The following appeared in Newsday (Melville, NY) on August 18, 1996. The citation is Burlingame, John (1996-08-18). Changing their toons: a couple of animated boomer faves get retooled for the '90s. Newsday (Melville, NY) Fanfare p. C20.
Changing Their Toons / A couple of animated boomer faves get retooled for the '90s
LOS ANGELES AT THE MOVIES, it's not even news anymore. Filmgoers have come to expect new adaptations of TV favorites like "Mission: Impossible," "The Fugitive" and "The Brady Bunch," updated for a new generation too young to remember the originals.
But can the same be done with classic animated adventure shows? This fall, the WB network is offering a newly produced, big-budget "Superman" from the producers of the Emmy-winning "Batman" series. Meanwhile, the Turner networks are programing "The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest ," based on the cult '60s series.
This is more than just kid stuff. The producers and animators are toying with icons: characters and shows that are revered by aging baby-boomers, comic-book buffs and animation aficionados, few of whom will be shy about expressing their reservations if the reincarnations fail to pass muster.
"Superman" has been done over and over again. Since Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created the superhero for DC Comics in 1938, there have been radio dramas, Saturday-afternoon serials, a classic live-action TV show (with George Reeves) and expensive feature films (with Christopher Reeve), not to mention at least five earlier Saturday-morning cartoons and, of course, ABC's current "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman."
Most important, there was the first animated series: Max and Dave Fleischer's theatrically released "Superman" shorts of 1941-43, whose cinematic sophistication led movie maven Leonard Maltin to label them "among the best fantasy cartoons ever produced."
The Fleischers' work is the benchmark against which the new "Supermans" will be measured, just as the new "Jonny Quest" inevitably will be compared with the groundbreaking original, which first ran on ABC during the 1964-65 season. (A lackluster batch of 13 additional episodes was made in 1986.)
The original "Quest" was Hanna-Barbera's only action-adventure effort for prime time, and it ranks among the studio's best work. Jonny (voiced by then-youthful Tim Matheson) was a bright, inquisitive 11-year-old who accompanied his father, scientist Dr. Benton Quest; their government bodyguard Race Bannon; Indian friend Hadji, and dog Bandit, on bizarre and often harrowing adventures around the world.
The new regime at Hanna-Barbera has retired the old "Quest" (although eight episodes have been released on home video) to make room for "The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest ," which will air no fewer than 21 times a week on cable's TNT (8 a.m. weekdays and 6:30 p.m. Saturdays), TBS (4:35 p.m. weekdays) and the Cartoon Network (8 p.m. and midnight weekdays) beginning Aug. 26.
Classic-character franchises can be "too carefully managed," says Fred Seibert, president of Hanna-Barbera. So, when William Hanna and Joseph Barbera gave their blessing to a redesigned, '90s "Jonny Quest," the staff re-examined the characters themselves.
"If you carefully analyze the original series, it's actually the Dr. Quest and Race Bannon show, and Jonny's there. We decided we wanted this to be the Jonny Quest show," says Siebert. "Based on that, we had some problems. Jonny's eleven years old. What kind of problems, dramatically speaking, can an eleven-year-old get into except for being like Dennis the Menace?"
So Hanna-Barbera aged Jonny to a young teen, about 14. They added a teenage girl, Race's daughter Jessie, for dramatic conflict (not, Seibert emphasizes, to appeal to little girls, who research indicated already liked Jonny and the all-male team). And the obsession with gadgetry, which was such an integral part of the '60s show - and many of creator Doug Wildey's fanciful artistic notions, from laser applications to lighter-than-air vehicles, were prophetic - has metamorphosed into its '90s equivalent: computers and virtual reality.
Questworld, Seibert explains, is an experimental "virtual world" where Jonny plays games but which will also be a battleground for an evil computer genius. It is here that much of the impressive computer-generated imagery of "The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest " will be seen.