Judge Ryan Keefer welcomes you back to a time when animals wore Arab headdresses, threw pies at one another and were periodically mishandled under the Hollywood system, and people laughed. Come on in, the water's fine in Hell!
"He's stands for justice, he has no peer, he's the agent to call when trouble is near…Lance Link! Secret Chimp!"
>From 1970 to 1972, a most unusual Saturday morning television experiment aired on ABC. Presumably to capitalize on the success of Planet of the Apes, someone decided to take a bunch of monkeys, administer some pre-AHA "Hollywood Animal Instruction" to them, dress them up in modern day costumes, set them in the premise of some sort of an ongoing Cold War spy thriller and try to procure some magic from it. So, does this Mr. Ed meets James Bond meets Austin Powers television series still possess the kitsch like it did when you were growing up?
Facts of the Case
The joys of watching Lancelot Link is that you get reunited with the supporting characters that made the show so memorable. On the A.P.E. (Agency to Prevent Evil) side of crime fighting, there's Lance, his "Moneypenny," if you will, in Mata Hairi, who always tried to make sure Lance was safe, and their boss Darwin. For the bad guys (or C.H.U.M.Ps) there was Baron von Butcher and his driver Creto, along with the Asian princess Dragon Woman and her cohort Wang Fu, the deadly Arab Ali Assa Seen and the criminal scientist Dr. Strangemind, all with the Duchess as the backup. Lance and Mata go through a series of adventures to help prevent C.H.U.M.P. from global domination.
Let's dispense with the small talk, shall we? Here are the episodes on the two disc set, and the episodes are about 10 minutes each, hence two small stories on each show. The basic premise of each show is pretty straightforward. The C.H.U.M.P. agency has just done, or is about to do, something illegal that could result in great international consequence. So Darwin dispatches Lance and Mata to thwart these illegal acts before the destruction of the world is at hand. Often times, one (or both) of the A.P.E.s has to undergo an elaborate transformation with a "clever disguise." Lance and Mata save the world two times in each episode, with a musical interlude by the "Evolution Revolution," a musical group composed entirely of monkeys who "play" instruments and generally look cute while not even attempting to mimic the psychedelic rock sounds of whatever Mod/pop group that is droning on and on for a couple minutes. Using even more clever costumes on monkeys and some old comedic tricks, we as an audience are supposed to laugh or smile even more during the interlude.
Now don't get me wrong, I loves me my monkey comedy. I mean, chimps in boats, chimps in cars, chimps delivering pizza, threading needles or petting cats? Sign me up for all of it, I say! But the surprising thing that I didn't know about Lancelot Link was that there were some recognizable names that did the primate voices for the show. Creators Stan Burns and Mike Marmer, who had written for shows like Gilligan's Island, Get Smart and The Carol Burnett Show before creating this project, managed to lure in Bernie Kopell (The Love Boat), Dayton Allen, who did the voice for Deputy Dawg, Joan Gerber, who went on to voice Mrs. Zuckerman in Charlotte's Web and even Mel Blanc to provide some occasional voice work to the show. They seemed to either ad lib every so often to cover any chimp facial tics, or Burns and Marmer could really fill any conceivable gap with dialogue or muttering, however nonsensical they may have been. The narrator (Malachi Throne, who also did the Knight Rider introduction at the beginning of each show) sounds like a cross between Ed Facenda and Ted Knight, taking things ever so seriously as the audience breathlessly wonders if one chimp gets to pry the device away from the other chimp's hands before time counts down. And when the narrator talks about the chimps assuming "clever disguises" from their normal wardrobe, you can't help but laugh.
However, there are a couple of things that may make people shudder a little bit. First, some of the chimps are all in cringe-worthy racial stereotype outfits, and there are some equally cringing voiceovers to accompany them (one almost feels like counting how many times the Dragon Woman says "Ah So"). But things appear to be done with a touch of seriousness to them, which does make it a little bit funny. And after awhile, you get the rapidly overwhelming notion of feeling really bad about what's happening to the chimps. There's one episode where the Baron appears to be shaved from bicep to wrist (presumably wearing a heavy winter coat in California would be kind of hot to an animal covered in hair), and with the way these chimps seem to talk, you'd think the animal handlers involved with this show put broken glass into the monkeys' gums to get them to move their jaws. There are more than a few sad sack looks from the chimps that, as a human, make me wonder how we're supposed to be the next logical progression, if we're resorting to physically traumatizing our predecessors for our own entertainment. Don't get me wrong, I like my cigars, red meat and big cars like any other Republican, but dogs playing poker on velvet paintings is more my tastes, I think, largely because no one asked the dogs to do any of the modeling.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The picture quality on these things is absolutely horrible. The prints are dirty and jump frequently, the colors are washed out, and the lack of even a small retrospective featurette is abysmal. A niche audience clamored for this release, and Image Entertainment could have at least taken that into consideration when prepping these discs for public consumption.
You'd expect of all the children's cult televisions shows to stand the test of time over the last three decades, Lancelot Link would at least be sort of in the ballpark. But the picture sucks, the extras are a joke and the laughs just aren't as robust as they were back in prepubescent days.
If there's anyone who should feel exploited, it's the consumer for shelling out money to get this stuff on disc. Guilty as charged.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• "Evolution Revolution" Performances
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