This two-disc set presents a nostalgia-fest for cartoon fans of a certain age.
Goldie Gold and Action Jack
I thought, when I first saw the box, that I didn’t recall watching any of these cartoons, but the first thing on disc one was “Night of the Crystal Skull” from Goldie Gold and Action Jack (1981). Turns out that I remembered and loved this show! (Although no one else does, given the lack of information on it online — it doesn’t even have a wikipedia page!) She’s the “richest girl in the world”, and he’s a “daredevil reporter” for her newspaper, “The Gold Street Journal”. Together, they travel the world having adventures. (You can get the backstory explanation in the opening credit sequence.)
The story here is by Steve Gerber (a common feature in many of the included cartoons), featuring Incas with, yes, crystal skulls (both masks and throwing bombs) who want to rule the world. Credited on character design? Jack Kirby and Ric Gonzalez. This show was actually cool! Jack looks like Starsky, and Goldie’s a grown-up girl Richie Rich, but how can you not like an action heroine with her own show who flies her own helicopter to get back to her acres-long mansion? It’s big enough so she can land the copter indoors when she’s late for her own party. And she’s got a jazzy theme song. Given how many of the opening credit scenes appear in this episode, I’m guessing this was the first one of the series.
The money is just a way to get ever more ridiculous devices into the show, like a flying Rolls-Royce with all kinds of gadgets; the focus is really she and Jack doing nail-biting things to while chasing bad guys. Her jet has to be seen to be believed; it’s got an open-top, glass-enclosed pool, so they can swim while pondering mysteries and traveling around the world. And she’s the kind of girl who puts on boots with mini-jets in the heel (which saves their life when they’re about to be dropped in a lava pit) just in case they fall off a mountain.
She’s the impulsive one, who takes the lead! No wonder it only ran one season; network TV doesn’t know what to do with this kind of female initiative. She’s not a spoiled rich girl, though; she’s as comfortable with alley source Hobo Joe as she is with sheiks and military leaders. Jack, unfortunately, isn’t always too bright, although he does manage to save the day fairly often. I found this hilarious, especially when the evil Inca leader starts trying to kill Jack by swinging a potted tree plant at him, while Goldie’s in the kitchen of her satellite mansion (yes, in outer space; she drove her space shuttle there) jumping onto light fixtures to escape the bad guys. The dog’s name, by the way, is Nugget.
I couldn’t make myself watch an episode of Chuck Norris: Karate Commandos (“Deadly Dolphin”) or The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley (“Tall, Dark & Hansom”), and I wasn’t interested in four clips from The Flintstone Kids.
Finishing out disc one, then, and next up for viewing: “Mystery of the Golden Medallions” from Mister T, complete with the real guy introducing the episode and providing the moral lesson. It took four people to write this cartoon: Martin Pasko, Steve Gerber, Flint Dille, and Mark Jones, with Gerber and Pasko credited for the live-action segment. This might have also been the first episode, with lots being explained about the little white boy who wants to be Mr. T and the team of racially diverse teen gymnasts he’s helping with? traveling with? coaching? That part wasn’t explained.
While I enjoyed the over-the-top action sequences in Goldie Gold, here, similar sequences were boring. I didn’t care that little brother wannabe Spike had been kidnapped, because I was happier when he was gone. The gymnastics connection makes for some active art, but nobody’s face ever changes emotion, and the voice acting isn’t very good either. And I didn’t like the way everybody picked on the black guy when he was trying to be reasonable and focus on details. During one action scene, the bad guy actually changed color, both in face and outfit, during a cutaway. In another, we hear Mr. T saying “go ahead, talk”, while the villain’s lips move instead.
Unless you have strong nostalgia for these cartoons, most of your enjoyment will come from laughing at the mistakes and requirements of old shows. For instance, apparently a dog was a must, to the point where Mr. T had a hound with a mohawk. And there is a certain amount of fun that comes from watching Mr. T punch out a shark so hard it flies away in a graceful arc.
The Package and Special Features
Disc two starts with cute stuff, with two Biskitts cartoons and a Monchhichis, before moving on to adventure with something called Galtar and the Golden Lance, a Dragon’s Lair reel, and “Secret of the Black Pearl” from Thundarr the Barbarian. Plus, there’s a complete Kwicky Koala Show.
Note that both discs start with this disclaimer:
Portions of original film elements from certain programs contained herein no longer survive in pristine condition. As a result, archival elements of varying quality have been carefully assembled to provide you with as close an approximation of the original presentation as possible.
That’s nice, that they’re setting out the conditions of viewing, even if it can be translated as “This is the best you get, so don’t complain to us about it.”
Only disc one has any special features, with “Lords of Light!”, a 17-minute featurette covering the story of Thundarr the Barbarian, accurately described as “Tarzan in outer space”. I found the amount of context — other shows on at the time, for instance — covered surprising; I expected to hear more about the Thundarr show specifically. That many of the on-screen contributors are animation professors and historians may explain the wider focus. But then they get to talking about the amazing artists they used — including Jack Kirby and Alex Toth — and their influences, and it becomes more relevant. Plus, Joe Ruby, President of Ruby-Spears Productions, and Ken Spears, Vice President, provide interesting information on story and character development, as well as the approach of limited animation and the economic reasons behind it. You can see the slow-paced approach of the special feature in this clip:
I’m not sure I’m convinced about the artistic or “literary” (we giggled when that word was used) impact of Thundarr, but it’s clear that it’s a much-loved show, even with only 21 episodes ever produced. I found out on Wikipedia that the show was created by Steve Gerber, but I didn’t recall his name being mentioned at all. Given how many of the episodes in this set have his name attached, there could have been a neat special feature about him, only that would mean paying more attention to the creative staff than the properties, and I don’t think that’s the point of this package. I think it’s just about “oh, cool, remember that one?”
The other listed special feature is a trailer for the Peanuts 1960’s Collection, which doesn’t count, in my opinion. Since this has been a rather idiosyncratic look at Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980s, I’ve asked our contributing animation expert Roger Ash to write more balanced, historical coverage of these cartoons; look for that piece in a week or so. (Update: It’s now posted.) We’ve previously covered Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1960s Volume 1 and Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1960s Volume 2 and 1970s Volume 2, earlier sets in this series. (The studio provided a review copy.)