DirectorWilliam Hanna and Joseph Barbera, Series created by Doug Wildey
Release Date(s)1964-65 (June 11, 2019)
Studio(s)Hanna-Barbara Productions/ABC (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B-
Created by ex-Atlas Comics strip artist Doug Wildey (who also worked on the Alex Toth/Cambria series Space Angel), Jonny Quest was something completely new for Hanna-Barbara Productions, an animation studio best known for its work on The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and The Yogi Bear Show. The goal was to create a primetime animated adventure series inspired by classic newspaper strips, old radio serials, Tom Swift books, and men’s adventure magazines—James Bond for kids, if you will.
The show features young Jonny Quest (voiced by Tim Matheson of Animal House and 1941 fame), his adopted brother and best friend Hadji (voiced by Danny Bravo), their super-scientist father Dr. Benton Quest (voiced mostly by the legendary Don Messick), the family’s secret agent bodyguard Race Bannon (voiced by western actor Mike Road), and their dog Bandit. Dr. Quest is a genius whose work is vital to the US Government; he develops new technologies in his island lab in the Florida Keys and flies around the world solving mysteries for the betterment of mankind. And naturally, his kids go along and play a vital role in every adventure.
As a pre-teen boy growing up in the early 1970s, Johnny Quest was an absolutely irresistible combination of realism, speculative science, action, and comic relief. It had everything you could want from a TV show: mystery, evil-doers, conflict, exotic settings, and a damn great score too. The show was suffused with a real sense of danger and tension. Some of the bad guys died, man! (That’s not something you saw often in animation at the time.) The monsters were scary. A couple times during the series, Race actually kissed a woman. On screen! This when he wasn’t fighting villains and teaching the boys judo. There were rocket packs, jet cars, laser weapons, computers, hand-held video screens, hydrofoils, supersonic jets, lizard men, robot spies, even a Yeti. Plus, the series depicted an attentive and caring father, who was always present for his kids. All this and a dog? I mean, what’s not to like?
Now… there’s another side of the show that must be acknowledged too. It is… ahem… not exactly politically correct by modern standards. The villains are mostly depicted as vaguely foreign, including the yellow-skinned Doctor Zin (Vic Perrin), a typical 1940s “Yellow Peril” trope. There are few female characters and the main one, Jade (Bannon’s romantic interest in two episodes) is a classic femme fatale. Amazonian tribesmen, pygmies, and other “exotic” local characters make regular appearances. And there’s something that feels a bit colonial in the notion of a group of affluent white Western males flying around the world in their private jet with the brown-skinned orphan from Calcutta that they’ve adopted along for the ride. Hadji even has mystical powers, plays a flute, and can make things levitate. So there’s that. But, like all classic content, it’s important to view this series with the social context of its era in mind. As a kid at the time, I can say with honesty that virtually all of that went over my head. It’s only in retrospect, as an adult, that you recognize it. The times have certainly changed… and thank goodness for it.
Jonny Quest was originally produced by Hanna-Barbara on photochemical film in the 1.33:1 TV aspect ratio. It was created the old-fashioned way, photographed by hand on an animation stand with physical painted cels. For this Blu-ray release, those original broadcast film masters have been newly scanned in HD. The result is a wonder. At 52, I’m old enough to have watched these episodes in syndication when they were still new, first on a B&W TV and later in color. But I’ve never seen them like this. As good as the show looked back in the day in standard definition broadcasts, HD delivers every bit of detail in the hand-painted animation artwork, not to mention colors bolder than I ever imagined. The resolution is so good that you can see shadows between the cel layers and tiny bits of dust crawling across the glass—but none of that distracts. This quality is a revelation and it makes the series feel fresh in a way that’s completely unexpected. And at long last, the episodes are unedited and uncensored for content (the 2004 DVD release was both edited and censored) and the episodes finally have the proper closing credits. They even feature the original commercial break cues, featuring the show’s ironic trumpet fanfare.
Sound is presented in English in the original 2.0 mono, encoded in DTS-HD Master Audio format. The analog masters been cleaned up a bit and have certainly never sounded better, with clean dialogue and effects. Best of all, Hoyt Curtin’s iconic, jazz-infused score is presented with terrific fidelity. Optional English subtitles are available for those who might need them.
The set includes three BD-50 discs containing all 26 episodes of the series, with the content broken out as follows:
- The Mystery of the Lizard Men
- Arctic Splashdown
- The Curse of Anubis
- Pursuit of the Po-Ho
- Riddle of the Gold
- Treasure of the Temple
- Calcutta Adventure
- The Robot Spy
- Double Danger
- Shadow of the Condor
- Skull and Double Crossbones
- The Dreadful Doll
- A Small Matter of Pygmies
- Dragons of Ashida
- Turu the Terrible
- The Fraudulent Volcano
- Werewolf of the Timberland
- Pirates from Below
- Attack of the Tree People
- The Invisible Monster
- The Devil’s Tower
- The Quetong Missile Mystery
- The House of Seven Gargoyles
- Terror Island
- Monster in the Monastery
- The Sea Hunt
The extras are all on Disc Three and include:
- Jonny Quest Files: Fun Facts & Trivia (SD – 25:19)
- Jonny Quest: Adventures in Animation (SD – 15:15)
- Jonny Quest Video Handbook (SD – 16:57)
- P.F. Flyer Sneaker Commercial (HD – 1:00)
Jonny Quest Files presents the first episode of the series produced (aired ninth), Double Danger, in SD format with pop-up trivia. Like all of these extras, it was carried over from the 2004 Complete First Season DVD release. Adventures in Animation features the likes of Brad Bird and Alex Ross, along with other artists and writers, talking about the show and its influence. It’s short, but terrific. Video Handbook is essentially a profile of the characters for the uninitiated—a primer, if you will. There are no new extras here, but it appears that the P.F. Flyer commercial for sneakers (and a “magic signal” ring) has been newly scanned in HD for this Blu-ray release.
Gods, what a thrill it is to revisit this series in HD! One of my two favorite animated shows as a boy (along with Speed Racer), Jonny Quest set the bar for television animation so high that it took decades for Hollywood to clear it again (with such shows as Batman: The Animated Series and Samurai Jack). It even inspired an animated spoof that’s pretty great in its own right (Adult Swim’s The Venture Bros.). This is one of the great examples of the medium, a must have Blu-ray release for longtime fans, and well worth exploring for animation history buffs too. Highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt