For those of us who were mere rugrats back when Saturday morning TV was as sacred as a Barbie Townhouse or a Mike Schmidt rookie card, the notion of reliving that experience via DVD is damned near irresistible. Alas, nostalgia-addled fare like Saturday Morning Cartoons 1970s, Volume 2 inevitably falls short of expectations. Revisiting the boob tube of our formative years never truly matches the innocence and excitement of sepia-toned memories -- especially when such things are at the mercy of Hanna-Barbera.
Then again, this collection of Seventies-era cartoons doesn't go quite far enough. One wishes the producers had taken a cue from, say, what the flick Grindhouse did for replicating a unique moviegoing experience. The patchwork of cartoons here is fine and fairly representative of the period, but how much more fun would it be had it included vintage commercials or other filler between the shows? Where's Mikey liking his first spoonful of Life cereal? Where are the kids of the Honeycomb Hideout? Where's poor Bill the bill in ABC's "Schoolhouse Rock"? Where are the nugget-sized factoids of CBS' "In the News"?
Oh, well. The Saturday Morning Cartoons anthology isn't quite so ambitious. What we get instead is a middling assortment of animated shows that really underscore how easily amused we were as tykes (a DVD Talk review of Volume 1 is available here.
On Disc One:
Help! It's the Hair Bears Bunch -- "Keep Your Keeper"
Standard issue from the William Hanna-Joseph Barbera Saturday morning assembly line, Help! It's the Hair Bears Bunch followed three bears ostensibly housed in Cave Block #9 at the Wonderland Zoo. But with a dash of Hogan's Heroes and a sprinkling of Seventies-styled excess, these ursine heroes -- Hair Bear, Square Bear and Bubi Bear -- enjoy a lavish, freewheeling lifestyle when not under the eye of their zookeeper nemesis, Mr. Peevely. In "Keep the Keeper," which kicked off the series in September, 1971, the trio discovers how good they have had it when Peevely is replaced by a no-nonsense brute.
The episode isn't particularly funny, but is of some interest for its window on the fashions of the time. Hair Bear sports a giant Afro, cravat and tiny red vest. Hair Bears lasted till 1974, at which time they presumably left Wonderland Zoo forever to embark on a mauling rampage of unimaginable terror.
The New Adventures of Gilligan -- "Off Limits"
I can't watch any Filmation cartoon without being reminded of how beautifully they have been parodied by Robert Smigel's "Saturday TV Funhouse." The cookie-cutter animation of Filmation made Hanna-Barbera look like Rembrandt by comparison, and that artlessness is on full display in The New Adventures of Gilligan.
The show is a cartoon version of the live-action Gilligan's Island: nothing less, certainly nothing more. "Off Limits," its 1974 inaugural episode, features a situation and gags that would have been typical for the original CBS series, which aired between 1964 and 1967. Most of the actors returned to supply the voice work, with the notable exception of Tina Louise and Ginger and Dawn Wells as Mary Ann. The animated series lasted three seasons.
Sealab 2020 -- "Deep Threat"
Even by the dubious standards of Seventies-era kid TV, Hanna-Barbera's Sealab 2020 was clunky fare. The awkwardly scripted program details some 250 "oceanauts" living in a city beneath the sea. Judging by this episode, which opened the series in the fall of 1972, Sealab 2020 beat wee viewers about the head and shoulders trying to instill them with scientific nuggets and environmental consciousness.
"Deep Threat" involves the Sealab folks jumping into action after they discover a pollutant near the compound. "It could be radioactive waste dumped in the sea back in the Seventies," suggests one of the oceanauts. A little boy is surprised. "Before we knew better?" he asks. It's inevitable that the episode ends with a grown-up Sealab resident explaining to the little ones, "We live in a dangerous environment, and the safety of all of us depends on each of us." Alas, the series had a limited amount of time for moralizing; it didn't survive past '72.
Listen closely for the voices of Ross Martin and Ann Jillian.
