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Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1970s Vol. 1

Warner Bros. // Unrated // May 26, 2009
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted June 3, 2009 | E-mail the Author
I've already written about the rise and fall of the Saturday morning cartoon in my review for "Saturday Morning Cartoons: The 1960s Volume 1" (read it here), so I'll skip such redundancy and go straight into what's being served up in "Saturday Morning Cartoons: The 1970s Volume 1."

Like that set, this batch's two discs are housed in a single-wide keepcase with a hinged tray; this fits into a cardboard slipcover. You can play the entire marathon lineup in one go or select your individual episodes. (Unfortunately, there's no insert guide letting you know what episode is where; you'll have to rely on memory to figure out which disc to pop in for which cartoon.) And like that set, we still get the clumsy wording about "fun for the whole family" right above the disclaimer telling us that this set "is not suitable for children." Whoops.

Here are the cartoons, one by one:

Disc One:

"The Jetsons"
: In "Space Car," George goes shopping for a new car and gets his old model switched with one belonging to a notorious bank robber, with obvious results. There's some fun to be had with car fantasies as parody of (then-)modern auto problems, but the stale jokes about lousy women drivers and crabby mother-in-laws cause some modern embarrassment. (Also, the episode first premiered in 1962. I know H-B reran their episodes to no end, but why include this in the "1970s" set instead of making room for a different series? Especially since "The Jetsons" also makes an appearance on the "1960s" set?)

"The Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour": First up is - oh, no! - a recycled presentation of "The Pest," the pilot adventure from "The New Batman Adventures," Filmation's hideous late-70s attempt to ride the "Super Friends" wave, with the voice casting of Adam West and Burt Ward as its only hope; episodes were reused in various following anthology series, including this one. Here, the Joker schemes to steal an experimental car, and Bat-Mite ruins everything. Yawn.

The second half-hour features "Tarzan and the Colossus of Zome," an adventure newly minted for "Batman/Tarzan." The Lord of the Apes rescues a thumb-sized princess and helps her return home, where the natives want him to do battle with a rival tribe's giant robot. Tarzan decides to push for peace but ends up doing battle anyway. There's no clumsy comic relief here, just epic fights with lions and crocodiles and giant robots. This is the first "Tarzan" episode to arrive on DVD; I hope the rest are this awesome.

"Hong Kong Phooey": The Scatman-voiced hero takes on cross-dressing "Car Thieves" and kangaroo swipers in "Zoo Story." Only the 1970s could produce a jive talkin' kung fu hero who never hits anybody. (Also very 70s is the laugh track, which was mercifully edited out for the 2006 DVD release and remains absent here. Can anyone explain the point of a laugh track on a cartoon?)

"Goober and the Ghost Chasers": Also very 70s is a "guest star" turn from the cartoon Partridge Family. "Assignment: The Ahab Apparition" was the "Goober" pilot and the first of several episodes to feature the Partridges, a format that would clutter the series with too many characters, none of them interesting. This snooze-worthy story finds the musical family and the "Scooby-Doo" rip-offs investigating a haunted house and the spirit of the famous whale-hunter.

"Speed Buggy": Another shameless "Scooby-Doo" carbon copy, this one slightly more successful - and plenty more obvious in its thievery. (Even my daughter immediately pegged Tinker as a weak Shaggy wannabe.) "Speedy Buggy Went That-a-Way," another pilot episode for the set, has Speed Buggy and the gang on a ranch, where they run afoul of rustlers.

"Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch": Imagine "Cars" without the Pixar touch, and you get "Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch." The talking VW Bug and girlfriend Rota Ree star in "Double Cross Country," "The Infiltrator," and "The Stunt Show," three shorts that all deal with villain motorcycle Chopper's comic plans to stick it to Wheelie. It's a garage chock full of nothing funny.

Disc Two:

"Yogi's Gang"
: The laugh track is back, and so is just about every H-B star from years before - the studio's first "all-stars" approach, years before the more successful "Laff-a-Lympics." "Greedy Genie" sees Yogi and his buddies flying to the Everglades, where a nasty genie tempts a kindly hobo and then Snagglepuss, both taken in by the sins of greed.

"Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan": Let me get this straight: Charlie Chan's kids are in an Archies-esque band, rocking out in between mysteries? (But of course!) The casting of former Number One Son Keye Luke as Charlie is inspired (and depressingly overdue: he's the only Chinese actor to play the part), and H-B's attempts at multiculturalism feel more genuine than their other PC efforts. But the show's too crowded with too many one-note kids and too many groaner jokes. In "Scotland Yard," the Clan heads off to England try to figure out who stole the Coronation Stone; for some reason, the main culprit in the UK is an Aussie.

"The Roman Holidays": "Double Date" is another pilot episode, this one for a "Flintstones"/"Jetsons" take on ancient Rome, but without the five o'clock shadow. Lots of jokes about Roman numerals, with Dom DeLuise as the landlord, Mr. Evictus, ha ha. Here, the Holidays are forced to find a prom date for the landlord's daughter, Snobia, which leads to father Gus posing as a teenager, which leads to lots of "the teenagers these days with their long hair and their slang and their puberty" jokes. There's also an inexplicable visit from Gus' hillbilly nephew. Needless to say, the show didn't last long.

"Josie and the Pussycats": I'm not sure why the Pussycats and their entourage are working on an ocean liner for the pilot episode "The Nemo's a No No Affair," and I'm really not sure why Jules Verne's legendary character (his great-grandson, at least) is redone as some sort of Dracula clone doing a Karloff impression. It turns out Nemo doesn't like the girls' music, though, meaning Nemo has excellent taste. (Note: This episode is mislabeled as belonging to the follow-up series, "Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space," on the episode selection menu.)

"The New Scooby-Doo Movies": What's the greatest cartoon moment of the 1970s? Schoolhouse Rock? The Super Friends' arts and crafts segments? Captain Caveman? How about Scooby-Doo teaming up with the Harlem Globetrotters (in person!) to defeat the swamp monster? Yup, it's "The Ghostly Creep from the Deep," and it's insane. Just like you remember it.

"The Funky Phantom": Saving the weirdest for last, our final cartoon stars the ghost of Jonathan Wellington "Mudsy" Muddlemore, a Revolutionary War-era coward with Snagglepuss' voice, and a trio of meddling teenagers (including one voiced by Mickey Dolenz). There's also a ghost-cat that looks like a ghost-ferret. "I'll Haunt You Later" finds the gang visiting "Fort le Feet" and running from its inhabitant, the ghost of a buccaneer.

Video & Audio

Both discs open with a disclaimer apologizing for the poor quality of some of the episodes, which were patched together from surviving elements. While not as bad as the dirt and scratches of the "1960s" set, many shows here aren't that great, with plenty of grain and mediocre colors and dust speckles. Titles available on other DVD releases fare better, but only to a point. The good news: the interlacing issues of the "1960s" set are gone here. All cartoons are presented in their original 1.33:1 broadcast format.

The soundtracks - all in Dolby mono - fare better, clean and hiss-free. Portuguese dubs are provided for all episodes, as are optional English and Portuguese subtitles.


Bonus material is a pinch slimmer compared to the "1960s" set. As with that collection, both discs here feature a "Saturday Morning Wake Up Call!" (2:28 and 2:19), in which narrator Casey Kasem briefly introduces the adventures each disc offers. Oddly, these bits feels like it should play at the beginning of the program, with Kasem telling you what's to come; instead, they're buried in the extras menus.

"Solving Crimes the Clan Chan Way" (5:26) and "Heavens to Betsy Ross: The Spirit of Funky Phantom" (4:52) feature interviews with animation veterans as they run down the history - and appeal - of two of H-B's lesser known series. Among those interviewed is Jamie Farr, who co-wrote for "Clan Chan" (he jokes about not being asked to write any more cartoons after that). In both featurettes, everyone's pretty clear than neither are great shows, both hampered by limitations put on them by H-B - yet everyone still has some nostalgic love for both series. While neither goes into much detail about the shows, both have just the right tone for something like this, knowing fans are eager to poke fun at even their most beloved memories.

A batch of trailers rounds out the disc. Previews for other Warner releases play as each disc loads.

Note: all bonus material is presented in 1.33:1 full frame.

Final Thoughts

Just like the "1960s" set, "Saturday Morning Cartoons: The 1970s Volume 1" provides plenty of enjoyable nostalgia, yet the better episodes featured here are available elsewhere, the rest vary in quality, they're all presented in mediocre-at-best transfers, and the extras, while fun, aren't good enough to make up for it. You'll do fine to simply Rent It. And then wait anxiously for a "Tarzan" box set.
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