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Goldie Gold and Action Jack: "Night of the Crystal Skull"
Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos: "Deadly Dolphin"
The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley: "Tall, Dark & Hansom"
The Flintstone Kids: "The Bad News Brontos/Invasion of the Mommy Snatchers/Dreamchip's Cur Wash/Princess Wilma"
Mister T: "Mystery of the Golden Medallions"
Dragon's Lair: "The Tale of the Enchanted Gift"
Thundarr the Barbarian: "Secret of the Black Pearl"
Kwicky Koala Show: "Show #1 - Dry Run/Robinson Caruso/High Roller/The Claws Conspiracy/Hat Dance/Dirty's Debut"
The Biskitts: "As the Worm Turns/Trouble in the Tunnel"
Monchhichis: "Tickle Pickle"
Galtar and the Golden Lance: "Galtar and the Princess"
by Alex Jackson
"Portions of original film elements from certain programs contained within no longer survive in pristine condition. As a result, archival elements of varying quality have been carefully assembled to provide you with as close an approximation of the original program as possible." --Actual disclaimer on the "Warner Bros. Presents Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980s" DVD collection
From the sound of that, you would think they discovered these episodes of "Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos" and "Monchhichis" in the basement of an Argentinean mental hospital. Certainly, "Warner Bros. Presents Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980s" holds genuine appeal as a cultural artifact. I was born in 1981 but have vague memories of watching an episode of "The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley", which might have featured a clip from the 1933 Fay Wray horror film The Vampire Bat. I have a better but still hazy memory of putting a cartoon "Mister T" temporary tattoo on my mom's guitar case. If nothing else, this collection is irrefutable evidence that I didn't imagine these programs.
This is the sort of thing better bought and displayed on your shelf than actually watched. There's a disclaimer hidden in the liner notes, even stranger than one above, stating that "Saturday Morning Cartoons-The 1980s is intended for the Adult Collector and Is Not Suitable for Children." Warner Bros. might be referring to the mild sexism and use of racial caricature in many of these shows. Or perhaps, like the first disclaimer, this was merely holdover boilerplate from their '60s and '70s Saturday Morning cartoon collections. Still, it seems that on some level, they're admitting nobody could really buy into any of this crap. Unless they are "collectors," that is.
Anyone who purchases this set probably isn't interested in whether or not the cartoons contained within are any good. Indeed, they might be insulted by the question, as though it were irrelevant. The liner notes tell us that "The Kwicky Koala Show" was Tex Avery's last work and then ends by saying, "No kidding: this wicked 2-Disc Collection is totally boss." The market appears to be 1) casual animation buffs who want to see some of the rarer Ruby-Spears/Hanna-Barbera productions of the 1980s, and 2) people who grew up in the 1980s and are eager to relive their childhood. There's a thin line distinguishing the hyper-objective historian who distils art into data from the hyper-subjective sentimentalist who considers anything they once experienced to be worthy of celebration. This is a collection for people either too smart or too stupid to care about film.
The actual content of this collection seems to actively foster this emotional detachment. There's always something happening, but there's no excitement or tension. It's movement for the sake of movement. I can't say there's anybody for us to genuinely identify with in any of these cartoons. When children of the '80s watched "The Flintstone Kids", for example, I don't think they saw these characters as going through the same problems they were going through. Even at six or seven years old, they probably realized that the show was more about the idea of childhood than about childhood itself. In one way or another, all these programs are like that. They "work" as empty meaningless noise for an audience that asks for nothing more than empty meaningless noise.
