THE GREAT GRAPE APEMedium: TV animation
Produced by: Hanna-Barbera
First Appeared: 1975
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At first glance, a gigantic purple ape, tooling around the country on top of a van driven by his dog friend, dealing with menaces wherever he went, might seem like a stunningly original concept. But when you consider the entertainment industry was being inundated at the time by publicity for a remake of King Kong, it begins to look like just another example of Hanna-Barbera basing an animated TV show on somebody else's scenario. Famous examples include The Flintstones (The Honeymooners set in the past) and The Jetsons (Blondie set in the future). Tho not entirely based on Merian C. Cooper's classic or the Dino DeLaurentiis remake (a few elements, such as making him purple, seem randomly chosen
to make the series work as a kids' cartoon), The Great Grape Ape does appear designed to ride to success on that other great ape's coat-tails.
The "tooling around the country, dealing with menaces" part was taken from the studio's most popular show of the time, Scooby Doo. Practically every Hanna-Barbera cast, from that of Josie & the Pussycats to The Addams Family, was tooling around the country and dealing with menaces just then.
If they'd held off releasing Grape Ape until after the Kong remake hit theatres (1976), they'd have known it for the turkey the movie-viewing public seems to have considered it, and may have thought better about the release. Instead, they debuted him during the height of the publicity campaign. On Saturday, September 6, 1975, they launched the hour-long New Tom & Jerry/Grape Ape Show, divided evenly between those two segments, on ABC. Tom & Jerry, the first big hit the studio's owners had collaborated on, were only a shadow of their former selves, cooperating in friendly fashion (in accordance with the dictates of the parent action groups who controlled children's TV back then) rather than engaging in endless violence as they did in their old MGM cartoons. Grape Ape, however, had no former self to suffer in comparison with.
According to several sources, Grape Ape was 30 feet tall. However, the show's theme song gave his height as 40 feet. Either way, he was far too big to fit in any reasonable-size highway vehicle, so he rode on top while his pal, Beegle Beagle (whom he, with child-like mental defectiveness, called "Beegly Beagly"), drove. Naturally, Grape Ape inspired terror wherever he went, and his attempts to minimize it (which consisted largely of making his favorite utterance, saying his name twice) didn't help much. Still, he managed to accomplish good deeds and usually won over the locals in the end — just in time to hop on the van and take off for the next destination.
Grape Ape's voice was done by Bob Holt (Hoot Kloot, Ming the Merciless in the 1982 Flash Gordon animated feature). Beegle Beagle was Marty Ingels, better known for face than voice acting, who did manage to squeeze such cartoon roles as Autocat (from Cattanooga Cats) and Pac-Man into his career.
The Great Grape Ape ran one season as the sole partner of Tom & Jerry, before a new character named Mumbly (strongly reminiscent, in some ways, of Muttley, who was, in turn, reminiscent in some ways of Precious Pupp) joined the cast. The Tom & Jerry/Grape Ape/Mumbly Show ran another season. Grape Ape got his own show, of sorts, as his segments were re-run on Sunday mornings, starting September 11, 1977, under the imaginative title The Great Grape Ape Show. A total of 32 Grape Ape episodes were made.
It was during the "Mumbly" period that Charlton Comics put him in a comic book, written and drawn by cartoonist Frank Roberge (a former assistant to Mort Walker on Beetle Bailey). It lasted only two issues, dated September and November, 1976. Two years later, when Marvel Comics was the Hanna-Barbera comic book licensee, Grape Ape still had enough drawing power to warrant appearing (along with The C.B. Bears, Captain Caveman, Undercover Elephant and a few other minor Hanna-Barbera characters) in TV Stars #1. In fact, he was the main cover feature. But he was dropped from the line-up after three issues, and that was the end of his comic book career.
He was also licensed as toys, lunch boxes, etc., including a volume from Elf Books (a knock-off of Little Golden Books) in 1976. But he wasn't a sensation in that area, like Huckleberry Hound or Yogi Bear had been.
After the new episodes stopped appearing, Grape Ape, like so many defunct Hanna-Barbera characters, was swept up into an ensemble show. Starting September 10, 1977, he appeared in Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics, alongside Quick Draw McGraw, Augie Doggie, Pixie & Dixie and several dozen others. That kept him on the air until 1980. Since then, he's been seen only in increasingly scarce reruns.