"Set free by the Teen Angels from his prehistoric block of glacier ice, comes the world's first superhero: Captain Caveman! Now the constant companion to the Teen Angels, Brenda, Dee Dee, and Taffy, in their hilarious and sometimes scary mystery missions, get ready for Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels!"
Hey, he's just a caveman. Okay? Warner Bros.' fun Archive Collection of hard-to-find library and cult titles has released, through their popular Hanna-Barbera Classic Collection line, Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels: The Complete Series, the animated mystery comedy voiced by Mel Blanc, Laurel Page, Marilyn Schreffler, and Vernee Watson, that originally aired on ABC from 1977-1980. For whatever reason, Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels (or at least Cavey) is beloved by kids who grew up during the late 70s and early 80s, proven by the fact that you can pretty much pull anyone aside from that age group, scream "Caaaaptain CAAAAAAAVEMAAAAAAAAAN!" in their face, and they'll know instantly where you're coming from, pop culture-wise. As it plays today, it's typically goofy 70s H-B fare which should entertain young kids while giving you a nice nostalgic kick. No extras for these sharp, colorful fullscreen transfers.
The set-up is even more simple than usual by H-B standards...and only explained in the show's pre-credit sequence. Three rather, um...healthy teenaged girls--Brenda (voice talent of Marilyn Schreffler), Dee Dee Skyes (voice talent of Vernee Watson), and Taffy (voice talent of Laurel Page)--drive around the country solving mysteries with the aid of Captain Caveman (voice talent of Mel Blanc), a prehistoric troglodyte whom they discovered one day in a cave, frozen in a block of ice. Thawed out, the hair Cavey possesses super powers of flight and strength (and apparently hunger, too, as he'll eat anything), along with a wooden club that contains numerous gadgets that can be utilized to help fight crime (his "flashlight," which consists of a bird holding a candle, is his most often used). The Captain's big mud cave has been hoisted onto the girls' tricked-out van, where he sleeps while they drive to their next happenstance mystery.
You could make an argument that the Captain Caveman character truly made his debut as one half of the Slag Brothers from H-B's earlier Wacky Races, since the character design is pretty similar. However, Cavey's official debut came in September, 1977 during ABC's two hour Scooby's All-Star Laff-A-Lympics programming block (its direct competition was What's New, Mr. Magoo? and The Skatebirds in the fall, and The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour for the rest of the season on CBS, and Space Sentinels and The New Archie and Sabrina Hour on NBC). Featuring five different elements--new episodes of The Scooby-Doo Show, Laff-a-Lympics (H-B's spoof of ABC's prime-time Battle of the Network Stars specials, with Cavey participating on the Scooby Doobies team); The Blue Falcon & Dynomutt, reruns of the classic Scooby-Doo, Where are You!, and an 11-minute Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels episode--the block ran for one season. In the fall of 1978, the programming block was shortened to 90 minutes (The Blue Falcon & Dynomutt and the Scooby-Doo, Where are You! reruns were axed, while two 11-minute Captain Cavemans were shown ) and renamed Scooby's All-Stars; it also ran one year (its direct competition was The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour and Tarzan and the Super Seven on CBS, and The Godzilla Power Hour, Fantastic Four in the fall, The New Fred and Barney Show in the spring, and The Krofft Superstar Hour on NBC). Next year, at mid-season, Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels was brought back for its own half-hour slot on the ABC schedule in 1980 (up against Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids and Godzilla on NBC), with 16 new episodes added to reruns of the previous 24 episodes, to fill out the slot, for a total of 40 11-minute episodes (this disc collection pairs up the episodes in this fashion: two per half-hour segment). This wasn't the end of Cavey, though. In November, 1980, Cavey (sans Teen Angels) started to pop up in The Flintstone Comedy Show, headlining his own little Superman spoof segments where he worked at The Daily Granite as Chester the office boy, with Betty Rubble and Wilma Flintstone. This ran for two years. Four years later, in 1986, Captain Caveman came back yet again in own segment of The Flintstone Kids series that ran for two years. Titled Captain Caveman and Son, Cavey and his son, Cavey, Jr., were TV idols of the little Fred, Barney, Wilma, Betty, with his old catch phrase, "Unga Bunga!" prominently featured.
Not a bad run based largely on two words from Mel Blanc. Because let's face it: at least half of the appeal (try 90%, more like it) of Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels is when Blanc lets out with that insane, "Caaaaptain CAAAAAAAVEMAAAAAAAAAN!" I can't explain it...but it works every time, and I find myself wanting to hear it more, the more I hear it. And apparently, it's impervious to changing times: my little boy has been yelling it non-stop for the last few days. There's certainly nothing original about the show's concept, which is just a knock-off of several other better known H-B elements like Scooby and The Flintstones (Cavey himself, and his prehistoric gadgets crammed into his wooden club), with the Charlie's Angels angle of the three girls grafted on for a little late 70s timeliness. Whereas Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels's main influence, the original Scooby-Doo, Where are You!, took pains to at least make a show of logically setting up its mysteries, Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels' plots just...happen (any excuse to pad out the plot holes are filled with a little haunted house animated segue that's employed a ridiculous amount of times during each mini-episode). There's rarely any context as to why the team shows up somewhere, or how they stumble into the mystery, or why anyone would ask them to help in the first place (and no money changes hands, either...which certainly opens up the question--if you're sick--as to how those three pretty girls with the perfect stripper names make their money...). As for the mysteries themselves, they're bargain-basement Scoobs, functioning merely as set-ups for the frequent physical gags Cavey executes, all to the familiar screams of "Caaaaptain CAAAAAAAVEMAAAAAAAAAN!" (I counted one 11-minute segment that had Cavey yell his catch phrase 13 times--now that's knowing your audience and what they want).
Ultimately, Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels doesn't have to be logical or deep or even mildly competent: it only has to entertain a little, little kid for 11 minutes...which is a pretty low-set bar. And for what it's worth... Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels accomplishes that. The sporadic laugh track comes and goes (H-B was doing away with them at this time), but you don't need one to crack up at the sight of Cavey disguised as a poodle, or almost naked when his hair is pulled down, looking remarkably like the Sunday comics' Snuffy Smith. A typical sight gag might be Cavey tracking a "clue" around a tree--a clue that's his own footprint, which leads him to race around the tree, creating a moat that buries him before he grunts, "He got away." Sounds stupid, and it is, but funny is funny, and Blanc usually scores with his vocal delivery. Aside from the deliberate moments of scripted fun, there are scads of unintentionally hilarious moments in Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels that I wish I could say were deliberately designed bizarre, surreal moments...but which unfortunately I'm going to chalk up to typically weird, inept H-B production values. Either way, it's funny to see all the 70s porn mustaches here, or the truly wonderful way the Teen Angels blankly stare at each for a perfect "three count" after Cavey has shouted for the umpteenth time, or how the animators hold the "shot" of the girls listening to someone for too long, with all of them inexplicably having their mouths hanging open. The dialogue is dreamily bad ("You couldn't hire anyone. You're always broke and losing," to which the other person huffs, "Hmm..I'm leaving," in Big Scare in the Big Top), the repetition of which sets you the viewer off on these strange-yet-rewarding reveries, like: why do they keep giving Taffy that demonic stare, complete with Bewitched stars swirling around her face? Or what kind of life does that bird live inside Cavey's club? A life of eternal darkness, punctuated by a few brief moments of activity before he's popped back into the void? That's how weird you get when you watch 40 of these Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels in a row.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.