Monday, November 10, 2008

Deconstructing Jonny Quest (or - What were my parents thinking?)

Every now and then for whatever reason (you can't define inspiration) I'll jot something down in a notebook, to look up later on youtube. Hey, it gets me through the day. Anyway, for whatever reason, the other day I wrote "Jonny Quest." I vaguely remember being entertained by the cartoon on Saturday mornings, the one day I was allowed to simply go downstairs and watch television without bothering my parents. It's a wonder I survived my Amish beginnings.

Now, I know the show was created in the late 60s and then simply ran ad nauseum for years on whatever network would pick it up - though I haven't seen it recently. So I figured youtube was as good a place as any to find it. And find it I did.

Good lord was this show awesome.

And by awesome I mean violent, raw, scary, thrilling and kickin. "Kickin" as in it may have had the best cartoon soundtrack I have come across. This show had it all, and quite possibly holds the answers to what makes me who I am today.

Rather than waste it in a Good, Bad, Beautiful, I thought this needed its own post. There's so much going on - and that's only in the opening credits of the show. Honestly, I can't think of a more action packed 45 seconds of entertainment. But I'll let you be the judge. Take a look on the flip side...

Not your average start to a child's cartoon, right? I count 2 explosions, 6 gun shots, and 10 acts of violence/aggression - and that's in 50 seconds. Thankfully, they slow it down when introducing the characters, or I'm not sure my head could take it.

But let's break it down as only we know how here at The Popcorn Trick...

The show Jonny Quest was about a scientist and his son who travel the globe (creatures, robots, evil doers, etc.) with the aid of a secret agent (Race Bannon - quite possibly the greatest name in the history of names. You know what exactly the type of guy you're getting with a name like Race Bannon), an Indian kid adopted by the good Dr., and a dog. Obviously the dog is there for comic relief/to get into situations in order to be saved, but still, the inclusion of Bandit almost invokes my rule of "never watch a show/movie that exploits innocent animals to tug on the heartstrings of the audience." It's why I will never watch I Am Legend or King Kong. Quest gets a pass because even the devious creators of this show would never kill an animal. I don't think.

No one is going to mistake what the show is about after watching the opening credits. What you see in the first 50 seconds, is what you get for a half hour. And I don't want it any other way.

We start off immediately on an off-colored note, with a number of natives chasing what may or may not be a minority through the jungle. We'll see more of the natives in the closing credits, so don't you worry. That scene cuts to a screaming dinosaur bird, that does nothing more than scream and scare the bejesus out of everyone. It really comes out of left field, and continues to do so. A little animal montage of a panther and alligator is thrown in for good measure before we suddenly see 2 army guys sitting in a trench unloading an M-60 on a mechanical Daddy Long Legs.


As far as opening credits go, this is what we in the industry call a left turn. No where was this scenario set up. I love it. And I can imagine my 6 year old mind orgasming over a completely innocent 6 year old way.

And we're just getting warmed up, as the driving cocaine beat of the music suggests at this point in the credits.

The M-60 had no effect on giant Daddy Long Legs, but the tank and mortar shells certainly do. Explosion #1 and mechanical Daddy Long Legs is a mess of brilliant flashing colors.

Yet there's no rest for the weary here. New scene - new enemy. We're transported to...oh let's say Egypt for argument's sake, inside some sort of tomb with a giant mummy walking around looking pissed. It's also one of the scarier mummies I've ever seen. Bursting through a timber door that may or may not have entombed him (I hope not, since it hardly seemed to slow the mummy down) he is met with a barrage of gun fire from two guys suited up in biohazard gear, apparently under the impression that becoming a mummy may be contagious. Note we have yet to see one major character from the show yet.

The mummy, angered either by the gun shots or saddened by the fact that there are guys invoking early 80s doctors' practices of dealing with GRID patients, does what any normal misunderstood creature would do. He grabs the nearest Shriner and lifts him over his head. Oh but look, Race Bannon is there sans containment gear (he's the Matthew Modine of this bizarre And the Band Played On interpretation) shooting his gun and causing a lot of rubble to fall on the mummy and presumably kill him! That the Shriner is also underneath that rubble is an unfortunate but common occurrence in times of war. And I assume that fighting mummies would cause an act of war be declared.

Before the next Jonny Quest adventure, we enjoy a slight reprieve of men in orange suits floating over an alien landscape in giant hovering coffee mugs. Never seen again, I certainly don't trust 'em. Especially when immediately following their arrival we cut to a giant vulture/turkey buzzard/turkey (seriously, bird experts, what is that?) swooping down to grab Bandit.

Obviously, Bandit is not going to die; he's listed in the credits for Christ's sake. Still, the look of evil on the turkey buzzard (really, it looks like a turkey, right? But I can't and won't believe the animators were tripping enough to get away with drawing a psychotic looking turkey swoop dive and grab a dog. Even if it is a pug. So until I'm proven wrong, I'm going with turkey buzzard), coupled with the look of fear on Bandit's face as he's picked off the ground like I pick an olive out of an Outback Steakhouse side salad is the sort of thing that will keep me from sleeping tonight. His small little pug legs betray him. It's quite sad. Had he been a border collie I no doubt he would have been able to run away. I have to imagine that scene alone is why I will never watch I Am Legend.

(Seriously, why kill the dog in I Am Legend? Fuck you if you haven't seen it and are screaming for a spoiler alert. If you couldn't figure out they were killing that dog when you saw him in the trailer then you're an idiot. You wanna know why they killed the dog? Because we, as a society demanded it. Because the story was about "the last man on Earth" they certainly couldn't show gore by killing another person so early in the movie; there weren't any to kill off. But that explanation wouldn't satisfy the gore hounds that go to movies these days. The people that pay the Will Smith paychecks and buy the producers' gas for their diamond planes. So something needed to die.

And so concludes my Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes morality moment. Back to the Quest.)

Luckily, the bird/dog confrontation is quick and again we can feel content with the fact that they're not killing a supporting star of the show - at least until February sweeps. Something my 6 year old mind only had a rough grasp of (I knew about May and November; I could never remember the February sweeps). Slithering snakes of indeterminate species transition us into what may be the weirdest shot of the entire credits montage (and that's saying something) and also the most mysterious. Two creatures, possibly from the dragon family are seen trudging through a swamp. I say dragon because I think I can make out a forked tongue that keeps sticking out as they chomp their mouths in a sign of aggression, suspiciously looking as though they're chasing something. Weird, but not Mummy picking up a Shriner weird - except for the fact that each dragonthing is LEASHED. Either they're pulling a sled, or are being held back by a giant type being. Either option is at play as this is still Jonny Quest!

We never find out the dragonthings mystery as we now find Race Bannon getting ready to swing off what appears to be a raised sunken pirate ship. It's a little unclear in the 2 seconds it's on.

Bannon swings from the deck, through a shipyard, the docks, possibly a small town and then another 400 yards to knock either A) a guy dressed in a frog (aka SCUBA) suit; B) an actual frog creature; C) a "handsy" uncle; or D) all of the above. Mission accomplished. This appears to be the start of the climactic battle scene of the opening credits, as the J. Quest molester's partner (or the original guy is just really really fast) is seen back on board the raised pirate ship firing off a technically advanced cannon of some sort. Shooting at what, we don't know, we only see the beam phaser off into the distance.

Dr. Benton Quest (making his first appearance in the credits), has a technically advanced cannon of his own - and isn't afraid to use it. I can't believe he's down at the docks though, as his cannon is large and bulky; moving it from place to place would require at flatbed of considerable size at the very least. So don't ask me where Dr. Quest is during this whole fire fight. Maybe Race is calling him in for an air strike or something, and he's hanging out back at the base where there's a plethora of cannons that shoot cool.

Whatever the case, Benton strikes a direct hit on the pirate ship, decimating it completely in the credit's second large explosion. And finally, we can slow down. We're 50 seconds in and haven't had a chance to catch our breath. The next 35 seconds (an eternity in Johnny Quest credits time) is spent introducing the characters onboard what I can only guess is the Quest jet. You might think it's enough time to get in 15-20 introductions with the breakneck pace that has been established, but no, just the 5 main characters, in order of appearance on the plane:
  • Jonny Quest
  • Dr. Benton Quest
  • "Race" Bannon
  • Hadji
  • Bandit
Thankfully, we end in a state of calm, the plane banks off into clouds, obviously off toward their next adventure. If it's anything like the opening credits, I can't wait.

So there you have it - a deeper look into what I consider one of the most influential shows of my childhood. I'll never forget the invisible monster (and the noise it made when it was close) this team defeated with paint and possibly electricity - either using an electric fence, or a net. It's a little hazy in my head, being I last saw this show 30 years ago. Don't hold me to specifics, just enjoy the show for what it was, lament in the fact that they don't mass produce awesomeness like this for kids' consumption anymore and enjoy this little bonus of closing credits action without my longwindedness...

Johnny Quest closing credits:

(and yes, I realize I just wrote 2000 words on 1 minute and 24 seconds worth of cartoon, but seriously, they really pack a lot in there - and think of it this way - I was really close to deconstructing the end credits too)


Cline said...

Don't get me started aboutI Am Legend.

