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Case Number 18910: Small Claims Court

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Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980s, Volume 1

Warner Bros. // 1980 // 265 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // May 15th, 2010

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All Rise...

Chief Justice Michael Stailey can't have cookies for breakfast, but he can have Cookie Crisp!

The Charge

"Ariel! Ookla! Ride!"

The Case

Ah, the '80s…The decade of deregulation had just as much of an impact on Saturday morning television as any other aspect of Reaganomics. For you see, producers and animation houses were now free to cut deals and create shows whose sole purpose was to sell toys, cereal, video games, and any other merchandise the marketing and product development teams could dream up. Still, amidst the hocking of Care Bears, Gobots, and My Little Pony, there were more than a handful of series which resonated not only with their intended audiences (6-12 year olds) but high school and college kids as well. Thankfully, Warner Bros. has included a couple of them with this set—Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980s, Volume 1.

"Night of the Crystal Skull" (20 min)—Goldie Gold and Action Jack (13 episodes, 1981)
What a mess. This is basically Barbie and Ken do Hart to Hart. Goldie (Judi Strangis—Dyna Girl from Electra Woman and Dyna Girl), the world's richest girl, who alongside her dimwitted-adventure-seeking boyfriend/employee Jack (Sonny Melendrez—Pippin from Rankin/Bass' The Return of the King) and faithful dog Nugget, traipse around the world saving us all from dangerous criminals with devious plans. When the maniacal Crystal Skull and his Inca warriors kidnap noted satellite designer Thomas Harker and two NASA astronauts, our dynamic trio spring into action. Over the course of the series premiere, she flies a helicopter through her palatial home, destroys her flying Rolls Royce, charters her company's 747 with Olympic sized swimming pool to Peru, hang-glides off the ruins of Machu Picchu, chases down the Skull's rocket with her unarmed personal space shuttle, and retreats to the supposed safety of her satellite mansion where she and her friends take down Skull and his goons. This thing may just be more entertaining than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

"Deadly Dolphin" (22 min)—Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos (5 episodes, 1986)
Technically not a Saturday morning network series, this syndicated miniseries finds legendary action hero Chuck Norris and his team fighting crime and kicking ass. In the premiere, Claw and his evil henchmen Angelfish and Super Ninja attempt to kidnap Dr. Sanford for control of his Sea Lab and its unique ability to communicate with and control dolphins. So it's up to Chuck, Pepper (Kathy Garver, Family Affair), Reed (Sam Fontana), Tabe the Sumo Champion (Robert Ito, Rollerball), Kimo the Samurai Warrior (Rodney Kageyama, Gung Ho), and Too-Much (Mona Marshall) to save the professor and the world! Complete with live-action intro and wrapup by Chuck himself—"He's got nerves of steel and strength to match!" Oy, was this bad. A five episode order was more than generous.

"Tall, Dark & Hansom" (22 min)—The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley (13 episodes, 1988)
The SCTV gang—Joe Flaherty, Catherine O'Hara, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, Eugene Levy—backs up Martin Short in this short-lived but rauckus comedic adventure. In the series premiere, Ed fills in for his cousin as horse carriage driver, with very little success. In the interim, The Gustav Brothers (Short and Jonathan Winters) provide kids with relevant entertaining science lessons (think Schoolhouse Rock minus the catchy tunes, crossbred with Mythbusters), and a live-action Count Floyd (Flaherty) hosts a disastrous kids show. Good writing + great execution = a forgotten Saturday morning masterpiece.

"The Bad News Brontos (23 min) / Invasion of the Mommy Snatchers (8 min) / Dreamchip's Cur Wash (3 min) / Princess Wilma (12 min)"
The Flintstone Kids (76 episodes, 1986-88)
The original cast returns to voice the parents of their 8-year-old selves, as Freddie, Barney, Wilma, Betty, and friends take on a rival neighborhood gang in a series of easily identifiable misadventures (baseball games, who's the prettiest girl, yabba yabba yabba). In a Charlie Brown move, Freddie has a dino-pup named Dino, which we're lead to believe is the same Dino we know and love. Pitiful. What's worse is they've taken a page from Fat Albert by having the kids be rabid fans of the television series Captain Caveman and Son, thus bastardizing another classic Hanna-Barbera '70s cartoon. Painful. The fourth and final segment of this hour-long block of misguided mess is subtitled Dino's Dilemma, in which Dino is the victim of all sorts of unwelcome trouble. Weak.

"Mystery of the Golden Medallions" (24 min)—Mister T (30 episodes, 1983-85)
Leveraging his film and television popularity, Chicago's own Lawrence "Mr. T" Tureaud invaded Saturday mornings as the coach of a traveling gymnastics team that fights crime as "The T Force" during their downtime. Created by Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, the series racked up a respectable three season run on NBC, gave Phil Lamarr his first voice-over gig, and lives on in the hearts and minds of many 30-somethings. Me? Couldn't tolerate it then, and it's even more ridiculous now. A dog with a mohawk. A team of kids each with their own special detective/crime-fighting talents. An annoying little white kid who emulates Mr. T. And an older white lady who drives their bus; sort of Driving Miss Daisy in reverse. In the series premiere, stumbling upon a couple of bad guys doing bad things, Spike is kidnapped and the gang must mount a search and rescue. Call the police? Nah, this is nothing Mr. T and his team can't handle on their own. Turns out it's all about video game espionage.

"As the Worm Turns (11 min) / Trouble in the Tunnel (11 min)"—The Biskitts (13 episodes, 1983)
A CBS knockoff of The Smurfs, substituting miniature puppies for the little blue heroes, a raggedy King (Kenny Mars, Young Frankenstein) for Gargamel, and a court jester (Kip King, father of SNL's Chris Kattan), two dogs, and a cat for Azrael. Only lasted one season of 13 episodes. In the first of two 11-minute adventures, the pups rescue a catepillar from drowning in the bog and bring him home. Unfortunately, the voracious little insect eats them out of house and home, so they're forced to return him to the swamp. But when the Biskitts are trapped by King Max, their old friend comes to the rescue and is rewarded by turning into a beautiful butterfly. A beautiful day goes horribly wrong, when Biskitt island is invaded by a mole who destroys crops, steals treasure, and makes life miserable for the pups when he leads King Max right to the Biskitts. Familiar voices include Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime from Transformers), Henry Gibson (The 'Burbs), and Frank Welker (Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!).

"Tickle Pickle" (22 min)—Monchhichis (13 episodes, 1983)
This redubbed Japanese import mercifully lasted only one season on ABC. Nothing like 30-minutes of animated thumb-sucking monkey toys. "Monchhichi means happiness!" Something must have been lost in the translation, because this show is migraine-inducing. Moncho (Robert Morse, Mad Men), Kyla (Laurel Page, The Littles), and friends continuously run afoul of the spiteful Grumplins in message-heavy tales, like the attempted destruction of The Happy Works. All's well that end's well, and we only have to suffer through one episode. I suppose we should be thankful WHV did not include the live-action Menudo bumpers that framed this season's ABC lineup.

"Galtar and the Princess" (22 min)—Galtar and the Golden Lance (21 episodes, 1985-86)
I have absolutely no recollection of this series whatsoever. In all honesty, it plays like a Hanna-Barbera take on He-Man and She-Ra meets Conan the Barbarian with a mythology more complex than Tolkein's Middle Earth. Tormack and his evil army wreak havoc on an unsuspecting populace, thus demanding the vengeance of the mighty Galtar and the beautiful princess Goleeta, but only after they possess the power of the legendary Golden Lance. Nobody cared and it didn't last.

