Watching these 1960's Jonny Quest episodes again has made me fall in love with them all over again. The animation though somewhat limited relative to major motion pictures from Disney and elsewhere is still amazing given the budgets and timelines for television. The character designs by the late great Doug Wildey are the core of this serious attempt to bring to the small screen a series of high-octane adventures for the younger eye which still evoke the danger and intrigue found in the then highly popular Bond movies.
The balance the creators of the cartoon found between the advance of their narrative and their character moments is exquisite. While in some of the later efforts you might say the story suffers as we watch Jonny and Hadji lounge about, it's hardly a concern as there are just as many if not more episodes in which the hazards are revealed from nearly the first moment. The series is hurt from time to time by stereotypical presentations of indigenous peoples, such as Native American White Feather with his Tonto-esque broken English, but by and large the show avoids these pitfalls with sympathetic presentations of most folks.
Some things which chanced upon my mind as I watched these for the umpteenth time are that Dr. Benton Quest is impossibly smart, a polymath of the highest order who darts across the globe dabbling in disparate studies in physics, archeology, chemistry, metallurgy, botany, and on and on. He seems to be a one-man "Fabulous Five". That's fine with me, but I just never thought about it before. Also he's a bit of a bad parent, constantly putting his kid into all kinds of jeopardy, but then I guess the other option was to be an absent parent and that's hardly ideal either.
Another thing which I noticed more this time was the attention to the natural world. Usually I'm so swept up in the adventure these details sail right by me, but everywhere the Quest team goes, they usually find a moment or two to engage the local fauna. Whether it be a toucan, a porpoise, a polar bear, a panther, a sea turtle, a monkey, a gila monster, a jackrabbit, a mongoose, a skunk, there always seems to be a critter around to bring out the wonder of the boys. It's a nifty trope that the show does a great job of using but not overdoing. Bandit is a great creation, mostly just a realistic dog who borders on the edge of the anthropromorphic and occasionally crosses it.
The strength of any Hanna-Barbera production are the voices and Jonny Quest is no exception. Mike Road as Race Bannon is a standout, his virile baritone adding hefty machismo to a show already shimmering in testosterone. Tim Matheson as Jonny has a bright engaging manner and Danny Bravo as Hadji, though at times a bit forced, still sounds like a friendly bloke. Don Messick and John Stephenson taking turns as Doctor Quest offer up warm friendly manners which make the team seem credible. Other voices show up in the series such as Jesse White as the memorable Pasha Peddler, Vic Perrin as pernicious Doctor Zin, and Cathy Lewis as the exotic and alluring Jezebel Jade (as close as the show ever gets to actual sex). One voice I noticed this time which I've never taken note of before is the amazing Nestor Paiva as a range of Hispanic characters, some quite close to Paiva's screen personas.
The way this series holds up so long after its 1964 debut is stunning. It remains, not unlike the Bond movies which inspired it, at once a time capsule of a romantic era of adventure and a story so true to its mythic elements that it never loses its allure. Whenever you hear that amazing opening by composer Hoyt Curtin you are swept away into a super-science fantasy land of high adventure, moral courage and pure entertainment.
It would take decades before more Quest episodes were made. More on those tomorrow.