Someone makes a surprise announcement about the cure for cancer and it's buried in a local news show after the sports and weather.

If that ever happened, (1) there's no way it could be kept a secret and (2) it would be announced on the steps of the White House or the Vatican or a big tobacco plantation and every media outlet in the world would cover it.

Still, it's nice to see Emma Thompson getting some work.

Goose said...

I vaguely remember hearing that someplace before...

Anonymous said...

Wow this was a good chunk of the 50,000 words you need for the novel challenge...I don't want to see you fall 2,000 words short because of Johnny Quest! Get back to the novel, i love stories about swimming clubs.

Goose said...


but it's Johnny Quesst!

Anonymous said...

I always wondered why Jonny looked nothing like his purported father and everything like Race Bannon. This could explain why Dr. Quest is always off gallivanting across the globe. He's trying to keep Race away from Mrs. Jezebel Quest.

Anonymous said...

Three words:

The Venture Bros.

You must do some sort of thematic compare/contrast between the two shows, considering Johnny Quest is the chief inspiration for the best show on Adult Swim.

Anonymous said...

Yes, you must check out Venture Bros. as it deals not only with the deconstructing of the Johnny Quest/boy adventurer mythos, but also similarly touches on things like Scobby-Doo, Disney, the fantastic four, and the practicality of having arch-enemies in your daily life.

Anonymous said...

Nice to see someone else loved Jonny as much as I.
For an equally psychotic opening credit sequence, check out the original Space Ghost.

Alex Bledsoe said...

The show still works; my four-year old loves it. I think the secret is, it's absolutely 100% irony-free. And yes, the invisible electricity monster still scares kids, and even me a little bit.

Anonymous said...

Do you even know what the word "deconstructing" means? You didn't deconstruct anything. (Not that deconstruction is a practice worth engaging in anyway.) You basically just described the opening credits, with a bit of analysis thrown in.

That's description, not deconstruction.

Reinman said...

As a bonus, I like the Rocky and Bullwinkle-esque title of your post!

Anonymous said...

What anonymous said about "deconstructing". I thought everyone knew all about dinosaurs and their ilk; you might want to look up "pterodactyl" and "pteranodon" on Wikipedia or somewhere...turkey buzzard indeed. The show started in 1964, not "the late sixties"; Tim Matheson was the voice of Johnny, if he'd still been a kid in the late 1960s he wouldn't have been old enough to play Otter in Animal House. And, yeah, try critiquing instead of fawning, and tackle the whole show. Opening credits? Short attention span? And yeah a mention of The Venture Bros. is de rigeur, especially since Race, Johnny and Hadji have all made "guest appearances" on the show. Should give anyone wondering "what happened after" something to think about.

Anonymous said...

Johnny Quest was one of the greatest kid shows every, it was a serious kids show not all goofy like almost every kids show nowadays, or even the remakes of Johnny Quest.

The original was the best and for it's time was a great sci-fi show talking about lost species and new inventions.

Just a side note the original quest series has been released on DVD, at least season 1, which I own and watch whenever I need a refresher.

P.S. the invisible monster noise still kinda scares the heebie-jeebies out of me.

Anonymous said...

Okay, the pterodactyl was one thing, but the bird which picked up Bandit was an Andean condor. And the dragons were Komodos, really big ones. And the guy holding the leash was something to behold.

I was a big fan, and now own the DVD. It was every boy's idea of what adventure meant. Race was the guy we all hoped to become. Good stuff.

Anonymous said...

"And yes, the invisible electricity monster still scares kids, and even me a little bit."

Muhhahha, I can feel the chills thinking about the quivering sound effect of the monster engulfing light bulbs....though I still think the footsteps equally if not more was the march music building up to a crescendo of mayhem that was the key.

So true that these hold up over the decades - that episode and the Robot Spy two the best JQ episodes. As a kid the plasma monster reminded me of the ID from Forbidden Planet and of the Thing From Another Planet and maybe even Lost In Space's pre color season episode where Dr Smith mistakes an invisible heavy 2-footed force as his Uncle Thaddeus (or so I suddenly recall now at the age of 44). In most all of these scripts the force of destruction shows up and we shout "hurry up!" as the characters set up whatever neutralizing scheme while someone innocent plays antagonist bait. Oh no, his jet pack failed or the generator just went out! Ahhhh....learning Murphy's Law at such an early age - priceless :-)

I've bought the collections & show these classics including Speed Racer to my 3 & 5 year old nephews who watched RIVITED to the screen while my 39 year old younger brother, my dad, and I sing or hum the themes in full volume. It's great family fun.....fortunately so far these kids don't end up having nightmares but I sure did when I was their age. Maybe wait a few years before I let them enjoy the Kolchak The Night Stalker, Star Trek, U.F.O, and Space1999 series. Hopefully they won't be so jaded by today's CGI flicks that they'll miss out of the kind of fun we had as yoots.