"Tale of the Enchanted Gift"—Dragon's Lair (13 episodes, 1984)
The mid-'80s were a breeding ground for video game adaptations and this was a doozy! I'll cop to sinking more than a few months allowance into this Don Bluth animated game, the first of its kind. Considering this was pre-internet, we had to rely on friends experience to guide us through the maze of moves, enabling Dirk the Daring to slay the dragon and rescue Princess Daphne. Addictive doesn't even begin to describe the experience, and Ruby-Spears did an admirable job recapturing it for televised consumption, complete with multiple options for Dirk to face at each commercial break. The only downside was somewhat repetitive writing and more crude animation. In the series premiere, Dirk (Bob Sarlatte) and his serf Timothy (Michael Mish) embark on a quest to find Daphne (Ellen Gerstell) the perfect birthday present, but Singe the dragon (Arthur Burghardt—Destro from G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero) has other plans in store for our heroes.

"Secret of the Black Pearl"—Thundarr the Barbarian (21 episodes, 1980-82)
This may well be the crowning jewel of Saturday morning television. From the pen of Marvel Comics' writer Steve Gerber came a series ahead of its time, in the hands of a network too quick to pull the plug when parents complained of its violent content. The perfect blend of post-apocayptic sci-fi and Jack Kirby/Frank Frazetta-inspired production design, Thundarr leapt off the screen, setting ratings records, and developing a cult following on college campuses. With this series, Joe Ruby and Ken Spears secured their place in animation history as the next Hanna-Barbera, and gave us many great memories in the process. In a distant future, Earth suffers a horrific astrological disaster, returning civilization to its barbaric roots, grounded in a battle between science and magic. In the series premiere, Thundarr, Ookla, and Ariel travel to the ruins of Manhat with the ominous Black Pearl, whose secret powers pose a threat to the dark wizard Gemini. Strip away the nostalgia and what remains is a great series that's just as enjoyable today as it was 30 years ago. Are you listening Warner Home Video? Thundarr deserves a complete series DVD release. Side note: Look for The Legion of Doom's headquarters on the outer property of Gemini's lair.

"Dry Run (1 min) / Robinson Caruso (6 min) / High Roller (1 min) / The Claws Conspiracy (6 min) / Hat Dance (1 min) / Dirty's Debut (6 min)"
The Kwicky Koala Show (16 episodes, 1981)
Known as the last project by animation legend Tex Avery, Kwicky Koala is a throwback to the Hanna-Barbera anthology formula of the 1960s. Four short tales featuring Kwicky Koala, The Bungle Brothers, Crazy Claws, and Dirty Dawg make up its 30 minute run time. Kwicky is a descendant of MGM's Droopy, whose nemesis Wilford Wolf (John Stephensen doing his best Paul Lynde impersonation) is a modern spin on Laff-A-Lympics reporter Mildew Wolf. It's really no different than every Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote we've ever seen. The Bungle Brothers are brief, one-joke bumpers that run between longer segments and borrow heavily from Steinbeck's George and Lenny (Of Mice and Men) dipped in Abbott and Costello. Crazy Claws borrows heavily Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, and Quick Draw McGraw, with little or no originality of its own. And Dirty Dawg is a Yogi Bear update whose central characters—Dirty and Ratso—are homeless vagrants snatching food whenever the opportunity presents itself. Their nemesis is a city police officer instead of a park ranger. Same thing with lousy animation and fewer laughs.

Presented in their original full frame format, these 11 cartoons are in surprisingly decent shape. Yes, there are examples of dirt, grain, and scratches, but the colors have held up well. The weakest is Monchhichis, which is not surprising since it's one step removed from the original Japanese anime. The audio is a perfectly adequate 2.0 mono mix. You'll have to play a bit with the volume level between shows, but it's not that big of an inconvenience. The one thing this set is missing is the overarching introduction found on the four previous 1960s and 1970s releases. However, the one bonus feature does somewhat exonerate that oversight.

Lords of Light! Thundarr the Barbarian (19 min)
A great look back at this classic 'toon from co-creators Joe Ruby & Ken Spears, industry professionals, and animation historians. What's more, it validates my own feelings for the show, and those of many longtime fans.

The Verdict

Demon dogs! There's enough evidence here to exonerate both WHV and Saturday morning cartoons. Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
Subtitles:
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 265 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Action
• Adventure
• All Ages
• Animation
• Comedy
• Science Fiction
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurette








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