The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan -- "The Mardi Gras Caper"
As cheesy as a plate of Velveeta and about as good for you, this 1972 series mixed in equal parts Scooby-Doo, the Archies and, of course, Charlie Chan. As envisioned by the Hanna-Barbera juggernaut, the celebrated detective from the East has 10 adorable kids -- some teens, some younger -- who perform bubblegum rock when not helping their pop solve mysteries.
The Amazing Chan, in which the title character doesn't resemble moviedom's Charlie Chan as much as he does Cannon-era William Conrad, is silliness very much in the Scooby-Doo mode. In other words, it's a hoot.
Master of the Thieves from Shazzan -- "The Living Island"
This 1970s collection cheats a bit with Shazzan's "The Living Island," which evidently dates back to 1967. Oh, well -- no matter. This Hanna-Barbera cartoon, based on the work of comic book artist Alex Toth, is delightfully goofy.
Siblings Chuck and Nancy journey through an Arabian netherworld in search of the rightful owner of a broken magical ring now in their possession. When the ring's two pieces touch, the kids conjure up Shazzan, a gigantic but affable genie with a maniacal laugh and a similarly psychotic gleam in the eye.
"The Living Island" refers to a mysterious land where Chuck and Nancy stop to rest their flying camel, Kaboobie. As it turns out, the place is run by a nefarious hunter, and so our brother-sister combo dutifully summons their magical protector. As noted in a featurette on the DVD, Shazzan makes for an interestingly suspense-free hero, since he is, for all practical purposes, invincible. Not surprisingly, he dispatches of the hunter in no time.
Yogi's Gang -- "Mr. Bigot"
While Yogi's Gang features Yogi Bear and a cast of well-known animated favorites -- Boo Boo, Quick Draw McGraw, Huckleberry Hound, Magilla Gorilla, and so on - it was uninspired and bland. The Hanna-Barbera series imagined that Yogi and his friends were on a flying ark traveling around the world, a scenario that allowed for ham-fisted life lessons and a gratingly overused laugh track.
"Mr. Bigot," which kicked off the series in September, 1973, typifies the formula. Yogi's Gang visits Mr. Cheerful, but dastardly Dr. Bigot uses a "mind bender" device to transform both Yogi and Cheerful into discriminatory jerks. "I can't stand anyone who looks different from me!" bellows a no-longer-cheerful Mr. Cheerful. Subtlety doesn't come naturally to anthropomorphized animals.
The following shows are on Disc Two:
The Bugs Bunny / Road Runner Hour -- "Duck! Rabbit, Duck!," "For Scent-imental Reasons," "Stop, Look and Hasten," "Hare-Way to the Stars," "End Credits"
For many GenXers and Yers, and even a fair number of latter-day baby boomers, this Saturday morning version of old Warner Brothers animated clips marked our introduction to the wryly subversive comic universe of Bugs, Daffy, Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Elmer Fudd, Pepé Le Pew and the rest. The Bugs Bunny / Road Runner Hour, which began in 1968 and continued for some 20 years, essentially slapped on a whimsical opening song and some title artwork in repackaging Looney Tunes favorites. A handful of some greats are showcased here, including the appearance of Marvin the Martian in 1958's "Hare-way to the Stars."
Valley of the Dinosaurs -- "Forbidden Fruit"
For whatever reason, 1974 proved a banner year for the high concept of families getting stuck in prehistoric lands populated by fearsome dinosaurs. The same year that Sid and Marty Krofft launched Land of the Lost, the Hanna-Barbera crew delivered this disturbingly similar, if not quite as charming, scenario. "Forbidden Fruit," which aired in September of that year, made me eager for the ice age to hurry up and arrive.
The Tom & Jerry / Grape Ape Show -- Show #1 "No Way Stowaway" / "That Was No Idol ..." / "The Ski Bunny" / "The All American Ape" / "Stay Awake or Else"
The Tom & Jerry / Grape Ape Show, a Hanna-Barbera confection from 1975, offered a kinder, gentler version of the cat and mouse who were once sworn enemies. The more interesting aspect of the show is the introduction of Grape Ape, a giant gorilla whose catchphrase, narcissistically enough, is the repetition of his name. He travels with his pal, Beegle Beagle, getting in assorted mischief.
