Showing posts with label classic TV cartoons. Show all posts
Showing posts with label classic TV cartoons. Show all posts

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Supersonic Youth

In 1977, the Filmation team spearheaded by Scheimer, Prescott and Sutherland launched Space Sentinels which aired on NBC for thirteen episodes, a brief tenure which would ultimately become typical of the live-action and animated Saturday morning entertainment studio.

A trio of teenagers; Hercules, Mercury and Astrea are endowed with intergalactic strengths and capabilities and stationed inside a starship within a volcano. From this base they are allocated exigent missions by their operational superiors which they carry out on Earth and beyond. Adopting Greek and Roman mythological personas, the Space Sentinels use their individual skills and combined powers to fight enemy forces and uphold law and order in the galaxy.

One of the earliest forerunners to the programs discussed in this blog series, Space Sentinels was set in the then-futuristic 1985, nine years before Earth became irrevocably and catastrophically altered, if one is to trust the historical accounts of Filmation’s Thundarr the Barbarian, arriving a few years later in 1980. If that doesn’t confuse matters enough, 1985 also happened to see the cancellation of He-Man in addition to She-Ra’s debut!

All the beloved tropes are evident in the short-lived sci-fi superhero series including the obligatory Star Wars aping and accompanying moral lessons. The multi-racial aspect of the main characters is also noteworthy in an otherwise ethnically uniform era of cartoons.

Perhaps other trends had been established for Filmation with Space Sentinels, the ‘single season’ tradition certainly being the most obvious. Youth, strength, power and teamwork for the good of the universe would become key themes throughout many of the company’s subsequent creations. With those qualities, couldn’t one hero easily be as good as the next?

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Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire (image)
Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire 

Sunday, November 7, 2021

None But the Brave

By 1987, the conservationists of the animated television world, Filmation and Mattel were teaming up for their next recycled product in their line of manly interplanetary heroes with friendly wizards and special swords to save strange universes. Bravestarr was created by (again) Lou Scheimer and ran for (again) a meager 65 episodes, each 25 minutes in length.

In a distant galaxy known as ‘New Texas’, natives called Prairie People live among predatory beings such as Solacows, Apecats, Coyotoids, Broncosaurs, Krangs, Reptillianoids and Sand Walruses! Keeping law and order in this cosmic Wild West is Bravestarr, an American Indian ‘Matt Dillon’ of sorts who can telepathically summon animal friends in his quests. The most loyal of these benevolent beasts is an 'equestroid' deputy called Thirty/Thirty who can walk on two legs like Quick Draw McGraw when not galloping to the rescue with the mounted Bravestarr.

The noble star packers’ rivals include the ‘Carrion Bunch’, a gang of outlaws led by Tex-Hex, a former prospector of New Texas’s coveted red mineral and fuel source, Kerium.

Tex-Hex reports directly to an obligatory mean skeleton dude named Stampede, a Broncosaur who calls on the egregious forces of the planet’s wasteland to wage battle against Bravestarr and Shaman, his fatherly and mystical ally who wields considerable extra-sensory powers often used to contact the hero during periods of danger (See: ‘The Sorceress’ from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and ‘Light Hope’ from She-Ra: Princess of Power).

Ultimately, while this flash-in the-pan from Mr. Scheimer would prove to be Filmation’s swan song, it embodied their recurring themes that thrilled and educated its young fans every week. Space was certainly the final frontier but Bravestarr showed us that the limits of the imagination would, by contrast, remain forever infinite.

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Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire (image)
Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Power Sword for the Overlord

A notable predecessor to He-Man and the Masters of the
Universe, Blackstar, was produced by Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott for Filmation and aired on CBS for a perfunctory 13 episodes. The short-lived animated fantasy can be viewed as an intermediary link between Thundarr the Barbarian and the aforementioned He-Man.

In Blackstar, the titular hero is an astronaut who is stranded on planet Sagar and must continually battle formidable evil forces with the aid of his new alien friends and an assortment of kooky and bizarre interplanetary inhabitants like Trobbits, mermanites, Wood Sprites, Desert Sprites, Amazons and Flame People.

Blackstar’s obligatory tropes are as reminiscent of Star Wars and Thundarr as they were influential to He-Man. The massive trusty steed this time around is a ‘dragon-horse’ named Warlock. Similarly, his mystical ‘good witch’ friend, a magical wizardess named Mara assists periodically in Blackstar’s struggles. Additionally the planet’s token evil purple dude and Sagar’s overlord is known appropriately as— Overlord!

The supernatural sword of choice for Blackstar is his ‘Power Sword’ which can store outside energy and reflect it back at will. It is this sword that Overlord likewise wishes to acquire as a missing piece to his similar one in gaining supreme power and energy. Like those wielded by counterparts Thundarr and He-Man and not unlike Batman’s utility belt or Doctor Who’s ‘Sonic Screwdriver’, the Power Sword was as much a valuable tool for its owner as it was for the show’s writers who often relied on the weapon as a handy script device.

Once again, an interesting and imaginative premise wasn’t enough to appease network execs who may have had their eyes on a hotter property. As such, fans are left with another brief glimpse into a strange fantastic world where good confronts evil through might, confidence, determination and teamwork (and perhaps a few superior magical weapons).

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Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire (image)
Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire 

Sunday, October 3, 2021

He Da Man!

Hot on the heels of Thundarr the Barbarian, He-Man emerged
in the early 1980s as a comic series and line of action figures from Mattel, Inc. Eventually burgeoning into a long-running franchise including various films, series, books and video games, it is nonetheless remembered chiefly by those between the ages of 40 and 60 by the Filmation series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, running from ‘83-‘85.

On a colorful and amorphous Star Trek-like planet named Eternia which uncannily resembles Earth from space, a struggle for power continually rages between Castle Grayskull, a benevolent kingdom of noble warriors and the dark and ominous inhabitants of Snake Mountain ruled by its ever-evil emperor Skeletor and an obsequious slew of grotesque and unique monsters consistently at his employ.

Skeletor’s formidable forces would easily overtake Grayskull were it not for a highly secret weapon in the form of the royal couples’ son Prince Adam. A seemingly lazy and mild-mannered ‘Clark Kent’ type, Prince Adam owns a ‘secret sword’ much like Thundarr and, with it, transforms as needed into He-Man, the strongest man in Eternia. With a magical lightning-like force, he then acquires his supernatural strength in addition to fur briefs, a bronze tan and a darker shade of blonde hair!

The prince’s timid pet tiger gets a makeover as well, morphing from “Cringer” to the mighty “Battle Cat.” Despite the explosive public scene that is created each time he becomes He-Man, Prince Adam’s secret is held only by the Heroic Master of Weapons- Man-At-Arms or “Duncan” to the King, the Sorceress, a ‘good witch’ much like Thundarr’s Princess Ariel and Orko, a ‘friendly ghost’ of indecipherable species who floats around attempting magic tricks and providing unnecessary comic relief.

Backing up both teams of this juvenile Armageddon are a roster of two-dimensional characters with names like Ram-Man, Beast Man, Mer-Man and Trap Jaw. Perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy, the series that was born out of a lucrative toy line was clearly introducing characters for the sole purpose of selling new action figures.

At each 30-minute episode’s conclusion, He-Man could be expected to restore order to the universe and keep the meanies away long enough to begin the absurd process all over again the following week. To cap it all off, a postscript was presented by one of “our friends” who would summarize the story and explain its ‘lesson.’ These lessons ranged anywhere from setting good examples and learning from mistakes to remembering to brush your teeth!

Though, as a kid, I had collected countless figures of the original two Star Wars films, I considered myself too old for those of the muscle-bound homoerotic He-Man line. That didn’t stop friends and I from enjoying the show, however, as it presented us with amusing characters, entertaining stories, a rocking theme song and even some unintended humor.

“The lost diamond of disappearance! He found it!”

Now co-existing as an obligatory CGI reboot for contemporary audiences and a nostalgic memory for many others, He-Man epitomized a classic trope, however fantastically campy it may have come across, then or now. The clashes of good and evil are every bit as relevant today as they were in 1983. Only, where is our He-Man? If true change comes from within, then perhaps we can all raise our swords of power and someday say:

“By the power of Grayskull... I... HAVE... THE POWER!!!"

