Review by Roger Ash
The Herculoids were one of Hanna-Barbera’s popular animated adventure heroes of the late 1960s, right up there with Space Ghost and Jonny Quest. As such, they have a sizable fan base -– including me — that has been requesting for years that the Herculoids get their own DVD set. Their wish has finally come true with Warner Archive’s The Herculoids: The Complete Original Animated Series DVD set, which includes the original 18 episodes on two discs (but not the six new cartoons that were created in the 1980s).
The Herculoids debuted on CBS in 1967. The series is set on the planet Amzot (which was renamed Quasar in the 1980 series), which is ruled by the humanoid family of Zandor, his wife Tara, and their son Dorno. But the real stars of the show are the Herculoids; Zok, a dragon-like creature who can fire lasers from his eyes and the tip of his tail; Igoo, the super-strong rock ape; Tundro, a triceratops/rhinoceros looking beast who can shoot energy rocks out of a horn on his forehead; and Gloop and Gleep, two blobs reminiscent of the Shmoo from L’il Abner who can form themselves into a variety of useful shapes such as bridges, parachutes, and shields.
The Herculoids was cut from the same cloth of other Hanna-Barbera superhero/adventure cartoons of the same time period, such as Space Ghost, Birdman, The Galaxy Trio, and Frankenstein Jr. It was an anthology show with two cartoons per episode. The show ran for one season of 18 episodes (36 total cartoons), repeated in the 1968 TV season. However, unlike Hanna-Barbera’s other anthology shows, which featured various characters (Space Ghost shared his show with Dino Boy and Yogi Bear also included Snagglepuss and Yakky Doodle cartoons, for example), both cartoons in The Herculoids featured the title characters. They were created and designed by the legendary animation and comic book artist Alex Toth, who did work for many Hanna-Barbera productions over the years, including creating Space Ghost. He is well-known for his work on Disney’s Zorro comic book.
I loved watching The Herculoids as a kid. Tundro was my favorite character as I was (and still am) fascinated by dinosaurs. I’ve managed to catch a few shows on Boomerang recently, but I haven’t really watched the series since I was a child. So the question I had for myself going into this DVD set was “Will The Herculoids live up to my memory of the show?”
Somewhere out in space live The Herculoids
Each show opens with the theremin-heavy instrumental theme song over scenes from episodes in the series mixed with some mildly psychedelic images, clearly marking the show as a product of the late 60s. Starting with the third episode, narration is added over the opening which introduces the characters and the concept of the show. Most of the cartoons (each running about 10 minutes) follow a similar structure. A villain arrives, either from another planet or Amzot itself, who seeks to kidnap one or more of the Herculoids (Tara is a popular target) or a group of the Herculoids accidentally stumbles across the villain. During the ensuing skirmish, the rest of the Herculoids are alerted to the danger. The battle is joined, and the menace is driven back where they came from or destroyed.
Often, why the villain is attacking is rather vague. More than one evil scientist wants to perform experiments on the Herculoids, but their reasons for doing such a thing are left to the viewer’s imagination. A perfect example of this formula is the episode “The Pod Creatures”. Dorno, Gleep, and Igoo are out chopping wood. (Actually Igoo is doing all the work while the others watch.) A spaceship descends depositing dozens of metallic pods. Dorno, Gleep, and Igoo go to investigate. When they near the pods, the pods open, revealing flying robots that try to capture them. The rest of the Herculoids arrive and trash the robots, and the spaceship leaves. Why did the spaceship leave these pods? Why were the robots trying to capture them? Nobody knows.
For the most part, the Herculoids faced a different menace in each episode, but some characters did make multiple appearances. The Herculoids face space pirates in both “The Pirates” and “Revenge of the Pirates”. The evil scientist Torrak appears in both the creepy “Tiny World of Terror” and “The Return of Torrak”. The spider men appear in both “The Spider Man” and “The Antidote”, although they are much more intelligent and can speak in English instead of weird insect noises in the second episode. My favorite villain reappearance is Sta-Lak, who first appeared in “The Raiders”, when he comes back in “Return of Sta-Lak”. But he doesn’t return alone — he brings along robotic versions of Igoo, Tundro, and Zok to battle the Herculoids! Giant monsters fighting robotic versions of themselves. How cool is that?
