Review by KC Carlson
Shazzan was one of my favorite childhood cartoon shows. It first aired on CBS in the fall of 1967, as part of the wave of shows drifting away from the funny animal characters of earlier years. These cartoons were slightly more mature and provided more heroic adventure series (some superheroic and some not). Some of these other shows included Space Ghost, the semi-lighthearted Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles, and The Herculoids (which originally aired just before Shazzan on Saturday mornings). Many of my peers were probably watching The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man — which aired at the same time on ABC — but I hadn’t encountered the Marvel characters yet, because of Marvel’s erratic distribution of their comic books at the time.
As a 10-year-old viewer, I liked Shazzan plenty, initially, but as the show went on, I started to realize that all the cartoons were pretty similar, except for different bad guys. So when the show went into reruns (most Saturday morning cartoon series only produced 13 or so new episodes every season, with most repeating episodes three or four times over a year), it was easy to switch over to watching Spidey and the “other” Fab Four. (The “real” Fab Four — The Beatles — also had their own cartoon series during this era.) So, for Marvel, I saw the cartoons first, and then got into the comic books later.
Waiting for the Collection
Much later, I discovered that the legendary comic book artist Alex Toth had provided the designs for Shazzan (and for many other Hanna-Barbera cartoon series of the era — most notably Space Ghost and The Herculoids). I wanted to see those Shazzan cartoons again, but they were long gone from television by then, unless you were lucky enough to live near a big city that was syndicating the old HB cartoons. (I wasn’t.) Later, I always just missed their sporadic appearances on Cartoon Network or Boomerang. When Hanna-Barbera was eventually absorbed into Time Warner, Warner Brothers finally started assembling DVD season sets featuring HB’s heroic adventure era. After they first released the more popular Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, and Jetsons sets beginning in 2004, I was hoping that Shazzan would ultimately be a part of that.
Unfortunately, the economy decreed otherwise. When it took a turn for the worst, sales of old Saturday morning animation went into a tailspin, causing WB/HB to “postpone” many of the projects that they were planning. Only now, years later, are those projects finally reaching fruition through the wonderful Warner Archives “by demand” program.
Warner Archives Comes Through!
Now, all 18 episodes of Shazzan (36 individual cartoons) are available as a two-DVD set. It also includes “The Power of Shazzan” featurette that previously appeared on the WB Saturday Morning Cartoons: The 1970s Volume 2 DVD set.
As usual for the Warner Archives releases, the cartoons are “as is” (i.e. no remastering), but other than a few minor color shifts from age and a few audio anomalies — one of which is an audible “stretching” defect in the opening credits that repeats throughout the series — this collection of 45-year-old cartoons is much nicer than you’d expect it to be. There are nine episodes per disc, and each is fully chapter stopped, in case you want to skip directly to the second cartoon in each episode, or skip the opening, the introductory segment (which explains the show’s premise), or the end credits — which get rapidly repetitive in “play all” mode.
The show is called Shazzan (for obvious reasons), but the series is based on the adventures of two teenage siblings, Chuck and Nancy. (Their surname is never given.) As the introduction to each episode tells us, the kids find a mysterious pair of rings which, when joined together, form the magic word Shazzan. After the first time they try this, they are magically transported to the fabled land of the Arabian Knights (otherwise not specifically identified), where they meet their magic genie, Shazzan.
Like most magic genies, Shazzan is giant-sized (like 50 feet tall, or taller), immediately presenting a challenge to the animators trying to get all three characters in the same shot. Generally, Shazzan picks the siblings up in his giant hand, leading to lots of long shots of the giant Shazzan holding two tiny specks, or close-up shots of the kids in Shazzan’s huge hand with the big giant head of Shazzan looking on. Get used to these shots — you’ll be seeing them over and over (and over) throughout this DVD set.
