The Extraordinarily Real Adventures
The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest was extraordinary. It was a series plagued by developmental setbacks and troubled executions. Real Adventures spent three years in development hell as several studios produced unusable material. Its handling, appearance, and mythology was split down the middle when a new season and incarnation were made. Questworld may have already been outdated by the time of its airing, and sometimes hindered the presentation and pacing of plots. The huge merchandising and commercialization campaign failed to bring the show back for a third season, and it fell short of its projected goal of sixty five episodes. The shows that were aired were done so in a very short time, squandering premiere ratings, and the season two finale was shown out of order. Ultimately, reruns disappeared in short time after the conclusion of Real Adventures, relegating the show to the genre of 1990s Turner has-beens in the twilight of Hanna-Barbera before the Cartoon Cartoons explosion. But despite these shortcomings, the statement stands: Real Adventures was extraordinary.
Stop and reflect on what Real Adventures was among its contemporaries in the modern age of animation. For the adult demographic, programs such as The Simpsons and South Park have attracted acclaim. For young adults, Adult Swim was a runaway success, perhaps predated by edgy shows such as Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Beavis and Butthead, and Ren & Stimpy. Young teens and children in general were given the rise of Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, which offered several original, critically-praised, and genuinely humorous works. Like later teen dramas, these primarily focused on lighthearted and easy to follow themes set in simple, stylistically distinct universes. One can ask, where would Reading Rainbow and Captain Planet belong in this milieu, being education shows? These strike one as being reserved for public television or special programs, and not intended to grip public audiences at large. Intelligent shows for young teens, such as Batman: The Animated Series, featured appealing action and well-written dramatic scripts.
But what if there were a hybrid; something that aimed to combine the action and appeal of dramatic shows with the educational value, intelligence, and clout of learning series? A program that could ensnare the imagination like Indiana Jones through tantalizing adventure, but go farther in provoking the mind with archaeological and other academic subjects? This was the aim of The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, and it was a lofty one, if not very tough to reach. The key to this new Quest enterprise lay in its name -- these were to be "real" adventures. The aspirations of its developers were made clear in a promotional video and the writer's bible for the show. The settings were not fantasy worlds, but involved "hitherto unexplained phenomena, the paranormal, legends and folklore of today's world." The video touted "epic levels of storytelling, never before seen in a cartoon." Above all, it declared that Real Adventures would depict "real stories that real kids can believe in." Writers Glenn Leopold and Peter Lawrence made the rule that "plausibility is a keynote" in the show's writing, and that this concept of real world involvement and possibility combined with a new standard for action, animation, and heart would usher in "the next evolution in kids' programming." The ideal was echoed on the internet, where producers set up a website with many educational links, including pages covering archaeology and space travel.
These are magnificent, noble, and beautiful goals, and were made clear in the show's execution. The writers wanted to build a sense of timelessness as the classic series had done. To accomplish both, the characters were revamped. Jonny Quest became a man-of-action adventurer with little patience and an ability to think on his feet. Quest was "not a punk" as the bible states, and in fact is ethically incorrigible and has an insatiable appetite for taking action in sticky situations. Hadji Singh became a conscience and extra gateway to the mystical, real world aspects of the show, exuding wisdom and truth in his words and deeds. His status as a best buddy with rope tricks was changed to give him a full, thoughtful identity, making him a cautious, intellectual foil to Jonny. Race Bannon was a real part of the soul for the sixties series, and appears unchanged in essence as a man-of-action and person of upstanding courage like Jonny. But other than Jonny, the character who seems to embody the intellectual spirit of Real Adventures is Doctor Benton Quest. He is no longer on the government payroll, but has roosted at a lavish compound built to facilitate his research. "Gripped by [the] desire...to know everything," Dr. Quest echoes the fascination and curiosity the show intends to engender through real world locales and mysteries. Able to reach any point on the globe with a fleet of advanced craft, he is the unbridled ideal of open-minded curiosity -- a quality whose credit the mass of human creation is owed in the world's history. Jessie Bannon followed his example, and perhaps acted as the voice of this heart when the team were exploring, as they so often did, without parental supervision.
