I can count the primetime adventures shows I know of on one hand:
- Jonny Quest
- Batman: The Animated Series (reruns of the Fox Kids afternoon shows)
- Invasion: America (miniseries: season two aired in Saturday morning period though)
What do you know, I have fingers left over. The pilot for Superman: The Animated Series aired in primetime and that was it. Otherwise it was sitcoms. Stations other than Fox tried to do something other than ripping off The Simpsons or Family Guy, but that only gave us Capitol Critters, Fish Police, and Father Of The Pride and I’m betting some of you only heard of those just now. I wish more action adventure shows were done in animation but you only get that for kids or out of Japan. This makes Jonny Quest a rarity. While reruns have treated it like a kids show it’s more of a family action show. People die in this series, sometimes in rather nasty yet off-camera ways. It’s sad more people don’t talk about it really. It’s one of those shows modern anime fans might want to try out.
Three different incarnations of this series exists along with the TV movies. All but one of them share a style but all of them have amazing intros that are classic and really darn good. Tonight we’re going to look at all three.
Oddly the official Warner Archive channel doesn’t seem to have the classic intro but luckily others on YouTube picked up the slack.
Ordinarily I scoff at the near exclusive use of episode clips, which everything but the end of the intro that names our heroes is, but it’s done so well. For one thing there are points where the clips don’t even come from the same episode and thus tell events a bit differently. (Otherwise Doctor Quest’s big cannon fires in odd directions and changes the beam between shots.) Even the outro shows off all the action and strange encounters our heroes face each episode. The theme song is also iconic and all of the shows and TV movies use some variant of it. This intro is rather iconic. I once posted a stop-motion re-enactment of it. And the only dialog is the lead-in to the sponsor. The visuals and music tell the story.
In the 1980s a new Jonny Quest series was produced, airing as part of the Funtastic World Of Hanna-Barbera programming block. It was toned down a bit for the kids (I’m not sure it needed to be, but people still die) though it did manage to modernize the threats faced. I don’t get to see this version very often but I think it deserves a less cynical look.
Again we have episode clips, some of which change how events happen in the episode taken from, with only the logo reveal being new footage. That or they redid shots from the episodes for the intro, which would be odd. Where I think this intro improves over the original is that Jonny, Race, Hadji, Benton, and Bandit may not have their names on screen but they do get more screentime. It’s more interesting seeing the heroes fight the monsters and madmen than watching nameless soldiers doing all the hard work. However, it treats one new character, the rock man Hardrock, as one of the strange threats when he’s actually a recurring ally to the Quest team, someone who sadly never showed up again in the franchise. The theme song is lighter in this version than the original but it still works.
A series of TV movies in the 90s would rekindle interest in the series and introduce Race Bannon’s daughter Jessie. (Interestingly a redhead girl named Jessie also showed up in the 80s show but with a different father, and yet she was able to keep up with Jonny as well. I don’t know if that was a coincidence or if they decided to alter that character for Jonny’s Golden Quest to make her part of the team.) However, when it led to a brand new series in the later 90s they change a lot. The art style is totally changed from the original series, new enemies and a virtual world called Questworld were added, and the tone was even darker than the original series. Not changed? The theme song. It just went orchestral.
The clips are still there but rather than just let them go on their own and form their own story they’re not projections on some kind of grid surface. Maybe it’s supposed to represent something in Questworld. I don’t know. As a result of the flash we don’t as many looks at the variety of strange threats but the presentation itself is still pretty solid. It’s visually impressive for the time and still draws you into the world they’ve created. The theme reflects the tone of the show and you do get a sense that this is a new interpretation of the series though not necessarily a negative strike on the original. It’s not so much “this isn’t your father’s Quest” as it is “we have a new tone but this is still Jonny Quest“, or at least that’s my interpretation.
Jonny Quest is one of those series that has been updated properly, paying respect to the original while doing its own thing. The second series was lighter and the third darker but it uses the same theme song and shows its love of the characters and stories. The intros bear this out and it’s a great series. We just have to see how modern Hollywood will someday ruin it.