After several other DVD releases from different eras of the show, Super Friends! Season One, Volume Two returns to the earliest days of the cartoon. It’s a minimal set, two discs, eight episodes, from the first season, featuring Wendy, Marvin, and Wonderdog. Along with its companion Volume One, the two sets contain all the hour-long episodes (about 45 minutes here, without commercials) that launched the show in 1973.
Modern viewers or those new to the show will likely find these episodes slow-paced. Each has only one story that takes up the whole three-quarter hour. And remember when they were made, before fast edits and while they were actively concerned about what lessons cartoons gave kids. There isn’t a lot of fighting, more talking, with lots of Ted Knight narration. Powers are only used to fix things, never to attack another person.
The plots revolve around problem-solving and getting along, which is something of a waste when you’ve got the potential excitement of Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman. (I don’t know why Flash is on the cover; he’s not in this set.) The stories are simple, aimed directly at kids, often explicitly educational, and the animation is the usual limited Hanna-Barbera style, with minimal movement in any given shot to minimize cost. The characters stand around in groups and chat a lot, but kids should enjoy the imaginative concepts. Wendy and Marvin are very much a featured part of each case, giving youngsters characters to envision themselves as, working with the super-powered heroes.
The first episode, “The Balloon People”, misses a key joke. It’s about an alien inflatable family — Dad, Mom, son Plinky, and dog Grunk — who visit Earth. The dog, sadly, does not look like a twisted balloon but a standard animal, only blue, like the alien people. Although many misunderstandings occur, no fights happen, which make it a very talky installment, especially once the visitors start explaining how they need a new place to live because their planet became over-polluted. That’s the message and learning opportunity — every episode must have one. Introducing the aliens to Earth also provides lots of chances to drop in factoids for the educational quota.
The other episodes included are:
- “The Fantastic FRERPs” — about plastics, and the Super Friends play in a golf tournament where they demonstrate trick shots
- “The Ultra Beam” — a mysterious ray causes material to collapse due to earth tremors, and I learned, among other mining facts, that “you can’t run engines on orange juice”, you need oil for lubrication
- “The Menace of the White Dwarf” — a gravity-heavy star is being used to steal things by the evil Raven (no relation to any other DC character of that name)
- “The Mysterious Moles” — Wendy and Marvin are confused by a double-faced building and a missing tree and boulder, while the Super Friends investigate stolen industrial air conditioners in a mystery that involves caves and a giant underground drill
- “Gulliver’s Gigantic Goof” — the audience watching a rocket launch to Mars is shrunk by someone who lives in a castle, talks like Peter Lorre, and has a Siamese cat named Igor; when all the heroes are two inches high, Green Arrow makes a guest appearance
- “The Planet Splitter” — a rare jewel is stolen, which sends the heroes to the circus in this Superman-heavy episode that recaps his origin
- “The Watermen” — a coral reef is being damaged, and a red tide threatens, due to aliens taking silicon from the seawater
None feature known villains. The only extra on this set is a trivia challenge game, asking questions about Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and several categories about Batman and Robin. You can play one or two players. If you get a question wrong, you get a picture of Wonder Woman falling on her butt and they don’t tell you what the right answer was. When we played, KC thought I got all the easy ones, and few of the questions seemed to relate to the episodes actually in this set. The knowledge level needed is moderate-to-high, not for newcomers to the series or characters.
A Brief Super Friends History
I find the Super Friends show sequence very confusing, perhaps because I didn’t watch it much as a kid. Even this DVD acknowledges the mixed history, with a back-cover blurb that reads:
Collect all the Super Friends Series on DVD: Super Friends Season One Volume One, The All-New Super Friends Hour, Challenge of the Super Friends, The World’s Greatest Super Friends, Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show, and The Super Powers Team Galactic Guardians!
My, that’s a lot to keep straight. And the ad copy doesn’t even mention Super Friends: The Lost Episodes. The sets are titled after the various titles the cartoon ran under, which is historically thoughtful but confusing to the casual shopper. The All-New Super Friends Hour was when Zan and Jayna joined. That show was also released in two sets, as Volume One and Volume Two. Challenge of the Super Friends was the one where they fought the villain super-group the Legion of Doom. There’s also a Super Friends Volume 2 that collects the non-LOD cartoons that were running at the same time as Challenge. The World’s Greatest Super Friends isn’t out yet on DVD, but give them time.
Still, this is an excellent package for its three core audiences: 1) nostalgic parents who want to share their favorite cartoons with their children or just enjoy their memories, 2) parents who want to let their kids watch superheroes but are leery of the PG-13-rated material that’s being created now (such as older-skewing Batman: Under the Red Hood, which is one of the trailers on this set, although inappropriate for this audience), and 3) superhero or animation completists who want a collection of one of the significant cartoon shows of the 70s, one whose look and design are still influencing artists today. (The studio provided a review copy.)