A few episodes break from the mold somewhat and show the Herculoids more as protectors as they seek to help denizens of the planet who are being threatened by others. The best examples of this are “The Raider Apes”, “The Lost Dorgyte”, and my favorite, “The Beaked People”. In this cartoon, Krokar, the leader of the Parrot Men, sort of humanoid birds, wants to usurp Zandor’s rule of the planet. Krokar orders his men to attack a group of flying monkeys and take them as slaves. One escapes and tells Zandor what is happening. Zandor goes to stop the Parrot Men, but that’s all part of Krokar’s plan. Zandor is captured, tied to a log, and is going to be sent down a river, over a waterfall, and into a bottomless pit. Of course, the rest of the Herculoids arrive and save him, and Krokar suffers the fate he had intended for Zandor. This episode seemed to have more story than usual, and it was one of the very few in which Tara joins in the fight instead of being kidnapped or watching the action from a protected vantage point.
As you can probably guess from the descriptions of the cartoons, story and character development weren’t the focus of the show. But that’s OK. I don’t think they were intended to be. These are exciting adventure stories which feature humans and giant monsters fighting aliens, robots, and other giant monsters. There are more than enough lasers, ray guns, and explosions to go around. For me as a young boy, that was good enough. And they’re still a lot of fun to watch on that level.
All strong, all brave, all heroes
I was expecting to find this basic story to get a bit dull after a while, but to my surprise the more I watched, the more I enjoyed The Herculoids. The more episodes you watch, the more you start to notice the relationships between the characters and see their personalities emerge. Igoo, for example, is the joker of the group. Tundro has quite a temper. You also get to know more about the planet Amzot and the Herculoids’ place on it.
The Herculoids home
Although there is technology on the planet — it’s possessed by both the Mole Men and the Bubblemen — and Zandor understands technology, the Herculoids usually don’t use it. Zandor, Tarra, and Dorno live in a giant plant. Zandor’s main weapons are a shield which he can throw with incredible accuracy and a slingshot that shoots energy rocks. He also has an unusual mode of transportation; he can travel through the jungle bouncing off vines like rubber bands. Dorno is quite obviously being taught to follow in his father’s footsteps. While they may look goofy, Gloop and Gleep are more than just comedy relief. In addition to being able to form into useful shapes, they may well be the best fighters and smartest members of the group. But the richness of the Herculoids’ world doesn’t come all at once; you discover it piece by piece the more you watch.
As an aside, two of the story men of The Herculoids were Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, who would eventually leave Hanna-Barbera to form Ruby-Spears Productions, Inc. Their biggest hit was the cult classic cartoon Thundarr the Barbarian.
Though this is limited animation (a form pioneered by Hanna-Barbera to keep costs down for TV animation), those who worked on the show use it well to make the cartoons as exciting as possible. A large part of that is due to the dynamic designs of Alex Toth. The voice acting is fun with Mike Road as Zandor (he voiced Race Bannon in Jonny Quest), Virginia Gregg as Tara, child actor Ted Eccles as Dorno (he also provided the voice of the lead character in Rankin-Bass’ Christmas classic The Little Drummer Boy), and Hanna-Barbera mainstay Don Messick (best known as the voice of Scooby-Doo) as Gloop and Gleep.
The sound on the discs seems fine, and the prints look OK. As with most Warner Archive discs, the prints have not been restored, so you do get occasional speckles and scratches. I have to admit that I’m surprised they didn’t do some restoration of the prints. They have created a Herculoids coffee mug and a t-shirt (no longer available) to go along with this release. In fact, until the end of June, you can purchase the DVD set and t-shirt as a bundle at a discounted price. If Warner Archive thought The Herculoids was popular enough to warrant making merchandise to go along with the DVD, one would think it would also warrant restoration.
The one special feature of the set is The Herculoids: First Family of Planet Quasar which was included on Saturday Morning Cartoons: The 1960s Volume 1. It’s nice, but nothing special.
The bottom line? I While I would love for a remastered set with lots of extras to be released, it’s great to finally have The Herculoids released in any form on DVD. Fans of the series will really enjoy watching this two-disc set, and it would be a great show to watch with youngsters who enjoy rollicking adventures. Where else can you see a man fly between planets on the back of a dragon?
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