Hanna-Barbera (1966), Warner Home Video (July 17, 2007), 2 discs, 420 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital Mono, Not Rated, Retail: $26.98
An outer space superhero battles would-be conquerors alongside twin protégés and a monkey. Also, the adventures of a boy among dinosaurs are presented.
The Sweatbox Review:
The era of greatness for Saturday morning cartoons began in 1966, when all three major networks began to rely on new cartoons for most of their Saturday morning schedules. Prior to this, reruns of popular kids shows or old theatrical cartoons had dominated much of the morning. CBS head of programming Fred Silverman decided to feature superheroes in his network’s Saturday morning schedule. This notably resulted in the landmark The New Adventures Of Superman, courtesy of Filmation Studios, as well as the topic of this review— Hanna-Barbera’s Space Ghost & Dino Boy. Space Ghost was an original creation as opposed to a comic book hero, though he had all the trappings of his four-color counterparts. He certainly looked heroic, thanks to superlative design work by Alex Toth (1928-2006), a well-respected comics artist. It is Toth’s work on the show that may be credited with making it so appealing to generations of fans, as the scripts were certainly not particularly groundbreaking. The stories would have been quite at home in any of numerous science fiction comic books of the 1950s and 1960s, complete with groovy spaceships, laser guns, and bug-eyed alien monsters.
In Space Ghost, you watched more because of the elegantly designed main character and his teen helpers, twin siblings Jan and Jace (not to mention the surprisingly useful Blip the monkey). There was just something about that Space Ghost costume—- black cowl, white bodysuit, feather-ended cape, and of course Space Ghost’s power wristbands, which performed a variety of defensive and offensive functions. His name, though, derived from his use of invisibility, an ability he shared with his companions and his spaceship, the Phantom Cruiser (also sometimes referred to as The Ghost Ship). Using these weapons and abilities, Space Ghost patrolled the galaxy, intent on stopping evil wherever he found it. Evil generally took the form of odd-looking alien crime bosses, such as the mantis-like Zorak, who appeared in the very first episode. Naturally, there were also assorted mad scientists to battle, as well as would-be conquerors and misunderstood monsters. His base of operations was Ghost Planet, though one got the impression that he and his helpers were originally from Earth.
Each adventure was pretty breezy, owing to its short seven-minute runtime. This may be the perfect length for a gag cartoon, but adventure stories can’t cook up too much plot in just a few minutes. Consequently, the stores were simple and straightforward, with a minimum of characterization aside from presenting two-dimensional presentations of sibling rivalry between Jan and Jayce. Aside from that, there was barely enough time to present the premise of the story (frequently the twins got lost or otherwise stumbled upon some unforeseen danger), create a conflict (twins captured, or Space Ghost attacks menace but loses his power bands), and have a resolution (Blip turns invisible to fetch Space Ghost’s power bands; seriously, the monkey does a lot of good in these stories, almost at the expense of making Space Ghost look a little helpless when he is without his power bands). But as I said, the stories were beside the point when one could ogle the elegant production design of Space Ghost’s universe. Aside from Space Ghost’s design, the next best things going for him was the commanding voice of Gary Owens, who had previously appeared as the hero in 1965’s Roger Ramjet and would later voice Blue Falcon in Hanna-Barbera’s Dynomutt. Owens’ rich delivery was a wonderful complement to the powerful Toth designs and made Space Ghost seem all the more formidable.
Each episode of Space Ghost & Dino Boy featured two separate stories starring Space Ghost, with a Dino Boy story in-between. Dino Boy In The Lost Valley contained the adventures of a young boy named Todd who landed in an unknown land after parachuting from a disabled plane. This land held his new companion Ugh The Caveman, numerous dinosaurs such as his pet Bronty (a baby brontosaurus) and an assortment of bizarre creatures and primitive races. Dino Boy’s stories were just as skimpy as those of Space Ghost, but they were also just as fun. Dino Boy and Ugh encountered all sorts of dangers and allies in The Lost Valley, such as Worm People, Ant Warriors, and Bird Riders. While the stories were no worse than those found in the Space Ghost segments, it may have been the lack of a flashy costume that led to Dino Boy being largely forgotten over the years. While Space Ghost would re-appear in numerous incarnations, Dino Boy only lasted the one season. Still, I’m very glad that the Dino Boy segments have been included in this DVD set. They feature the same quality of design work as Space Ghost, and lack none of the enjoyment.
