Hanna-Barbera (1970), Warner Home Video (September 18, 2007), 2 discs, 344 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono, Not Rated, Retail: $26.98
The characters from the Archie spin-off comic get involved with spies and mad scientists while travelling the world with their band.
The Sweatbox Review:
With The Archie Show creating such a successful franchise for CBS and Filmation, it was only natural that the network would attempt to duplicate its success. Instead of using Filmation, however, the job went to Hanna-Barbera, who had actually initiated contact with Archie to adapt another comic from them. She’s Josie had been published since 1963 by Archie, who had convinced creator Dan DeCarlo to allow them to have the publishing rights even though he had planned the concept for a newspaper strip as far back as 1958. He had even named the title character for his wife, Josette, a French national he had met during World War II. The fact that he had created the initial concept for the strip became an important point when DeCarlo had an acrimonious split with the publisher in the wake of a Josie movie in 2001. DeCarlo claimed that he should have been given royalties for the film, and although he won the sympathy and respect of many colleagues in the comics industry, his battle led to his dismissal by Archie Comics in 2000 and eventually the loss of a lawsuit the day before he died. Yes, it’s a sad way to start a review, but these facts are hard to ignore.
It is, after all, impossible to discuss Josie without bringing up DeCarlo, a consummate professional who was the top of the Archie artists, actually defining the Archie style for decades. DeCarlo had gotten his start in comics with Timely (later Marvel), illustrating scripts by Stan Lee on such titles as Millie The Model, and doing covers for a wide variety of “girl books”, like Nellie The Nurse, Sherry The Showgirl, and Hedy In Hollywood. He left the publisher for Archie in 1957, where his talents were immediately put to good use on Betty And Veronica. If you have ever enjoyed reading Archie Comics, you have likely enjoyed the artwork of DeCarlo. In much the same way as Carl Barks became known as “the good Duck artist” on Disney comics, DeCarlo for many years was recognized as “the good Archie artist.” His Here’s Josie comic was initially a straight-forward teen strip much in the Archie mould, until his wife once again inspired him by donning a cat outfit one night for a party. This led to him creating a costumed band for Josie called The Pussycats, and it was this new wrinkle that was adapted into the cartoon show. The comic was re-designed by Archie and DeCarlo to reflect the upcoming TV series, which was to have adventure added to the humor already present in the strip.
The characters included Josie, a somewhat bland but likeable redhead (kind of like Archie in that respect), a ditzy blonde named Melody, and Valerie, the real brains behind the team and the first African American main character to appear on a Saturday morning cartoon (beating The Harlem Globetrotters only by one half-hour time slot). Josie’s boyfriend Alan was essentially a roadie, and the group was managed by a mod teen named Alexander, whose taste in clothes far exceeded his bravery. Alexander’s sister Alexandria also tagged along, mostly to create problems for Josie and Alan. Although she had gained some magical powers through her pet cat Sebastian in the comics, these powers were not reflected in the show. The strip was not only adapted, but also transformed by Hanna-Barbera, who added decidedly Scooby-Doo-like elements. Naturally, CBS had been impressed with the ratings that Scooby- Doo, Where Are You? had gotten for them the previous season, and this likely influenced them and H-B for Josie And The Pussycats. In the show, Josie and her band members and entourage travelled the world performing gigs, and always seemed to land themselves in some sort of mystery or sordid plot. Where Scooby and the gang found monsters and ghosts, The Pussycats found mad scientists and rogue spies. In many ways, it was really a companion show to Scooby-Doo more than Archie (except for the Archie-inspired music), with a tone that landed in-between Scooby and Jonny Quest.
Each episode opened with a teaser to introduce that week’s locale and antagonist, each week they were in a new country, and everywhere they went danger seemed to lurk. The first episode saw them captured by the great-grandson of Captain Nemo, with references to both 20,000 Leagues Under The Seas and Mysterious Island. From there, they encountered such rogues as Doctor Greenthumb, Dr. Madro (a take on The Island Of Doctor Moreau), a secret society known as The Secret Six, and supposed space aliens from Jupiter. The plots involved such fun contrivances as replacing world leaders with fakes, Valerie appearing to be the double for a desert princess, an invisibility formula, a microfilm hidden in purple wooden clogs, and the secrets of an ancient Chinese temple. The villains are uniformly formidable and of a serious nature, making for an exciting show that nevertheless does not sacrifice the laughs. Much of the humor comes from Alexandra’s attempts to separate Josie from Alan, especially when she enlists a not-sympathetic Sebastian. Her twin Alexander’s cowardice also generates some humor, while Melody offers both sex appeal and an endearing stupidity as a stereotypical but loveable dumb blonde.
