Why The Hate: The Flintstones (1994)
When it comes to live-action adaptions, Hannah Barbera seems to be getting not much luck. Scooby Doo was a complete mess of a picture, Top Cat was lost in its technological satire and the animated Tom and Jerry film from 1992 was far worse. The only film in the batch that I feel is harmless compared to the rest is the 1994 live-action adaption of “The Flintstones.” The original 1960’s TV series was well-known for being the first prime-time animated sitcom for adults with everyday life placed in the Stone Age. In fact, arguably, some say its The Honeymooners in the Stone Age with gruff Fred Flintstone working hard with a loyal wife and goofy next door neighbor. I enjoy the series as a kid with the idea of cavemen acting like modern day people with the joke pushed further with prehistoric animals being used as household appliances. It was fun, creative and certainly a perfect vehicle for a feature film. However, this wasn’t the first time everyone’s modern day stone age family went to the big screen.
1966 gave us “The Man Called Flintstone,” a spy/musical/comedy that barley works. I was fine with the doppleganger Fred who is really a secret agent arch but was it really necessary to throw in song after song. And sadly, the humor didn’t fit the bill either with predicable gags that feel recycled, predicable and forced. Its a shame seeing there was great potential here but wasted under all those musical numbers and kiddie fair. At this point, the show was in a decline while cranking out juvenile stories just to get a kid audience. From fantasy concepts to the Great Gazoo, its seems the original purpose of the show’s existence and intended audience was lost.
Jump to the 1980’s where writer after writer was hired to get a live-action production of the Flintstones off the ground with one idea being a “Grapes of Wraith” style story. It seems all would be lucked out til director Brian Levant was brought on deck to deliver a script that would work and a film for the summer of 1994. Seeing he was big into the Flintstones and maintained an entire living room of memorabilia, it appeared he would be the perfect choice. Brian had a history with television writing for shows like Happy Days and Mork and Mindy so his style of sitcom humor matched the prehistoric family. However, according to the DVD’s documentary, the whole script was written in the style of sitcom writers where three people would gather in one room and bounce ideas and scenes off each other. And perhaps, this is where things fell apart for viewers.
The story tries to be a throwback to the old Flintstones that relied on adult matters like marriage or poker night with friends. The Slate and Co. get a new executive named Cliff Vandercave (played by David Lynch veteran Kyle MacLachlan) who plans to rob the company of its stock and profits with his sultry assistant Sharon Stone (Halle Berry) at his aide. But they plan to infect more damage by finding the right stooge to pinpoint the money laundering to. While that goes on, Fred clears out his savings to help his friend Barney Rubble adopt a kid. With a good deed in mind, Barney decides to payback Fred by switching aptitude tests on an I.Q. exam resulting in Fred being an executive and Barney getting the shaft.
First, let’s talk about the biggest problem here many have pointed out. For Cliff to find the right “stooge,” he makes an I.Q. test to find someone dumb enough to follow his plan and be conned. Considering the majority of Slate & Co’s workers are dimwitted neanderthals, wouldn’t it make sense to get the one with the lowest score instead? I guess when you take into consideration how devolved some of the workers are, it does make sense but you have to someone with a brain the size of a pea to do such bidding like firing co-workers and embezzlement.
Things get more complex when the Flintstones are richer than kings and start to go through a snobbish transformation that places Fred’s friendship with the Rubbles on the line. I guess its the only thing that does work in this movie seeing how focused it becomes. I feel bad but find it funny how Barney is put through every temp job in Bedrock while amused at Fred’s dumbfounded enjoyment with his riches. The original show itself centered a lot on the two cavemen so its not bad to see their friendship put to the test even if it has been done countless times before on the series.
The casting is one thing that gets a mixed feeling from viewers. John Goodman is (and always will be) Fred Flintstone. He is all around perfect from the gruff attitude to even looking like him. Goodman does a fantastic job bring this role to life knowing when to make greedy character sympathetic. Fred can be a jerk but he has a heart of gold and Goodman really delivers it. Rick Moranis is surprisingly decent as Barney Rubble getting the personality to a tea as an example that just because the voice isn’t there doesn’t mean its not all there. Moranis brings the altruist feeling of Barney to life seeing how Rick is good at soft and meek characters.