On a deeper level, I sense a disassociated smugness on behalf of the writers. Whatever creative energy they have is spent actively punishing anyone stupid enough to look for art (not necessarily craftsmanship--I mean something challenging or simply heartfelt) in these cartoons. I guess they were afraid that if they actually exhibited passion or sincerity in their work, they would be ignored, if not outright rejected. If kids were willing to eat up garbage like "The Biskitts", they couldn't possibly appreciate something that was good. Had children's programming not improved so substantially in the early-'90s (with "The Adventures of Batman and Robin", "Gargoyles", "X-Men", "The Pirates of Dark Water", "Tiny Toon Adventures", "Animaniacs", the Nick Toons "Doug", "Rugrats", and "Ren and Stimpy"), I could possibly sympathize with such sentiments. Knowing there was plenty of room in the world of Saturday-morning cartoons to engage the audience on an emotional level, the cynical shoddiness of these '80s relics feels needless and offensive.
The title of the first series in this collection, "Goldy Gold and Action Jack", is so aggressively lazy and stupid it must have been intended as a joke. Can't you just picture the person who came up with that and how much they must hate their audience? Goldy Gold is something of a cross between Richie Rich and Barbarella, with maybe a touch of Joan Collins for spice. She owns a newspaper, THE GOLD STREET JOURNAL, that employs reporter "Action" Jack Travis. Along with Action Jack and her dog Nugget, Goldy Gold fills her days solving crime.
In this sample episode, "Night of the Crystal Skull," the titular heroes are tracking down a gang of ancient Incans who have kidnapped some scientists from one of Goldy's parties. The choice of villain lends "Goldy Gold and Action Jack" something of a subversive quality. In having the blonde, slightly ditzy, ludicrously wealthy Goldy Gold fight off ancient Incans, the show announces itself as imperialist apologia. It suggests that relatively non-consumerist civilizations such as ancient Inca must ultimately be cannibalized to sustain the consumptive appetite of multi-millionaire Barbie dolls like Goldy Gold. When the Incan leader explains his motivation for kidnapping the scientists, his thinking resembles that of the Manson Family. He wants to establish complete anarchy in order to rule it. It's perhaps the clearest declaration of the show's post-countercultural mindset. The hippie-dippy values implicitly represented by the ancient Incans are not only wrong, but fundamentally misguided, too. Spirituality is for poor people who don't have enough toys. Realizing, perhaps, that the show was getting a little too edgy, the writers reveal that the leader was really one of the scientists in disguise by capturing him and taking off his mask à la Hanna-Barbera's "Scooby-Doo". It's a denouement that says, yet again, "We fucking hate you for caring in the first place."
Yet there's an admirable self-awareness to "Goldy Gold and Action Jack". It's the closest any of these cartoons comes to explicitly endorsing itself as a happy, shiny, easily-consumed/easily-disposed-of piece of shit. This gives "Goldy Gold and Action Jack" license to go to truly absurd places. The episode's climactic fight occurs in a mansion built on the moon's surface! To disorient the Incan henchmen, Goldy flips off the switch that controls the artificial gravity. As anybody who ever saw Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey already knows, artificial gravity is created through centrifugal force, and so the mansion would have to be rotating. This is not something that can be turned on and off like the ceiling lights. But what the hell, we have our stupid-hats on right now.
And the gleeful stupidity of "Goldy Gold and Action Jack" is preferable to the resigned stupidity of "Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos". Sort of a Golan-Globus version of "G.I. Joe" (it was produced by Hanna-Barbera defectors Joe Ruby and Ken Spears), "Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos" sees Norris leading a special team of domesticated Asians (including a samurai, a sumo wrestler, and a young boy named Too Much in the spirit of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom's Short Round) and a couple of token whites against a high-tech but distinctly apolitical terrorist organization called The Claw. In the pilot episode "Deadly Dolphin," Chuck and the gang have to break into the Claw's top-secret sealab to recapture an experimental underwater breathing apparatus. Yes, there are dolphins involved.
