The Warner Archives MOD program digs into its catalog of Hanna-Barbera cartoons once again with their release of The Space Kidettes/ Young Samson set. While these two cartoons are very different in style and are aiming for different audiences, they're both enjoyable in their own way and a heck of a lot of fun.
Before I get to the content of this set, let me give a little background on these two cartoons. Space Kidettes started on NBC in September of 1966. It was a half hour show, telling a single adventure each week and lasted for a 20-episode single season. Young Samson originally aired under the moniker Samson and Goliath starting in September of 1967 (also on NBC), but that was changed to Young Samson in April of the following year by executives who feared that young viewers would confuse it with the Christian children's show Davey and Goliath. (Ironically it was later syndicated under the original title.) The format was a bit different with Samson enjoying two 12-minute stories each week instead of one half-hour long tale. There were 13 episodes (telling 26 stories) of this show.
A few years later, someone decided that these two totally different shows would go well together and came up with a package for syndication of 20 The Space Kidettes/ Young Samson shows. For this they'd take an episode of The Space Kidettes and edit it down to about 9 ½-minutes and pair it with a random 12-minute Young Samson adventure, also edited slightly to make room for more commercials. The problem was, the unknown genius who came up with this idea had the master tapes edited, destroying the original program in the process. So this is the only version of these two shows that still survives.
As for the shows themselves, they're both entertaining but they couldn't be more different. The Space Kidettes is a comedy show aimed that the pre-school crowd. The kidettes are Countdown, Scooter, Snoopy, and the token female Jenny. They live a care-free life in a Mercury space capsule-like clubhouse with their intelligent dog Pup Star. Well, mostly care-free. The kidettes happen to have a treasure map that is coveted by the space pirate Captain Skyhook (wonderfully voiced by veteran talent Daws Bulter) and his side-kick Static. Every week Skyhook would come up with another plan to get the map, one that would ultimately backfire leaving the four kids safe and sound and the pirate in the lurch.
The show definitely has its moments. One of the great aspects of the show is that Skyhook is actually a softy at heart. Whenever Static comes up with a cruel trap to spring on the kidettes, Skyhook would announce "we can't do that, they're just KIDS!" He wanted the kids to meet a "'orrible fate', but he wanted it to be humane.
Skyhook is a wonderful comic villain and his character makes the show's main flaw all the more apparent: the space kidettes themselves are bland and boring. They're almost straight men (or, straight kids) to the over-the-top and often hilarious villain. When the kids are on the screen the show slows down considerably, and only picks up when their antagonists trap is sprung.
The fact that these are edited episodes isn't as big of a problem as I originally thought it would be. Occasionally a minor plot device's introduction will be left out or some other small flaw in the story telling will crop up, but these abbreviated episodes actually tell the stories pretty well and may even be an improvement on the original. I don't have any full episodes to compare these with but I suspect that in the original version there was a lot of padding and more scenes with the not-so-interesting kidettes themselves. As it is, these shorter installments pack in a lot of jokes without much down time.
The second half of each episode, Young Samson, has been a favorite cartoon of mine since I first saw it during the original run. It has everything my six-year-old self wanted: action, monsters, and a very cool side-kick. Samson is a clean-cut teenage boy who rides around the country (and the world) on his motor scooter (no motorcycle for him. He's not a hoodlum!) with his trusty canine companion Goliath sitting on the back. Where ever he goes he finds some robot, monster, witch doctor, alien, or ancient curse afflicting the locals. Being a kind-hearted kid, Samson investigates and always runs into trouble. Don't worry though, all he has to do is clash his wristbands over his head and he'll transform into a mighty superhero. Not only does he become brawny, but his voice deepens and starts to echo! As if that wasn't enough, touching his wristbands together for a second time while pointing them at his dog turns Goliath into a huge lion; one that can fly and shoot lasers from his eyes. How cool is that?!? Yes, I spent many a summer afternoon in my backyard clanging my mother's old bracelets together crying "I need Samson power!" and then turning my old beloved mutt Mugsy into a giant, flying, laser-shooting lion. At least in my mind.
This show is very reminiscent of Johnny Quest. They use the same style of animation and the exact same incidental music for much of the show. While I really liked JQ, and still do, my younger self always thought Young Samson was the superior show. That's because it was beautifully simplistic and to the point. Every show starts out introducing the villain/monster, usually by having it attack some isolated village. Samson arrives, finds out that there's trouble, and we're off and running. There are not any long scenes where people talk or develop characters or any of that motivation stuff. Just straight to the action.
Even today I find the show fun and exciting. Yes the plots are pretty basic and tend to run together but the show has a lot of energy. There are exploding volcanoes, space ships, dinosaurs, giant robots, etc, etc. With all this going on, it's easy to look past the show's lack of depth.
All 20 episodes of this syndicated amalgam are presented on four DVD-R discs. The discs come in a single-width case with full art.
The mono soundtrack is about what you'd expect from a kid's cartoon from the 60's. The range isn't very wide, and the highs are clipped, but the dialog is easy to discern and there isn't any significant background noise.
Like the audio, the full-frame video is about average. There's a little aliasing, most notable in the backgrounds, but the lines are generally tight and there is minimal print damage.
As with all Warner Archives releases, this set has no extras.
This was a fun set, especially for someone who grew up with these cartoons. While the Space Kidettes are a bit silly and lifeless, Young Samson is still an exciting adventure show that has aged rather well. Together these make for an enjoyable half hour show. Highly Recommended.