Saturday, March 25, 2006

Kidz Stuff: Part 1

My buddy, Jill, who has a six- and two-year-old, recently challenged me to come up with a list of "top ten" cartoon recommendations, skipping over Disneyana and recent releases. I'm going to stretch her request a bit, so I can bring in some live action and Muppet stuff too. And me being me, the list is a bit eclectic, as well as including a number of items either being totally unobtainable, or available only as bootlegs.

I'm trying to keep this on a younger kid level, too, so Fred favorites like the CGI "Roughnecks" series isn't there, although I recommend it to any teenager or adult that likes science fiction, especially Heinlein, as its much closer to the spirit of Starship Troopers than the movie. As usual, these are in the order thought of, not a ranking. But, if you can't find something your kids - and you - like here, don't come and visit me, okay?



10. The Max Fleischer Superman cartoons - You can play the video above of "The Mechanical Monsters," produced in 1941, the second of the series, and one of the best (I also like "Billion Dollar Limited," "The Bulleteers," and the very un-P.C. "Japoteurs," which reflects its era). The Art Deco style is beautiful and most kids will love the nonstop action. The link will take you to the so-called "Diamond Anniversary" DVD, generally considered to be the best quality release of these public domain cartoons.

9. Dungeons & Dragons - There are rumors that this cartoon series from the `80s will be properly released on DVD sometime in 2006. As of this writing, there's nothing of Amazon about it, and I don't recommend the one episode VHS you can find on Amazon and elsewhere. Nor do I recommend the bootleg VHS/DVDs of the series that regularly appear on eBay, as a writer I like, Mark Evanier, who wrote the pilot and the Bible for the show, would get deprived of well-deserved income.

Anyway, D&D was about (quoting TVShowsonDVD.com) "the adventures of Hank, Eric, Sheila, Presto, Diana and Bobby. One day these kids go on a roller coaster ride in our own world, at a normal everyday amusement park. Before they know it, though, the ride coasts them into a world of magic, where the diminutive Dungeon Master shows up from time to time to give them guidance and direction. He also gives them each a magical weapon that they must use to get themselves out of many a scrape with the fearsome monsters of this realm. Along the way they befriend Uni the Unicorn, who accompanies them on their quests."

It was a good - sometimes a superior - cartoon, given that the above pretty much describes the plot of each episode. Most of the stories had some sort of moral, like "you can't tell a book by its cover," or the like, but they were delivered pretty gently... and there's nothing wrong with morals. If/when D&D comes out on DVD, I'll be in line for it.

8. Goldie Gold and Action Jack - Now here's one you probably haven't heard of. The '80s were something of a Silver Age for TV cartoons, and this short-lived series (only 13 episodes) was one of the best. Kind of a cross between "The Avengers," and the Indiana Jones series, GG&AJ was the story of the "richest girl in the world" who, "decided to use some of her immense wealth to publish an investigative newspaper called The Gold Street Journal. Since she owned the paper, she took the liberty of searching out and reporting her own stories.

Goldie recruited the help of a part-time adventurer and intern reporter, 'Action' Jack Travis. Each week, Goldie, Jack, and their loyal dog Nugget would take off on a fantastic adventure and eventually return home to deliver the story to their editor, Sam Gritt. At their fingertips were an abundance of gadgets, each of which seemed more impressive than the ones featured in last episode." (description courtesy of toonarific.com).

GG&AJ never got any traction, unfortunately. My theory is that the producers couldn't up their mind whether they were doing Richie Rich (which actually preceded GG&AJ) or Jonny Quest; and the show was an uneasy balance between comedy (like Richie, Goldie's enormous wealth was a running gag), or adventure. I wish they had stuck with a straight adventure plot; but with a title character named "Goldie Gold," you kind of knew that wasn't going to happen.

I'll know the promise of "any movie, any time you want, anywhere" will have been delivered when I get GG&AJ: The Complete Series on DVD.

