Chicago Daily Herald Review

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The following appeared in Chicago's Daily Herald. The citation is Cox, Ted (1996-08-26). "New 'Jonny Quest' a little older and more marketable for creators". Chicago Daily Herald p. B4.

New 'Jonny Quest' a little older and more marketable for creators

Aging at the rate of a year a decade, Jonny Quest returns to television today with a new series.

He's still young, still scrappy and still cool, but somehow a viewer gets the impression Jonny's just being used this time by the corporate big boys.

The original "Adventures of Jonny Quest" debuted on ABC in 1964, during the short-lived prime-time animation boom that saw many cartoons, from "The Flintstones" and "The Jetsons" to Rocky & Bullwinkle and Bugs Bunny, invade the evening hours.

Looking back, the startling thing about "Jonny Quest" is that there were only 26 original episodes produced during the 1964-65 TV season. But those original shows ran on Saturday mornings into the '80s, spending time on each of the three major networks.

Jonny Quest was a boy's boy, and his was a boy's show, action-oriented and with an all-male cast of characters: brainy Dr. Benton Quest; his son, Jonny; ward, Hadji, companion to Jonny; and their bodyguard, Race Bannon. Even the dog, Bandit, was male.

And, man, were they tough, boss, keen, neato. From the debut episode, "Mystery of the Lizard Men," "Jonny Quest" was set apart by its relatively thrilling story lines, its lively and sometimes grainy animation (delightfully sketchy in spots, especially by the tidy standards of the Hanna-Barbera studio) and its jazzy soundtrack. This was an adult action series for kids.

Since that time, of course, "Jonny Quest" has been outdone, especially in recent years by the likes of "Batman," "X-Men" and "Spider-Man" - outdone not merely as a TV show, but as a marketing product, which after all is where the big money lies in cartoons.

Jonny Quest remained an entertainment staple of the baby-boom generation, but Hanna-Barbera apparently got the feeling that it was letting a great licensing character die of neglect.

Ergo, "The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest," which will air 21 times a week on three different cable networks: at 7 a.m. weekdays and 5:30 p.m. Saturdays on TNT, at 3:35 p.m. weekdays on TBS and at 7 and 11 p.m. weekdays on the Cartoon Network.

Jonny, who has aged from 11 to 14, is taller, leaner and little more chiseled. Hadji, now 16, is still thin, but can hold his own physically with Jonny (thanks to his interest in Eastern disciplines). Dr. Quest and Race remain pretty much the same, but - as with everyone and everything about the show - are made to look a little more realistic. Bandit doesn't turn up in today's debut, "Darkest Fathoms," but he is said to be around - evidently off in a kennel somewhere.

The biggest change is an obvious one: Jessie, Race's daughter from a previous marriage (yeah, right), has been added to give girls someone to identify with.

The story behind "Darkest Fathoms" is vintage Jonny Quest. It opens some 200 years ago with the death of the pirate Black Jack Lee and the sinking of his ship, the Ivory Web. His last words: "In life or in death, no man will have what was Black Jack Lee's."

Jump ahead to today, when the Ivory Web is discovered by a reclamation expedition. Who should emerge to scatter the divers but the ghost of Black Jack.

Is it really Black Jack's ghost? If you actually think so, maybe you should start with something simpler, like "Scooby-Doo."

It's the same old story as before. The Quests investigate, fall into a trap, discover the real story while captive, then escape and, ultimately, triumph.

The animation looks more realistic, and there are some stunning computer-generated effects, such as the play of light on the ocean. Upcoming episodes will feature QuestWorld, a virtual-reality program invented by Dr. Quest and borrowed, for fun and games, by Jonny, Hadji and Jessie (and infiltrated by archvillain Dr. Jeremiah Surd, but let's not get ahead of the story). QuestWorld will allow the new series to play to its strength: computer animation.

But the conventional cel animation used to make the characters move and talk is remarkably uneven. There's one scene in today's debut in which Jonny scratches his head, and it's done so clumsily that it looks as if some unseen character is trying to grab him from behind.

Overall, however, it's still impressive that animators are doing better work with daily series now than they were doing with weekly Saturday-morning cartoons 25 or even 10 years ago.

"The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest" should be able to compete with Batman, Spider-Man, the X-Men and even the new Superman daily series. And, boy, will he be able to compete with them in the marketing arena.

Calling it "a licensing phenomenon," Hanna-Barbera has announced that rights to the new Jonny Quest have already been sold to 32 different corporations, from Thermos lunch kits to Zebco fishing kits. No wonder the producers can afford the best of computer animation.

One can only hope Jonny has received a suitable bump in his allowance.

Ted Cox's column appears Monday and Wednesday in Showcase, and Thursday in Sports and Friday in Time out!


The cast of "The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest": Are they back because they're too cool to die, or because they're too well known to be squandered as a licensing product?

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