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Super Friends: Season One, Vol. One
The 1970s were soaked in the blood of Vietnam and Cambodia, and were reported via Hunter S. Thompson's fear and loathing. Cultural rivalries and civic strife bloomed from our urban centers like fungus from a damp forest floor. Our politics became corrupt, and we knew it. It was a time of war, terror, and general disharmony. It was also an era of unrivaled cinematic excellence, particularly in the United States. From Dirty Harry in 1971 to The Deer Hunter in 1979 and many in between, the decade's films plumbed the psychic depths of what made the 1970s so unrelievedly awful - a decade of dread, distrust, and death. The people responsible for producing children's programming must have felt challenged: how to create something constructive, entertaining, and edifying for kids amid all the horror? This may account for the fact that the 1970s produced some of the worst cartoons known to mankind.
Super Friends, the first incarnation of Hanna-Barbera's long-running but ever-changing series, is one example of the kind of mind-numbing animated havoc that almost wrecked a generation of children. The gulf between this program and Bruce Timm's wonderful Justice League is a deep, black, immeasurable chasm. Super Friends ran one season in 1973-1974 - in other words, concurrently with Nixon's final days. (A more harmonious confluence of televised media nonsense could not have been imagined in Marshall McLuhan's wildest dreams.) We begin with our heroes, a quintet of DC Comics favorites: Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, Superman, and Aquaman. These five are joined by hip youngsters Marvin and Wendy, who have their own special powers and are always saying things like "Right on!" and "Groovy!" Also along for the ride is Wonder Dog, a transparent rip-off of the most annoying cartoon dog ever drawn: Hanna-Barbera's own Scooby-Doo. Just like Scooby, he growls and "ruffs" moronically, mugging nonstop and rolling his big googly eyes.
Marvin and Wendy are not just silly in and of themselves - earnest pun-tossers whose eager voices belie any semblance of respect for children - but their silliness undermines and neuters the authority roles of the superheroes. I'm not suggesting that superhero material should strictly be played with a straight face, but surrounding them with goofy kids and a dog who bark-talks forces the characters into situations and dialogue that just aren't fitting.
This two-disc DVD set contains the first half of Super Friends's only season (the show was later reincarnated under a variety of titles through 1986). Episodes were, surprisingly, rendered in a sprawling hour-long format. This means eight episodes that run about 45 minutes each, sans commercials. Plots are discursive in a way that suggests rambling writers' meetings strewn with unmentionable paraphernalia. The meandering, overlong stories follow the same deadly predictable formula as those on Scooby-Doo - witless "mysteries" in which transparently ridiculous clues pile up, evil doppelgangers stalk the heroes, and the villain turns out to be a familiar face behind a mask. The show displays no significant knowledge of the heroes' canonical background, nor any sense of the adventurous that made them so memorable and iconic. The jokes cater mostly to those with a demonstrable contempt of all things comic. The animation can reasonably be assumed to have been executed by a group of jailed children armed only with markers and a broken zoetrope.
In no way is Super Friends worth viewing. Its only value is in making every other attempt at animated entertainment look good. As a nostalgia trip, it's depressing. As comic book-inspired filler, it's a freaked-out let-down. As a choice for the kids, it will only make them dumber.
The full-screen transfers are a disappointment. These episodes are presented without any noticeable restoration. The transfers reveal plentiful print damage that includes nicks, hairs, and scratches. Colors have faded slightly.
The mono soundtrack is merely serviceable. It's clear enough, but without any dynamic range at all.
The first disc contains something called Super Friends Trivia Challenge that I was not man enough to take.
In the midst of the boiling cultural stew of the 1970s, Super Friends was like rancid ham hock. It's hard to take the notion of millions of children's brains being fried by this and other Hanna-Barbera-produced pap. It's hard to believe this is out on DVD now, while The African Queen and The Magnificent Ambersons are not. Skip it!