It Can Always Be Worse – Fantastic Four (2015)

H1No, I still haven’t gotten around to seeing the new Fantastic Four movie yet. Between my own schedule and that of my daughter (whom I’m waiting to see it with, since like any good parent, I feel as though if I’m going to have to suffer through this, she should have to also), it just hasn’t worked out.

Nonetheless, despite all of the negative reviews and all of the negative box office reports, I’m still looking for a way to approach the movie with some kind of a positive spin and I think I’ve finally found one that works:

At least we’ve still got the Human Torch in this movie and not H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot.

Yeah, I know, most of you just went “Wha? Hunh?!” and that’s okay, because what that reaction means is that you missed the 1978 Fantastic Four Saturday morning cartoon, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

H2You see, back in 1978, NBC wanted to develop a new Fantastic Four cartoon for their Saturday morning line-up. However, the rights to the Human Torch had been sold by Marvel to Universal who were looking to develop television shows based on various Marvel characters. Yes, this is the same deal that brought about the Bill Bixby -starring Hulk TV show, and the less than terrific Captain America and Dr. Strange TV movies. Since Universal was unwilling to share those rights, this led to a conundrum for NBC: they could either scrap their plans for an FF cartoon, or they could find a character to replace the Torch and move ahead.

Now one might think, given the deep well of characters that Marvel owns, it would be easy to find a replacement for the Human Torch or even for the creators of the cartoon to originate some kind of Torch analogue and simply give him a slightly different name and a different back story.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, that’s not the way they chose to go. Instead, the producers of the cartoon decided replace the Torch with a robot named H.E.R.B.I.E. Why go that way? Well, I can only speculate on that, but my guess is that it had something to do with marketing, and the feeling that if the show became a hit, there could be a lot of money made selling H.E.R.B.I.E. toys.

h3Just a couple of extra notes here: The acronym H.E.R.B.I.E. actually stands for Humanoid Experimental Robot B-Type Integrated Electronic, and he was created and named by Stan Lee and designed by Jack Kirby, so it can’t be said that this move was made without the blessing of the creators of the original Four. Also, there was, at the time, a rumor that the reason for the replacement of the Torch was that the producers were afraid that little kids, trying to emulate the flaming hero would wind up setting themselves on fire. This, however, has been thoroughly debunked, particularly by this article over at Comic Book Resources.

Anyway, the point is: No matter how bad the current movie incarnation of the Fantastic Four might be there’s always a way that it could have been worse.

Oh, and here’s a little bonus for you: the first episode of the 1978 cartoon.

And by the way: just a final note for Fox or whoever does the inevitable sequel or reboot of the Fantastic Four (yes, despite the terrible box office for the current movie, I still have no doubt that we will eventually see Hollywood take another swing at these characters – they’re just too irresistible to pass up) – you see how quickly the cartoon version gets past the origin and into the heart of the story, yet manages to tell us all that we need to know? Yeah, you (and anyone else trying to make any superhero movie) sometimes that’s all you need to do. Seriously, by now we all know where the characters are going to wind up, so it’s not like we need an hour or more of yet another origin story. Give your audience some credit, and just get on with entertaining us.

 

Saturday Morning Cartoons #007 – In Memoriam

sat1Sigh…

I suppose it could be considered somewhat ironic that just a few weeks after I started this series the concept of the Saturday Morning Cartoon has been declared officially dead.

Of course, as far as the three “major” networks that I grew up watching these cartoons on, the Saturday morning cartoon blocks for kids have been a thing of the past, replaced by “news” shows, sports, and “educational” shows usually featuring either food or animals.. However, up until last week, the CW was still holding out with a few anime-style cartoons. Starting today, however, those cartoons are being replaced by… well, does it really matter? It ain’t gonna be cartoons.

As far as the whys and wherefores of this, well, here are a couple of articles that detail some of the reasoning, with Flavorwire focusing on the increased availability of these shows causing a lack of interest in kids spending their Saturday mornings watching these programs or at least leaving the choice of what they watch to network programmers instead of just pulling them up on their i-phones or Netflix or whatever, and Mark Evanier pointing the finger where it really belongs, the money trail.

Meanwhile, the website In the 80s has posted a comprehensive schedule of the Saturday morning programming blocks from 1979 to 1990.

