Like these Pussycats, Judge Dennis Prince also won't run when he hears "scat"—although he will sniff attentively and mind his step, just in case.
Neat, sweet, a groovy song.
In the wake of the unexpected success of Filmation Studio's The Archie Show, which gave The Archies their real-world No. 1 pop single, "Sugar, Sugar," rival animation house, Hanna-Barbera, was eagerly seeking a "battle of the bubble-gum bands." Truth be told, H-B wasn't truly operating in copycat mode here since, in 1968, they had developed a music-themed show dubbed Mysteries Five, an episodic cartoon show that would combine the pop tunes of the titular teen musical group with their adventures in actively solving creepy crimes in-between gigs. The idea never got past CBS executives and was ultimately reworked into—you guessed it—Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, sans the musical numbers. Even though Scooby became an absolute hit during the 1969 television season, The Archie Show was still grating on Hanna-Barbera's nerves.
Then came Josie.
Unable to effectively develop a commensurate answer to the crossover success of The Archie Show, H-B went directly to Archie Comics to ask if there was another property—one that Filmation hadn't snapped up—available for development.
She's Josie was available.
Originally developed by Don DeCarlo with intentions to establish a new syndicated comic strip but later adapted into a teen comic format, She's Josie was offered to H-B after the lead character was reworked to become the leader of a band who would deal with the throes of teen life when not performing live. The H-B team was given license to adapt this into a series and quickly adapted the male characters to become a hunky but humble roadie, Alan, and an incompetent road manager, Alexander. The key foil from the comic, Alexandra, was carried over to be an obnoxious and perpetually jealous counterpart to Alexander, her bumbling brother. Alexandra, envious of Josie's talent and the attention she gets from Alan, would reliably muck up the band's gigs with most of her schemes backfiring on her. All of this was set to a backdrop of mystery and intrigue as the troupe was sent around the globe to perform gigs and, alternately, getting neck deep in trouble at the hands of maniacal megalomaniacs and maladjusted miscreants. The snide, snickering Sebastian (Alexandra's pet cat) fittingly changed sides between the band and its pursuers, depending upon the present level of peril. When fully realized, Josie and the Pussycats was set for the same sort of musical success as The Archie Show while also drawing on the ensemble sleuthing formula that made Scooby-Doo such a Saturday morning hit.
But Josie and the Pussycats wasn't just a rip-off of Scooby and the gang, as some have asserted. It introduced some new elements into its format that gave it distinction from its predecessor yet skillfully capitalized on an immediate familiarity with the overall context of caper-driven adventures. The show was immediately likable since it presented a mixed bag of teens being pursued by the likes of the conniving Captain Nemo, the diabolical Dr. Greenthumb, and others. Added to this Scooby-inspired fare were regular excursions to real-world locales like Pago Pago, the Amazon jungle, the Far East, and anywhere else on the Earth (even at the bottom of the ocean), this giving the show the additional flair of exotic settings with a bit of a geography lesson thrown in for good measure. Top it off with a musical number that plays along to a typical escape-and-evade sequence, and it made for 30 minutes of mid-morning magic.
The characters were well-developed and consistent from week to week. Guitarist Josie maintained the presence of an unflappable redhead, levelheaded with an unassuming disposition. Melody, the drummer with flowing blond hair and ears that uncontrollably wiggled in the presence of danger, was happy-go-lucky in her simplemindedness. Valerie, on tambourine, possessed the intellect needed to manipulate all manner of machinations and whatnot to spring the band from whatever trap in which they were ensnared, a breakthrough character for 1970, given she was the first animated African-American female character to be presented as a more-than-capable leader. Alan was blond, bulky, and always ready to apply needed brawn to evade trouble—that is when he wasn't charmed by Josie's innocence and oblivious to Alexandra's desperate acts for his attention. Alexandra, then, was the sort of Dr. Zachary Smith of the gang, always plotting and scheming to steal the limelight—and Alan—from Josie, typically to her own detriment. Alexander was largely Shaggy Norville reincarnated (and also voiced by Casey Casem), cowardly, clumsy, and usually responsible for getting the band into bad gigs in the first place. All said, they made for a fun team that could ultimately regroup to wrest themselves from any villain's evil designs and still make the gig on time.
The show debuted on September 12, 1970, and, although it only offered up 16 first-season episodes, became a favorite of reruns and syndication, also spinning off another show, Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space. On this two-disc DVD set, then, you'll find the entire complement of episodes as follows:
Disc Two, Side A:
Each of the episodes are presented uncut in their original 21-minute length and in the original 1.33:1 broadcast format. The image quality of these transfers is quite good with sharp lines (yet not overly edge-enhanced) and rich color. The drawback to the crisp mastering, however, is that you'll see every speck and scratch inherent to the cell animation process. Therefore, expect the usual speckles and such that, to some, preserve the original essence and imperfection of a vintage cartoon. While the episodes themselves are uncut, the Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono audio mixes are minus their original laugh tracks (same as occurred on the 2001 Cartoon Network-branded VHS releases). While the canned chortles and guffaws often annoy some folks, it's actually a disappointment not to find these DVDs containing fully authentic renditions of the original broadcast elements. Otherwise, the audio tracks are clear if not a bit shrill at times.
As for extras, you'll find an interesting 22-minute documentary, "The Irresistible Charm of Dan DeCarlo: The Man and His Art." Although DeCarlo has since passed on, we learn plenty about him through the reminiscences and reverence from other comic artists including Stan Lee. There's also some excellent history that explains how Josie was based on DeCarlo's wife of the same name.
While Josie and the Pussycats isn't top-tier animation, it's absolute nostalgic gold to erstwhile kids from the '70s. It's great to see Hanna-Barbera continue to share the contents of its rich vaults in this way and we'll hope it's an indication that even more is on the way.
Oh, and what about the "Sugar, Sugar" envy? Fittingly, just as the concept of the all-girl band was solidified, the H-B team set out to enlist three girls to become Josie and the Pussycats, performing the numbers in the show as well as for a real-life gig, on vinyl anyway. Therefore, Cathy Dougher stepped up as Josie, Patrice Holloway emerged as Valerie, and a pretty young blonde named Cherie Moor became the singing voice of Melody—you may know Cherie better under her professional name, Cheryl Ladd. The trio released one vinyl record that, while full of catchy tunes, never achieved the success of The Archies. Oh, well, there were always the cardboard records that were pressed to the backs of cereal boxes.
In the end, here's a fun set that is definitely recommended and very much appreciated from this former Alpha-Bits boy.
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• Documentary: "The Irresistible Charm of Dan DeCarlo: The Man and His Art"
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