But not everyone is 100% perfect. I think Elizabeth Perkins is ok as Wilma keeping the feisty attitude of the character while trying to live up to being between a good wife and Fred’s conscious but not much screen time is devoted to her. Sure she does become a big help to Fred in the third act, but we don’t see much of her in the first portion of the movie to establish the working of her character that much. Also on the side is Rosie O’Donnell who I’m dead mixed about. Truth be told, she was hired on because of big of a Flintstones fan she was and Roise tries to channel every essence of the character here but something feels off. On one hand, she channels the character really well and keeps the quiet yet optimistic feel but I feel she would have been better suited as Fred’s mother-in-law knowing Rosie’s loud and sarcastic wit would really been a huge highlight. Speaking of which, Elizabeth Taylor cameos as Fred’s loud mother-in-law Pearl who plays her up as a shrill and crabby resident. In the show, Peal equally matched Fred’s attitude (and height) to the point the two egos would clash with hilarious results. Here, I feel bad Elizabeth has to try and overpower someone bigger and louder than her when anyone else could play her and their wouldn’t be a difference.
On the bright side, some of the original voice cast return making for either small cameos or be crucial characters. I’m glad Levant was able to obtain some of Mel Blanc’s voice performance as the pet Dino and Jean Vander Pyl makes a cameo during a conga line. Harvey Corman also returns as Fred’s Dictabird who plays a big part later in the film while channeling between a piece of office equipment and Fred’s conscious. The way the two minds clash with Fred’s unthinkable power and the bird’s moral value makes for some good comedy at times. And you have to give props to the set design and effect work from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop in bringing Bedrock to life. Not only did they make buildings but even chairs and furniture from scrap to give it that stony/gravel feel. A lot of detail and craft was placed in bringing this prehistoric place to life and it shows.
Even though “The Flintstones” was a big hit in the summer of 1994 (with a budget of $46 milion, it grossed $130 million and nearly $350 million worldwide), it still didn’t survive the critics. Many gave it the shaft for being too adult for kids and too boring for adults. Since then, its has developed a reputation over the years as being a movie viewers accept and can live with it or something that is easy to hate on. Personally, I think this movie gets disliked way too easily. What viewers must take note is that this IS how the original show was. It was never meant for kids in the first place and I feel this is where mainstream viewers get lost with it. They want to treat like a film for the adults that grew up with the show while tossing in juvenile humor for the little ones. Heck, they even have Pebbles and Bam-Bam in the movie which further cements its status as a family film.
I will admit, I did grow up on this movie. Its my personal “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” I had a huge fixation with the series as a kid and even watched it with my fascination of the Stone Age acting like our modern life. When I saw the 1994 movie, I wasn’t disappointed. I liked the cast and the special effects while as an adult, I surprisingly feel like it holds up. Sure the story is nothing special and I’m a bit nit-picky on some of the casting, but here is what I think makes it work. It doesn’t feel desperate like today’s big screen adaptations. In today’s world, you can make it all CGI, toss in a few crude jokes and make it hip to the point its easily dated. Watching this adaption, I didn’t get that feeling. Ok, obviously its a 1990’s film considering the layed-back optimistic tone most 90’s movies carried and some pop culture references are tossed in. But I don’t think it diminishes the movie that much.
If you dislike this movie, I won’t act like I don’t. Some viewers can stand cheap puns and again the story does have a few plot holes. But I think with everything and every bit of effort that was tossed in, I felt like this is the closets we will get to a decent adaptation of a Hannah-Barbera classic. Even co-creator Joseph Barbera himself stated in an interview that the story wasn’t good but was impressed with the visuals. As it stands, its not a masterpiece by an means but they really did try. I can’t say this is a total failure (that is if you compare it to “The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas”) but its between mostly harmless and straight up guilty pleasure for me. So check out and determine if you will get a “yabba dabba do” time with this flick.
Posted on September 9, 2014, in Rental Corner, Why the Hate? and tagged Brian Levant, Elizabeth Perkins, Fred Flintstone, Halle berry, Hannah Barbera, John Goodman, Live-Action Adaptaion, Rick Moranis, Rosie O'Donnell, The Flintstones. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.