One of my absolute favorite shows as a kid was Gumby, a trippy, somewhat surreal series filmed using stop motion clay animation. There were 233 episodes of the show produced over the course of its 40-year history on TV, all featuring the green clay robot-like little boy with the big feet and slanted head, and his sidekick Pokey, a talking pony.
Created by animator Art Clokey, who developed the unique style of claymation later used in the series while he was a student at the University of Southern California, Gumby made its debut as a short segment on the Howdy Doody Show in 1956 and became a series on NBC the following year. Production on this version of the show continued through the late 60’s. In the 1980’s, the original Gumby episodes enjoyed a revival on TV and home video, which led to production of a new version of the series for syndication.
Besides Pokey, other characters regularly featured in the series were the Blockheads, a duo of red humanoid figures with block-shaped heads, who always created mischief and mayhem; Gumby’s parents Gumba and Gumbo, and later his sister, Minga; Prickle, a yellow dragon; Goo, a flying blue mermaid; Tilly, a chicken; and Denali, a mastadon.
What made the series visually unique was that Clokey didn’t disguise the fact that his characters were made out of clay or try too hard to make the characters and settings look realistic. Instead, each episode highlighted how the characters could melt into various shapes and then reconfigure back to their original forms. The settings for the show were little toy houses and villages, and Gumby and the other characters were like toy figures brought to life. Many of the episodes included a sequence in which Gumby and Pokey would physically slip into a book and then have an adventure in the world of the book’s story.
There was something about the primitive look of the animation and the way that Gumby and the other characters seemed like clay figures made by a child and brought to life to play out a child’s imaginary stories that delighted and entranced me as a young viewer. Gumby’s personality seemed very much like that of a real child, but he existed in a surreal, magical world where anything could happen. I think there is something about that combination that made Gumby so fascinating to so many generations of kids and adults.