Shazzan explains the “rules” of the ring to the kids. He will do whatever they ask of him (none of that “only three wishes” stuff). However, the one thing he cannot do is take them home, until they deliver the rings to their rightful owner — whoever that is. Shazzan never tells them, although you would think that he knows, being his former “master(s)” and all…
Shazzan also gives the kids a flying camel to help them get around. (Maybe so they don’t have to bother him about that.) The camel’s name is Kaboobie — and he is one of my favorites of a long line of cowardly HB animals. Kaboobie also talks (sorta), although he doesn’t actually speak understandable words. In fact, it’s voice actor Don Messick doing a proto-Scooby Doo voice — two years before Scooby made his debut. Hearing it today, Kaboobie often sounds like a drunken (or stoned?) Scooby Doo, getting so close to actual words, but just falling short. I never noticed as a kid, but this cracked me up as an adult — whenever Nancy was riding Kaboobie, she always demurely rode him sidesaddle.
Because both Chuck and Nancy each wear one of the magic Shazzan-summoning rings, a recurring formula of the series is to figure out new ways to keep the twins separated, thus heightening the suspense and delaying the inevitable appearance of Shazzan — which as kids, we were impatiently waiting for.
What Is Judy Jetson Doing in the Desert?
Shazzan was voiced by the late Barney Phillips, a film and TV actor best known for recurring roles on the original Dragnet and Twelve O’Clock High, and for a featured role in the Twilight Zone episode “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” For Hanna-Barbera, Phillips was the voice of Porthos on The Three Musketeers cartoon shown on The Banana Splits Show.
Chuck was voiced by Jerry Dexter, a voice actor who specialized in young men, including Aqualad, Alan M. on Josie and the Pussycats, and Ted on Goober and the Ghost Chasers, among many others. The very recognizable voice of Janet Waldo (Judy Jetson, Penelope Pitstop, Josie in Josie and the Pussycats) was the voice of Nancy. And as previously mentioned, Don Messick was the voice of Kaboobie, as well as various bad guys on the series. You can hear a little of everyone in this clip:
One other piece of audio trivia: Many of the music cues and unique sound effects heard in Shazzan were first created for the original Jonny Quest show, and later recycled (as virtually everything at HB was) for other shows, including Shazzan. Listen for them!
Um… Wait a Minute…
Shazzan is one of those series that only kids can really love because they don’t care about background or motivations or unanswered questions — which this series revels in — and ultimately nothing is resolved. (Spoiler Alert: the series doesn’t have a final episode. The kids never get home — or at least we never see it.) There are other disturbing elements to this series that are never explored. We don’t know much about how the kids live when Shazzan is not around. In one cartoon, we’re shown that the kids summon him when they need to eat, and he provides a feast. But what about shelter? The same episode shows the kids sleeping on the floor of a cave. Can Shazzan not conjure up a place for them to live? Or do they have to ask him first?
Plus, Shazzan often deals with all of the various evil genies/ monsters/ giants/ thieves that the kids encounter in violent and somewhat sadistic ways. All the while banishing foes, he is cheerfully chuckling “Ho-ho-ho-HO!” to himself. This eventually led to two things: Shazzan was one of the prime shows under attack by parents’ groups against violence on TV in children’s programming, and secondly, it was memorably, and viciously, parodied (as “Shazzang”) by Robert Smigel as part of his Saturday TV Funhouse series, which originally aired on Saturday Night Live. (It’s also on the SNL: Best of Saturday TV Funhouse DVD.)
Shazzan has also appeared on Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law (but what old HB character hasn’t?). Here’s a fun one — Kaboobie the camel cameoed on Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Where? Here’s a hint: B’wana Beast was riding him (and not sidesaddle!).
Shazzan is not one of the classic Hanna-Barbera series, although it is fondly remembered by those who saw it as kids for its adventure and exotic locale. Plus, the Alex Toth connection makes this a series for serious reevaluation just for that alone, although the animation isn’t up to the strength of Toth’s designs. The writing also leaves something to be desired. (Both the animation and writing are mocked in “The Power of Shazzan” featurette — by animators and animation historians yet!)
Re-watching the series as an adult, it’s difficult to watch these episodes marathon-style, as all the shortcomings and oddities are quickly brought to light. I’d recommend watching not more than a couple episodes at a time. Strangely, I would recommend Shazzan for kids, providing that adults watch along. (There will be questions.)
Let’s let the kids — Chuck and Nancy — have the final say:
NANCY: Isn’t Shazzan a wonderful genie?!
CHUCK: No kid should be without one!
(The studio provided a review copy.)