Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Power Of Shazzan!

In the Hanna-Barbera canon Shazzan exists on the outskirts. Being a full-blown fantasy ripped right out of The Arabian Knights, the series is an odd fit with popular sci-fi efforts like Space Ghost, Birdman, Herculoids, and Jonny Quest. I finally got around to watching all the episodes of the series on a collection I've had for several years.

For those who don't know the premise, it's pretty straightforward but rather exotic. Chuck and Nancy are two siblings from Maine who find two magic rings which have the name "Shazzan" on them when linked together. The two are swept away into an alternate universe where the legends and lore of the Arabian Knights is sort of still operative. It's a world of tiny kingdoms filled with sultans and rulers and magicians and such.

The rings summon a genie named "Shazzan" who can do everything the kids want save return them home. To do that they must return the ring to its owner and they spend the rest of the series doing just that.  Shazzan does give them a flying camel named Kaboobie to help and an invisibility cloak and a magic rope which both come in handy repeatedly. (The latter two items are evidently inspired by the 1924 Thief of Bagdad) For the record, they never get home as the series ends before the story does.

Shazzan himself is a literally larger-than-life figure who appears most of the time as a giant who immediately tends to the needs of the kids, which usually means saving them from some menace. The menaces are all manner of evil magicians and such who want to get gold, or hold power or both. Sometimes they want control of Shazzan himself.

Shazzan often meets these enemies with a rousing laugh which is used to mock the foes and to set the kids at ease when they are under threat. Shazzan appears clearly to be based on Rex Ingram's jocular Genie from Alexander Korda's 1944 The Thief of Baghdad. The size and demeanor all seem consistent though Shazzan seems a have a somewhat friendlier temperament.

Shazzan succeeds for two reasons. One is a brisk pacing to the stories which doesn't allow much time for reflection on how the characters sometimes behave irrationally but makes for lots of action and movement. Atypically for a Hanna-Barbera production there doesn't feel to be a lot of repetition, or at least the variety of transformations Shazzan induces make for a vivid visual storytelling. But the main reason Shazzan holds up is Alex Toth. Toth designed most of Hanna-Barbera's hero line-up, but on Shazzan in particular the Toth designs really shine through, especially in the early episodes. The potency of those images really sells a story which demands some dramatic shifts in perspective. As the series progresses, Toth's influence appears to wane and the cartoon suffers mightily as a result.

Shazzan was adapted to comics from the earliest days Gold Key's Hanna-Barbera TV Super-Heroes, but hasn't had much if any life beyond these early days. Unlike Space Ghost and the others, Shazzan is occasionally referenced but not featured when the heroes are revived.

One incredibly nifty nugget for any Shazzan fan aside form the Gold Key comics is the Whitman Big Little Book. "The Glass Princess" is a feature-length adventure which successfully evokes the cartoon. I've had this gem by writer Don Christiansen and artist Dan Spiegle in my collection from the earliest days when Shazzan was still gracing the TV screens.

From this Hanna-Barbera fanboy, I give Shazzan the highest recommendation for the feast of Toth imagery which will delight anyone who has a hankering for the era. Give Shazzan a try, it's magic!

On another note, watching and enjoying these Shazzan cartoons inspired me to dig out my movies based on The Arabian Nights. So look for Sinbad reviews and more all this week. Aren't you lucky?

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