Sunday, May 2, 2010

Saturday Morning Cartoons: The 1980s - DVD Review

Finally, the one we’ve all been waiting for has arrived and Warner Brothers has given couch potatoes of the Me Generation the gift of Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980’s. It’s an eclectic mix aimed at a wide range of ages, from the wee youngins to the older set and gives a pretty fair, though not nearly complete, look at what we were watching on Saturday mornings before our parents kicked us out of the house and forced us to (gasp!) actually go play outside for a while.

Looking back on my youth, the influence of Dungeons & Dragons was quite prevalent and can be seen throughout this entire volume. Dragon’s Lair, based on the popular video game, approaches the genre from a more slapstick side, featuring a bumbling hero who relies on luck more often than skill or razor sharp wits. Galtar and the Golden Lance is a more traditional sword n’ sorcery tale and looks like something of a hybrid between He-Man and King Arthur. The Biskitts is a blatant Smurfs knockoff featuring little puppies in medieval clothing who live in a hidden castle deep within the forest and are always outwitting King Max, sort of a redneck Gargamel.

And of course, the crown jewel is Thundarr the Barbarian. For those of you unfamiliar with this classic, imagine if Planet of the Apes had a baby with Star Wars and the baby was raised by He-Man. Then, when the child reached maturity, Frank Frazetta was comissioned to paint a portrait to hang on his mantle. THAT is Thundarr and it is a thing of sheer beauty. Since Thundarr remains unavailable on DVD (save for the overpriced and illegal bootleg you might find at a comic convention), seeing even one episode of the series is worth the price of this collection.

Speaking of crown jewels, there is another treat that makes Saturday Morning Cartoons: The 1980s completely worth buying, and that is an episode of the Mr. T cartoon. If you wanted to sum my recollection of the 80’s up in 22 minutes, it may very well be this show. Featuring a live-action introduction from T himself, the series boasts a multiracial team of teenage gymnasts who travel around the world solving crimes. There’s also a dog with a mohawk and a little red haired kid who does his best to emulate Mr. T. But as T says in this episode, “He can only try to be me, ‘cause I’m me now and I’m gonna be me in the future.” Like this amazing cartoon, Mr. T is one of a kind.

And what would the 80’s be without cheap knockoffs? Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos is like a poor man’s version of Mr. T, with live-action framing sequences meant to teach a moral and a racially diverse cast. While Mr. T’s show is original and scores points for the sheer oddity of the concept, Karate Kommandos feels like a rip-off of a million other action cartoons that came before. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the inclusion of this episode, as I have actually never seen an episode before.

Rounding out the action/adventure side of the collection is Goldie Gold and Action Jack, an odd show that feels like a pulp-influenced female version of Richie Rich. Like Richie, Goldie’s wealth is so immense that nothing is out of her price range. Everything she owns, from her personal space shuttle to her satellite retreat, is decked out in the gold which is her namesake. Goldie is the owner of the Gold Street Journal and together with investigative reporter Jack Travis, she seeks out adventure, solves mysteries and fights crime. It’s actually a pretty interesting show and as a comic book fan, it was pretty cool to see the name of Steve Gerber, creator of Howard the Duck, listed in the credits as a writer.

But what would a Saturday morning in the ‘80s be without a toy tie-in? Here, The Monchichis fill that role. The show is sickeningly sweet and features a group of tree-dwelling simians whose sole purpose in life is to make things happy for everyone. Naturally, this puts them at odds with the Grumplins, who are basically little evil versions of the Monchichis that seek to end their joyful days and put frowns on everyones faces.

Continuing the tradition of adorability is The Flintsone Kids, which continues the time honored tradition of taking characters we know and love, reducing them to children and eliminating all of the charm that made the characters so great in the first place. The Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley is stylistically quite interesting, but ultimately not very funny. The final cartoon included on this collection is The Kwicky Koala Show, a variety show that feels like a throwback to the classic Hanna Barbera or Loony Tunes cartoons of the past and features a huge cast of characters headlined by Kwicky Koala himself. Kwicky is basically a rehash of Droopy, only he’s fast moving rather than slow. He’s also pretty darn funny.

As a final treat, there is a brief documentary about Thundarr the Barbarian which gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the show as well as discussing its influences and the impact it left behind. Comic book and animation legends such as Alex Toth and Jack Kirby worked on the show and Ruby-Spears aimed at an older crowd, featuring complex characters and storylines – no doubt the reason why the show is still so revered today.

Long story short: Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980’s has a little something for everybody and should please any animation aficionado who grew up in that era. If you fall into that category, it’s a must have for your collection.