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Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, The
I am just old enough to remember the era of prime time cartoons. While I was never really a Flintstones fan, and have only the vaguest toddler memories of The Jetsons (which I remember liking much more than their stone age counterparts), my first real prime time cartoon "must see television" was without a doubt Jonny Quest. That original version's one season run was a weekly ritual for me, obviously part of the young boy demographic the show sought to reach. Thirty plus years later I was home with a young son of my own when The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest started airing. Like a lot of cherished memories, revisiting Jonny, Hadji, Race and Dr. Quest as an adult was a mixed bag, something this new release of the first 13 episodes of the revised series affirms.
Jonny Quest was a unique show, even in the relatively insular world of prime time cartoons back in the early 1960s. With virtually no female characters (aside from Race's occasional exotic girlfriend, Jade), the series was like a boys' club with "No Girls Allowed" scrawled across each episode. That of course made it perfect for boys my age and up to about 12, I'd imagine. Jonny got to visit places that none of us ever dreamed of (as an extra on this DVD set points out, this was obviously in the pre-internet age), and the whole show had a nice blend of exotic locales blended with fantasy and science fiction elements that made it worlds away from Fred and Wilma or even George and Jane. While there were certainly comedic elements in the original Jonny Quest (many of them due to Bandit, Jonny's mischievous dog), the show had an action-adventure slant that was quite unusual, especially for children's programming. For those unfamiliar with the Quest universe, Jonny was the son of world-renowned scientist and inventor Doctor Benton Quest, and always accompanied his father on his globe-trotting adventures. Also along for the ride were Hadji, Jonny's Indian (as in far east India) buddy and Race Bannon, who was Jonny's bodyguard. The original series, broadcast during the 1964-65 season on ABC, was a perfect blend of space age optimism mixed with good old fashioned wild west good guys versus bad guys plot lines.
The updated Real Adventures (and what exactly is that supposed to mean?--real, how?) tries to "hippify" Jonny when, truth be told, he never really needed it to begin with. The characters are all aged slightly, so that Jonny and Hadji are now teenagers. Dr. Quest is suddenly without his flaming red hair, now a brunette of sorts, and Race has a peculiar good ol' boy accent. Race's daughter Jessie (who in a slightly different form turned up in the late 80s version of Quest) is on hand to finally bring a little gender balance to the series.
These first 13 episodes run the gamut from pretty good to lamentable. The show is best when it harkens back to the original Quest series, putting the characters in faraway climes with some supposedly supernatural occurrence which, of course, turns out to have a more or less perfectly rational scientific explanation. While sometimes this falls largely flat (a pirate episode that involves sunken treasure thieves), other episodes have a nice balance between the fun of the original series and the updated, supposedly hipper ethos (a South American condor adventure, which touches, however tangentially, on environmental and cultural issues).
The first season of Real Adventures also featured several trips into "Questworld," a computer animated universe where the characters got to interact in a virtual reality. What may have been cool in 1996 looks positively primitive now, and while the concept of these episodes is usually at least competent, its realization now looks laughably archaic and robs the show from what was one of its big selling points back then. Other episodes occasionally defy any sense of logic, as in one when Race, in a flashback, is attempting to capture an evil maniac (semi-regular baddie Jeremiah Surd) who has nerve gas he's threatening to release. Only Race and his team are wearing street clothes. Did no one think of wearing gasmasks or hazmat suits?
Lovers of the original Jonny Quest may also have some passing qualms with some of the voice work. While J.D. Fort does just fine as the teenaged Jonny, it's absolutely disconcerting to hear George Segal's New York patois emanating from Doctor Quest's animated lips. Don Messick created an urbane, perfectly enunciated character in the original version, and Segal, who to his credit brings a lot of energy to the character, just seems aurally out of place. There are also some kind of odd directorial decisions in the voice work, as in one episode where Doctor Quest is hanging from a rope off a cliff, desperately searching for Jonny, who's fallen onto a ledge and then disappeared. You might expect Quest's voice to be excited and concerned, but Segal parses out his lines in the same affable manner he uses when the character is answering the phone at the Quest compound.
Despite these qualms, The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest will probably prove a lot of fun to kids who didn't grow up with the original (the original version is also available in a boxed set DVD release). The characters are still compelling enough that especially younger boys will be sucked into the Quest world (if not Questworld) and have a whale of a good time. We adults of a certain age can always revisit the original and remember how much better things were when we were kids.
Jonny's traditionally hand animated 1.33:1 image is decently sharp and well detailed, though nowhere near as "painterly" as the original series. The CGI elements are extremely basic and may lead to some unintended giggles from both kids and adults alike. Colors are bright and vivid, with excellent line detail.
The DD 2.0 soundtrack is perfectly acceptable, if nothing to write home about. All dialogue is crisp and clear and the underscore is effective (some of it relying on Hoyt Curtin's fantastic original theme from the first Quest series). A Portuguese soundtrack is also available, and subtitles are available in both soundtrack languages.
A 12 minute or so featurette talks about reimagining the characters for this new version, and includes interviews with several of the creators of this new version. It's pretty standard stuff, with nothing very illuminating, but it does contain some short snippets from the original Jonny Quest.
Jonny, we hardly knew ye. One solitary season on ABC wasn't enough, and, unfortunately, none of the attempts to restart the franchise have been entirely successful. If you have younger kids who haven't experienced the original, this version is certainly OK enough to keep them entertained for a while. It's nowhere near as good as the original, but if they have nothing to compare the new version to, they may be more willing to buy into this go-round. One way or the other, I suggest you Rent It.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet