I have a very clear memory of one Saturday morning - it must have been 1973 or 1974 - when I was switching around the channels looking for a cartoon to watch. My older brothers instantly yelled out for me to stop, and leave it on what turned out to be Mission: Magic!, starring a then-unknown (in the States) Rick Springfield. I had no idea then why they wanted to watch a kiddie show, but their strange, glassy-eyed fascination (accompanied by many exclamations of "Whoa!" and "What the hell?") with this Filmation classic certainly caught my attention. Of course, watching this new Ink and Paint DVD release of Mission: Magic! - The Complete Series, it's not hard to figure out why they immediately seized on this cartoon. Designed and animated for maximum head-trip effect, Mission: Magic! - The Complete Series's psychedelic, flaked-out stoner appeal is as strong as ever, with the added value of nostalgic appeal for all of us who grew up loving the distinctive Filmation look.
Mission: Magic! tells the story of Miss Tickle (voice of Lola Fisher), a hip young school teacher whose class of curious students form The Adventurers' Club. Vinnie and Socks (voice of Howard Morris), Harvey and Franklin (Lane Scheimer), and Kim and Carol (Erika Scheimer) meet in Miss Tickle's classroom, where through a magic gramophone machine, rock star Rick Springfield (himself) calls out to them, telling them about their next adventure. Miss Tickle then brings to life her Egyptian cat statue name Tut-Tut (Oh Tut-Tut, cat of ancient lore, 'Tis time to draw the magic door), and taking a piece of chalk, draws a magic door on the chalkboard, which immediately transports the class to a magic land where Rick Springfield awaits. There, the gang gets into many nonsensical adventures, featuring their enemy Mondran, as well as Dr. Manta, Doctor Daguerreotype, and The Land of Backwards. During the Adventurers' mission, Rick always has time for a rocking song, before the group is transported back to class, where clueless Principal Samuels (Howard Morris) usually awaits.
Directed by animation legend Hal Sutherland, and written by Marc Richards, Mission: Magic! - The Complete Series is a real time capsule from early 1970s Saturday morning cartooning. Along with Hanna-Barbera and DePatie-Freleng, Filmation was one of the three animation giants of that time period, and any kid growing up then can instantly recognize the distinctive styles of each house (other big Filmation shows include Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, The Brady Kids, Star Trek, and a personal favorite, Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down). Filmation's groovy, boldly colored designs, influenced by the explosion of Pop and Op Art of the 1960s, made the psychedelic designs of Peter Max and other trippy poster artwork mainstream for kids; your parents may not have wanted your older brothers to have that drug poster on their wall, but watching Mission: Magic! was okay. And while no one at Filmation would say that these shows were designed with any thought in mind of tripping out their viewers, I would imagine that quite a few kids remember as I do their older siblings - who wouldn't watch most kiddie shows on a bet - paying particularly close attention to shows like Mission: Magic! and H. R. Pufnstuf. In between nodding off on the couch, of course.
Other highlights of the Filmation house style include endlessly repeated animation sequences (which saved tons on the budget), a similarity between characterizations from cartoon to cartoon (when the kids in Mission: Magic! walk through a scene in black silhouette, they look a whole lot like the Cosby kids), a laugh track, which we always enjoyed (it made it seem like the cartoons were funnier, and they felt more expensive, more like the prime-time network shows), and plenty of songs. Rick Springfield, who was specifically requested to star in Mission: Magic! by ABC, had just become a teen idol in Australia, and ABC, hoping to make some dough on an animated singing star (just as they did with the fictional Archies and The Brady Kids), brought him in and let him compose all his own songs. And to be honest, they're pretty catchy here. Not being exactly what you'd call a Rick Springfield fan (Jesse's Girl has to be one of the most annoying hits of the '80s), I was surprised at how much fun his short but tuneful little rock-outs are here.
The series, which was only produced for one year, played for another year on ABC, but because it was so specifically "of its time," it rarely showed up again on TV. So its return on DVD is particularly welcome. The stories, often coming from a fantasy/science fiction angle, are frequently quite imaginative, if a little repetitious, and the writing, while not exactly Shakespeare, at least keeps things moving along, with something new every minute or so to attract the eye in the episodes' fun, heady designs. Fans of Filmation, as well as those younger kids who remember the show (because they weren't high like their older brothers and sisters) will definitely want to return to Miss Tickle's class.
Here are the 16, twenty-minute (the show ran within a scheduled 25 minute program period) episodes of the two-disc box set, Mission: Magic! - The Complete Series, as described on a colorful, trivia-packed tri-fold booklet included in the set:
DISC ONE: SIDE A
The Land of Backwards
When the Adventurers' Club goes to The Land of Backwards, they find that everything is reversed. Rick asks them to help the famous backward poet Shelley Percy, but they aren't award that the adventure will involve the jewel thief Big Billy and his henchman!
Rick sings You Better Think Twice About It.
The magic door in the chalkboard apparently works both ways as Modran and his henchmen Bell, Booke and Kendall come through it. Modran is stealing gold so that he can be declared the world's greatest magician. Miss Tickle and the Club go to the Land of Prestidigitation, where she will compete against Modran at the Festival of Magic, and Rick will face a giant blue genie....
Rick sings Catch Me.
Rick summons the group to the land of Dissonia, where music doesn't exist! Miss Tickle and the kids discover that it's all the fault of the villainous Captain Coda (and his sidekicks Sharp and Flatte), who wants to use his Music Eliminator to eradicate all melodies!
Rick sings Love is the Key.
Land of Hyde and Goseek
When the Magic Gramophone brings a message from Harry Horde, the Club goes to the twin magic lands of Hyde and Goseek. There, they find Rick in disguise, raiding parties of Fuzzy Wuzzies, a search for the rare oil called Lanolinobidium, and Colonel Kadiddle, the last Goseekan.