Maybe the comical highlight of the series (aside from the ridiculously self-promoting title sequence, viewable on the video site COLLEGEHUMOR) is the way the Kommandos successfully fight off the Claw's laser-rifle-firing minions with karate. In a particularly charitable mood it could be considered a precursor to the Chuck Norris Facts Internet meme. Bring a laser gun to a karate fight with Chuck Norris and you'd still be under-matched. If that doesn't seem like it would enter the higher echelon of one-liners about Chuck Norris, it may be because laser guns are inherently absurd, hence the idea of Norris trumping them isn't crazy enough to be funny. That's arguably the central problem with "Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos": it's too silly to become true kitsch.
As with most of the cartoons here, the idea of "Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos" is more appealing than the reality of it. On those terms, I found it a little wanting besides. My earliest memory of Chuck Norris was a viewing of one of those Missing in Action pictures on Showtime with my father and kid sister. I remember there was a scene near the end of the film that prompted Dad to define "rape" for us. Well, I suppose that circa 1986, a Saturday Morning cartoon series centred on Chuck Norris would have had an implicitly pornographic edge. After several seasons of "Walker Texas Ranger" and the otherwise forgettable 1992 Jonathan Brandis vehicle Sidekicks, "Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos" registers as a natural progression of the Norris brand. There's no longer anything hilariously inappropriate about it.
The kitsch appeal of "The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley" is even hollower than that of "Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos", which was even hollower than that of "Goldy Gold and Action Jack". This shit just keeps getting worse and worse. For those who didn't know or blissfully forgot, Ed Grimley was a character Martin Short first performed on "SCTV" and "Saturday Night Live". He wears pants pulled up to his navel and greases his hair up into a cowlick. He likes playing the triangle along to pre-recorded music and worships "Wheel of Fortune" host Pat Sajak. Grimley has a number of catchphrases--"I must say," "totally decent," "give me a break"--that are repeated constantly throughout the cartoon, long after we've fully absorbed his weirdness. How much can we be expected to laugh at the same strings of syllables?
Turning Ed Grimley into a literal cartoon effectively kills the joke. The idea is so obviously flawed that it's a wonder television executives would go on to make the exact same mistake in animating Super Dave Osborne and Ace Ventura. A bigger problem is that there isn't enough in Ed Grimley to sustain a half-hour episode, much less an entire series. The humour is too superficial. Short isn't really satirizing anything through Grimley. He's a nerd being nerdy, period.
In the pilot episode "Tall, Dark, and Hansom," Ed fills in as a hansom (it's a pun, see?) for his Cousin Lamar's horse-and-buggy business. He befriends the horse and decides he'll get him laid by entering the horse into a track race. Two-thirds of the way into the episode, we crudely segue into a live-action segment with "SCTV"'s Count Floyd (Joe Flaherty), a horror-movie host trying to frighten an audience of bored children with a story about a headless mummy. As we know his story never had a chance of scaring anyone, what with this being a comedy program and one intended for Saturday mornings besides, it isn't funny that the kids are unimpressed. The Grimley material at least has the one joke of Ed Grimley as total weirdo. This doesn't seem to have any joke at all.
But while the laboured and consciously deliberate listlessness of Count Floyd enrages me, I feel genuinely depressed by Ed Grimley. I think he has always depressed me. Going back to when I was a kid, knowing what "Wheel of Fortune" was and knowing that Ed Grimley was obsessed with Sajak, I knew that this was somebody to be pitied. I mean, the only other fictional character I remember who liked "Wheel of Fortune" that much was Rain Man, and he was functionally autistic. His love for "Wheel of Fortune" was an indicator of his limited world. At first, laughing at Grimley's Sajak obsession might have been our way of feeling superior to the millions of unworldly, unintelligent Middle Americans who've made Sajak a household name. Laughing at Grimley today means deliberately joining their ranks. Grimley has become as marginal and insubstantial as Sajak, thus in celebrating Grimley we end up celebrating everything Pat Sajak has come to represent. If you like Ed Grimley, you are in fact revelling in the banal pop culture Short is decrying.