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Sunday, September 12, 2021

Days of Thundarr

Among other recollections of fondly-remembered animated TV adventures is a dystopian fantasy series set after the ‘retro-futuristic’ year of 1994, Thundarr the Barbarian. Like the previous subjects in last week’s post, Thundarr was produced by Joe Ruby and Ken Spears but this one dealt with dramatic action elements inspired by the then-popular barbarians, Dungeons and Dragons and apocalypse trends in motion pictures and games.

The series’ premise centered around a chaotic world landscape resulting from a global warming-like climate catastrophe occurring after a planetary disaster about twenty centuries earlier. The earth’s inhabitants were thereafter populated by throwbacks to the dark ages in a 'New Earth' period characterized by sensational villains and grotesque beings not unlike J. R. R. Tolkien’s ‘Middle-earth’, a similarly surreal fantastic universe set, by contrast, within the world’s past.

During this perilous new era, a wizard named Sabian enslaves Thundarr, a formidable warrior and a lycanthrope-type creature named Ookla. The pair partner up to fight the deranged forces of New Earth evil with Thundarr’s ‘sunsword’ after they are freed by Sabian’s stepdaughter Ariel. Ariel is essentially a ‘good witch’ princess who assists them by lending her magic and knowledge to their mission.

Despite adequate ratings and a highly promising concept, Thundarr was canceled after only two seasons. That’s no more than a momentary glimpse into all that must have transpired in the centuries following the dawn of New Earth. How cheated the show’s loyal fans must have felt when Laverne & Shirley in the Army usurped their favorite show’s time slot.

Perhaps only a tease of Armageddon is all one needs to know that our world might be on the wrong path. After all, we (Old Earth) don’t need to know what will come next. We only need to see enough to understand that the paths we choose must be chosen wisely.

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Sunday, September 5, 2021

Jabber Mania

What stands out among your beloved shows in television’s golden years of entertainment? The Sopranos? MASH? Law and Order?

All pale in comparison to the paragon of excellence in that pantheon of classics known as... yes, I’m referring, of course, to Jabberjaw! Everyone’s favorite wise-cracking land shark was the titular character of a fondly remembered Saturday morning cartoon (they called them that before ‘animated series’ became the preferred ‘respectable’ term).

The fastidious production company Hanna-Barbera churned out just sixteen episodes of Jabberjaw but it has nevertheless persevered as a retro-favorite of fans to this day. Created by Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, Jabberjaw was a deliberate attempt to capitalize on their previous creation, Scooby-Doo who was similarly short-lived in his original incarnation.

Like that Great Dane sleuth, Jabberjaw travelled with four teenagers who got into trouble and were resolutely chased around by bad guys to the sound of groovy pop numbers. In fact, one major difference between Jabberjaw’s gang and the Mystery Inc. crew was that Jabberjaw and company were a touring rock band in the futuristic year of 2076!

‘The Neptunes’ who also included Shelly, Biff, Bubbles and Clamhead, drove around in an underwater submersible which Jabberjaw could just barely fit into. Usually en route to the next gig, the band would find themselves in the middle of a mystery, misunderstanding or sinister plot to overthrow the undersea universe. Along the way Jabberjaw would be pestered by various marine life or plankton who showed him ‘no respect.’

“No respect from a clam!”
“No respect from a seahorse!”
“I don’t even get any respect from a starfish!”

Okay, so Jabberjaw’s writers weren’t necessarily brilliant or original. If Rodney Dangerfield was the source of Jabberjaw’s shtick, Curly from the Three Stooges was obviously the model for his speaking voice and mannerisms. Even more amusing, for my money, was the inter-species sexual tension he shared with band mate Shelly, who bickered on and off with her toothy pal but inevitably always stayed in the band.

Where are delightfully absurd cartoons like this today? Contemporary animated gag-fests seem to be written and created by cartoon super-fans who concentrate on amorphous paradoxes in cutesy-ass microcosms where every utterance is a knee-slapper and every occurrence a send-up of something recognizable from pop culture, but never for any good reason and usually devoid of any charm. One word usually sums it up— derivative.

Perhaps those refreshing classics will hit the Saturday screens more often. After all, kids don’t care what’s contemporary or not and— until 2070, who can really say for sure if an ocean-exploring band with a drumming shark spitting out one-liners is probable or improbable. In that regard, Jabberjaw’s still the latest, greatest shark you ever saw!

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