Hong Kong Phooey was a favorite of mine as a kid, mainly because of the jazzy theme song by Scatman Crothers (voice of the character) that dubs him “number-one super guy”. I haven’t thought about it much since, but now, there’s a DVD set of the series.
For those of you too young to remember, HKP was, in his secret identity, a police station janitor. (Oh, and he was a dog, although he walked and behaved like a human, and no one seemed to notice.) When trouble beckoned, he jumped into a file cabinet, got stuck, and after a smack from his sidekick, a striped cat named Spot, came out in his robe and mask. (Spot usually saved the day by getting HKP out of whatever jam he’d gotten into, without thanks or notice by the self-absorbed HKP. Spot also acted like a real animal, unlike HKP.)
HKP drove the Phooeymobile, which looked like a beach buggy with a pagoda top. If he needed it to fly or whatever, he’d pull out a gong, smack it with a karate chop, and the car would become whatever he needed. Regular characters also included a schlubby policeman called Sarge and Rosemary, the wisecracking, lovesick, miniskirted blonde receptionist.
Standard Hanna-Barbera animation art is placed against watercolored, sometimes merely suggested backgrounds. Given that it came out in 1974, it’s not surprising that it was an attempt to tie into the then-current fad for Bruce Lee movies and similar Asian-influenced popular culture.
The Complete Series set contains 31 cartoons (which apparently ran originally as 16 episodes), plus storyboards, three episode commentaries, and a documentary about the making of the show. Those behind-the-scenes looks are always my favorite, because I enjoy the peek behind the creation curtain. This one is refreshingly direct, since the creators mostly talk about how they were professionals, it was a job, and they simply did what they did until it all came together.
Watching an actual cartoon — well, for me, it’s one of those things that may be better off remembered than relived. It’s certainly not something you want to think too much about. In the first episode, HKP is trying to stop car thefts by a gang (of two). He manages to help one of them steal a car, then he gets trapped in a soap bubble. When he fights his way out of it, he falls into his car, where he carefully buckles his seat beat before engaging in an incredibly slow chase.
Young children may be able to relax and go with it more than I can these days. I kept getting caught up in wondering why everyone knows who Hong Kong Phooey is and why they think he’s a great crimefighter. Is everyone in this city an idiot?
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