Having reached the nadir of Saturday Morning cartoons in the 1980s, it's tempting to overpraise the gentle, professional Hanna-Barbera cash-in "The Flintstone Kids". This hour-long episode is composed of four segments cherry-picked from throughout the series' first season, providing enough variety to keep the show from stagnating. It still doesn't aspire to do anything more than waste your time, but it's durable and was crafted with a modicum of pride and affection.
A derivative version of "The Flintstones", which itself was a derivative version of "The Honeymooners", "The Flintstone Kids" retains an outdated 1950s sitcom mentality, especially in regard to gender roles. In the first segment, "Bad News Broncos," little Fred Flintstone reluctantly endorses his mom Edna as the new coach of his ailing baseball team, only to enjoy multiple victories under her tutelage. Much is also made of the fact that Wilma is a great pitcher--which is nuts because she's a girl! The second segment has the gang watching their favourite superheroes "Captain Caveman and Son" (recycled from Hanna-Barbera's "Scooby-Doo" clone "Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels", of course) in their new adventure "Invasion of the Mommy Snatchers." Space aliens have kidnapped all the moms in Bedrock, resulting in the town's children running amok. It then falls on Captain Caveman and Son to rescue the Mommies and bring order back to Bedrock. Upon viewing the show, Fred and his friends have learned to appreciate their own moms and decide to help out Fred's by cleaning up after themselves.
In the short "Dreamchip's Cur Wash," Fred's "dogasaurus" Dino visits a spoiled rich girl and submits to a dogasaurus-cleaning machine. The segment scores some easy populist points by satirizing the rich girl's haughty insistence on maintaining a shiny, clean trophy animal. Nevertheless, I believe this is an attack on femininity as well. There's an implicit chauvinism in the way the show celebrates females insofar as they can succeed in male pursuits like playing and coaching baseball. Finally, "Princess Wilma" has Wilma fantasizing about being a princess during medieval times. So, like, since she's a cavegirl, is she fantasizing about the future? The premise of this mini-episode exposes the superficiality of the series' prehistoric theme, though it does give us the strangely evocative sight of Fred in a polar-bearskin cloak.
The joke here is that Wilma is looking for Fred to rescue her, but the caveboy fumbles the task. This kind of light misandry where the men are dense, dumb, and incompetent and the women are the only ones who can get the job done appears to be typical of the series. I think it's intended to give the show some kind of moral fibre and challenge children's gut instincts while not endorsing any value system that might be seen as genuinely divisive or controversial. Girls can play baseball. Listen to your mother. Don't depend on men to rescue you. There's nothing there you would really want to argue against. On the other side of that, your thinking would have to be pretty primitive to find any of this pleasurably subversive or provocative. And there's something ugly about how the women are better than the men but relegated to submissive roles (as housewives and princesses). It's acknowledging that the distribution of power is arbitrary and fundamentally unjust, but then goes on to say there's nothing you can do about but make snide comments from down on the bottom rung.
"Mister T" is the good version of "Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos" and possibly as good as you could hope any of these shows to be. Whereas Norris is too bland a personality to be an effective cartoon character and Ed Grimley is too inherently cartoony for the transformation to have much meaning, Mr. T is a pretty successful mean between the two. As a cartoon, the character is allowed to spread his wings without compromising his core appeal. The series sees Mr. T as the coach of an ethnically diverse team of high-school gymnasts who moonlight solving mysteries. For intentional comic relief, he's joined by Spike, a tough white kid who tries his best to talk like Mr. T, and Dozer, a pet bulldog sporting a Mr. T Mohawk. Jokes like these have a self-effacing quality, but in practice they subtly reinforce the raw awesomeness of the Mr. T persona. Mr. T is inimitable and you can only, excuse me, pity the fool who tries.
