouse (1970)
- Archie TV Funnies (1971)
- The U.S. of Archie (1974)
- and The New Archie and Sabrina Hour (1977).
The latter propelled a once-minor Archie character to stardom, first in Sabrina and the Groovie Goolies (1970), then Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1971–1974). Archie Comics returned the favor by publishing a few comic book stories featuring Scheimer, Prescott, and The Archies music producer Don Kirshner.
Perhaps the most beloved series produced by Filmation was Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (1972 CBS), which was so popular that it seemed like it ran on Saturday morning for decades. Also popular at that time was Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973–1974), as it included most of the cast voices from the original live-action show.
In the 1980s, Filmation had huge success with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983–1985) and spin-off She-Ra: Princess of Power (1985–1987). The former series features early work from writers J. Michael Straczynski and Paul Dini.
All in all, Filmation produced over 50 animated series, as well as numerous specials and movies. They did a lot of animated programs based on other media, including
- Journey to the Center of the Earth (1967)
- Fantastic Voyage (1968)
- The Brady Kids (1972–1974)
- Lassie’s Rescue Rangers (1973–1975)
- The New Adventures of Gilligan (1974)
- Gilligan’s Planet (1982)
- Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle (1976)
- The New Adventures of Flash Gordon (1979–1980)
- and The Original Ghostbusters (1986–1988).
Plus, they dabbled in live-action, most notably with the cult SF show Jason of Star Command (1979). Filmation even teamed up with some Warner Brothers greats in Daffy Duck and Porky Pig Meet the Groovie Goolies (1972).
All of these are examined in depth in Lou Scheimer: Creating the Filmation Generation, the first book devoted to telling the studio’s history. It’s 288 pages (with a 16-page full-color section), packed with history and secrets. Much is said about the “family” atmosphere of the working studio and the sadness of having to close the studio in 1989, mostly due to corporate indifference and changing tastes in animation.
Scheimer is a great storyteller, and the book is worth getting just for that. But be warned, it’s often a frustrating read, because Scheimer often jumps around from subject to subject, as most people do when being interviewed over a long period of time.
The book often seems like reading one long interview transcription. There are two schools of thought on handling such: one wants to change nothing, other than light grammatical editing, to capture exactly what the interviewee said. The other has an editor helping the interviewee by organizing their thoughts in a more linear (or chronological) manner, moving sections of the narrative to areas where they make more sense or are more conversational. This book features the first method, which is fine for shorter interviews, but with a decade-spanning long history like this one, I think a little tighter editing would have been more appropriate to bring more clarifying elements together. Granted, the jumping around may be part of Scheimer’s charm, but it makes going back to reread about a specific era or show more difficult, knowing there might be different elements on the same subject in other chapters. Given the approach, an index might have been helpful in a book of this size.
Visually, the book is a treat, starting with the cover of Scheimer surrounded by all of his animated stars. There are a huge number of photographs, production drawings, finished artwork, designs, and studio ephemera. I especially enjoyed seeing the infamous “six-fingered Spock” drawing from the Star Trek series, even if it wasn’t identified as such. The color section includes interpretations of popular Filmation characters by current artists including Adam Hughes, Alex Ross, Frank Cho, Bruce Timm, Phil Jimenez, and Gene Ha.
Small misgivings aside, Lou Scheimer: Creating the Filmation Generation would make an excellent addition to any animation, television, or comic book history bookshelf. There is so much information in this book simply not available anywhere else.
The book is available digitally from the publisher; they’ve also posted a lengthy PDF preview. (The publisher provided a review copy.)