Villainy in The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest was, as written by Glenn Leopold, intended to transcend "monsters of the week" and manifest in true antagonists with "personalities in their own rights." Aside from Dr. Zin, these antagonists would cross swords with Quest because of ideological differences rather than simple melodramatic opposition or long-held grudge. Quest's illumination came to be challenged by three terrible potentates. Ezekiel Rage exemplifies the dangers and madness of religion, seeking to effect the apocalypse and establish oblivion upon the earth according to his dogmatically deranged will. Jeremiah Surd is the bane of Questworld, a manifestation of the menace poised by those who exploit the pitfalls and breaches possible in a world perpetually connected by the web of cyberspace. And Dr. Zin, grown far from his roots in the character Fu Manchu, represents the ethical antithesis of Dr. Quest -- whereas the latter undertakes ventures to learn, discover, and share with the world appropriately, Zin would harness the legends and scientific wonders of the world to achieve immediate and drastic ends. The remaining villains are all governed by venal ambition or desire, essences which subvert Quest's struggle to know, share with, and uplift humanity. The battles fought are often ones of overarching ideals, and can be combated with the gang's resourcefulness or physical fitness.
Even the locations played active roles in Quest storylines. The Quest Compound was a virtual seat for enlightenment, allowing Dr. Quest to unravel the world's mysteries from the comfort of a fortune built by illumination and a reservoir of erudition. The fantastic places of the world -- Easter Island, the pyramids, and the enigmatic other space -- hold goldmines of intrigue and allure for audiences desiring tangible adventure, especially if these audiences are familiar (at least tenuously) with subject matter. The addition of this human familiarity epitomizes the transformation of Jonny Quest. The change can be compared to the James Bond franchise. In the sixties and seventies, it relied on technological, thought-provoking scenarios and strong leading men to carry forward. But in an age where the "satellite shoots the earth" plot and even further out possibilities (realized in science fiction blockbusters) have roosted with audiences for years, humanity and strong storytelling were needed. Like the grand successes of Casino Royale, The Living Daylights, GoldenEye, and other realistic Bond films, Jonny Quest was restored by connecting with plausible mysteries and featuring a cast of complex characters with human ideals and adversaries. Real Adventures would no longer need to rely primarily on the visual eye-candy of wonders, as parodied with the Venture Brothers with space stations and robot spies. No; this time around, Jonny Quest would strive to achieve the epic proportions outlined in those preview and writing materials, supported by real characters and real mysteries and locations with enough touch of fantasy to inveigle the enchantment of audiences.
Those substantial claims made by the video are only fitting for such an ambitious project. Did The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest succeed? Perhaps not at large, whether a fault of a troubled production or a change in desires from TV audiences and public viewers. But among the community of fans and observers, there is no doubt that Real Adventures succeeded in augmenting the timelessness of the Quest mythos and carving its own share of glory. The episodes and writing attest to the intent to woo the minds of watchers with plausible enigmas and authentic, passionate characters. For any viewer who has dared to dream of adventure or illumination, Real Adventures affirmed the legend of Jonny Quest as a haven and facilitator, pitched directly to the human quality of inquisitiveness and delivered with adventurous gusto enough to rival the breakneck blockbusters of our day. Real Adventures took what Quest expert Lance Falk called the 'unique, 'real world' approach' and forged a new chapter in animation. As he stated:
"It's Jonny Quest's 'air of reality' that really puts you into the thick of the action. There are no fancy costumes here. No super powers. The Quest Team always saves the day with intelligence, cooperation, a cool gadget or two, and a great deal of courage. These feel like real people (just a bit better than average)."
Those fifty two episodes may have missed the original goal of sixty five, but to Quest fans and viewing audiences, they offered a unique brand of action, storytelling, mystery, and enjoyment. And all who have a bit of Race's humorous charisma, Hadji's mysticism, Jessie's pursuit of knowledge, Jonny's taste for action, or a dash of Dr. Quest's cerebral curiosity are questors in their own right.