In short, this is why "Mister T" is so much more successful than most of the cartoons in this package. It's ridiculous and very campy, yet there's an innocence at the heart of it. I have to admit to being very charmed by the show's gym-class ethos, where personal excellence is defined in terms of both athletic ability and proficiency in working with a team. The diversity of the gymnastics team, while hardly accidental, doesn't insist on itself. Male, female, black, white, Asian, it doesn't matter: The gymnasts are more or less interchangeable and certainly do not differentiate themselves through race or gender. The show's creators appear to be saying that these divisions don't exist. Hardly a politically sophisticated attitude, it's nonetheless admirable as a counterpoint to the passively racist "Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos" and the regressive arch-conservatism of "The Flintstone Kids" alike.
The pilot episode, "Mystery of the Golden Medallion," has the gang investigating the theft of several cheap golden medallions in the San Francisco area. A new kid has joined the team, but the rest of the gymnasts have grave reservations regarding his competence as an amateur sleuth. In live-action bookends, Mr. T imparts the moral that you should give new kids a chance before dismissing their contributions. This is considerably more useful advice than can be found in the live-action bookends for "Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos", wherein Norris explains that if you want something you have to really want it to get it!
Disc 2 of this collection begins with a horrible "Smurfs" rip-off called "The Biskitts". The Biskitts are a race of small anthropomorphic dogs that live on mythical Biskitt Island. Because of the emphasis their people put on responsibility and safety, surrounding kingdoms entrust their treasure with them; Biskitt Island is the cartoon fantasy equivalent of Switzerland, I suppose. Their king has died and his brother Max, ruler of the neighbouring Lower Suburbia, was refused the Biskitt crown on account of his mean nature. He thus spends the series trying to steal the Biskitt's treasure out of greed and revenge, but is constantly undermined by his apathetic and lazy dogs, Fang and Snarl; his undisciplined court jester, Shecky; and, of course, the unwavering wholesomeness of the Biskitts themselves.
This surprisingly complicated mythology clouds the repetitive nature of the show's storylines and fools you into thinking that something is happening. In the mini-episodes "As the Worm Turns" and "Trouble in the Tunnel," the Biskitts rescue a caterpillar and a mole, respectively, from King Max. I have little reason to believe that subsequent episodes attempt anything more substantial. There is something calculatingly, that is to say cynically, cute about the Biskitts themselves. The animators go so far as to have their creations stick their tongues out. Not to pant or to mock anybody, but so they look extra adorable. This gooeyness goes far beyond kitsch and crosses the outer limits of ordinary bad taste into a realm otherwise only inhabited by pissing Cupid statues. I've talked a lot about how the creators of these Saturday-morning cartoons clearly hated their audience, but this has never been more palpable than with "The Biskitts".
A Japanese series based on a line of children's dolls, re-dubbed for American consumption, "Monchhichis" transforms the contrived sickly sweetness of "The Biskitts" into semi-respectable self-parody. Just so we're clear, "Monchhichis" is still happy shiny crap and the one joke it has surely isn't enough to sustain more than an episode. What's offensive about "The Biskitts" is that the writers clearly have the wit to turn their show into a lark, but their contempt for the work takes over and they endeavour to make it as disgusting as humanly possible. There's a similar contempt in "Monchhichis", though it's utilized to criticize the genre itself. The more you hate shit like "The Biskitts", the more you might appreciate "Monchhichis". It suggests a Yippee parody of hippiedom, with the Monchhichis representing love and peace and their enemies, the Grumplins of Grumplor, representing hate and discord. The conflict between the two camps is laughably reductive: The Grumplins hate the Monchhichis because Monchhichis are happy and the Grumplins want everyone to be miserable.
"Monchhichis" follows this thinking to its natural end. Where the truly politically conscientious are motivated by their discontent to bring about social change, creatures like the "Monchhichis" see it as something from which to escape. Had the Grumplins an evil agenda, like stealing something of value or maintaining a position of political power as King Max does in "The Biskitts", they would not encounter any opposition from the Monchhichis. Though the Monchhichis defend themselves against the Grumplins, they do so without malice and are never the aggressor. They want to be left to revel in their happiness and are indifferent to larger injustices existing outside their community.
