"Challenge of the Super Friends" may have offered up the better adventures, but in terms of pure entertainment packed into sixty wild minutes, "The All-New Super Friends Hour" delivered the young Gen-Xer with the most bang for the buck. Each hour-long episode included four adventures, plus a series of bumper material - quizzes, magic tricks, etc. - that kept kids thrilled in between the good stuff.
Premiering on ABC's Saturday morning lineup in September 1977, with 15 episodes running in seemingly endless rerun for the next twelve months (when it would be taken over by back-to-back airings of the new "Challenge" and old "Super Friends"), this new series (which was called "All-New" only in advertising; the opening credits just read "Super Friends") marked the return of the DC Comics' mightiest champions, whose initial appearance in 1973 wasn't entirely well-received. These adventures offered a revamp, expanding (if only in "guest star" form) its roster of heroes, dumping those useless sidekicks Marvin and Wendy, and, in a move that's far from what anybody would consider an improvement, introducing the Wonder Twins.
Ah, yes, the Wonder Twins. Zan and Jayna, with their space monkey Gleek. With the simple touch of their fists, they could transform themselves - she into any animal she desired, he into... water. Oh, sure, it could be ice, or a big wave, but sometimes it was just a bucket of water, and never, ever, ever was it remotely useful. You almost feel pity for the writing staff; fifteen episodes means trying to find fifteen different ways of getting a superhero turning into water to lead to a thrilling conclusion.
Of course, "thrilling" was barely on the menu in this incarnation of the show. Hampered by increasingly strict crackdowns on cartoon violence, Hanna-Barbera was required by ABC to create a superhero adventure that contained the least amount of action possible. "All-New Super Friends" is perhaps the best (read: worst) example of overprotective parents' writing campaigns going too far, with imaginative storytelling tossed aside in favor of bland, ridiculously non-offensive tales completely devoid of conflict.
(The weirdest example of this comes in the cartoon "Super Friends vs. Super Friends," in which bad guys capture our heroes and make them fight each other gladiator-style. The heroes decide they'll pretend to fight as they prepare to strike back. Their "fighting" consists of taking wild punch swings in mid-air, aimed at nobody. The sight of these iconic superheroes throwing their arms around wildly and without purpose would be hilarious if it weren't so stupid.)
Each adventure ends with a clunky morality lesson that's spelled out via cheap dialogue. This was nothing new, of course, but "All-New Super Friends" goes above and beyond. In each episode would be a Wonder Twins cartoon, and these shorts were assigned the silly duty of teaching kids that it's not good to steal cars or vandalize schools or hitch rides with serial killers. Thanks, Zan and Jayna!
Each episode was divvied up like so: two Super Friends would team up for a brief adventure that would kick off the show; then the Wonder Twins lesson, also brief; then a full-length tale featuring the entire team (this story would always be a two-parter, allowing for commercial break); and, finally, a second brief team-up (another two-parter, but much shorter), this one pairing a Super Friend with a "guest star" culled from the Justice League's second tier, heroes such as the Atom, Apache Chief, and Black Vulcan.
Mixed in with these cartoons would be bumper material, minute-long asides that would make up for the adventures' lack of excitement with a big dose of interactivity. The key feature of each episode was the "De-Coder," a rebus-style puzzle hosted by a Super Friend; we'd get two parts of a special word connected to the full-team cartoon, followed by its solution. Other bumpers would involve such things as "Safety," "Craft," and my personal favorite, "Magic," in which a superhero would teach young viewers how to pull off easy-to-do illusions at home.
It's this filler material that helps make "All-New Super Friends" a fun experience. The show becomes more than just another collection of cheap, boring cartoons. It's now a showcase, a play-along variety pack, a three-ring circus of superhero shenanigans. My daughter, age seven, apparently sees the show the same way I did back when I caught it during its initial run: the cartoons were OK enough to fill a superhero jones, but that stuff about magic and crafts and puzzles, that's where it's at.
Warner Bros. has collected the first seven hour-long episodes into a two-disc set titled "The All-New Super Friends Hour: Season One Volume One." The two discs are housed in a slim digipak with a single tray that overlaps the discs; this slips into a thin slipcover. It's the same packaging the studio's been using for their other vintage cartoons lately.