7. Fraggle Rock - I think I may amend my earlier statement and say that the `80s were a good decade for kid's TV altogether. Much edgier that The Muppet Show, Fraggles are definitely Muppet cousins who live in a cavern behind a wall in the shop of a tinkerer named Doc.

From the Amazon synopsis, "The Rock is also home to the Doozers (who are knee-high to a Fraggle) and the Gorgs (who are giants that think they rule the Rock). One gang of Fraggles (Gobo, Mokey, Wembley, Boober, and Red), under the guidance of the all-knowing Trash Heap (Marjorie), learn about each other and their neighbors and eventually befriend the Doozers, the Gorgs--and even Doc and Sprocket. Meanwhile, Gobo's Uncle Matt explores Outer Space (our world) and sends postcards to his nephew about the Silly Creatures (that's us)."

Indeed. Songs, dancing, yes, moral instruction, and lots of fun. And sometimes the stories were heart-breakingly good. I burst into tears when I watched the final episode, "Change of Address," with its tag-line, You can not leave the magic, as close to a personal motto as I could want.

The link above is to the complete first season, a bargain, in my opinion, at around $30. This link will bring you to an Amazon listing of individual DVDs, if you want to get a feel for the Rock before committing to a complete set.

6. Reboot - If you your/children like computers, videogames, pop culture references, and solid story-telling, Reboot is the toon for you. But this is one of those frustrating recommendations. The only easily obtainable Reboot DVD contains two 90 minute movies, as opposed to Reboot's usual half-hour format, but neither of them is half as good as any random selection from the series. Worse, they would probably confuse anyone not already familiar with the Reboot universe. Reboot episodes were collected haphazardly and released on both VHS and DVD. The DVDs now command premium prices, although the one-episode "Medusa Bug" VHS can still be had at a reasonable price. Bootleg sets of the complete series can occasionally be found on eBay, although it's definitely a caveat emptor offering.

From the Amazon description, "...adventures of life within a computer, as depicted in one of the world's first totally-computer-generated series. Dot Matrix and her brother Enzo, plus thousands of friendly binomes, live in Mainframe, which is plagued by viruses Megabyte and sister strain Hexadecimal. Guardian Bob is sent from the Net to protect them, and soon makes it his home. Together, they must prevent Megabyte from taking control of all the systems. As an added complication, games being played by the User invade the system regularly, and must be defeated, or else portions of the city are laid waste..."

Oh, but so much more. Someday, The Compleat Reboot will be released properly on DVD, and there will be much rejoicing in the halls of Merrimack, NH.

5. The Real Ghostbusters - "While the world wallowed in the junk being produced for Saturday morning television... the smart kids were watching The Real Ghostbusters," says the intro at Ghostbusters.net, and that's pretty much the truth. Savvy, funny, and very true to the spirit (ahem) of the first and best Ghostbusters movie. Another series that cries out for a complete release on DVD, but at present we'll have to make do with the available sets.

I now need to go into geek mode for a sec and explain why "The Real Ghostbusters" are called The Real Ghostbusters. No, there wasn't a "The Fake Ghostbusters" outfit, but there was a cartoon in the mid `70s featuring (get ready) two guys and their gorilla, who would track down miscreants playing ghost and bring them to justice, a la Scooby Doo, and this cartoon was called "The Ghostbusters," preceding the movie by several years. "Ghostbusters" the cartoon died what I expect was a well-deserved death after one season, and probably would have been forgotten except for the movie becoming a smash hit . After "Ghostbusters" was released, the cartoon came back under the title, "The Original Ghostbusters" and with the same basic plot. Unamused, the rightholders to the movie released their cartoon as "The Real Ghostbusters."

Okay? We'll stop at this point without exploring "Slimer and The Real Ghostbusters," and "Extreme Ghostbusters," both spinoffs from the original, no, I mean the real Ghostbusters.

I'll be back with my final five of in a bit.

1 comment:

Kym said...

I loved that little video. They sure don't make 'em like they used to. My favs growing up - Mighty Mouse, Looney Tunes, Beanie & Cecil, Heckel and Jeckel, and Rocky & Bullwinkle....