Chief Justice Michael Stailey is particularly fond of "Chan Plan #11."
"Wham. Bam. We're in a jam!"
I adored the Warner Oland and Sidney Toler Charlie Chan films of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, which featured a number of Chan offspring serving as assistants, hinderances, and comic relief to their father's investigative exploits. Hanna-Barbera parlayed that popularity into a 16-episode Saturday morning cartoon series, with Keye Luke—who portrayed Lee Chan ("Number One Son") eight times opposite Warner Oland and twice opposite Roland Winters—voicing of the famous detective. While none of the children correspond to Chan canon or previous cinematic adventures, each is given their own distinct personality. Since it's next to impossible to juggle ten characters on screen for a full 24 minutes, the kids often split up Scooby-Doo style and investigate in teams, keeping in contact via their "Chan-com" two-way wrist communicators. Even the dog has one.
Team #1: Stanley (Lennie Weinrib, Inch High Private Eye) and Henry (Robert Ito, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai), the eldest Chans, whose tactical advantages are the Chan Van (a high-tech transforming version of The Mystery Machine) and Stanley's mastery of disguise (which includes more drag than RuPaul's Drag Race).
Team #2: Suzie (Cherylene Lee, Flower Drum Song), Chan's eldest daughter, is the Chinese Daphne in both looks and personality; Tom (John Gunn) is the family's resident genius, not always able to communicate in a manner his brothers and sisters can understand; Alan (Brian Tochi, Space Academy), the hippest of the kids, is the team's inventor and Tom's frequent translator; Anne (Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs) is the family tomboy, fighting for the same privileges offered to Stanley and Henry.
Team #3: Flip (Gene Andrusco) is Chan's most magnanimous son and ringleader of the younger kids; weight-challenged Nancy (Beverly Kushida) rushes in where many of her siblings fear to tread, often screwing things up and hurting herself in the process; Mimi (Cherylene Lee) is Chan's youngest daughter and self-identified boss of Scooter (Michael Morgan), the most impetuous Chan; Chu Chu (Don Messick, Scooby-Doo, Where are You!) is the family's Pekingese, 12th member of the team, and gifted sound effects artist.
In addition to their investigative duties, five of the eldest kids also have a musical act—The Chan Clan Band—which plays professional gigs around the world: Stanley (Bass), Henry (Drums), Nancy (Tambourine), Tom (Trombone), and Alan (Clarinet). The music is terrible and lyrics ridiculously hokey ("I got the goods on you. Hey! I got the goods on you."). If Hanna-Barbera was hoping to score a soundtrack album (ala The Archies), they were way off base with this one.
Warner Archive offers up all sixteen adventures for your nostalgic enjoyment. Just don't expect to be overwhelmed by complex mysteries or character development.
• "The Crown Jewel Caper"—Attending the preview showing of The Burmese Crown Jewels, Chu Chu gets lost in the museum. While everyone goes looking for him, the priceless collection goes missing. As Mr. Chan works with the curators to deliver the ransom, the kids split up to prove their respective theories as to who's behind the heist…only to end up capturing each other. Eagle Eyes: See if you can spot the 3-second Scooby-Doo cameo.
• "To Catch a Pitcher"—Charlie takes the boys to see Game Six of the World Series. But when Scooter tries to get a post-game autograph from Boo Blew, the all-star is forcibly escorted into an awaiting car. Now Boo has gone missing and Mr. Chan is called in to investigate. Of course, the kids aren't content with sitting by and waiting to see what happens. Blink and You'll Miss It Cameo: Yogi Bear.
• "Will the Real Charlie Chan Please Stand Up?"—While on vacation in Hawaii, a hotel housekeeper IDs Charlie as a thief of priceless black pearls and is brought in for police questioning. Determined to clear their pop's good name, Team Chan puts their investigative skills to use, only to be scared off by an island totem brought to life.
• "The Phantom Sea Thief"—Cruising on the high seas, Mr. Chan is charged with investigating the disappearance of Mrs. Van Norton's priceless painting. Team Chan splits up to trail their respective "pigeons" (the maid, the stewart, the bodyguard, and the ventriloquist).
• "Eye of the Idol"—Mr. Chan is overseeing the delivery of the priceless Idol with Jade Eye, but a fake fire sends everyone running for safety. When the smoke clears, the Jade Eye is missing and the Chan Clan goes into action.
• "The Fat Lady Caper"—On a family trip to the Zambini Circus, Dimples the Fat Lady goes missing and Mr. Zambini begs Charlie to help find her. Meanwhile, the kids split up and scour the midway for clues. Could the rival Dingaling Bros. Circus be behind the kidnapping? What does a recent rash of bank robberies and a talking skeleton have to do with all this?
• "Captain Kidd's Doubloons"—On vacation in Trinidad, The Chan Clan takes in the celebrated "Buccaneer Days." A collection of gold doubloons are the centerpiece of the artifacts on display and Flip is convinced their security is lax (meta reference to "The Crown Jewel Caper"). When the coins go missing, Team Chan divides and conquers, investigating a pirate ship, an old fortress, and the local theatre for the culprits and stolen contraband.
• "The Bronze Idol"—Deep in the South Pacific, The Chans steamer ship docks on a small island tormented by Bona Bona, a giant talking idol god who threatens to destroy the village if the locals don't increase the value of their offerings. Since the kids aren't allowed anywhere near the statue itself, they must investigate their suspects (Captain Sly, Mr. Bluestreet) and the hut destroyed in Bona Bona's show of strength.
• "Double Trouble"—A Speed Racer-inspired tale of international intrigue finds Henry's friend—race car driving Arabian Prince Hareem—kidnapped and replaced by an impostor who will be used to pass laws the current political regime is dead set against. Terribly light on narrative, this episode uses a Chan Clan musical number, lots of surveillance footage, and multiple car chases to pad the run time.
