Most Outstanding Every Saturday
A Complete Review of the Hanna-Barbera (Season One)
and DIC (Season Two) Bill & Ted Animated Series

Written by Linda Kay


    Around 1990 a most excellent idea was born.  Why not adapt Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure into a Saturday morning cartoon series?  It was a most outstanding suggestion!  While animated series based on popular movies and TV characters were certainly nothing new, here you had two characters who were tailor-made for a continuing series and animation was a perfect vehicle for the Two Great Ones to continue their adventures.  Just think of it: two lovable guys who were considered way cool by both kids and adults, along with the premise of traveling anywhere in time (leaving the educational possibilities open, which the networks had been focusing on seriously around that time).  What could be better?

    Hanna-Barbera (the totally triumphant personages behind such cartoon classics as Johnny Quest, Scooby Doo, Where Are You? and, of course, Wally Gator) got to work on the project, with CBS picking up the episodes to run directly after the much touted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

    One common occurrence in adapting a live-action movie or show into an animated series is the changing of characters (anyone else remember Mork and Mindy as high school students?), time periods (who could forget The Partridge Family in Outer Space?) or settings (Laverne and Shirley in the army?), and/or the addition of an unusual, magical or talking pet (what was that thing that hung around with Punky Brewster, anyway?).  One of the most refreshing things about the Bill & Ted animated series was their willingness to leave things alone and not try to alter or improve the premise.  We're forever grateful that the producers didn't decide to give Bill & Ted a talking phone booth or predict the show might do better if they took up residence on Planet Mongo.

    In actuality, the show stayed extremely close to the original movie!  If you view the first episode, A Sweet and Sour Chinese Adventure, alongside the original movie, you can see how true the series remained.  The clothes were adapted almost exactly (with the exception of Ted's shorts, which were changed to red with a white swirling stripe across it, apparently to add more color to his outfit -- they nixed Ted's jacket but left Bill's shirt tied around his waist).  Other than that they're pretty accurate, right down to the sneakers and high tops.  Rufus was likewise based on his persona in the first movie, including his long coat, sunglasses and lapel pin.

    A few minor changes were made with some of the other leading characters.  Captain Logan was referred to as Detective Logan (possibly to make it clear he was with the police department, as opposed to a Captain in the military?), and Mr. Ryan received a promotion to Vice Principal Ryan (probably to make him more accessible in the stories . . . how often would you be able to work a history teacher into a story?).  Missy-Mom is shown sporting a pony tail throughout the series (perhaps to make it clear that she is only slightly older than B&T?) and Mr. Preston gained a lot of weight (don't ask me to explain that one, especially with Missy's cooking!).  Also appearing from the original movie were Ted's little brother Deacon, the Three Most Important People in the Universe and even the Princess Babes, Joanna and Elizabeth, made an appearance in one episode.

    Locations also remained unchanged, for the most part.  When not traveling in time, Bill & Ted were seen at each other's houses, San Dimas High School, the San Dimas mall and the Kozy Korner (their new name for the Circle K -- most likely changed for legal reasons).  Their phone booth is kept at the Kozy Korner with an "out of order" sign on it.

    One of the most notable things about this series was the decision to use the actual actors from the film to do all three main characters!  Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter and George Carlin all voiced their characters for the series.  According to an article in the TV Times section of the Los Angeles Times, dated September 2-8, 1990, vice president of children's programs and daytime specials at CBS Entertainment, Judy Price, said she insisted to the producers that the actors reprise their roles.  "They bring a whole degree of credibility to the project," she was quoted as saying.

    Also lending their voices to various characters in the series were Bernie Casey (the original Mr. Ryan!), and such notable character actors as Ken Berry, Dick Gautier, Arte Johnson, Kenneth Mars, William Schallert, Philip Hartman, Jeffrey Tambor and Jonathan Winters.  And sharp-eared TV buffs will definitely recognize the voice of Dave Madden (Rueben Kincade from The Partridge Family) as Mr. Preston!  Deacon's voice was provided by Danny Cooksey (who would later work with Alex Winter as a member of the Huggins Family in an episode of The Idiot Box - William Schallert also appeared in an Idiot Box sketch which also included Danny Cooksey!).

    While the animation never reached an exceptional level, the care and detail taken with the series must be noted.  The writing was witty and clever, never talking down to the kids (which makes the shows enjoyable to the older fans as well).  The backgrounds often were done in the style of the historical period they were visiting (check out the clouds in Ancient China, drawn in the very beautiful Oriental design, or Leonardo da Vinci's workshop, drawn to reflect the style of Da Vinci's famous sketches).  And the series even broke ground as one of the first to use computer animation, although these scenes were limited to a few shots of the phone booth as it time-traveled.

    While the show often appeared among the top five children's shows in the Neilsen ratings, the Hanna-Barbera produced series only lasted one season, a total of thirteen episodes (the following year it moved to the Fox Network and the animation was taken over by DIC, which proceeded to make numerous changes in the show, and not for the better).  It isn't clear why the show was dropped after such a short time, although unnamed sources have stated the show went way over-budget (possibly because of the inclusion of the main actors plus all the detail work being done) and CBS was unhappy with delays in the delivery of the finished shows (although all thirteen episodes did air and, apparently, on time).  Also distressing was the fact that the shows were constantly pre-empted on the West Coast by sporting events (and barely seen in Hawaii!).  There was also very little publicity for the show, so many adults never realized there was even a Bill & Ted cartoon on the air.