The Banana Splits Adventure Hour -- "Joining the Knights" / "Danger Island" / "The Littlest Musketeer"
Loaded with eye-rolling, groan-inducing comic, the Banana Splits portion of this NBC series was live-action. The show's hosts, four guys in anthropomorphized animal costume -- Fleegle (a dog), Drooper (a lion), Bingo (a gorilla) and Snorky (an elephant) -- engaged in vaudeville-styled routines augmented by a laugh track and jittery camera zooms straight outta Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.
Also like Laugh-In, The Banana Splits Adventure Hour was very much a product of its time. It aired from 1968 through September of 1970, which again means its inclusion in the Saturday Morning Cartoons collection is fudging a bit. But I'm not complaining; this is vintage kitsch.
Produced by Hanna-Barbera but bearing the unmistakable visual stamp of Sid and Marty Krofft (who designed the decidedly groovy costumes and sets), The Banana Splits Adventure Hour sandwiched in such bargain-basement cartoon series as "The Arabian Knights" and "The Three Musketeers." Best of all was "Danger Island," a hilariously inept live-action serial chronicling the adventures of a man, his daughter and her boyfriend (played by a young Jan Michael Vincent). Boasting wooden acting, overblown music and hipster editing seemingly executed by an amphetamine freak, "Danger Island" is irresistible junk. And the biggest surprise? It was helmed by future Superman and Lethal Weapon director Richard Donner.
And I'd be remiss if I didn't make special mention of the Banana Splits' infectious bubblegum-pop theme song, "The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana)." Good stuff.
Inch High Private Eye -- "Diamonds Are a Crook's Best Friend"
Was there anything on Saturday morning TV not credited to Hanna-Barbera? This short-lived (short, get it?) series from 1973 featured a very, very, very tiny private detective, Inch High. Working with his niece and her boyfriend, Inch High tackled the usual array of kid-friendly crimes, namely missing jewels. Inch High Private Eye was a promising premise, to be sure, but you wouldn't know it judging by its unremarkable, if fast-paced, premiere, "Diamonds Are a Crook's Best Friend." Inch High didn't survive past '73. Rumor is he was crushed by a runaway thimble while strolling along Baltic Avenue.
The New Adventures of Batman -- "A Sweet Joke on Gotham City"
Filmation resurrected TV's original Batman and Robin, Adam West and Burt Ward, to provide the voices of the Dynamic Duo in this shrill animated series. The addition of Bat-Mite, a well-meaning Batman sycophant from another world, delivers a bit of incongruous weirdness to the proceedings. In 1977's "A Sweet Joke on Gotham City," the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder take on pink-haired, snaggle-toothed baddie Sweet Tooth, who faintly resembles a portly version of Perez Hilton.
The picture quality is uneven. Some of the material is in surprisingly good shape, particularly The New Adventures of Batman and The Tom & Jerry / Grape Ape Show. Other clips -- especially The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, The Bugs Bunny / Road Runner Hour, Shazzan and The Amazing Chan -- are punctuated by grain, scratches and smudges. Such defects, however, add to the nostalgic appeal.
The Dolby mono is clear and consistent, with no issues of distortion or drop-out. Subtitles are available in English.
Disc One includes a handful of trailers -- Peanuts 1970s Collections; I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown and Saturday Morning Cartoons -- and a mini-documentary entitled The Power of Shazzan. The featurette is entertaining stuff, and far too short at five minutes and 44 seconds. Several animators muse on how the Alex Toth cartoon inspired them, but also have some fun tweaking the show's high camp.
A mixed bag. Aside from the Loony Tunes vignettes, I would be hard-pressed to praise anything in Saturday Morning Cartoons 1970s, Volume 2 as being particularly "high-quality," but that doesn't recognize the synthetic, sugary goodness of these vestiges of childhood in the Seventies. It could have been much more inspired, but those seeking a trip down memory lane will be amused.