This DVD release of all sixteen episodes is my first exposure to the show, which I had never previously given much thought. I figured it to be just another 1970s cartoon about funny teens, and appealing to mostly girls, so I was pleasantly surprised to find how much I enjoyed it. While it obviously has female protagonists, the adventure in the series is built to appeal to males (and of course it doesn’t hurt that the Pussycats are so cute). From the exciting teasers, through the rotoscoped band opening, subsequent thrills, and music-accompanied chase scenes (just like in Scoob’s second season), this show is classic Hanna-Barbera, and much better than I had expected. Sure, if you watch a few episodes in a row the formulaic plots are more noticeable, but The Pussycats do at least travel farther than Scooby initially did. The show’s DVD release is a fitting tribute to Josie’s creator Dan DeCarlo, and it’s just too bad he died prior to this, as it is sure to bring him greater fame than ever.
Is This Thing Loaded?
Key to giving DeCarlo his due is the featurette The Irresistible Charm Of Dan DeCarlo (22:54), presented in non-anamorphic letterbox. This follows the recent trend of spotlighting creators on the Hanna-Barbera sets, and I heartily approve. We learn here of Dan’s meeting Josie for the first time (both for real and apocryphal) during WWII, his career start at Timely, and his subsequent success at Archie. The featurette avoids discussing the movie and its effect on DeCarlo’s relationship with Archie, but we do get terrific remembrances by those who knew him, including such diverse talents as Scott Shaw!, Stan Lee, Bill Morrison, and Mark Evanier, as well as Archie’s Michael Silberkleit. Following this tribute, it certainly made me want to dig out some Archie comics and digests so that I could enjoy them in a new light. I’m a little ashamed that I never fully appreciated DeCarlo’s work, but this featurette made me realize just why DeCarlo was so admired, and why he was flooded with offers after he split with Archie. It is interesting to note that the end acknowledgments on the featurette give credit to DeCarlo as co-creator of the Josie characters along with Archie’s Richard Goldwater (with contributions from Archie co-founder and Richard’s dad John G. Goldwater), while the episodes have credits that name the Goldwaters as creators and DeCarlo as “designer.”
I do regret to report, however, that no other extras are offered to enlighten us about the production of the television show. Trailers on Disc 2 include those for The Smurfs, Looney Tunes, Space Ghost/Birdman/Droopy, Tom And Jerry Spotlight Collection Volume 3, Wait till Your Father Gets Home, and Popeye.
Josie comes in an ultra-slim digipack and slipcase, housing two discs— one one-sided, and one double-sided. The trim on the cover remakes the Hanna-Barbera Classic Collection trim by adding a leopard pattern and making the border purple and orange rather than black. It looks good, though it stands out from all the other H-B sets. Maybe I’ll just file it with my comic-derived DVDs rather than the Hanna-Barbera ones anyways.
Ink And Paint:
There’s a reason why the word “remastered” appears nowhere on the package. These cartoons definitely show their age, with plenty of scratches and dust, though the transfers are otherwise pretty solid, considering the rough quality of the source. The colors may be a bit faded, but the transfer is at least true to the prints, with no major artifacting problems. The same cannot be said for the featurette, though, as it is riddled with video issues including lots of moiré effects.
The mono soundtrack is reproduced rather unspectacularly although I was able to forgive most of the harshness, given the age of the show. Unfortunately, the soundtrack also drags at times, and some may be even less forgiving that the laugh track has been left off. Trivia experts will be interested in knowing that Cheryl Ladd was the singing voice for Melody, and that Casey Kasem played Alexander in a cowardly role similar to Kasem’s “Shaggy”. Josie herself was played by Hanna-Barbera regular Janet Waldo (“Judy Jetson”). Only an English track is offered, and there is also an English subtitle track for the hearing impaired.
A bit of remastering would have been appreciated, but otherwise I was very pleased with finally catching this show now that it is on DVD. This is one of the better humor-adventure cartoon shows I have seen, with plenty of appeal in the areas of writing and drawing. The featurette on DeCarlo is very nice, though it is certainly not of the same depth as the Alex Toth piece on the Space Ghost set. For those that thought this was just a girls’ show (like I did), I encourage you to give it a look. Hopefully this set will sell well enough that we will get the show’s follow-up, 1972’s Josie And The Pussycats In Outer Space!
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?