As a kid, I had an almost unhealthy affection for Jim Davis’ Garfield. In fact, I was so taken in by the lazy, fat, comic strip (and later, cartoon) character that I felt a certain amount of animosity towards what I considered to be a lame Garfield rip-off: something called Heathcliff. Naturally, I was mistaken about which character came first, though by the time I hit puberty, I had reached that point where I really didn’t care one way or another for either creation. Here I am years later — still just as immature — but with a decidedly open mind towards the fictional feline I had once cast aside as inferior.
While he had been in print for a good seven years by the time The Heathcliff and Dingbat Show hit ABC in 1980, Heathcliff had never found a true voice until this Saturday morning cartoon. Fortunately, the folks at Ruby-Spears (no, not Ruby Tuesday) — the animation studio behind this short-lived series — cast the one and only Mel Blanc to bring Heathcliff to life. Frankly, there was never a finer choice to give the street-wise cat’s wisecracks the proper amount of derision (and since most cats are smartasses, you have to get that one just right). The series finds our hero doing his regular Saturday morning thing: annoying that darned dog Spike (whom Blanc also voiced) and romancin’ a neighborhood pussy named Sonja.
It’s all fine and dandy-like, but then there’s the whole Dingbat aspect of the show: because there’s nothing odder than going from a comic strip cat’s everyday hijinks to the wacky adventures of a trio of ethereal ghouls! Dingbat, you see, is a vampire dog. Yeah. His pals are a shape-shifting fat skeleton (!) named Sparerib, and a jack-o-lantern by the name o’ Nobody. And they created these characters specifically to pair with Heathcliff on his own program. Go figure. Strangely enough, Dingbat and his pals didn’t hang around long enough to join Heathcliff when this show was renewed for a second season (although Marmaduke — a much more appropriate character — did).
As far as Saturday morning cartoons that weren’t manufactured by Hanna-Barbara go, The Heathcliff and Dingbat Show is an entertaining enough affair. It’s hardly a class act by any means (sadly, I think that golden window of opportunity wherein I could have enjoyed this to the fullest passed once puberty hit), and most of the gags are about as corny as you can expect (I did mention this was a Saturday morning cartoon made by Ruby-Spears, right?), but the Mel Blanc factor — combined with additional vocal talents by Avery Schreiber, Don Messick, June Foray, and Frank Welker (as the doomed-to-never-be-renewed Dingbat) — make it worth a look. The Warner Archive Collection brings another fractured memory of many a Gen-X-er to DVD-R in a two-disc set that presents all 13 half-hour episodes in their original 1.37:1 aspect ratio with no special features whatsoever.
Hey, a show that goes from cats to cadavers is special enough on its own.