Thanks to the success of The Simpsons, we've seen an explosion in prime-time animated television shows over the past 15 years. These shows (which have met with a varying amount of success), combined with the plethora of animated shows on cable, have made prime-time animation a very common occurrence, and something that many viewers think of as a relatively new creation. However, several classic shows, which many of us have come to know through re-runs, began life in prime-time during the 1960s. One of these was Jonny Quest, a ground-breaking action-adventure series which is now coming to DVD in deluxe set from Warner Brothers.
Jonny Quest is an action-adventure series, which contains touches of science-fiction. Jonny (voiced by Tim Mathieson, who would later change the spelling of his name to Matheson and star in Animal House) is your typical 11-year old boy, who loves playing with his dog, Bandit (voiced by Don Messick). However, Jonny's life is anything but typical, as his father, Dr. Benton Quest (voiced by Don Messick and John Stephenson) is a globe-trotting scientist, who is constantly traveling the world to conduct research or help fellow scientists. Dr. Quest is always accompanied by Roger "Race" Bannon (voiced by Mike Road), an intelligence agent who has been assigned to guard the Quests, but often finds himself baby-sitting Jonny and Hadji (voiced by Danny Bravo), a boy whom the Quests met in India and adopted. Dr. Quest's work takes him to all parts of the world and Jonny, Hadji, and Race always tag along. However, these expeditions are rarely boring scientific work. The Quests often uncover some sort of nefarious activity, or run into a mysterious creature, and the adventure begins!
Jonny Quest premiered on ABC on September 18, 1964 and aired original episodes through March 11, 1965. During this time, 26 episodes of the show were produced and all of these shows are included on this 4-DVD set. The episodes included are as follows:
1. "Mystery of the Lizard Men"
2. "Antarctic Splashdown"
3. "The Curse of Anubis"
4. "Pursuit of Po-Ho" (which I believe Dave Chapelle is looking to re-make.)
5. "Riddle of the Gold"
6. "Treasure of the Temple"
7. "Calcutta Adventure"
8. "The Robot Spy"
9. "Double Danger"
10. "Shadow of the Condor"
11. "Skull and Double Crossbones"
12. "The Dreadful Doll"
13. "A Small Matter of Pygmies"
14. "Dragons of Ashida"
15. "Turu the Terrible"
16. "The Fraudulent Volcano"
17. "Werewolf of the Timberland"
18. "Pirates from Below"
19. "Attack of the Tree People"
20. "The Invisible Monster"
21. "The Devil's Tower"
22. "The Quetong Missile Mystery"
23. "The House of the Seven Gargoyles"
24. "Terror Island"
25. "Monsters in the Monastery"
26. "The Sea Haunt"
Some forty years after the debut of Jonny Quest, it's still very clear why the show has remained popular over the years. For starters, the show's mixture of science-fiction and science-fact is still very engrossing. The various episodes offer a nice mixture of story-lines and ideas. Some shows are straight-ahead action-adventure tales, with a slight spy-movie touch, such as "Calcutta Adventure". Whereas others integrate more science-fiction, as with the creepy spider-robot in "The Robot Spy". And several of the episodes wander into an even more fantastic realm, such as "The Invisible Monster" (an episode which terrified me as a child), "The Curse of Anubis" (equally frightening) and "Turu the Terrible". Many of the "science-fiction" elements and gadgets on the show have since become a reality, but that doesn't really alter the show's effectiveness. And with even the most fantastic shows, Jonny Quest manages to come across as somewhat realistic, and never gets "cartoony", save for the antics of Bandit. The show can be viewed as a live-action show, which just happens to be animated. That animation, which was designed by veteran animator/series creator Doug Wildey, is another interesting aspect of the show, as the character designs and location all have very realistic touches and the drawings use very dramatic lighting effects.
But, perhaps the greatest aspect of Jonny Quest is the sense of wonder and imagination in the show. The show's enduring popularity and quality can surely be traced to the fact that many of us would love to be Jonny. The idea of traveling the world and becoming involved in one adventure after another is titillating enough when we watch someone like James Bond do it, but to be 11-years old and have those kind of adventures is the dream-stuff of many adolescents, even when they've long-since passed that age. Sure, some of Jonny Quest feels dated (especially some of the slang), but the show's sense of adventure is timeless, and this collection is a great way to either re-live or discover this animation classic.
Jonny Quest: The Complete First Season comes to DVD courtesy of Warner Brothers. The 26 episodes are spread across four DVDs in this set. All of the shows are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. To put things mildly, Warner has done a great job in cleaning up these shows. The picture is surprisingly clear and the colors are very vibrant. There is very little bleeding of the colors, and the blacks (which were a dominant part of he Jonny Quest animation scheme) are very true. There are some noticeable defects from the source material, but these aren't as overt or distracting as they were with the recent Scooby-Doo set. There are some black spots, hairs, smudges, and vertical lines, but most of these are very swift and faint and shouldn't sidetrack most viewers. There is a very fine amount of grain on the image, but once again, it's surprisingly subtle for a series which is 40 years old. One very positive point is that there are very few stray animation lines surrounding the characters. Digital transfers tend to make these errors stand out, but they are thankfully absent here. Compared to TV re-runs and some old Jonny Quest VHS that I have, this transfer is probably the best that Jonny and co. have looked since their debut. I'm not a Jonny Quest historian, but all of the episodes appear to be intact, although, I remember there being a "Jonny Quest" title logo during the opening credits, but that never appears on these episodes.
The episodes inlcuded in this set feature Dolby Digital Mono audio tracks. These tracks provide clear dialogue, music, and sound effects with no indication of hissing or distortion. The tracks are well-balanced and very serviceable. Granted, given the amount of action in Jonny Quest, it would great to have some sort of surround track, but the original mono track is just fine and should satisfy long-time fans of the show.
This Jonny Quest: The Complete First Season DVD set contains several extra features, all of which can be found on Disc 4. And while they are interesting, I can't say that they're completely satisfying. We start with "Jonny Quest Files: Fun, Facts & Trivia" (25 minutes). This is simply the "Double Danger" episode with "Pop-up Video" type bubbles which give the viewers facts about the show, with topics ranging from the show's air dates to the voice actors. There are some nice tidbits here, but I can't help but wonder why this data couldn't have been laid over one of the episodes on the other discs as a subtitle choice. (Disc space perhaps?) Anyway, it's odd to have the same episode on the set twice. Next up is "Jonny Quest Adventures in Animation" (15 minutes). Here, famous animators and artists such as Brad Bird, Alex Ross, and Steve Rude (just to name a few) comment on the influence that Jonny Quest had on their work. They discuss the look and style of the show, as well as the innovative story-lines. "Jonny Quest Video Handbook" offers 10 1-3 minute vignettes which cover the following topics: Jonny Quest, Race Bannon, Dr. Quest, Hadji, Bandit, Allies, Villains, Vehicles, Gadgets & Gear, and Locales. The problem with this extra is that if you've just watched all 26 episodes, then you're going to know all of the information included here. Finally, we have an original animated P.F. Flyer Sneaker Commercial, which aired during the show's original run and features Jonny and Race. The spot shows a very cool ring which was available with purchase of the shoes. (Speaking of the shoes, aren't those girls Keds?) These extras are nice and should be appealing to fans of Jonny Quest, but I would've liked to have seen more in-depth info on the show's background and creation.
Thus far, Warner Brothers is doing a great job with their Hanna-Barbera Golden Collection DVD releases, and Jonny Quest: The Complete First Season is another shining entry. Not only because the shows look and sound so good, but also because this show is a classic example of TV animation and should be cherished by old and new fans alike.