Kinda-sorta based on the Justice League Of America comics published for years by DC Comics, The Super Friends originally aired on ABC in 1973 where it played in various different incarnations through 1986 when it was eventually cancelled. The series revolves around Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, all of whom hang out at the Hall Of Justice where they work together to fight crime and keep the Earth save from whatever nefarious villains the series' writers would throw their way. Joining them, and grounding the series in kid-friendly tones, are two kids - a brother and sister duo named Wendy and Marvin - and their dog, Wonder Dog. Outside of the fact that Wonder Dog can talk for some reason, they don't have any super powers, even if Marvin wears a cape and pretends he does. They more or less just serve as standard, stock kid characters to make the series more easy to relate to for younger viewers.
At any rate, yeah, The Super Friends hang out in the Hall Of Justice and react whenever the built in TroubAlert system goes off and warns them of impending danger. They generally tend to talk the bad guys down rather than go in and beat them into submission, and each episode tends to have a moral or a lesson to it suitable for its intended younger audience. There's more emphasis on peaceful problem solving than on action, which sets this initial series apart from the later series that would follow (and which tended to have a heavier emphasis on action and adventure as opposed to mystery).
The Super Friends Season One Volume One contained the first batch of the original series. The episodes that make up this second collection are laid out in the set as follows:
DISC ONE: The Balloon People / The Fantastic FRERPs / The Ultra Beam / The Menace Of The White Dwarf
DISC TWO: The Mysterious Moles / Gulliver's Gigantic Goof / The Planet Splitter / The Watermen
So how does the series hold up, these many years after it originally aired on network television across North America? Compared to today's modern animation, it's pretty dire stuff. Obviously geared towards a much younger audience, the series is not only juvenile, it's also just flat out dumb. There's not much here in the way of tension, suspense, excitement or even logic and the series' tendency to play things for laughs dampens any action scenes that might have otherwise been interesting. That said, this is The Super Friends and not Batman - The Animated Series or something more inspired like that. It's very much a product of its time and while today's younger viewers have been raised on better quality animated series, for those of us who were around to appreciate this show when it was a new series and a bit of a big deal, the nostalgia rush will count for a lot and brief cameos from The Flash and Green Arrow are kind of cool.
Sights such as Wonder Woman flying around in an invisible jet that isn't really all that invisible or the awesome presence of The Hall Of Justice will make some of us happy inside while familiar voice actors like Casey Kasem as Robin or Frank Welker as Wonder Dog (ug, really? Wonder Dog?) will bring back some memories, but really, this series is awful, even if it is entertaining in its awfulness. One need only watch the first episode, in which the Super Friends have to help out a family of Balloon People who take up residence in Wonder Dog's doghouse to see just how hokey and hamfisted the series is, and it just spirals from there through the rest of the set. More interesting moments explain Superman's origins and riff on Gulliver's Travels a bit, but by and large this is a formulaic series. The writing is bad, the dialogue not the least bit believable, and much of the voice work actually sounds like it's being reused. The animation itself is okay for the era but not particularly remarkable outside of some interesting character design work that comes courtesy of the great Alex Toth.
Those who don't appreciate the series before sitting down with this set aren't likely to garner much of an appreciation for it. This is probably best summed up as one of those 'had to be there' releases which is obviously going to have a much more significant appeal to those who loved the show as a kid than anyone else. There's a fair bit of entertainment value to be had here, but generally you're laughing at the show and not with it. If completely ridiculous villains and horribly constructed plots are your bag, by all means, jump in because you will get loads of that here, but a high quality animated series this is not. Fun? Yes. Good? No. Later entries in the series would improve on things quite a bit, what with the introduction of the mighty Legion Of Doom and all that, but these early episodes are as goofy as they come.
Obviously, as is a vintage television series, the episodes are presented 1.331, which is how they were meant to be seen. While the quality isn't going to blow your mind, the colors are still pretty nice with decent black levels and only minimal dirt visible throughout. There is some shimmering that occurs in a few scenes and some edge enhancement throughout but it's minor and doesn't really ruin the experience much at all unless you're really looking for it.
The entire season is presented in a simple but clean sounding Dolby Digital Mono track, in its native English. While a stereo or surround track might have been fun for a few of the scenes it's not really needed and having the original sound mix on the set is in keeping with the time that the episodes were made. No real hiss or distortion or problems worth noting - it's a basic track but it does the job just fine. Optional subtitles are included in English only.
There isn't much here in the way of supplements, though there is an interactive Super Friends Trivia Challenge game that will test your knowledge of the series. Aside from that, the discs in the set contain menus and episode selection as well as a trailer for the animated Lord Of The Rings movie and for some Jonah Hex Motion Comics.
The Super Friends can't compete with today's more mature animated superhero shows like Batman: The Brave And The Bold but it sure does offer up a lot of screwy nostalgia for those of us old enough to remember it from our childhoods. A trip back in time to what many of us remember as more carefree times, these episodes are still good entertainment so long as you keep your expectations in check. Warner Brother's DVD set is light on extras but it looks and sounds pretty decent. Recommended for vintage animation buffs, a fun rental for the curious - just keep in mind that it really doesn't get much goofier than this.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.