Anonymous said...

Jonny Quest was the best.

Today you should watch The Venture Bros.

And one episode of Harvey Birdman where Race sues Dr. Quest for custody of the boys.

Anonymous said...

Two notes:
> Usage: It is "Jonny", not "Johnny".
> There was a revival series in 1996, "The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest" - where, strangely enough, most of the adventures took place in a virtual reality environment.

Anonymous said...

You also missed that long, lingering look between Dr. Quest and Race in the credits. I've always loved the fact that to me, Quest and Race Bannon were the first gay couple raising children that the networks totally overlooked.

Unknown said...

It appears to be a Browning 1919 A-4,not an M-60 in the spider scene.

Anonymous said...

If any cartoon deserves a live action movie - it is JONNY QUEST!!!

Race Bannon - David Boreanaz

Dr. Quest - George Clooney

Jonny Quest - Zac Effron

There is a live-action movie in the works but I have heard nothing else.

Anonymous said...

First, Race was not a secret agent...he was the bodyguard.

Second, contrary to your comments, every single scene in the title sequence appeared in one episode or context. ("Never seen again"??) Perhaps you missed one or more of the episodes. I didn't.

Blackpanther said...

Ahh, the time when they considered kids intelligent beings. At least intelligent enough to understand a (somewhat) complex, continuous story and tell right from wrong. Yes, they were still playing this on Cartoon Network 10 years ago. I miss good cartoons.

Jimk said...

Why was Jonny Quest cool? 2,000 words isn't nearly enough verbiage to come close to answering the question, but let's see if we can hit some of the highlights:

1) Guns. Lots of them. Everybody got one, even the kids, and if somebody got shot, they were dead. Cool.

2) Real people got killed, not robots, not clones, not holograms. Dudes died and they died screaming with their hands in front of their faces to ward off their onrushing horrible demise. Strangely enough, not matter what part of the world it was and what language they spoke, their last words were always "AAAiiiieeee!" Try it next time you're driving in the car with friends. Just throw your hands up in front of your face and scream "Aaaaiiieee!" Good times ...

3) No chicks. It was always "bros before hos" in the Quest family. Race Bannon's old girlfriend was a notable and spicy exception, but you notice she didn't hang around much. Just long enough to get some Bannon in her tank and then she'd head back to the black market to sell stolen antiquities or whatever.

4) Race Bannon. Who's cooler than Race Bannon to help you do your homework, teach you how to waterski with a hydrofoil and show you some judo moves? Even cooler that he has to be there 'cause you need a bodyguard! It's not that you want to appear important like some queer rap star -- you need that guy to keep evil foreigners from killing you! Awesome!

5) Evil Foreigners. Jonny Quest battles all the same bad guys with foreign accents and weird fashion accessories (Nehru jackets, monocles, fezzes) that James Bond dealt with, except Jonny is a kid! Like us!

6) American Super Science. The government was your friend and the source of all good things. Money. Soldiers. Ray guns. Bodyguards. Ah, those were the days ...

As for a live action movie, I'm all for it as long as they play it straight and keep it from descending into some goddam Ben Stiller smirkfest. David Boreanaz as Dr. Quest? Not nearly scientific enough. Zac Effron as Jonny? Too old and too effeminate. But George Clooney as Race Bannon? I think that works ...

Anonymous said...

The Pterodactil's name was Turu, and he was comanded by a bitter man on a wheel chair. Both Turu and his master find horrible deaths falling into lava pits.

Just imagine that happening today! A cartoon were a guy in a wheel char dies in a lava pit!

Ahh... da good times!

Unknown said...

"Jonny Quest" was a great show. It was about the adventures of two boys who were intelligent and each different.

Also, as was mentioned, the plots were exciting and the action was thrilling. There was violence, and we all survived it.

On a side note, the series by Gerry Anderson such as "Supercar," "Firebal XL5," "Stingray," "Thunderbirds," "Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons" all fall into this catagory. Check them out.

And, "Speed Racer" and "Ultraman" were good series from Japan.

Anonymous said...

The man's whole family dies and you're complaining about a dog? I get pretty annoyed by irrational animal love. It was a dramatic choice. Whether it was predictable or not it was a good way to show Smith's character hitting rock bottom.

Anonymous said...

JHONY QUEST was a great show and every one admired it and don’t you have any respect and shame as the person’s whole family died, I know the dog was special too but don’t you feel any pain for the family members, you are disgusting man.

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