In the suggestively titled "Tickle Pickle," the animators clearly indicate that the reason the Monchhichis are constantly happy is because they are always stoned. After a Grumplin attack destroys their "tickle crystal," described as the energy source that powers their Happy Works factory and keeps them happy, the Monchhichis seek out the powerful Wizzar of Monchhichi. There's a strange moment late in the episode that seems to cement the series' satirical edge. Trapped in a cage by the Grumplins, the Monchhichi Tutu turns in a key that would have ensured her escape. When asked why she did it, she explains, "It didn't belong to me." Similarly, she insists on freeing a dangerous dragonfly the Monchhichis have briefly trapped. Tutu's happy state has apparently turned her brain to mush and she has lost nearly all trace of a survival instinct.
After all this cuddliness, the macho fantasy epic "Galtar and the Golden Lance" would seem like a welcome reprieve. In the interest of full disclosure, I had no idea what the fuck was going on in this show. It collapses under the weight of its own mythology and understanding it would require more time and energy than it could possibly be worth. I'll offer that this episode, "Galtar and the Princess," has the hero barbarian Galtar meeting a princess and learning that she is also a great warrior although she's a girl. This echoes the pop feminism of "The Flintstone Kids" and gives lie to immediate notions that "Galtar and the Golden Lance" is any more mature or sophisticated than the usual Saturday Morning cartoon fare.
Aesthetically speaking, "Dragon's Lair" is something of a bad photocopy of the Don Bluth-created LaserDisc game. No more love and attention was put into animating it than any other Saturday-morning cartoon series. And if you're expecting some kind of parody of the sword-and-sorcery genre represented by "Galtar and the Golden Lance", well, come to think of it, the videogame itself wasn't that sophisticated. It isn't that the writers believe in the values of the genre, it's that they don't care enough to subvert them. "Dragon's Lair" wasn't made with contempt and it isn't wilfully stupid, but it's clear that nobody involved had the wherewithal to challenge or offend the target audience.
In the pilot episode, "The Tale of the Enchanted Gift," heroic knight Dirk the Daring finds the perfect birthday present for Princess Daphne in a rare golden falcon statue. Alas, he has fallen into a trap set by his arch-nemesis Cinge the Dragon. Cinge has enchanted the statute to come alive and kidnap Daphne as soon as it enters her castle. The episode ends with Dirk rescuing the princess and presenting her with the more modest gift of a songbird, which she accepts with tired resignation. That tired resignation puts a mildly irreverent twist on the show's kiddie moralizing. Daphne's just glad this gift won't pick her up in its talons and kidnap her. She ends up rejecting materialism because it leads to too much trouble. That's a little funny, but it doesn't have the edge of "Monchhichis". The writers are essentially rationalizing their lack of interest in the material instead of criticizing it from an elevated vantage point.
The one true innovation of "Dragon's Lair" is a narrator who occasionally asks what Dirk should do next and then illustrates the potential outcomes. This is an interesting experiment, but it plain doesn't work. For one, it isn't really interactive. I think we're supposed to make a choice and then wait to see if we guessed right--but why one choice leads to Dirk's survival and the other leads to his death is purely arbitrary. These outcomes do not reward special attention or insight on behalf of the viewer. This pseudo-interactivity also represents a deliberate yielding of authorial control. It suggests that the writers didn't care enough to work out the direction the story would take. On a more basic level, the use of this device deflates dramatic tension. While these outcomes are entirely random, there is no way that Dirk could ever be permanently killed, because the narrator will ultimately favour the one in which Dirk survives. I'm curious how long the writers would have continued with this gimmick had the show gone on to a second season.
