Jonny Quest

Jonny Quest

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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.


Like everyone else, you've probably asked yourself: "What would the title sequence look like in stop motion animation?"  Ask no longer.

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