The TV Series:
One of the more fondly remembered Saturday morning cartoons from the prolific Hanna-Barbera studio, the mighty Shazzan stands out for both its awe-inspiring premise (who wouldn't want their own magic genie?) and for the quasi-psychedelic stories/imagery which likely served as a parent-approved tranquilizer from its original 1967 broadcast on through its frequent repeats. It's a proven fact that the old-school Hanna-Barbera cartoons have a certain hypnotic quality; Shazzan's narcotic pull ratchets it up to an intense level. The most dangerous side effects from watching might be slight lethargy and a strong craving for a bowl of Froot Loops, however.
Under their Hanna-Barbera Classic Collection umbrella, the folks at Warner Archive have assembled all 18 episodes of this far-out adventure with Shazzan: The Complete Series, a nifty little double-disc made-on-demand (m.o.d.) DVD set. Dude, that's like seven hours of pure trip. But does it hold up? Read on...
Shazzan came along as part of the wave of kiddie adventures (The Herculoids and Space Ghost included) which William Hanna and Joseph Barbera produced in the wake of its more thoughtfully crafted precedent, Jonny Quest. Like Jonny and the others, Shazzan's production employed a lot of the same people across the board. Alex Toth's durable character designs provided a solid visual hook, while the characters were voiced by a cast that included Dale Messick (Bandit from Jonny Quest, later the voice of Scooby Doo) and Janet Waldo (The Jetsons' Judy Jetson, later Josie from The Pussycats). Each half hour episode consists of two mini-adventures, with the story summed up in the opening credits. With a vivid setup that promised one exotic thrill after another, even a Shazzan novice could easily jump in:
Inside a cave, off the coast of Maine, Chuck and Nancy find a mysterious chest containing the halves of a strange ring. When joined, the ring forms the word "Shazzan." And with this magical command, they are transported back to the fabled land of the Arabian Nights. Here they meet their genie, Shazzan. Shazzan presents them with Kaboobie, a magical flying camel. Shazzan will serve them, whenever they call. But he cannot return them home until they deliver the ring to its rightful owner - and thus begins their incredible journey.
Every episode of Shazzan follows a predictable pattern: 1. Chuck and Nancy are riding Kaboobie through the desert. 2. An evil monach/wizard/monster/sprite queen is encountered. 3. Chuck and Nancy join rings and summon Shazzan. 4. Chuck and Nancy are separated/unable to reach Shazzan. 5. Shazzan eventually comes through and banishes/imprisons/transforms the adversary. 6. Chuck and Nancy are sent on their merry way (where, exactly?). As long as you can swallow this limited, repetitive premise, however, it's actually a fun albeit strange show. The H-B staff clearly had a field day with this setup, resulting in wild character and background designs that border on the psychedelic. A villain with green skin and multiple appendages? Why not? If only for the wild variety of enemies and creatures on display, the series is worth watching (I especially liked the wizard that uses a magical device to make the signs of the zodiac come alive).
On the other hand, watching all of these episodes together reveals a huge weakness in that the writers didn't know what to do with Shazzan, a character that is totally invulnerable and can wipe away any problem with a command and a hearty "ho, ho ho." Many episodes are contrived to keep Chuck and Nancy from conjuring up their handy 100-foot tall friend, but even then they have an easy out with the cloak of invisibility and magic rope that Shazzan gave them (not to mention Kaboobie, the flying camel with a keen understanding of the kids' needs and Scooby Doo's voice). When Shazzan does show up, he's a benevolent friend to Chuck and Nancy but a complete bully to his adversaries, thinking nothing of turning them into sheep or frogs or encasing them in ice for all eternity. His extreme flippancy got a hilarious send-up in the 2005 Saturday Night Live parody Shazzang - which really wasn't much of an exaggeration after all.
Erratic behavior aside, there are many more elements in Shazzan that would have left even the youngest of viewers scratching their heads. The thing about Chuck and Nancy needing to find the rightful owner of the Shazzan ring in order to return home is, bizarrely, never explored. Didn't they want to see their parents back in Maine again? Why are they always so chipper? What were they doing by themselves in a rocky cave on a stormy night in the first place? Most importantly, where does Kaboobie fly them at the end of every episode? Hanna and Barbera took the answers to these burning questions to their graves, I'm afraid.
Warner Bros.' two discs of Shazzan: The Complete Series are packaged in a single-width clear amaray case with nice artwork that depicts Shazzan in all his sadistic glory.
The Shazzan episodes have all been digitally remastered for this release, with colors that positively pop off the screen (see before and after example below). The picture contains a fair amount of dust and artifacts befitting a 45 year-old cartoon, but overall it's given a pleasingly lush DVD presentation.
Although some examples of warpage are present in the mono soundtrack, it generally sounds pretty good if not overly showy. No subtitles are provided.
The set's only extra is The Power Of Shazzan (5:45), a featurette appended from Warner Bros' 2009 Saturday Morning Cartoons: The '70s, Vol. 2 set. Its an entertaining, nostalgic piece with several animation experts discussing the show's importance - and its baffling surrealism/lapses in logic.
An enigma wrapped in a riddle, executed with limited animation in eye-popping rainbow hues, Shazzan: The Complete Series has a hallucinogenic power missing from the usual Saturday morning fare. Don't expect depth or any sort of complex multi-episode storytelling (this is 1967, not 2007, after all). Those seeking out colorful kitsch will get a safe kick out of this set. Recommended.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist and sometime writer who lives in sunny (and usually too hot) Phoenix, Arizona. Among his loves are oranges, going barefoot and blonde 1930s movie comedienne Joyce Compton. Since 2000, he has been scribbling away at Pop Culture weblog Scrubbles.net. One can also follow him on Twitter @4colorcowboy.