• "The Great Illusion Caper"—Charlie is called in to assist his friend, Italian magician Illusio, and local police to locate former associate and jewel thief Hamid Bey who disappeared from jail through a hole not big enough for a mouse. But when Illusio's canine assistant FiFi goes missing as well, the Chan Clan realizes there's more going on here than meets the eye.
• "The Mummy's Tomb"—Cruising to Egypt for a British archeological team's excavation of the Temple of Ramosis (not a spelling error), the locals put the whammy on these heretical interlopers. When the Pharoah's mummy disappears, the kids split up and search the tomb only to come face-to-face all manner of Egyptian gods and monsters. Two musical numbers here prove these plots are getting thinner and thinner.
• "The Mardi Gras Caper"—While the kids are performing on a float in New Orleans' Mardi Gras parade ("I Got My Eye on You," a song they performed earlier in the series and twice here), Charlie attends a party at the home of a couple who possess a ring once owned by Marie Antoinette. Of course, the ring goes missing and everyone is a suspect. This episode was previously released on Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1970s, Volume 2.
• "The Gypsy Caper"—Deep in the Swiss Alps, the Chans are introduced to The Golden Icon (a priceless religious artifact), local gypsies, ghosts, a half-deer/half-man, and a dancing bear. Since one or more of these suspects are responsible for stealing the icon, the kids divide up to figure out who. Today's musical interlude ("Number One Son") has also been heard in earlier episodes.
• "The Greek Caper"—Vacationing in Athens, the kids witness the kidnapping of "The Winged Venus" statue from in front of The Parthenon…or so they thought. Turns out all of Greece's greatest antiquities are being stolen and replaced with plaster replicas. But with Flip and Scooter heading the case, these crooks don't stand a chance. Who knew the Oracle of Delphi was surrounded by technicolor flames? Today's musical interludes ("Undercover Man" and "Whodunnit") have been heard in earlier episodes.
• "White Elephant"—In the far off Asian country of Trismet, The Chan Clan is invited to witness the sacred White Elephant ceremony, courtesy of the Sultan who happens to be an old classmate of Charlie. But a mouse-induced stampede triggers the royal elephants to high tail it out of the palace. With no sacred elephant to ride in the ceremony, the Sultan must relinquish his throne, if the Chans can't figure out whodunnit. The trail leads our teams to an abandoned temple where a wacky foot chase ensues. Today's musical interlude ("I Got the Goods on You") has also been heard in earlier episodes.
• "Scotland Yard"—On a visit to London, Charlie is called in to consult with Scotland Yard, while the kids go sightseeing at Westminster Abbey where they come face-to-face with Hoppy, the world famous mascot for Kangaroo Cola, and his owner Rod Whitfield. But their meeting is disrupted by a blackout and when the lights return England's Coronation Stone (The Stone of Scones) is missing. A ransom note states the crooks are willing to trade the stone for the release of notorious Dabney McGee from prison, but the Chan Clan is determined to ID the culprits first.
Though I was very young, I do have distinct memories of the show, and there aren't far off from what's here. Sadly, the redundancy and apparent lack of care on the part of the writing staff waste what could have been a workhorse in the Hanna-Barbera stable. It almost seems as if the production team went on autopilot after "The Bronze Idol." At that point, the series employed a focus shift, the kids receiving far more face time and individual involvement in mystery solving. The quality also took a nose dive, with major goofs (wrong characters, wrong backgrounds, disappearing props, terrible lip matching) occurring on a regular basis. The series also turned out to be somewhat of a headache for H-B. The original voice cast was made up entirely of Asian American actors, but CBS felt their accents would prove too confusing for younger viewers and forced producers to recast and re-record all of the children's roles.
The other strange thing about the animated series is that there's no mention of Charlie's wife. In Earl Derr Biggers six original novels, Charlie and his wife were parents to 11 "multitudinous blessings." The Warner Oland films made frequent references to his family, often displaying pictures of his wife and children. When we got to the Toler films, the Clan had expanded to 14 children. For The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, I suppose we're left to assume she has since passed on. Then again, it's a kids cartoon, so who really cares?
Presented in standard definition 1.33:1 full screen, this Warner Archive Made-on-Demand (MOD) release does as all previous Hanna-Barbera series collections have done, which is dump whatever they have onto DVD with little in the way of restoration. The opening titles and closing credit sequence seem to suffer the most age damage, with major scratches, dirt, and color degradation. Surprisingly, the episodes themselves look fairly decent, exhibiting a vibrant color palate, soft blacks, and a decent amount of detail. Granted, this is 1970s factory animation, so you can expect a lot of screw-ups in continuity and coloring, but it's all part and parcel for the era. The Dolby 2.0 Mono track is serviceable, with clear dialogue and a catchy theme song (that will drive you mad, if you chain smoke this collection). In-house composer Hoyt Curtain does craft a few of new extended underscore riffs for the series, but there is a lot of musical re-use from Scooby-Doo, Where are You!. What is guaranteed to kill you are the antiseptic pop songs used to pad the runtime. Just keep the remote handy and hit mute whenever the band makes their appearance.
Warner Archive has never been known for their bonus features and there are none here. But I would have loved to have seen even the briefest of interviews with the voice cast reminiscing about their work on the show. I mean c'mon, you had the legendary Keye Luke and Academy Award winner Jodie Foster in this show. That alone warrant some sort of retrospective.
In any case, The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan: The Complete Series is one of the more unique gems in the Hanna-Barbera collection. Definitely not a crown jewel, but certainly worth a few minutes of time for the Chan fan in your life.
Chinese proverb say, "Guilt is like the footprint of a hippopotamus." What that means, I have no clue.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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