"Thundarr the Barbarian" might be the only show in this collection that had any real potential. This epic fantasy series lasted two seasons on the ABC network and has established enough of a following to have inspired a pen-and-paper role-playing game and the "nerdrock/nerdcore" band Ookla the Mok. Although I'll concede that it is much better than "Galtar and the Golden Lance" and likely much better than "Masters of the Universe" (my favourite television series when I was four), "Thundarr the Barbarian" is little more than the fastest kid in the Special Olympics.
The show's failure illustrates a core principle in the mechanics of storytelling: Complex characters require complex narratives and simplistic narratives require simplistic characters. In saddling its broadly-drawn cartoon hero with a rather complicated, exposition-heavy storyline, "Thundarr the Barbarian" greatly compromises the potential archetypical resonance of this material. For a series like this to have the clarity of myth, it should be stripped down to the bone. Or perhaps the writers could have created a human-like and nuanced Thundarr the Barbarian and allowed him to dictate the direction of the material. Because the narrative and the character are divorced from one another, "Thundarr the Barbarian"'s storyline feels artificially imposed and roughly as arbitrary as the "what would you do" challenges of "Dragon's Lair".
In the year 1994, a runaway planet enters the moon's orbit around Earth, causing the destruction of all life on our planet. Two thousand years later, the barbarian Thundarr travels the ruins of (mostly) North America, fighting off rat monsters called Groundlings and the evil wizard Gemini. He's accompanied in his journeys by the mage Princess Ariel and Wookiee-like Ookla the Mok. The pilot, "Secret of the Black Pearl," has Thundarr and the gang attempting to transport a magical black pearl to what was once Manhattan before Gemini and his minions steal it out from under them.
The distant-future setting of "Thundarr the Barbarian" positions our existence as temporal and suggests that nothing we do will have any lasting effect two millennia from now. Alas, deep ruminations such as these are greatly undermined by the show's fast pace and constant emphasis on action and conflict. It never stops long enough for us to soak in the environment or meditate on it to any humbling effect, and the writers don't seem to have a very good grasp on exactly how long is two-thousand years. In Manhattan, our heroes encounter the Statue of Liberty and several abandoned vehicles, stuff you'd think would be long gone by this late date. Throughout the episode (and the series, it would appear), they continually remind of us of the world that once was.
Voiced by the late, great Bob Ridgeley, whom you can tell couldn't resist taking the piss out of the material (at least on a subconscious level), Thundarr the Barbarian speaks in short simple sentences and offers only the most perfunctory of insights. Princess Ariel is the smart one in the gang and gets the bulk of dialogue, meaning she explains to Thundarr what movies were and the like. You suspect that something like romantic tension is meant to develop between the two, but Ariel is so much higher-functioning than Thundarr that it's difficult to see what they could possibly have in common. The idea that Ariel could use Thundarr for sex or that Thundarr could look to Ariel as a nurturing figure is not only too edgy and cynical for this program, I think it's too advanced as well.
I learn from WIKIPEDIA that Thundarr and Ookla the Mok were both slaves liberated by Ariel. Strangely, we never get the sense that Thundarr identifies more with Ookla than with Ariel, or that he has a closer bond with him. And knowing that Ariel is responsible for their rescue, well, why the fuck is the show called "Thundarr the Barbarian" instead of "Ariel the Sorceress"? As with "The Flintstone Kids", the females are the smartest and most competent in the bunch, underscoring the arbitrary injustice of their subjugation.
The final series in the collection is "The Kwicky Koala Show". It's one of those things I'm fearful of over-praising. The show is certainly derivative of much of Avery's work (particularly Droopy) and many of the classic Warner Bros. cartoons and older Hanna-Barbera creations. It's obvious that this is a cash-in and doesn't have a whole lot of merit unto itself. This isn't bad, you know, it's just not anything terribly out of the ordinary. On the other hand, "The Kwicky Koala Show" is the only old-fashioned, character-based, vaudevillian cartoon in the whole collection, and in that context it ends the set on a sweetly irreverent note. I felt something like relief in watching it. "The Kwicky Koala Show" is undoubtedly preferable to most of the crap I've had to sit through.