    Tie-in products were also few and far between.  The most visible product put out featuring the cartoon characters was the Bill & Ted cereal, which did not hit store shelves until Spring 1991 (the series debuted in September 1990).  There were some cartoon T- shirts sold through Kids "R" Us, but again these never reached the level of interest the show might have generated if it had been better publicized or if Bogus Journey had been released around the same time.


    In 1991, after Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey was finishing up at the box office, it was announced that the animated series Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures had been picked up by the Fox Network (at that time fairly new to the Saturday morning animation game) and that production on the show would be taken over by Hanna- Barbera's rival company DIC.  Major changes were planned for the series.

    One reporter stated Fox's new approach in this way: "On CBS, the adventures were like the first movie -- the dudes doing history stuff.  Story lines were sometimes repetitive.  Fox's cartoon version has Bill & Ted traveling inside the human body, across space, into literature.  Says Fox Children's Network President Margaret Loesch, "We have a luxury CBS did not have: We have hindsight."

    The Hollywood Reporter elaborated on this in an article dating April 3, 1991 -- "FCN's programmers met with "Bill & Ted's" producers at Orion Television, (Loesch) said, and "went through a recreation process.  We looked at what worked and didn't work and then went back to the basics in putting the future episodes together."

    The fact that Fox was apparently so concerned with improving a show that true Bill & Ted fans felt was already as perfect an adaptation as one could wish for leads one to wonder what happened between the conference table and the drawing board.  The resulting eight episodes produced by DIC for Fox turned out to cater to the youngest possible denominator, with plots and stories so insipid that even the most devoted Bill & Ted fans found them next to impossible to watch.

    Fox Network's idea to expand on the storylines and allow the dudes to travel through more than just history -- i.e. expand the booth's capabilities so they could also travel through literature, movies and television, even the idea of them shrinking -- was not a misguided one and could have yielded some great possibilities.  Imagine Bill & Ted in The Wizard of Oz.  Or Citizen Kane.  Or Star Wars.  Or The Ed Sullivan Show.  The problem was Fox's ideas never seemed to get past the second grade level . . . the dudes were consequently stuck into poor adaptations of Mister Roger's Neighborhood and Leave it to Beaver.  And while the previous episodes were intricately written, with the dudes visiting several different time periods and the stories weaving together with them bringing things in and out of each period, for the most part the Fox episodes each dealt with one situation and one place, and as a result the episodes move at an amazingly slow pace for a cartoon series.  It's a shame no one thought to add the aforementioned new elements and use them in a more mature way, plus possibly adapt some of the ideas from Bogus Journey for their new series.  DeNomolos could have been brought in as an adversary for the Two Great Ones, which could have led to some exciting episodes.

    Oddly enough, when the dudes did travel through history, they visited some of the same people they met during the first 13 episodes - Leonardo Da Vinci, Abner Doubleday and Christopher Columbus.  Did they really run out of historical places to send the dudes?

    Not only did the writers start writing down to their Saturday morning audience, they also broke established rules in the Bill & Ted universe and introduced odd (if not downright ludicrous) plotlines.  In one episode Bill & Ted travel into their own past to babysit themselves.  This being an infraction of the time rules is hardly mentioned, if at all.  In that same episode, Detective Logan and Mr. Preston are shown as their younger selves, decked out in 70's disco outfits, ready to spend a night on the town since their wives are out playing tennis.  The idea of these two men having spent any time together socially (let alone going to a disco) is quite a stretch to accept.  Rufus' involvement in the episodes was reduced to practically nothing . . . they didn't even give him very comical lines during his appearances.  On the whole, he seemed more frustrated with having to help Bill & Ted and was mostly dropping in to tell them to "figure it out yourselves!" then popping out again.

    The animation grew about as stale as the stories and all the clever and intricate adaptations of time period art styles was lost.  While the Hanna-Barbera animation was certainly nothing akin to Akira, at least their movements had personality and character.  The DIC animation was much less relaxed in comparison.  The characters remained pretty much the same as before except Ted's eyes were changed from black dots to include irises, which didn't seem to suit his character as much.  They added a little more color to their clothes, changing the white stripe on Ted's shorts and his sweats beneath to yellow, a yellow ring around his t-shirt collar and a red stripe around Bill's shirt collar.

    The biggest loss between the Hanna-Barbera and Fox episodes were the voices.  Not having Alex Winter, Keanu Reeves and George Carlin doing their respective voices made a huge difference in the finished product.  Fox placed the actors from the live-action Bill & Ted series in the parts, a move which made sense since Fox would certainly want some continuity to their new product.  Evan Richards as Bill, Christopher Kennedy as Ted supplied the voices of their live TV counterparts (Rick Overton did not do the voice of Rufus, however).  Unfortunately neither of these actors ever seemed to capture the true innocence of Bill & Ted, and it shows in their work (even their voice work).  Also lost were the terrific character actors which had peppered the supporting characters of the Hanna-Barbera series.

    Since there were only eight episodes total in the DIC series (and only seven episodes of the Fox live-action series) it would seem audiences did not accept their versions of Bill & Ted.  As subtle as they may have felt those changes would be, to true fans of the dudes they were monumental, and totally in the wrong direction.