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"Saturday Morning Cartoons, The 70s": Won't Someone Think of the Children?!

Are you a fan of Scooby Doo? Are you such fan of Scooby Doo that you’d delight in cheap, cynical, carbon-copy knock-offs of that famous mystery-solving mutt? If your answer to both questions is “Yes,” then boy do I have a DVD set for you! Otherwise, suffice it to say that Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1970s Volume 1 makes me glad to have been born in 1982, and to have missed the second-rate fare kids got in the preceding decade.

The first disc of this two-disc, grab-bag collection of episodes from various shows opens with The Jetsons‘ “Car Space.” I’ll have more to say about The Jetsons in a forthcoming review. For now, I’ll just observe that it’s standard Flintstones-in-Space stuff that has not aged well.

Tarzan and a bored monkey.

It’s followed by The New Adventures of Batman, the 1977 series featuring Adam West and Burt Ward, here represented by “The Pest.” Now I’m a fan of the 1960s Filmation Batman series, because they did an excellent job capturing the essence of the Golden Age comics. This stuff, however, is not so good. For a start, the Joker has a booming voice that is totally ill-fitting, especially as Lennie Weinrib, the VA, maintains the high pitched cackle. However, one thing surprised me here: the story of this episode centers on Bat-Mite being an annoying git, and Batman and Robin telling him to go away instead of messing up their investigation. Now, in most cartoons, Bat-Mite would do something redemptive and somehow end up saving the day in the end—I’ve seen Snarf and Slimer do it a thousand times. But no! He’s just continually annoying and Batman saves the day regardless, and there is no redemption for Bat-Mite! It’s one of the better things to be found on this set, but that’s not saying much. Besides, this series is already on DVD. What we want is the 1960s series on DVD.

In the 1970s Batman was bundled with Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle to form the The Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour. The latter is po-faced, no-nonsense boy-scout stuff: stiff, turgid, joyless heroism. I can’t think of a single good reason to watch “Tarzan and the Colossus of Zome,” and would happily sign a petition against a full DVD set of the series being released. I should, though, note that some of our editors at Toon Zone have fond childhood memories of this show. ["N'kima! Unk! Unk! Go to Tantor! Squash Rosie O'Donnell and Wayne Knight!" -Ed Liu]

On the evidence of “Car Thieves” and “Zoo Story,” Hong Kong Phooey looks like a decent series. The basic premise of a janitor (who is also a dog) turning into a martial arts-detective is moderately amusing in itself. Add to that an incompetence reminiscent of Inspector Clouseau, and you get a not-terrible kids show. The trouble is that, like The Jetsons and Batman, this has already received a DVD release, so the natural target audience has probably already got it. Anyway, these are passable episodes—the first two produced, in fact—so there’s a “getting to know you” sort of feel to them. Still, it’s only stunningly average.

Goober and the Ghost Chasers, though, is so bad. The first of our Scooby-Doo rip-offs barely even attempts to disguise its inspiration: there is a dog with a silly voice who hangs out with a bunch of teenagers (the Partridge Kids) who like to solve crimes involving spooks. They even include the infamous Scooby Doo ending where it wasn’t actually the main suspect but the other one. This is shockingly shameless stuff from Hanna-Barbera, and the word “abysmal” is not adequate to describe it.

Shaggy from Scooby Doo. No, actually it’s “Tinker,” the driver of Speed Buggy.

Speed Buggy is another Scooy Doo rip off. This time it’s basically Shaggy driving a car that can talk (in the most horrible voice I’ve ever heard in a cartoon) and—yep, you’ve guessed it—solve mysteries. Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish! Sorry guys, I’m not wasting my analytical skills on this because you wouldn’t ask me to look through a trash can and tell you why people threw out banana peels. Warner Bros. should have just left this where it belongs: in the dustbin of history.

Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch features more anthromorphised cars, and this time with motorcycles too! To be fair, I quite enjoyed it. It’s a very unusual premise for a show: basically, Wheelie is a car who can’t talk (he communicates only with his horn) who loves a female car, Rota Ree, who also loves him. However, the evil leader of a gang of motorcycles, Chopper, wants a piece of Rota Ree and does whatever he can to make Wheelie look silly. If you strip it down, this is basically Popeye vs. Bluto re-set in an odd world of talking vehicles. It shouldn’t work but it does. A mildly recommended curiosity, and the only thing unique to Disc 1 that can be recommended.

Disc Two features the one hidden gem on the set: the Yogi’s Gang episode “Greedy Genie.” It features a number of Hanna-Barbera’s “big hitters”, including Yogi and Boo Boo, Huckleberry Hound, Quickdraw McGraw, and Snagglepuss. As you can imagine, the voice acting in this is superlative; Daws Butler gives a tour de force of his repertoire and it’s a joy to listen to. The interaction between Yogi and Huckleberry Hound alone is well worth seeing and even raised a few laughs out of me. Typically, Huckleberry makes a sardonic one-liner and Yogi admonishes him, only for the Huckster to reply with “Oh.” (Maybe it doesn’t sound so funny when described, but it is to watch.) The Greedy Genie is also an awesome villain who feeds on people’s greed. This is easily the best thing on this set and I’d be happy to see the series get a DVD release of its own, as it’s a league beyond the rest of the sub-standard material that surrounds it.

The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan is another Scooby Doo clone, only this time the kids are Chinese, there’s about three thousand of them, and they play in a band; oh, and the “dog” is replaced by Charlie Chan. This is truly terrible. I honestly don’t care if any of my readers have fond memories of it, I found it offensive. Not on any political grounds, but on the grounds that a cartoon this low in quality was ever made. It opens with the Chans “playing” a horribly forgettable song while Charlie Chan taps along with his foot, even though there is no attempt made to sync up the animation and the music. Then, at the end, when the Chans play a different song, you will understand why they skipped the “sync” part: it’s just the same animation from the start of the show. I should also mention that the portrayal of London found in the included episode (“Scotland Yard”) is hilarious.

A shot from Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch. That’s Chopper with Wheelie’s “girlfriend” Rota Ree.

If The Jetsons is Flintstones-in-Space, then Roman Holidays is Flintstones-in-Ancient-Rome-with-a-Pet-Lion. It doesn’t even make sense, let alone work: How have they got a telephone? How is there a disco with speakers which have wiring (pretty central to the plot too, so they even draw attention to it)? I find it hard to believe this was ever made, let alone that anyone ever watched it.

Josie and the Pussycats is like The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan minus the Amazing Chan, Chinese people, and men. This is yet another Scooby Doo rip-off stuff with absolutely nothing to recommend it. And I’ll be surprised if there has ever been a blander character than “Alan” in cartoon history.

The New Scooby Doo Movies finally brings us the real thing. I know someone who knows an awful lot about Scooby Doo. For me, this is just standard Scooby Doo fare, so I am hoping our friend will let us know how well this episode compares to the rest of the cannon. This is the one that features the Harlem Globetrotters and Red Beard. As a rule, I prefer Scooby when the whole gang is there (as opposed to the later series when it’s just Shaggy, Scooby and Scrappy plus one) … and the whole gang is here so it’s all good. I’d have preferred it if they’d have included the Batman one though. [They included the Globetrotters episode in lieu of the Addams Family episode?! Lurch, fetch me my blunderbuss. -Maxie Zeus.]

The Funky Phantom is another Scooby Doo clone, only this time the kids and their dog have a ghost companion (and his cat), the Revolutionary War hero Mudsy, who sounds eerily reminiscent of exactly like Snagglepuss. Probably the best of the Scooby Doo clones for its sheer oddness and curiosity-value.

Even if you interpret my comments generously, you’re still left with a set that bats only 5 out of 13. Unless you grew up in the 1970s and really want to get your hands on some of this stuff for nostalgia purposes, I would advise extreme caution before purchasing this. It’s a poor advertisement (and could be used as evidence in a crimes-against-humanity trial) for kids’ television in the 1970s.

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