Filmation (1981), BCI (May 22, 2007), 2 discs, 286 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0, Not Rated, Retail: $24.98
Super-powered teenagers learn the tricks of the hero trade at their own high school.
The Sweatbox Review:
Filmation did a lot of television shows over the course of about three decades. Some are remembered very fondly by fans because of their high quality (e.g. Zorro, Flash Gordon), while many are forgotten due to their relative mediocrity. And then there are those that were really pretty mediocre, yet still managed to remain memorable for one reason or another. It is this latter category in which I would place Hero High. Of course, back as a kid in 1981, the name of the show I was watching was not really Hero High, but The Kid Super Power Hour With Shazam!, and perhaps the main reason I watched the show was to follow the adventures of Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family. These superhero stories were fun tales that were quite faithful to their comic book origins, and in fact much truer to the 1940s originals than anything DC Comics has published since then. I was always an easy mark for superhero cartoons, particularly any cartoons based upon characters appearing in DC Comics, so the Shazam! segments were right up my alley.
The rest of the Kid Super Power Hour did have a unique aspect, however. Joining Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, and Captain Marvel Junior (plus Uncle Marvel, Tawky Tawny, etc.) were the students of Hero High, appearing in both cartoons as well as live action wraparounds. This was a combination of a few previous Filmation ideas. They had a long history of using musical segments in their shows, beginning with Archie, and they had also dabbled in live action, beginning with Captain Marvel himself appearing in a live action Shazam! series back in 1974. For The Kid Super Power Hour With Shazam!, the opening theme was sung by a band composed of the characters from Hero High, in full spandex costumes, who then greeted an audience full of children while engaging in silly conversations and joking around. The live action segments eventually gave way to Hero high and Shazam! cartoons, with the live actors appearing in-between animated segments to sing a song, and again at the close of the show. Now, keep in mind that this was well before live action superhero movies had become commonplace, so it was still a bit thrilling to a kid to see even inexperienced, hammy actors portraying superheroes for television.
Producer Lou Scheimer originally had pitched the show to NBC as a spin-off of their previously successful Archie shows, presumably based upon the Archie characters’ superhero personas seen in the comics from time to time— Archie as Pureheart The Powerful, Jughead as Captain Hero, and so forth. And when one views the Hero High characters that evolved, it is quite easy to see how they might have been inspired by the Archie gang. Leading the group is the all-American Captain California. Captain Cal rides a super surfboard and dazzles enemies with his glaring smile. Glorious Gal is a pretty, wholesome blonde, seemingly not too far removed from Archie’s Betty, aside from Glorious Gal having mind-based powers. In the comics, Archie was also pursued by a scheming brunette, Veronica, and so too does Cal have Dirty Trixie. Trixie pals around with the smug Rex Ruthless, a close approximation of Archie’s rival Reggie. Rex constantly schemes to make life miserable for Captain California, while at the same time showing varying levels of interest in Glorious Gal and Dirty Trixie.
Once one moves to the next three main characters on Hero High, though, the Archie metaphor breaks down. Weatherman, though his physique suggests he is a good eater, nevertheless has nothing else to tie him to Jughead. Weatherman’s powers over the weather often backfire, as do the magic spells of Misty Magic. Meanwhile, Punk Rock exists largely in his own world, more concerned with his music and being happy than engaging in whatever is going on in everyone else’s lives. The student body has a few other, more minor characters, such as the partially invisible Awol, or the tantrum-prone Bratman. Two of the faculty do play significant roles— Principal Sampson seems inspired by the biblical character, and thus fits the role of old-time hero, while Miss Grimm is the kids’ suitably named main teacher. Two mascots, Peter Penguin and a hyena named Giggler, are also often seen onscreen adding some slapstick to the situation.
Each story on this DVD set runs around ten minutes, and features such time-honored, hackneyed plots as investigating a haunted house, a boy vs. girl student election, a high school dance, and a few supervillain showdowns. The humor is as common as the plots, unfortunately, operating at strictly an eight-year old level. Adding to the mediocrity is the legendary limited animation by Filmation, with constant reusing of pre-existing footage and a minimum of actual action. What one gets, then, is a show that is just mildly amusing at the time, and utterly forgettable once it is done. Although I watched this show every Saturday when I was a kid, nothing on this set really rang a bell with me. Yes, the characters certainly did look familiar, but none of the stories or gags brought back a rush of memories. It was fun seeing these cartoons again, but other than the nostalgia trip I cannot say that I was all that entertained.