As for myself, I think I’m going to head into the kitchen, pour myself a huge bowl of Apple Jacks, and spend the rest of the morning watching some Looney Tunes. Wanna join me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday Morning Cartoons #006 – Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids (1975 – 1982)

fa1Okay, yeah, I get it. Obesity is a nation-wide problem and not something to be laughed at. (Hey, this is coming from a guy who has lost, and kept off, somewhere between 80-100 pounds in the past few years and is still working on losing more. I know it’s a problem.) That, of course, is why Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids would never make network Saturday morning airwaves today, unless it was done in some ironic fashion. Because there is a certain segment of the population which has no sense of humor, and they would not be able to look beyond the title character and his depiction, and there would be immediate protests no matter what the actual contents of the show. Throw in the rest of the Cosby Gang, their personalities and depictions, and that would just make matters worse. They’d probably also condemn it on a basis of racial stereotyping.

Which is a shame, because it entirely misses the exact point of the show.

It seems to me ironic, considering what I wrote above, that the show reportedly almost didn’t make the Saturday morning airwaves in 1975 for a completely different reason. In its original incarnation, it was considered too educational. Which also probably accounts for the fact that through most of its run it was usually slotted in one of the latest of CBS’s Saturday Morning timeslots.

Anyway, the point is that the show wasn’t making fun of Albert for being fat, nor of Mushmouth for the way he talked, nor of Weird Harold for being clumsy, nor, for that matter of Rudy for dressing like a pimp and thinking himself generally slick. No, that was simply who these guys were. Sure, at times, especially early on, some of the humor derived from these characterizations, and many of them had nicknames that described them, but then, that’s why they’re called “characters”.

fa1Nor, for that matter, was the show based on its diversity or inclusiveness, making the point that “everyone, no matter how they look or seem, is a person who deserves respect”. Certainly that was part of the underlying theme, but it was never the point of the show, the way it would likely have to be today.

No, instead it was simply a show about kids being kids, playing together, hanging out together, getting into scrapes together, and learning from their adventures together.

And it was those lessons, the ones they learned from what they did or from what happened to them that was really the focus of the show. It was even right there in the theme song as sung by Albert himself: “You’ll have some fun now, with me and all the gang, learning from each other while we do our thing.”

Anyway, enough about all of that. Actually, it’s probably more than enough.

Unfortunately, due to copyright considerations, I can’t embed a full episode of the show as I usually like to do here, though they are available on YouTube for $1.99 each. Instead, just to give you a taste of it, here’s the first part of the first episode entitled “Lying”:

And just as a bonus here’s “Buck Buck”, the track from Bill Cosby‘s album Revenge, which introduced the character of Fat Albert. (Though this particular iteration is apparently taken from his Greatest Hits CD.) And yes, I’ll just go ahead and say if you’re one of those uptight super PC types I described at the top of the post, you might as well skip it. And that’s just fine, The rest of us will just have a really good laugh without you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday Morning Cartoons #005 – Felix The Cat: Woos Whoopie

felixA couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Ruff and Reddy, a cartoon series that I remember first seeing on weekday mornings when I was a wee lad. Another of my favorite characters from that same time period was Felix the Cat.

The Felix that I remember from that time and still love with a fog of nostalgia, the one with the magic bag that he could pull incredible things out of and could reshape into whatever he could think of to get himself out of jams (such jams usually caused by people trying to steal that magic bag) was actually from a revival series which was made for television beginning in the 1950s. The character of Felix himself, however, is actually much older than that.

Felix was first created in the early 1920s, but his actual origin remains, according to Wikipedia,  somewhat disputed. He first appeared in a series of silent shorts before slowly transitioning to sound. These shorts continued to be produced and released to theaters until 1932, and it is from these shorts that today’s feature episode comes.

To say that this Felix is rather different from the one I remember is a bit of an understatement. Entitled “Woo’s Whoopie”, it follows a drunken Felix as he attempts to navigate his way home from a bar to a very angry wife. Yeah, I’m pretty sure this was not part of the syndicated programming package that was part of the early morning children’s TV fare of my early years.

And here, as an extra bonus for comparison’s sake, is an episode of the Felix show I do remember, including his unforgettable theme song:

 

 

Saturday Morning Cartoons #004 – Duck Dodgers

dd1There are traditionalists who would howl at the very concept of the existence of this series. We all know how the choruses go: “This is nothing but a cash-in attempt by Warner Brothers!”, “They’re tarnishing my childhood memories!”, etc. etc.

Let’s be honest, though, these arguments (and most others like them) really come down to one thing: “these are not the cartoons of my childhood”, and that’s true. They’re also not meant to be.

Yeah, I’ll be the first to admit that in the past I’ve raised the same objections in other contexts, but perhaps it’s a case of applied perspective. Sure, I’ll go happily go on rants about bad movies for example that take things that are beloved to me from my youth and turn them into things they were never meant to be (as anyone who has ever asked me about Man of Steel or the recent Dark Shadows movie will tell you), but my objection to those movies really comes down to the fact that they’re simply bad movies. And even as I’m railing about the faults of Dark Shadows, I still know that I have the hundreds of available episodes still available to me to watch. And I will do so quite happily.