The episodes included in this set are:
Episode one: "The Brain Machine" (Batman, Wonder Woman) / "Joy Ride" (Wonder Twins) / "Invasion of the Earthors" (Super Friends) / "The Whirlpool" (Aquaman, Black Vulcan) / with bumpers: "Safety" (Aquaman) / "De-Coder" (Superman) / "Magic" (Wonder Woman")
Episode two: "Invasion of the Hydronoids" (Aquaman, Batman, Robin) / "Hitchhike" (Wonder Twins) / "City in a Bottle" (Super Friends) / "Space Emergency" (Wonder Woman, Hawkman and Hawkgirl) / with bumpers: "Safety" (Wonder Woman) / "De-Coder" (Superman) / "Magic" (Aquaman)
Episode three: "The Marsh Monster" (Superman, Batman, Robin) / "Runaways" (Wonder Twins) / "Will the World Collide?" (Super Friends) / "Time Rescue" (Superman, Hawkman, Hawkgirl) / with bumpers: "Safety" (Aquaman) / "De-Coder" (Wonder Woman) / "Magic" (Batman, Robin)
Episode four: "Doctor Fright" (Superman, Wonder Woman) / "Drag Race" (Wonder Twins) / "Day of the Plant Creatures" (Super Friends) / "Fire" (Batman, Robin, Rima) / with bumpers: "Safety" (Batman, Robin) / "De-Coder" (Aquaman) / "Craft" (Wonder Woman)
Episode five: "The Monster of Dr. Droid" (Superman, Wonder Woman) / "Vandals" (Wonder Twins) / "Super Friends vs. Super Friends" (Super Friends) / "Energy Mass" (Batman, Robin, the Atom) / with bumpers: "Safety" (Batman, Robin) / "De-Coder" (Aquaman) / "Craft" (Superman)
Episode six: "The Secret Four" (Superman, Batman, Robin) / "Tiger on the Loose" (Wonder Twins) / "The Mysterious Time Creatures" (Super Friends) / "The Antidote" (Wonder Woman, Apache Chief) / with bumpers: "Safety" (Wonder Woman) / "De-Coder" (Batman, Robin) / "Craft" (Aquaman)
Episode seven: "The Enforcer" (Aquaman, Wonder Woman) / "Shark" (Wonder Twins) / "Planet of the Neanderthals" (Super Friends) / "Flood of Diamonds" (Wonder Woman, Green Lantern) / with bumpers: "Safety" (Superman) / "De-Coder" (Batman, Robin) / "Magic" (Wonder Woman)
Video & Audio
Considering that the series is three decades old and was done on the cheap (spot the animation gaffes! they're everywhere!), "All-New Super Friends" looks very good here - as solid as it did when it first aired, maybe even a bit better. Grain is present but tolerable, and other problems, like the soft image and slightly dull colors, are due to the source material itself and not the transfer, which is on par with Warner's other similar efforts. Presented in the original 1.33:1 broadcast format.
The soundtrack is a simple Dolby mono, preserving the original cheap-but-passable sound of the era. Optional English SDH and French subtitles are offered.
Found on Disc Two, "One-Dimensional Goodness: The Super Friends and the Good Old Days" (14:32) combines series history with a lengthy apology of sorts, explaining in great detail why the show is so absent in anything resembling thrills. (Even my daughter thought some of the rules forced upon the network were silly.) As is the case with recent Warner/DC releases, this is an excellent, to-the-point mini-documentary featuring fun interviews with animators and comic book artists.
Next up is "Origins of the Guest Stars" (8:29), which offers the same experts from the previous featurette discussing some of the show's second-tier characters, DC regulars who were making their television debuts: Green Lantern, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, the Atom, and Rima.
Also on Disc Two is a set of previews for other Warner releases. A preview for "Justice League: New Frontier" plays as this disc loads. There are no features on Disc One.
This release finds me in the odd position of recommending a program that's not very good. Indeed, "The All-New Super Friends Hour" is a big load of junk, softened beyond reason by letter-writing campaigns that helped ruin a decade's worth of children's entertainment. And yet its creators worked overtime to make up for such losses by packing their show with as much extra fun as possible. Gen-Xers will enjoy seeing these forgotten bumper gems, while their kids just might get a real kick out of the harmless adventures, which rely entirely on comic relief and breezy "action." My daughter and I had a blast running through this set, and we can't wait for Volume Two. So yeah, for all the series' stupidities, this set's definitely Recommended.