TV Zone Coverage
TV Zone was a British magazine primarily about sci-fi TV shows. The citation is Sloane, Judith (November 1996). "Jonny Quest.". TV Zone (Virtual Imagination) (84): 26-31. Thanks to Andrea for this interview.
The cartoon hero of the Sixties has returned, with a new look for the Nineties, computer animation, and a new friend...
On September 18th, 1964, a unique children's programme premiered on television screens across America. It was an animated series in which the leading character didn't wear spandex or a cape, and couldn't fly or leap tall buildings with a single bound. He was an ordinary 10 year old boy with no supernatural powers who went under the name of Jonny Quest. Along with his father, the brilliant scientist Dr Benton Quest, his mystic Indian friend Hadji, Roger 'Race' Bannon, a former secret agent who acted as his father's bodyguard, and his miniature bulldog, Bandit, Jonny travelled the world enjoying adventures and solving mysteries.
The show was cited by many critics as being a truly naturalistic cartoon-adventure series and ran one season in prime time. The original episodes were re-released as a Saturday morning entry, and re-ran on various networks from 1967 through 1980. Now, 16 years later, Jonny and the team are back... well, sort of.
In lieu of taking the original show out of mothballs again, Fred Seibert, President of the legendary Hanna-Barbera studios which produced Jonny Quest, decided it was time for a whole new generation to become acquainted with a whole new adventure hero. And, Seibert admits, he didn't immediately think of Jonny Quest to fit that role. "In the United States, our baseline for cartoons is classic cartoons like Bugs Bunny and The Flintstones. But in the late Eighties adventure cartoons came back and have stayed. Batman is part of the phenomenon, not only the animated series but the movies that have come out. And being good business people we said, 'Gee, how can we get some of that?' We started looking around, people started developing original properties, and someone came in and very logically said, 'We have the original prime time animated series, an adventure which is Jonny Quest.' We looked at it and said, 'There are some wonderful things that make it really right for now.' The big one for me is that Jonny Quest is not a superhero. He's just a boy. And children all over the world can relate very directly to a child who is put into extraordinary circumstances and by his wits, and by his team's prowess in technology are able to get themselves out of extraordinary circumstances. So a kid or an adult can look at it and say, 'Gee, those people are like me. What if that were me? How could I get myself out of this situation?' So that's really the reason that we decided to go back to Jonny Quest. There was a market, and we felt that we had a unique entry into that market."
Left and opposite page: The look of Jonny Quest in the Sixties
Seibert prides himself on the fact that Hanna-Barbera rolls out a red carpet of creativity when it comes to their artists. "We give them extraordinary latitude," he admits. "We try not to force them into copying somebody else's work." Therefore, the team of animators went about to produce their own versions of the original characters as Seibert explains, "With the original Quest, while it was very much a classic comic book style for 1964, our artists who many of them were small children in '64, wanted to interpret the characters based on contemporary stylings and contemporary people, so you see that all the characters are built better. They've exercised more as is the way in the Ninties. These people really exercise! They've been able to build up their muscles and they're more sculpted. The original Jonny Quest team was a little rounder, a little pudgier. The next thing is that we aged the characters a bit. The original Jonny Quest was about 10 years old. When we started doing our analysis of the characters and the stories we realized that the original show was really not the adventures of Jonny Quest. It was the adventures of Dr Quest and Race Bannon and Jonny tagged along. What we wanted to do was stories that were a little bit more Jonny centred. We wanted stories that would happen to a boy, and in order to do that a 10 year old would be really tough. What trouble can a 10 year old get into that would support a show called The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest? He's not even allowed to walk out of the neighbourhood by himself. So we made Jonny Quest 13 or 14 years old. Therefore, Jonny can be slightly more independent, but not so independent like an older teenager or a young 20 year old. But more independent to get himself into some problems. Then we could make the stories a little bit more around Jonny and his friends. So we also aged Hadji a little bit."
But the biggest change to the Jonny Quest format comes in the figure of a teenage girl, Jessie Bannon, Race's daughter who is a couple of years older than Jonny. Seibert laughs, "Most people jump to the conclusion that we added Jessie for girl appeal. I am here to tell you that that's not true. Not that we didn't want girl appeal, but the research that we did on the original series showed that the girls at the time seemed to like it just as much as the boys. The reason we added Jessie was that our writers realized that in fact if they wanted it to be a Jonny-centred show, the more ways that we could create dramas and conflicts the better, and what better than to put a teenage girl in a team of a couple of guys? What better way to create conflict?"