All of which is to say that while yes, I realize that this Duck Dodgers series (which ran on Cartoon Network from 2003 to 2005) can be seen from the perspectives I’ve talked about above, that’s really not fair to the show itself nor to the creators who worked on it. Because though I haven’t watched much of it, it’s actually not a terrible series.

Taking the characters of Daffy Duck and Porkey Pig from the original Duck Dodgers in the 24 and 1/2th Century cartoon and expanding upon them and creating an entire universe around them, I’ve actually found the show to be entertaining.

So I guess what I’m saying, in the end, especially to my older readers who will write this off as a mere rip-off, is : “Give it a chance. It may turn out not to be your thing, but that’s cool. On the other hand, you may like it, and then you’ve found something new to enjoy.”

And that’s never bad thing, right?

 

Saturday Morning Cartoons #003 – Ruff and Reddy

The Ruff & Reddy Show
The Ruff & Reddy Show (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not sure when I first encountered Ruff and Reddy. According to Wikipedia, the characters (and the shorts) were created in 1957, and The Ruff and Reddy Show was Hanna-Barbera’s first foray into producing animation for television. Initially, the show ran for fifty episodes, which were comprised of 155 shorts.

My guess is that I first saw these shorts as part of the Bozo the Clown show, which often inserted shorts such as these in between the live-action segments, though it’s also possible that one of the local stations may simply have run the episodes as part of their early morning kiddie fare. Yes, there was a time when instead of incessant “news” programs, the early morning hours of local television would be filled with kid-friendly shows such as these that parents could use to keep the younger kids occupied while they got everyone prepared for school. I even remember some of my elementary school classrooms having televisions in them which would be tuned to the same programs before class time actually started in order to keep us kids occupied and quiet while everyone arrived and teachers prepared for the day.

What I do remember is that these were some of my favorite characters (along with Felix the Cat and Underdog) from those years.

Below you’ll find a 50 minute or so compilation of these shorts, all taken from the third season of the show which was posted to YouTube by a user going by the handle “Emah Mushu”.

Enjoy!

 

Saturday Morning Cartoons #002 – Tarzan, Lord Of The Jungle

I’m gonna get out of the way pretty quickly this morning and just let you sit back and enjoy an episode of one of my childhood favorites: Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. The series was made by Filmation, and this episode is from the first season (1976). And to make it all even better, the original commercials are also included.

Enjoy!

 

Saturday Morning Cartoons #001 – Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends

samf3Yep, it’s another line-up change here at DMM. I’ll admit, I’ve had a lot of fun doing the Saturday Double Feature, but much like OTR Thursday, it just seemed like it was time for a change.

Back when I was growing up, Saturday mornings were a time when kids got to take over the household television set. Yeah, kids, it’s true: there really was a time when many homes only had one television, and for the most part we only got somewhere between three and five channels on it – the three main networks, PBS, and maybe a local VHF channel or two.. I’m talking about a time before the internet, before cable, even, back when we didn’t have near-immediate access to almost everything that had ever been broadcast. And yes, dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

smaf1And most of the time, it was our moms and dads that got to pick what we watched. Of course, that made sense, because most of the programming was aimed at them, since they were the ones who went out and worked each day, and they were the ones who made the decisions about how the money they made was going to be spent.

But Saturday mornings, on the other hand… That was when our shows came on. No, not the “educational” stuff you find on Saturday mornings nowadays, I’m talking cartoons! Bugs Bunny! Superfriends! Scooby Doo! And so many others.

So that’s the inspiration for this Saturday morning cartoon series. Each week, I’ll feature a different cartoon series and give you an episode to check out. and this week we begin with a series that ran for three years, from 1981 to 1983 on NBC – Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.

smaf2The initial idea for this show was that it would be a team-up between Spidey, Iceman, and the Human Torch. Unfortunately, because the rights for the Torch were tied up elsewhere, it became necessary to replace him, and that’s what led to the creation of the character Firestar, who was created specifically for this show, and was not, at the time, a character from the Marvel comic book universe. All three of the characters lived together in Peter Parker’s (Spiderman’s) Aunt May’s house, and they had a secret lab/base that was built directly below the house.

Of course, we all know that the real star of the series was Firestar’s Lhasa Apso puppy, Ms. Lion.

The show also included many guest stars from the Marvel universe, and was thus a great introduction to those characters for kids who might not be reading the actual comics.

For today’s featured episode, since this year saw not only a new installment in the Spider-Man movie series, but also a new X-Men movie, it seemed only natural to pick one that teamed these two groups together, so here’s “The X-Men Adventure”: