Review by KC Carlson
It’s interesting (at least to me) that the Warner Archive chose to release Help! It’s the Hair Bear Bunch! and Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels at about the same time earlier this year. The former was the series where I decided to stop watching Saturday morning cartoons (except for the occasional Bugs Bunny episode, when I was actually awake that early), and the latter (along with Laugh-A-Lympics) was the show that brought me back (at least part-time). Both shows were produced by the legendary Hanna-Barbera studio, which ruled Saturday morning TV in those days.
Help! It’s the Hair Bear Bunch! debuted in September 1971 and aired 16 original episodes. Its Saturday morning run ended January 8, 1972 — canceled in the middle of its second season. (All 16 episodes are in this two-DVD set.) The fall it debuted was the year I entered high school, which was my primary reason for leaving cartoons behind (at least temporarily). You know, the whole leaving childish things aside thing… Little did I know…
Haven’t I Seen You Somewhere Before?
There was a lot that was very familiar about Help! It’s the Hair Bear Bunch! if you were a cartoon fan. The majority of voice actors were HB regulars, including Daws Butler as fast-talking, scheming Hair Bear, using his best Phil Silvers “Bilko” voice (see also Hokey Wolf); Paul Winchell (Dick Dastardly, Fleegle) as the very confused Bubi Bear; John Stephenson (Dr. Quest, Mr. Slate) as the constantly aggravated head zoo director Mr. Eustace P. Peevly; and Joe E. Ross (“Oooh! Oooh!” Officer Gunther Toody on both Car 54, Where Are You? and Wait Till Your Father Gets Home) as his inept assistant Lionel J. Botch. (Botch. Geddit? Jeepers…) This show was Ross’ first HB assignment, but several more would follow, including Hong Kong Phooey.
Besides the familiar voices, there are a lot of previous HB themes in this show, including animals controlling their “keepers” (Yogi Bear, Wally Gator, Magilla Gorilla, Breezly and Sneezly), animal “gangs” (Top Cat, Banana Splits, Cattanooga Cats), annoying and/or idiotic humans (too many to list, including all the bad guys in Scooby-Doo), and characters that only ran from left to right (or right to left). (Yes, I am messing with you.)
Plus, the show had the first HB theme song that I actively hated. And it sure doesn’t help, hearing it at least a dozen times each on these two DVDs. (Thank goodness for “Next Chapter” remote buttons.) It’s certainly no Flintstones, Jetsons, or Josie and the Pussycats theme.
HB fans of a certain age are huge fans of this show, and I think that’s great. But after all the early HB classics, and after “mature” shows like Jonny Quest, Space Ghost, and The Herculoids (and even Secret Squirrel and Atom Ant — which really needs to be coming soon from Warner Archive), having to jump back into what conservative parent groups of the era thought was best for their youngsters was just too much to (hair) bear. At least for me.
What brought me back to Saturday morning was two things. First was Mel Blanc yelling his head off with the above catchphrase. Second was the still-unmatched concept of teaming HB’s classic characters (Huck, Yogi, Quick Draw), some of the more modern concepts, including (kid-friendly) heroes (Dynomutt, Hong Kong Phooey, Speed Buggy (?!), and Scooby-Doo), and finally a group of HB bad guys called the Really Rottens. The last included the familiar-seeming Dread Baron and his dog Mumbly, the Dalton brothers (Dinky, Dirty and Dastardly) from old Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw cartoons, and the Creeplys, a monstrous family based on both The Gruesomes (from The Flintstones) and Mr. & Mrs. J. Evil Scientist (from Snooper and Blabber and Snagglepuss cartoons).
All three teams competed in Olympic-like competitions — actually, the show was based on ABC’s Battle of the Network Stars, but who remembers that! — with each episode set in a different country or major city. This new show by HB from 1977 was called Laff-A-Lympics, and Warner definitely needs to offer it in a complete set! It’s one of the best HB shows! Laff-A-Lympics was initially teamed up with with another new show called Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels. (I bet you were wondering when I was going to come back around to that, huh?)
[One last aside for comic book fans. Laff-A-Lympics also appeared as an awesome comic book series in 1978 — published by Marvel Comics, of all people! (There was a small Marvel line of HB books, including The Flintstones, for a year or two.) 13 issues and a treasury-sized special of Laff-A-Lympics were produced by a number of creators, including Mark Evanier and Scott Shaw! Laff-A-Lympic stories drawn by Shaw! were often packed with many, many other HB stars as background characters. (Some quite surprising!) All are worth seeking out.
[Also, it is revealed that the Dread Baron is actually the twin brother of Dick Dastardly in Laff-A-Lympics #13. And it’s implied that Mumbly and Muttley are similarly related. The original Wacky Races characters could not be used in the Laff-A-Lympics cartoon, as they were co-owned by HB and another company at the time. So dopplegangers were created for the Laff-A-Lympics show.]
(Yes, again. Mel yelled it at least five or six times every episode!)