Seibert's mandate giving his production crew creative freedom unquestionably encompassed the writers as the President admits, "To be honest, I said to them, 'Other than Jonny Quest, I don't care who you keep from the original team. If you want to throw them all out that's fine, you can start over again.' My reasoning being, if they could do Batman movies without Robin then anything was possible. It turned out that, in fact, they wanted to use the whole team. And the writers looked at it and said, 'Putting Jessie Bannon in is going to make for great stories.' Some of our writers like Bandit, some dislike Bandit, so you'll see a few episodes without Bandit because those writers didn't like him."
Each show's production cycle varies anywhere from 12 to 20 weeks with hundreds of artists participating all over the world. Hanna-Barbera employs a crew of 150 in America and animators and background artists in Japan, Korea, France, and Hungary. Every half of animation requires hundreds of hours of work. In order to keep the production on schedule, Seibert has multiple teams working simultaneously. At the time of this interview there were 26 episodes where were in some state of completion. Seibert, and his creative team rely on the honesty of children to point them in the right direction. "Our goal is always to be smart with kids," he admits. "While we can always remember what it was like to be a kid, we can never know what it is like to be a kid right now. And though we think we remember, we don't always remember quite as much as we think we do. Sometimes we have conversations with kids, sometimes we show them artwork, sometimes we show them the final film. We do that on an ongoing basis, not just with Jonny Quest, but with everything. It's the earlier groups that make us smarter for the next cartoon."
Left: Merchandising Jonny Quest back in the Sixties, and (below) in the Nineties
Seibert approached veteran actor George Segal about portraying the voice of Dr. Benton Quest. "He did audition," says Seibert, "and everybody enjoyed what he did. He's never done a cartoon show before, and he was fascinated by the idea. It's like when you see a beautiful actor or actress and they are single and you wonder why, and they say, 'Nobody ever calls me for a date.' No one had ever called George Segal for a voice over role! It was his first one. I'm sure he'll be popping up all over the place now!" Robert Patric, who portrayed Arnold Schwarzenegger's formidable opponent in Terminator II, provides the voice for Race Bannon.
and even more adventure...
In the ultimate stroke of updating genius, the animators and writers have created Queste World, a virtual reality experience for the team and, unfortunately, one of their deadliest foes. As the episodes unfold, Dr Quest, in trying to find a place where he can do his experiments, creates Quest World on his computer. Unfortunately, Jonny and Hadji hack into it and enhance it, not for any other reason than to play super video games. However, a former enemy, Dr. Jeremiah Surd, hijacks all of the Quest World hardware and software and traps Jonny, Hadji and Jessie inside it. All of these scenes feature advanced production techniques, including computer-generated 3-D images. "I think if you were to describe the original Jonny Quest as a kid's James Bond you wouldn't be far off the mark," says Seibert. "All the gadgets we used in Jonny Quest were complete fiction in the Sixties and have since come true. In this show, when we looked at technology we ran into exactly the same brick walls that the James Bond producers have run into for the last 10 years. In the Bond film, GoldenEye, one of the first things that struck me was that they kept in the gadgets just for continuity. They were a really small part of the movie becasue they're not so special anymore. So what we had to do was come up with something special, and we had to come up with it from a modern youth's perspective. In the nineties kids are looking at their computers and the kinds of worlds that can be created on their computers and the possibility that they can integrate themselves into those worlds in some way. The way we put it today, in 1996, is virtual reality. In our initial research, before we wrote one story, everywhere we went around the country we asked kids if they knew what virtual reality was and every one of them had some idea of what it meant. So we knew that we had exactly the right thing. Quest World becomes a place where certain adventures happen that cannot happen in the real world but, like the real world, it is limited by the humans that are inhabiting it. One of the things that we've tried to do in Jonny Quest is not talk down to kids, but allow a lot of very serious issues to come up in the whole Jonny Quest series. Certainly, in Quest World one of the big philosophical questions that happens in the virtual world is if you get hurt are you hurt in real life? And like the reality of it, we don't answer all those questions. We often pose them, but we don't come up with clear answers. We like to say that the original series was the James Bond for kids, but this is The X-Files for kids. Not every question has a clear answer in the modern world. We end the stories very clearly, but there are issues that are hanging out there for kids to think on and come to their own conclusions."