SPUNKY AND TADPOLEMedium: TV animation
Produced by: Beverly Hills Studios
First Appeared: 1958
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Shoddy production was the normal state of affairs in early television animation, with Tom Terrific, Pow Wow the Indian Boy and the like remembered so fondly (when they're remembered at all) more for their story aspects than anything having to do with the way they
were made. By the mid-1950s, a few TV cartoons, like Ruff & Reddy, were starting to raise their heads out of the mire, but even those were no great shakes compared to the Fleischers of early days, or even Famous Studios, which succeeded them. But even that was enough to propel its producer, Hanna-Barbera, on a career path that eventually made it TV's biggest cartoon factory. But Spunky & Tadpole, which came along a year after Hanna-Barbera entered the TV market, made no such splash. Production-wise, it was a continuation of the worst that came before it; but it lacked the clever writing that made a few of its contemporaries memorable.
Spunky & Tadpole was produced by Beverly Hills Film Corporation, which never produced anything else, before or since. The distributor, Guild Films, wasn't associated with any other cartoons. Guild promoted it lavishly for its September 6, 1958 syndicated launch, but one look at the actual product convinced most potential buyers to give it a miss.
Those that did buy it ran its five-minute episodes in local children's shows, where a live host would do skits and introduce cartoon segments. These consisted mostly of old theatrical cartoons starring Woody Woodpecker, Heckle & Jeckle and the like, but were leavened with occasional original productions such as Crusader Rabbit and Col. Bleep. This batch was done in the form of ten-part serials, shown weekdays for two weeks each. 15 such serials were made.
Spunky was a normal little boy much like many of the viewers. Tadpole was the name of his teddy bear, despite the fact that it doesn't seem like the sort of thing one would call a mammal, even a toy one. That wasn't Tadpole's only unusual characteristic. He also walked, talked, and shared adventures with Spunky. These could range from assisting the local police to a trip to the Moon.
Spunky's voice was provided by Joan Gardner, also heard in Snorks and Galtar & the Golden Lance. Tadpole started out as Don Messick, whose many other animation roles included Scooby Doo and Hamton Pig. Messick also did most of the incidental characters, until replaced in all roles by producer Ed Janis (who, by the way, was Gardner's husband.)
Spunky & Tadpole had a hard time competing with the increasingly-more sophisticated animation TV was beginning to sport. Huckleberry Hound, which debuted less than a month later, has been specifically mentioned by many commentators as a factor in its demise, despite the fact that the two weren't in direct competition. (Huck had a half-hour show, only marginally suited for use as a package of short cartoons.) Whatever the specific reasons, it was seen less frequently as the '60s wore on. Distributor mergers and acquisitions put it in the hands of ZIV International, which controlled such properties as Captain Future (related, but not quite the same) and Ninja the Wonder Boy (no relation), by about 1970.
By that time, it had pretty much faded from view. Toward the end of the decade, an attempt was made to market it in the form of VHS home video, but that quickly went out of print. Today, the few people who are interested in seeing Spunky & Tadpole can usually find used copies of the tape at bargain prices. There doesn't seem to be much interest in broadcasting it.