The Bible, as interpreted by Hanna-Barbera

The Greatest Adventure: Stories from the Bible, TV Series: 13 Episodes, 1985-1993. Produced by Hanna-Barbera, distributed by Warner Bros (VHS and DVD, $18.70 each for select DVDs).

Many animation companies have produced movies, TV specials and direct-to-video releases of Bible stories for children. Some well-known series include Superbook, Veggie Tales, and Animated Stories from the Bible. There have also been one-shot specials created by relatively unknown groups that always seem to go on sale during Easter and Christmas. But every so often, you’ll find a little hidden gem in the bargain bin. That’s exactly how I rediscovered a wonderful Bible story series made by an important animation company that I had completely forgotten about.

Two years ago, while perusing a bin of inexpensive DVDs, I happened to come across a pristine copy of The Easter Story. The box was a bare-bones packaging job, and looked amateurish at first glance. Normally, I would’ve tossed this DVD back into the pile with a simple flick of the wrist. Yet the title at the bottom of the front cover, The Greatest Adventure: Stories from the Bible, caught my attention. I turned it over, furiously scrolled down and found the answer: “Executive Producers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.” A flood of memories came rushing back.  I had watched this entire series, and hadn’t thought about it in years. At long last, I have an opportunity to write about it – and hopefully keep its memory alive for future generations.

From 1985-1993, Hanna-Barbera Productions, Inc. – creators of The Yogi Bear Show, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! and The Flintstones, among others – produced a 13-episode direct-to-video animated series about the Bible. Joseph Barbera was the guiding light behind this project. He tried for 17 years to sell this idea, but couldn’t find an interested party. Barbera told Washington Post reporter Marie Zad in 1987, “They totally rejected it … It was frustrating and I couldn’t let go of my dream to create a series of animated Bible stories for children.” In the end, William Hanna – who hadn’t been involved to that point – finally agreed with his longtime business partner that the “time was ripe to produce the series for the home video market.”

The storyline revolved around two young archaeology students, Derek and Margo, and their mischievous Bedouin friend, Moki. By accident, they stumbled upon a secret trap door that allowed them to travel back to ancient times. They spoke with great Biblical heroes like Noah, David, and Jonah, and watched with awe as Moses, Queen Esther, and Jesus inspired the masses. With each exciting excursion to the past, their knowledge about Christianity’s origins, history and evolution steadily increased.

Hanna-Barbera’s decision to put fictional characters into Bible stories wasn’t an original concept. (Superbook transported two friends and a toy robot back in time, for example.) Regardless, it’s long been a successful animation technique to provide children with the chance to witness important historical moments through the eyes of people with whom they might relate. The bright, curious nature of Derek and Margo, and the lighthearted Moki – who made children laugh with his hijinks – were the perfect trio to guide and shape inquisitive young minds.

The Greatest Adventure series is a thoughtful rendition of important Bible stories. Each 26-minute episode is animated in the traditional Hanna-Barbera style, with a little humour and occasional side story involving the main protagonists. Yet the context of each video remains true to the Good Book. As Barbera said, “We don’t preach in these stories. We made something for the people to look at and be entertained.” Based on Hanna-Barbera’s initial success (sales of over 400,000 videotapes in the first six months of production), they achieved this goal.

Barbera summed up his dream project for the Washington Post: “In the past six years or so there’s been a movement back to traditional family values, but they weren’t sitting around reading the Bible. This series brings the Bible to them in the medium they know best. I have many letters to show that parents are going back to the Bible and reading up to answer questions their children have after viewing the tapes.” From my standpoint, you couldn’t ask for a better endorsement than a child asking questions to their parents to learn more about the Bible.

The gentle and inspiring message of these videos crossed religious lines, and an independent panel of a Jesuit priest, Presbyterian minister and a rabbi advised Hanna-Barbera throughout the development stages. The marketing campaign targeted religious and secular bookstores, and found many willing customers, both young and old. 

Alas, The Greatest Adventure has gradually faded from public view. The last episode was made nearly 20 years ago. Hanna-Barbera was absorbed by Warner Bros. Animation in 2001. Only five episodes (Noah’s Ark, Moses, David and Goliath, The Miracles of Jesus and The Easter Story) are available on DVD. Fortunately, all 13 episodes can be purchased in VHS format on eBay – and you can still watch them on YouTube.

I would strongly suggest purchasing a few episodes (or the entire series) for your children or grandchildren’s video library at Christmas. Hanna-Barbera’s Bible stories are endearing, with striking animation, memorable characters, and a positive religious message. Your little ones will want to see Derek, Margo, and Moki’s time traveling adventures again and again.  The smiles on their faces for this once-forgotten animated series will surely be unforgettable.      

Episode list

Episode 1: The Creation

Episode 2: Noah’s Ark

Episode 3: Joseph and His Brothers

Episode 4: Moses

Episode 5: Joshua and the Battle of Jericho

Episode 6: Samson and Delilah

Episode 7: David and Goliath

Episode 8: Daniel and the Lions’ Den

Episode 9: Queen Esther

Episode 10: Jonah

Episode 11: The Nativity

Episode 12: The Miracles of Jesus

Episode 13: The Easter Story

Michael Taube is a columnist for the Washington Times, and a former speechwriter for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

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