In 1964, American
television saw something almost unique in its history; a kids'
programme that was actually fun. Maybe this had something to do
with the fact that the programme in question wasn't meant for the
Saturday morning gulag where most children's shows were exiled in
those days, but was intended as a prime time offering meant to appeal
to both kids and their parents. It was originally intended as an
adaptation of the Jack Armstrong radio series, but due to
rights problems became Jonny Quest.
Flushed with success with their other forays into
prime time cartoons, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and Topcat,
Hanna Barbera decided to strike out in a new direction with a more
realistic, action-oriented show. Taking their cue from comic
strips such as Terry and the Pirates, Hanna Barbera, employed
artist Doug Wildey, who came up with some of the most vivid and
detailed characters and backgrounds ever seen in television animation.
It looked like a comic strip come to life with a strange mixture of meticulous
drawing, stark shadows, and limited animation. Everything looked
great until somebody moved and then the characters turned into putty.
Not surprising, since for all its ambition, Jonny Quest had to
survive on a television budget, which meant limited animation with all
its limitations. They tried to get around this with heavy use of music scores,
clever writing (In some ways, the
scripts have a radio feel about them.) and the use of many limited
animation cheats to cut down on costs. Despite this, the series
was cancelled after one season due to chronic budget overruns.
All that is very interesting from a fanboy point of
view, but what really made Jonny Quest work was that it was
everything that a ten-year old boy could hope to find outside the pages of
Boy's Own magazine. Not to mention a great jazz score and opening titles that reassured you that if the story
was rubbish, at least you had a good time with the credits.
As you may not know, if you've avoided every repeat
showing over the past fifty odd years, Jonny Quest follows the
adventures of Jonathan "Jonny" Quest, the ten year-old son of widower
Dr. Benton C. Quest, his bodyguard/tutor American secret agent Roger
"Race" Bannon, his adopted East Indian brother Hadji, and cartoon dog
Bandit. As one of the world's most eminent scientists
specialising in nothing much in particular, Dr. Quest is forever
getting involved in incredible mysteries when he and his inventions
aren't being targeted by evil villains like the evil Dr. Zin.
Naturally, Dr. Quest, not being a benighted and superstitious 21st
century father, always takes Jonny and Hadji along for the ride.
And what adventures they are. They aren't of the
motocross races and canoeing variety. They generally involve
things like mummies, lizard men, yetis, giant crabs, hot babes (told
you this was prime time), spies, robots, and robot spies. It's
also clear that though the show is set in the present, it's more like
a couple years after the present, so there are gadgets aplenty.
There's even real violence where people get properly killedľa fact
that got the show in trouble when it was repeated on Saturday morning
when the standards about sex and violence were much stricter. Race
even had an on again off again girlfriend that made the boys on the
other side of the screen curious about what this "puberty" thing was.
That got the producers into only slightly less trouble.
Jonny, meanwhile was refreshing because the writers
had the sense to treat him like a real boy. He may have been
precocious, level headed, and resourceful, but he was still only ten,
so the likelihood of his shutting down the nuclear reactor
singlehanded and outsmarting the Russian spies was pretty slim.
Instead, Jonny was treated logically. He's 10 years-old
and his involvement in the adventures is what you'd expect for a boy.
Though he does participate, he rarely takes centre stage or saves the
day. Dr. Quest and Race do most of the heavy lifting in all the
episodes while Jonny acts as an interested spectator and helper.
Basically, Jonny is an adventurous everyboy with whom the audience could
identify, but ended up hating because he had all the great toys and
had a dad who would take him off to Borneo at the drop of a hat.
The sheer envy felt by every small boy in the
audience was palpable and only slightly assuaged by the official Jonny
Quest decoder rings given away with new pairs of PF Fliers trainers.
On second thought, the ring was pretty cool.