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THE ALL-NEW SUPER FRIENDS HOUR: SEASON ONE, VOL. 2



The All-New Super Friends Hour: Season One, Vol. 2
 

Actors: William Woodson, Norman Alden, Michael Bell, Danny Dark, Shannon Farnon, Louise Williams, Olan Soule, and the immortal Casey Kasem
Directors:
Various
Format:
Color, Dolby Mono
Language:
English
Subtitles:
English, French
Aspect Ratio:
1.66: 1
Number of Discs:
2
Studio:
Warner Bros
Release Date:
January 27, 2009
Running Time:
366 minutes
 

Movie:
Disc:
 
 

Oh, for the joyous days of youth when you didn't care how lousy your entertainment was!

Oh, for the days when superheroes had problems that were easy to solve and didn't leave any lingering psychological scars! Oh, for the days when Batman was your buddy, Superman taught you magic tricks, and Wonder Woman balanced crime fighting with important lessons about eating your vegetables. Wouldn't it be great if superheroes could go back to being like that?

Okay, no, it wouldn't. At all. But for those of us of a certain age, the undeniably cheesy Super Friends cartoon was the first step on the road to ultimate Christian Bale-based bad-assery. The Super Friends appeared on Saturday mornings off and on for over thirteen years, which covers quite a swath of youthful demographics. Warners has been slowly releasing individual seasons, the latest of which arrives on DVD on January 27th 2009. It covers the second half of the All-New Super Friends Hour, part of a series reboot after a less-than-successful first attempt. From an adult perspective, it's hard to say there was much improvement? and ironically, that forms a key part of its appeal.

The format was pretty straightforward. Each hour-long episode involved five of DC Comics' biggest heroes - Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman - along with the new addition of Wonder Twins Zan and Jayna (plus their "space monkey" Gleek who served as the series' designated Scrappy-Doo). Every episode had four distinct segments.

The first featured two of the five heroes teaming up to thwart some villain or another. The second involved Zan and Jayna, dealing with a "teen trouble" crisis like drag racing or hitchhiking. The third gathered all seven heroes together against some larger menace: it was the longest and most involved of the four segments. Finally, one of the five heroes would join up with a special "guest hero" culled from the DC files (such as Green Lantern or the Flash) or a new "minority" hero (such as Black Vulcan or Apache Chief) to thwart some natural disaster. A series of shorts about health tips, arts and crafts, word puzzles, and safety would be interspersed between them all.

By today's standards, every episode remains shockingly crude. Some of the blame lies with overzealous parents' groups of the time: so dedicated to protecting our fragile young minds that they refused to allow any fistfights, intra-team arguments or, you know, drama in the storylines. (You can almost hear Helen Lovejoy crying "Won't someone please think of the children!" over the soundtrack.) The heroes are thus reduced to one-dimensional nice guys, differentiated only by their particular powers and catch phrases. Plots involve a lot of less-than-lethal threats (freeze rays and mind control devices are favorites), and everything ends with a gratingly cheerful group laugh back at the Hall of Justice.

In their Herculean efforts to weave around such obstacles, the writers went down some truly bizarre paths: one episode has Zan saving the day by transforming into a giant pile of Jell-O, while another entails an evil feminist (?!) named Medulla turning the women of the world into her zombified slaves.

The dreadful dialogue was dumbed down to keep anyone from becoming lost: the heroes would largely either repeat what they've just seen, explain what they're about to do, or deliver condescending lectures of the "crime never pays" variety. And while the rogues' gallery included a few DC stalwarts (including a not-at-all-black Black Manta and the Gentleman Ghost), it was mostly boring mad scientists and generic costumed freaks? pretty tame when compared to the Legion of Doom in subsequent seasons.

Hanna-Barbera, which produced the show for the entirety of its run, didn't help matters by putting its own spin on the concept. They held the intractable belief that anything worth doing was worth doing with a kooky animal sidekick: hence Gleek, one of single most annoying creations ever inflicted upon an unsuspecting Generation X. Zan and Jayna were little better, a duo seemingly conceived on a cocktail napkin and - in Zan's case at least - possessing one of the least useful superpowers ever (seriously people: a giant pile of Jell-O). Low production values meant a gaggle of visual continuity errors as well, with characters popping up in two places at once and costumes changing colors seemingly at random.

And yet - like any good piece of camp - all those flaws actually make the series more endearing. Adults who grew up on the show can remember how enchanted they were by it and laugh quietly at such child-like wonder springing from such a rickety source. The colorful settings are no less pleasing for their shoddy workmanship, and though the new "minority" superheroes are pretty embarrassing these days, the intentions behind them were the very best.

And in our dark and cynical modern age, the Super Friends possess a resolute cheerfulness that can be quite disarming. The brilliant adult complexities of Frank Miller and Christopher Nolan sprang from those innocent roots - roots which time has erased, but are still hugely entertaining if watched in the right frame of mind. It's nice sometimes to remember a period when Superman was your pal, when Batman never had to hit back, when all the world's difficulties could be solved with just a little teamwork and a guy who talks to fish. For all its flaws and foolishness, The Super Friends remains an ideal repository for such emotions, wrapped in a candy-colored surface and waiting for that unique form of embarrassed affection that Saturday morning syndication was made for.

Also, Medulla? She's kind of hot.

THE DISC: The disc contains the second eight episodes in the fifteen-episode All-New Super Friends season (the first seven are already available on DVD). Image quality is first-rate: sharp, clear, and magnifying all of the animators' original mistakes beyond any capacity to hide. Extras are limited to a single featurette about the Wonder Twins, full of Gen-X comic book pros like Paul Dini and Alex Ross who are clearly in on the joke. It sets the mood perfectly, but offers little beyond that.

WORTH IT? Played straight, probably not. But as a throwback to an earlier era - and when viewed in your jammies with the most sugar-laden cereal you can find--the nostalgia factor is impossible to resist.

RECOMMENDATION: For Gen-Xers, it's close to a must-buy. Parents with small children will enjoy it too, as well as stoners, comic buffs, and anyone with an affinity for old-school animation.

- Rob Vaux


 



 

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