Adding only slightly to the interest factor are a trio of guest appearances. Captain Marvel shows up in A Fistful Of Knuckles, Isis (whom Filmation had previously animated on Freedom Force) as Captain California’s crush in Cover Twirl, and Mary Marvel as Rex’s crush in Girl Of His Dreams. The latter two appearances by the guest stars barely qualify as more than cameos, however, so these episodes are only minor curiosities. Pinky And The Brain fans, however, may get a charge out of seeing a Brain prototype from creator Tom Ruegger, who wrote The Big Bang Theory, starring a diminutive villain named The Big Brain who spoke like Edward G. Robinson..
The DVD set comes with two, single-sides discs, with the Hero High cartoon episodes shown in the order in which they were aired when stripped down for syndication (two per half hour) without the Shazam! or live action segments. Watching the cartoons without the novelty of the live action wraparounds, I cannot say that they do much to distinguish themselves. Words like “corny” and “cheap” come to mind, actually. They are watchable, however, and my little girl seemed to like seeing them, and I guess she is a lot closer to the target audience than I am nowadays. At least these came out before cartoons got overly frenetic or hip. For better or worse, this was what Saturday mornings were like in 1981. It’s always fun to take a nostalgia trip, but in the future there are a number of other shows that I shall be revisiting before I spin these discs again… unless my daughter asks to watch Hero High, which is quite possible.
Is This Thing Loaded?
I never really get tired of writing “BCI does it again,” because it means that they have given deluxe treatment once again to a show that probably does not deserve it. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, and I shall have to salute them again. Even mediocre shows can have interesting histories, and I remain grateful that BCI and extra content producer Andy Mangels love to put out these sets with as many bonuses as they can get. Even the menus get some nice animation! (I do need to say, however that I did notice that they inverted an image for the episode menu, so that Captain California’s “C” on his chest is backwards. I guess they figured that most would not take note of it.) The first disc has just one extra, an Audio Commentary with producer Lou Scheimer, and actors John Berwick (“Rex Ruthless”) and Johnny Venocour (“Punk Rock”). The episode A Fistful Of Knuckles was likely chosen because it co-stars Captain Marvel, but they make no mention of him on the commentary, which is filled largely with joking around and lamenting that none of the girls showed up.
The second disc carries the balance of the extras. The bulk of these are the seven Interviews (50:30 total!), shown in letterboxed widescreen and starring the commentary participants as well as writers Tom Ruegger and Bobby London, and artists Michael Swanigan and Darrel McNeil. The reminiscing is fun, and one cannot help but be impressed that the show meant as much as it did to these men for them to still have so much to say about it. An Image Gallery has just under twenty publicity shots (both drawn pictures as well as actor photos).
Hero High Live (20:48) was what I was really looking forward to. Yes, these are the live action openings, songs, closing credits, and other wraparound pieces done with live actors wearing spandex superhero costumes. They were shot on 16mm, so the image is rather indistinct. Two complete sets of these live action wraparounds are offered, and what a trip this is. If the cartoons seem weak and silly, wait until you see the live action bits! No joke is present that would appeal to anyone older than about nine, but most of the young ones in the audience do not seem to mind. The costumes actually come off quite well (all things considered), and the actors perform the amazing feat of not looking embarrassed, even during the song performances. You may also watch these with an Optional Commentary Track, featuring the same guys as before.
More From Ink And Paint brings you to a collection of twenty TV show openings and movie trailers spotlighting DVD sets coming out from BCI.
DVD-ROM: Placing the second disc into the DVD drive of your computer will allow you to see twelve episode scripts and storyboards from four stories in PDF format..
Given that this is only two one-sided discs (as opposed to some of the monster sets BCI has put out), this set fits into a regular two-disc keepcase, packed inside an identical slip sleeve. A terrific, well-designed episode guide is inside, just to remind us of how good BCI is at this sort of thing. Each episode gets a synopsis, a picture, and a “fun fact.” (A Funimation catalog is also inside.) Much better shows have received far less. Thank-you, BCI. Nicely done.
Ink And Paint:
Wow, these actually look pretty good. There is hardly any grain to be seen, and only very minor blemishes to the prints used. Compression work is decent, with only occasional shimmer effects on pans. Okay, it’s not exactly reference quality, but it’s better than I had expected.
No surprises here, however. The soundtrack sounds flat, forceless, and… fine. A Spanish track is also available. There are no subtitles offered.
This one may be for the nostalgic only. Filmation put out some fine shows, but I would say that Hero High would be a lesser light. At least BCI included some of the live action stuff, which is what really set the show apart in the first place. In fact, all the extras combine for a nice little package if you do decide to give the DVD a try. Old-time fans will be delighted with the treatment the show has been given, but the uninitiated may find better value in purchasing one of the many other fine cartoon DVD sets that BCI has available.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?