Beginning in 1977, Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels was part of a two-hour block of HB shows called Scooby’s All-Star Laff-A-Lympics, which included The Scooby-Doo Show, Laff-A-Lympics, The Blue Falcon & Dynomutt, Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels, and reruns of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! The following year, the block was reduced to 90 minutes, dropping Dynomutt and Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!.
In 1979, the programming block was dropped altogether, and in March 1980, Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels debuted as its own half-hour show, featuring both all-new adventures and reruns from the previous seasons, before the show was canceled on June 21, 1980. A total of 40 11-minute episodes were produced (16 in 1977–1978, 8 in 1978–1979, and 16 in 1980). All 40 episodes are included on this two-DVD set from the Warner Archive. To be clear, just the Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels cartoons are on this set.
Like all good superhero histories, there’s an origin story (of sorts) that played out in the opening credits of the show. The teen girl detectives discovered the thousands-years-old Captain Caveman frozen in a cave and defrosted him. (This is not shown, but given the girls’ late 70s hair styles, I suspect lots of hair dryers.)
Given the era, the show was probably designed as an obvious parody of Charlie’s Angels (both shows aired on ABC), as well as incorporating themes (but not singing) from both Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! and Josie and the Pussycats. Conveniently, all the main characters are also members of the Scooby Doobies team on Laff-A-Lympics.
The Teen Angels
Dee Dee Sykes (voiced by Vernee Watson) is the brains of the group; she solves most of the mysteries. She’s smart, African-American, and wears her hair in a afro. HB forerunners to this character include both Velma Dinkley (Scooby-Doo) and Valerie Brown (Josie and the Pussycats).
Brenda Chance (voiced by Marilyn Schreffler) is a cowardly brunette, terrified of all the monsters and creatures the team encounters. She’s the girl version of both Shaggy and Scooby-Doo.
Taffy Dare (voiced by Laurel Page) is seemingly the stereotypical blonde airhead, yelling “Zowie!” a lot and coming up with frequent “Another Daffy Taffy Plans”, but this may be a clever ruse. She’s very good at talking Captain Caveman into acting as bait for her “daffy” plans to capture culprits, and later in the series, we find out why she’s so successful at doing this. If we continue the Scooby-Doo metaphor, she’s probably Fred, but not actually the leader. Maybe she’s both Fred and Daphne.
The Teen Angels traveled around in the standard issue HB van used on dozens of other shows, but this one has one new design twist — Captain Caveman’s stone cave is affixed to the top! That must have been hell on the suspension!
Captain Caveman is basically Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, except for the “being a smart lawyer” thing. (He’s also not sponsored by Happy Fun Ball.) He’s not very smart (although he’s occasionally snarky and sarcastic). He’s super-strong, has lots of useful (and unusual) objects hidden in his fur (he looks not unlike Cousin Itt from The Addams Family, or maybe one of the Slag Brothers from Wacky Races), and his apparently magical club allows him to fly (usually — it’s not very reliable). It’s believed that he’s thousands of years old (although his exact age is never determined). He also enjoys eating large objects (tables, TV sets, safes) in one gulp, and the Teen Angels occasionally have to remind him to not eat potential clues.
Captain Caveman is voiced by the late, great voice artist Mel Blanc. Given that the character mostly yells his name as a battle cry, it seems like an unusual role for Blanc to take so late in his career — especially since he was starting to not perform many of his classic “yelling” characters (Yosemite Sam, Tazmanian Devil) around this time. One suspects Blanc just did the Captain CAAAAAVEMAAAAAAANNNN! yell a couple of times, and the same performance was spliced over-and-over in each episode. Of course, Captain Caveman speaks stereotypical “caveman-talk” (“Me not know what me think”). When he’s not constantly yelling his own name, his favorite thing to say is the all-purpose “unga bunga” — something I think all of society (especially politicians) should adopt.
Captain Caveman (if not the Teen Angels) survived the cancellation of his series and later appeared in his own segments (largely parodies of Superman, with a secret identity!) of The Flintstones Comedy Show in 1980. Later, in 1986, he appeared in a segment of The Flintstones Kids as himself, but now with his son, Cavey Jr. (But how–? Don’t go there…)
In the modern era, Cavey’s a popular guest-star on shows like Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, Robot Chicken, and Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. In an episode of Family Guy, Peter indicates that he will see his friend Captain Caveman again “as soon as he gets off the island”. Cameo images of Cavey also appear in Pinky and the Brain and Adventure Time. That guy gets around!
Unga Bunga! Time to Wrap Up!
As always with Warner Archive releases, the original cartoons have not been remastered (as they normally would be for a standard Warner release). But both of these shows look to be in great shape. The colors are rich and solid most of the time, and there are almost no dirt or artifacts on the screen. The audio may not be up to today’s modern sound systems, but considering the age of these original programs, the quality of the sound is also very good (discounting HB’s horrible laugh tracks and some occasionally obnoxious (and slightly too-loud-in-the-mix) background music — mostly on Captain Caveman).
Oooh! Oooh! These classic animation DVD sets are great fun! Look for them at Warner Archive! Unga Bunga! (The studio provided review copies.)