A true television pioneer, Crusader Rabbit was produced by Jay Ward, who would later go on to create Rocky and His Friends, George of the Jungle and The Adventures of Hoppity Hooper.
The witty five-minute episodes—presented in serial form—showed the exploits of the diminutive noble adventurer Crusader Rabbit and his dim but loveable sidekick, Ragland T. "Rags" Tiger. Short of temper but lacking the physical strength to back up his threats, Crusader Rabbit got himself in hot water with villains like Bilious Green, Illregard Beauregard and Simon LeGree.
A milestone in TV history, Crusader Rabbit was the first made-for-television animated series, according to The Guinness World Records. This series was composed of 20 5-minute episodes.
Though broadcast in black & white, the cartoon was produced in color.
Original production was done by William Hanna, Michael Lah (Shield Productions) and Jay Ward. Skeptics thought a weekly animated series would be too costly to turn a profit, but Ward came up with a way to buck the system: limited animation. Most classically animated theatrical cartoons had 40 cels (individual drawings) per foot of film, but Ward's new style would utilize only 4 cels per foot. As a result, the 19.5-minute shows came in at approximately $2,500 per episode.
Jay Ward worked with partner Alexander Anderson in a Berkley, California garage studio, drawing the pictures for the cartoon. The pair then sent the sketches to producer Jerry Fairbanks in Los Angeles to add the soundtrack and distribute the two-reelers. The system remained in effect for the series' initial run, from 1949 to 1951.
Questions soon arose as to ownership of the characters. Original producers Jay Ward and Alex Anderson- tired of endless legal hassles- sold their rights to Shull Bonsall, who took over production with his TV Spots company. The lawsuit, which involved Fairbanks, the animators and NBC Films, kept the early version of "Crusader Rabbit" off TV screens throughout much of the 1950s. Jay Ward sold the rights to the Crusader Rabbit and Rags the Tiger characters in 1957 to Shul Bonsall, who filmed 260 five-minute Crusader Rabbit cartoons for a second set of episodes. By this time Ward was already in development on Rocky and His Friends.
Left out in the cold (but liking the idea of a regular TV series), William Hanna called up longtime partner Joe Barbera, formed Hanna-Barbera, and started work on The Ruff and Reddy Show.
The new Crusader Rabbit cartoons may have suffered from Ward's absence, but they did add two elements to the mix: color production and a new villain, Dudley Nightshade (a.k.a. Nightly Dudshade, a.k.a. Shadely Nightdud).
Unavailable for years, Crusader Rabbit (both the Ward version and the later color one) has since emerged from animation limbo, surfacing on videocassette to claim its rightful place among animation's greats.
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