Rick sings If We Help One Another.
The City Inside the Earth
Miss Tickle takes the Club on a field trip to Carlsbad Caverns when they get a distress call from Rick who's at the City inside the Earth. There, with gravity going crazy, they find out that great quantities of valuable metals have been disappearing from the surface of the Earth...and Professor Fahrenheit and his henchman Simon might have something to do with all of the anomalies.
Rick sings Yes I Am.
DISC ONE: SIDE B
Rick summons the Adventurers' Club to the far future of 2600 A.D. where Omni, a super intelligent robot, is in control of weather, environment, and almost everything else. But even Omni -- and sidekicks Glop and Glep - need help when an asteroid heads for Earth. Can magic and music help science to save humanity?
Rick sings You Can't Judge a Book By Its Cover.
Rick summons the Club to help him stop the evil Dr. Manta -- with Flip and Finn -- from stealing the coral that helps an underwater city to survive.
Rick sings Free and Easy.
Rick is trapped in the palace of the gigantic Madame Mammoth, and the Club comes to his rescue in the Land of Giant-Sized People. Can they free Rick and help restore Bill Behemoth as the rightful ruler of the land...especially against Madame Mammoth's magical powers?
Rick sings You Can Really Do It (If You Try).
Statue of Limitations
When someone steals Rodeen's statue "The Contemplator," Rick comes to the real world, and the gang all goes to Paris, France, to find the thieves. Which of the three magical suspects stole it: Pierre Lehoax, The Artful Codger, or Trix Legrande?
Rick sings What Am I Going to Do.
Will the Real Rick Springfield Please Stand Up?
A villain named The Chameleon disguises himself as Rick and comes to the real world through the blackboard. Unaware of the deception, Miss Tickle helps "Rick" round up the Adventurers' Club. Can the real Rick stop the fake "Rick" before it's too late?
Rick sings It's Driving Me Crazy.
DISC TWO: SIDE A
Doctor Astro and Charts Chumley are stealing priceless artifacts representing the signs of the Zodiac; in his own world, Astro can use magic to make them real! Rick, Miss Tickle and the Adventurers' Club go to recover the stolen items from the Valley of the Signs, but they run into trouble when the zodiac symbols come to life and pursue them!
Rick sings We're Gonna Have a Good Time.
Some of the world's greatest landmarks have been stolen by Doctor Daguerreotype and his sidekicks Rhett and Ina. It seems that his magic camera can steal anything by placing it into a photograph! When the Adventurers' Club is turned into a photograph as well, Rick and Miss Tickle must save the day in a sepia-toned castle that defies the laws of physics!
Rick sings On the Other Side.
Rick contacts the Club, asking Miss Tickle to use her magic to fix the crumbling City of Antiquities. Meanwhile Nephren, magical Queen of the Nile returns to life in the real world, and restores her assistants, Ahken and Baak, to life as well. She soon decides that Miss Tickle is her foe, as only one of them can be the most powerful female magic user of all time.
Rick sings I Know That It's Magic.
When Modran lures the Adventurers' Club into the other world, he steals Tut-Tut and traps them there. Splitting into two groups in a realm of multiple magic doors, the gang finds themselves facing a robot, a hungry plant, and a hall of mirrors!
Rick sings If We Help One Another.
Rick invites the Club to go with him to the Rodeo of the Worlds where he's going to be the emcee. There, a competition rages between grizzled old Bronco Busby, female champ Ma Mudfoot, and Spurs Spangles, the gaudiest cowboy. Cue the stangaroo riding contest, the chuck wagon race, and...the prize money thievery?
Rick sings Welcome To The Rodeo, and Miss Tickle sings Sing Me a Song.
DISC TWO: SIDE B
A Light Mystery
Someone in the Land of Lights has stolen a giant electrical generator from the real world. Is it Madame Marquee, Count Celestra, or Baron Borealis? Rick and the Adventurers' Club use music and magic to investigate!
Rick sings Starlight, Starbright.
The DVD box for Mission: Magic! - The Complete Series mentions several times that these cartoons have been digitally restored. That very well may be; they do look quite clean for thirty-five-year-old shorts. But there may have been problems with the original source materials. Often, the whiter parts of the animation (such as Rick's suit and face) are washed out, with details only coming in as the shot fades down into another shot. It's pretty contrasty, actually. As well, the picture is at times, fairly soft. Now I understand that there's a story going around that all old Filmation stuff has been taken from PAL masters, and that the original source materials don't exist. If this is true, it may help explain the look of these transfers. But not to get crazy, these still look better than when you saw them as a kid. And again, I hate flipper discs -- they scratch.
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 stereo sound mix is adequate, but common -- it's Rick Springfield! Where's the 5.1?
There are some nice extras for Mission: Magic! - The Complete Series. First, a very brief interview with producer Lou Scheimer and his daughter, voice actor Erika Scheimer. Next, there's a fun 32 minute look at the history of Filmation Studios -- nice. There are also some cool DVD-ROM features, where you can peruse the episode scripts, as well as a complete set of model sheets. There's an image gallery (pretty lame), and some cool trailers for other fun, vintage Filmation shows, like Flash Gordon and She-Ra: Princess of Power.
A safe, fun, animated head-trip for kids who grew up on the funky Filmation house style, Mission: Magic! - The Complete Series is a surprisingly entertaining trip-out with some catchy Rick Springfield tunes, imaginative scripts, psychedelic backgrounds, and that wacky Filmation laugh track. Fans will want to go back; Rick Springfield completists will snatch it up, and animation buffs may want it for their collections. With some cool extras, I recommend Mission: Magic! - The Complete Series.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.