"I prefer the mystic clouds of nostalgia to the real thing, to be honest." ~ Robert Wyatt
I'm a Jonny Quest kid. I grew up watching the show in repeats during the early 70s. It's potent brew of globe-trotting, boy's own adventure, rampaging monsters, mad scientists and espionage fired my young imagination and helped shape my tastes in entertainment for years to come.
A little background. Jonny Quest was one of four prime-time animated successes enjoyed by Hanna-Barbera in the 1960s (the others being The Flintstones, Top Cat and The Jetsons). Jonny Quest was understandably quite a different beast from these other three comedy shows; its more serious approach and sci-fi/action adventure flavor resulted in a more realistic design and animation style. Doug Wildey was the artistic brainchild behind the original series. Only 26 episodes were produced, and first aired in 1964-1965. I can't remember what channel I saw the show on in the early 70s, but apparently it ran on all three of the major networks at various times over the following 20 years. Many animation fans have dubbed it the best animated adventure show ever produced. I'm not sure about that, but it's certainly up there among the best. All I know is it fried my little brain with every one of its scary, violent, action-packed and wonder-filled frames.
Jonny Quest himself lives the life that every 8-10 year-old boy (and probably more than a few girls) could only dream of. Whisked around the world with his genius father, Dr. Benton Quest, watched over by badass, two-fisted adventurer and ex-spy "Race" Bannon, with brave and funny best buddy Hadji and danger-prone pooch Bandit in tow, Jonny faced all kinds of weird menaces like abominable snowmen, mummies, giant pterodactyls, robotic spiders, genetically-engineered giant insects, invisible energy monsters and assorted evil geniuses and their henchmen, using all kinds of supercool gadgets like jetpacks, hovercraft, supersonic jets, laser cannons and bathyspheres - what red-blooded adolescent wouldn't be swept away in wide-eyed fascination by all this? Really, what more could any kid ask of an animated adventure show?
Such was my nostalgic love of the program that I leapt at the chance to buy the original series when it came out in a DVD boxset in 2004. (None of this "New Adventures of" or "Real Adventures of" guff for me, thanks! ABC Entertainment named this boxset "The First Season." The ONLY season is more like it...)
I hadn't seen the show since the gold-tinted years of my youth. Did it still hold up?
Well, yes and no.
The great, evocative background and character art, etched in my brain from 30 years past, still impressed. There was still a whiff of that stirring sense of adventure in each episode. But what had seemed clever dialogue and adult storytelling to my 8-10 year old brain came off as...well, the kind of dialogue an 8-10 year-old would enjoy. And there's nothing wrong with that; that was the target audience, after all.
But I couldn't help feeling just a wee bit deflated. Had I just wasted $30 of my hard-earned cash on something I wouldn't care to watch as a (so-called) adult?
Revisiting the show recently, I've come around to a sort of middle ground. I can appreciate it for what it is: a cartoon adventure made with a care and attention to detail rare in American TV animation. That sense of wonder and adventure that sparked my youthful imagination is still there. I might have to squint a bit to see it, from my vantage point of 44 years, but it's still there, strong and clear.
What's more, it allows me, through the power of nostalgia, to tap into that inner 8-10 year-old me that still thrills to the opening theme tune (which you can listen to here.) And one day, my son will be just the right age for the show to work its magic upon his eager little brain. I'll be right there on the sofa beside him, watching him lap it up, and reliving a bit of my own childhood again.
It's going to be great!
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