Monday, December 31, 2012

Super Friends: Season One, Volume Two DVD...

The first season of Super Friends ran for a single season, 1973-1974. It featured the characters of Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman along with two kids, Wendy and Marvin, and their pet, Wonder Dog. A recurring character, Col. Wilcox, often appeared on the computer monitor to relay information. The episodes were all narrated by Ted Knight. This is most likely due to Knight's involvement in the narration and voice acting department of Filmation's 1960's super hero cartoons. If you look at the voice credits on the Filmation version of Batman in the late '60s you'll find that Ted Knight voiced a lot of the villains...he was also the voice of Black Manta in the Aquaman cartoons in addition to being the narrator. In the late '60s, Filmation ran a cartoon series titled Justice League of America which could be considered a dry run leading up to Hanna-Barbera's more widely known Super Friends franchise the following decade. In this late '60s program the characters of Superman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and Flash were at center stage and narration was done by Ted Knight.

Personally speaking, I enjoyed watching the Super Friends cartoons in this Season One, Volume Two release and while the plots are soaked in environmental messages, strangely enough, the stories do not condemn those who have an opposing view. There's great pains took to show how people have the right to live as they see fit as long as it doesn't endanger or directly threaten the rights of others. In all the episodes in this collection the Super Friends set out to fix the problems created by those who are described as misguided. Most of the villains are written as eccentrics who mean no real harm to human life and that the motive for their actions is based upon correcting an existing "problem" in society.

Environmental issues are at the heart of most of the stories. It was in the early '70s that the EPA came into existence. The Environmental Protection Agency and it's mission apparently had a big influence on the writers of this version of the Super Friends due to many of the stories relying on mad scientists and "misguided" citizens seeking to solve the problems of the world. In "Fantastic Frerps", for example, the Super Friends battle a villain named King Plasto. The plot of this episode deals with Plasto creating plastic replicas of buildings and cars and entire towns in an effort to preserve the use of natural resources that 'real' cities, cars, and factories use up. His creations are kept inside egg shells and when cracked open the contents unfold right before your eyes.

Greed is dealt with in the "Ultra Beam" episode where the villain uses a device he calls a Getty Graph to extract atomic matter and gold from the Earth. He doesn't do this for selfish reasons...instead he uses his device to rid the Earth of what he must consider one of the most dangerous elements of all-time, Gold, due to it's tendency to spur on the greed in people.

In "Balloon People", a family from another planet land in Marvin's backyard and gain the unfortunate attention of Wonder Dog, who appears as a growling monster in the eyes of the small balloon people. The family has the ability to inflate and deflate with a twist of a knob. The family is scouting for planets that are suitable for their race and free from pollution. A villain named Noah Tall and his assistant, Twisty, want to capture the balloon people.

In "Gulliver's Gigantic Goof" we have a story of a man, Dr. Gulliver, who uses a device to shrink people. In his mind he theorizes that if he shrinks the population it would aid in population control. He has at his side a pet cat named Igor. Gulliver's voice is based on horror/gangster movie actor, Peter Lorre, and it's performed by Casey Kasem. In fact, Kasem is not only the voice of Robin and the Justice League computer, he's also the voice of most of the villains or their assistants during Season One. Kasem is heard hilariously as the bumbling assistant, Twisty, in "Balloon People" while Norman Alden, the voice of Aquaman in Season One and the 1977 season, is heard as Twisty's boss, Noah Tall (a pun on the phrase, Know-it-All).

In "Planet Splitter" Wendy and Marvin are abducted by two eccentrics, Dr. Laban and Wilbur, who are out to split the planet in half. To pass the time Marvin tells the two about Superman's life and how his planet, Krypton, blown up seconds after having escaped as a baby in a rocket ship built by the baby's parents, Jor-El and Lara. We see Jor-El and Lara work on the device in addition to the famed scene of Jor-El delivering his speech to the High Council about Krypton's upcoming destruction. Toward the end of Marvin's story they try to get Marvin to reveal Superman's real identity...but Marvin caught himself in time.

In "The White Dwarf" we see the story of a villain named Raven who is bent on revenge. He terrorizes a rural family due to there being a kryptonite stone on their property. The Super Friends manage to gain access to the kryptonite and hide it in a lead box. In addition to launching the Washington Monument to a cloud (with Marvin and Wendy inside), Raven puts Superman on trial.

All in all Volume Two as well as Volume One of Season One are entertaining and yes, there's social messages for sure, but I came away with the feeling that the messages were just that: messages. The messages conveyed didn't bother me at all and a lot of that has to do with what I hinted at earlier: there's no strong condemnation or holier-than-thou attitude displayed toward the characters who are described as 'misguided'...and that, in my opinion, makes all the difference between a cartoon coming off as preachy and one that doesn't come off as such.

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