Lot of weird vibes out there for this show.... Warner Bros.' manufacture-on-demand Archive Collection is rapidly becoming a key resource for hard-to-find vintage animation, and The Dukes, the 1983 Hanna-Barbera tooning of the CBS prime-time hit, would certainly seem to fit that category. With just 20 episodes produced―and only 7 of them featuring the voice talents of the original Duke boys Tom Wopat and John Schneider―I wouldn't have bet money these were ever going to surface again after their original Saturday morning run. But here they are, in all their slapdash, half-assed glory, and for fans of the original show, the cartoon, and Hanna-Barbera, I'm not sure what all the complainers where waiting for―you were expecting maybe PixarŽ or the Looney Tunes?
The premise―such as it is―is painfully simple. The Duke boys, Coy (Byron Cherry) and Vance (Christopher Mayer), along with their gorgeous cousin Daisy Duke (Catherine Bach), are racing the General Lee all over tarnation, trying to beat Boss Hogg (Sorrell Booke), Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane (James Best), and Rosco's hound dog Flash (voice talent of Frank Welker), in a trans-world racing contest for a one million dollar purse. If they win, they get to keep their farm back in Hazzard County, Georgia, where Uncle Jesse Duke (Denver Pyle) waits with his pet raccoon Smokey. If they lose, Boss Hogg takes the farm. At the beginning of the aborted second season, Bo (John Schneider) and Luke (Tom Wopat) Duke muscle out Coy and Vance for the chance to race the General around the world.
Even though I was in high school when the animated The Dukes first aired, I have vague memories of catching it once or twice on the occasional Saturday morning I wasn't working (what high schooler didn't zone out in front of Saturday morning cartoons back then, trying to wake up?). I certainly was an early fan of the live-action show, with that first half-season indelibly stamped on my adolescent brain (the General Lee, Catherine Bach, and...Catherine Bach). But by '83, the series had lost most of its appeal for me, particularly since Wopat and Schneider had walked out over a salary/creative differences dispute (that and I started driving, so goodbye lonely Friday nights). So the prospect of me actively watching a kiddie toon show was bad enough back then...but one without the original lead actors voicing their characters?
Catching The Dukes now, I can't see why everyone else reviewing it is so surprised it's not Toy Story 3. Do they remember (or have they seen) the other Hanna-Barbera prime-time knock-offs that were so prevalent back then? That stuff wasn't art. They were crass cash-ins for the most part, designed merely to further exploit already popular brands. You can make a case for "art" with early "golden age" Hanna-Barbera offerings, but by this late stage in the game, H-B was grinding this filler out like hamburger. Only little kids would have routinely sat down to watch something like The Dukes back in 1983 (unlike say, the Looney Tunes, which were made for adults, as well), so it's a difficult job at best to fully experience and appreciate The Dukes on the level, and through the audience, for which it was intended.
That being said...you need a kid to sit down and watch it, too. You as an adult might groan at The Dukes, but maybe the little kid will like it. Who knows? Are you more right than a little kid when it comes to a show like this? It's a good debate topic, I'll grant you. I found some very isolated pleasures in The Dukes, but they wore off quickly once I started knocking off episode after episode. My littlest boy, though, didn't seem to mind catching an episode here and there (that's probably key, too―spread 'em out). The Dukes isn't his favorite toon now by a mile, and I doubt he'd watch it again. But he didn't hate what he saw. He laughed a few times, and oooooohhhh'ed once when the General Lee jumped something big. So...by that undemanding base line, The Dukes succeeds at exactly what it set out to do 27 years ago. For me, I rather enjoyed the notion of the Duke boys tear-assin' around the world, making good-natured cracks about other countries and their treasures (during one point, Coy laments how "run down" the Collesium looks) without the slightest hint of apology or self-consciousness to their enthusiasm. In the best tradition of that brilliant sitcom, The Beverly Hillbillies, the unsophisticated-but-kind-hearted Dukes, as well as Rosco and Boss Hogg, blithely go from country to country, gee-gawing at the sights, impressed for a moment or two, and unfailingly polite to whomever they encounter, before they rev up their engines for more foolishness. Some of that cornpone humor wasn't bad, either (Rosco tells a sharif in Morocco, "Sheriff? Well, dog my cats! It's always good to meet a fella lawman!", while Coy watches an Indian rope trick, exclaiming, "Woooo-eeeee! That old yogi fogey could charm the eyes off a tater!"). The line readings by Best and Booke are quite fun, too, given as much enthusiasm and silliness here as in the live-action series. The rest of The Dukes is as anonymous and uneventful as most of those H-B efforts from that time period...but there is also that...undeniable nostalgia for these kinds of toons that viewers from my generation will fondly pick up on.
If you see giant blotches of fingerprints or hairballs dancing around the frames of these 1.33:1 video transfers, it's not because of anything Warner Bros. did―those mistakes were there during the original animation process (you can find them in all those old H-B toons). Otherwise, these toons look pretty good for their age and obscurity, with a medium-sharp image and fair-to-good color.
Unfortunately, the Dolby Digital English mono audio track is extremely garbled during the first disc, when dialogue is often swallowed up by too-loud music and sound effects. It gets better on the remaining discs.
If if you loved The Dukes when you were a little tyke, you may not find it the same experience 27 years later (and then again...). Some very simple pleasures are here, and the little kid that watched it with me seemed to enjoy a few episodes, so...I'm recommending The Dukes.
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.