The episode consists of four distinct segments, each revolving around a different cartoon character. Kwicky Koala is a dryly-bemused marsupial who can run so fast that he seems to disappear into thin air. In the mini-episode "Robinson Caruso," the island-bound Wilford Wolf attempts to steal a treasure map from Kwicky to no avail. Kwicky offers a partnership whereby Wilford will do the digging and Kwicky will "supervise." Wilford reluctantly agrees, only to be rewarded with a chest full of eucalyptus leaves. The easy-to-please Kwicky has a childlike quality that gels, oddly enough, with his deviousness. I found it tempting to rue poor Wilford Wolf, whose greediness makes him vulnerable to suffering that is far beyond the scope of Kwicky Koala.
The Crazy Claws segment "The Claws Conspiracy" is wittier and goes down a bit smoother. Crazy Claws is a wildcat modeled after Groucho Marx who repeatedly and rather effortlessly outwits the fur trapper Rawhide Clyde. The Marx inspiration was entirely unexpected by me. It gives the proceedings a surreal touch and adds a shot of adrenaline to the pranksterism. Crazy Claws is so many steps ahead of his nemesis that he's practically running laps around him. He'll pull one over on Rawhide Clyde and as Rawhide slowly falls into the trap, Crazy Claws will turn to the audience, share a wisecrack at his expense, and come back to see his prank pay off. I did literally laugh out loud.
The Depression-era hobo Dirty Dawg stars in "Dirty's Debut." Desperately in need of food, Dirty enters his rodent sidekick Ratso into a dog show as a poodle. The cartoon format doesn't neutralize the sick joke of passing a rat off as a poodle. There's genuine poignancy, too, in the show's warmly nostalgic view of abject poverty and in Dirty Dawg's transparent attempts to maintain self-respect. His fearless confidence and creative use of alliteration recalls William Richert's Falstaff character in My Own Private Idaho, though I'm sure this sort of beggar-king is an established archetype.
Bridging these segments are bits with the acrobatic dogs George and Joey, who perform in a circus under the stage name "The Bungle Brothers." George is big and stupid and Joey is short and talks with a lisp. The three included here--"Dry Run," "High Roller," and "Hat Dance"--all last under a minute and are pretty negligible.
All eleven series are presented in their original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The disclaimer excerpted at the front of this review proves somewhat unnecessary. Not that these cartoons aren't, by and large, dull and washed-out. Each originated as film-to-tape transfers, with some (like "Monchhichis") sporting a dupier appearance than others. For whatever reason, the host segments of "The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley" leave me depressed at the very look of the thing. It embodies mediocrity down to the photography. Aside from maybe a scratch or two here and a hint of strobing there, however, few significant defects announce themselves. The Dolby 2.0 mono audio is similarly faded, but somewhat surprisingly Spanish dubs and English subtitles have been provided for the entire set.
The only extra is "Lords of Lights! The Story of Thundarr the Barbarian" (18 mins.). Aside from my ambivalence towards the show's cult canonization, I can't say I have any real complaints about the featurette. "Thundarr the Barbarian" is thoroughly if economically explored from all angles. Christopher Vogler, who wrote a textbook called The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers that helps screenwriters adapt Joseph Campbell's theories into their work, argues that Thundarr and his animal companion Ookla were likely based on the Babylonian hero Gilgamesh and his sidekick Enkidu. The limited animation techniques utilized by the creators (famed Marvel illustrator Jack Kirby among them) are demonstrated for us and we're shown early sketches of the principal characters. Rounding out the platter are forced trailers for "Scooby Doo: Abracadabra-Doo" and "Peanuts 1970s Collection Vol. 1", plus optional ones for the "Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1960s" and "Peanuts 1960s" collections. Originally published: September 22, 2010.
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