The next incarnation of Space Ghost would appear the following season, when two new full episodes were produced. With three Space Ghost segments each, they comprised a six-part story collectively known as The Council Of Doom. The premise was a young cartoon fan’s dream, with six of Space Ghost’s most powerful adversaries teaming up for the sole purpose of vanquishing Space Ghost once and for all. The villainous team was comprised of major baddie Zorak, the pirate Brak, Moltar, Metallus The Robot Master, Creature King, and Spider Woman. Even better, the storyline saw Space Ghost getting thrown into different times and dimensions so that he could visit new Hanna-Barbera characters, with appearances by The Herculoids, Moby Dick, Shazzan, and The Mighty Mightor. These appearances amount to little more than cameos, but it is still pretty cool to see all those little team-ups!
Dino Boy did not appear in these final two episodes of Space Ghost, and I do not think he was ever seen since, aside from an old Space Ghost videotape and laserdisc release. (Incidentally, the laserdisc includes bumpers that teamed Space Ghost and Dino Boy, but those bumpers do not appear on the DVD!) Space Ghost, on the other hand, got reruns on Space Ghost And Frankenstein, Jr. (1976), Hanna-Barbera’s World Of Super Adventure (1980), and various cable appearances on USA, Cartoon Network and Toonami. He also received 22 new episodes as part of 1981’s Space Stars (which must be where I first saw him), a show that also had segments devoted to Teen Force, Astro And The Space Mutts, and new episodes for The Herculoids. Additionally, Space Ghost finally received an origin story in a 2004 DC Comics series, now available in trade paperback.
The original show, though, has an unbeatable charm. For far-flung space adventure, no Saturday morning show can compete with Space Ghost.
Is This Thing Loaded?
Aside from the usual Trailers (Wait Till Your Father Gets Home, Popeye, and the combined one for Space Ghost/Birdman/Droopy), there is one true bonus on this set— and it is a doozy.
Simplicity: The Life And Art Of Alex Toth is a touching and provocative 80-minute documentary about the renowned artist. Having seen the advance publicity for this set, I had assumed that the “feature length extra” would be a much more minor affair than advertised, but the opposite is true. This is a great look at the artist, and is no puff piece either. His four children are extensively featured, with additional interviews with close friends and such comic book stars as Golden Agers Irwin Hasen and Joe Kubert, and modern luminaries like Paul Pope and Bruce Timm. They all have memories to share, and are fully honest about their experiences with Toth, who like many geniuses could have little patience for those who couldn’t see things the way he did. Many examples of his comic and animation work are shown, and though the chronology is sometimes off track, in the end we get a fine showcase of the man and his work. His story even gets something of a happy ending, allowing the documentary to leave you feeling warmth towards the artist as well as his achievements. There are a lot of great stories in here, including a funny one Mark Chiarello tells of Toth meeting fellow legendary artist Jack Kirby. The documentary is presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Unfortunately, there are no Space Ghost-centered extras on this set, other than the artwork seen in the Toth documentary. This is a strange omission, as the similar Birdman And The Galaxy Trio set, released the same day and cross-promoted with Space Ghost & Dino Boy, has a featurette on the show despite being a lesser profile series. Also, it would have been nice if the missing bumpers (seen on the laserdisc) had appeared here. Still, the documentary on Toth in the Space Ghost DVD set goes a long ways towards satisfying this Hanna-Barbera fan.
This is another handsome package in the Hanna-Barbera Classic Collection. In accordance with recent tends, this set gets a thin, overlapping disc set-up in a digipack. Space Ghost is featured on the front cover and inner foldout, while Dino Boy is on the back cover of the slipcase and both covers for the digipack. The two discs are each double-sided, with the documentary sitting alone on the fourth side.
Ink And Paint:
While I was satisfied with the video presentation, it is not as spiffy as one might hope. The colors are nice, and the picture is sharp enough for a show of this vintage, but it does look a little old. The regular cell smudges are present, native to the original negatives, and there is some dust here and there. The biggest problem, though, is the banding seen at the sides of the frame throughout the episodes. Depending on your screen’s overscan, you may not see it, but it will definitely show on any widescreen sets where the 4:3 image is centered.
Good ol‘ Warner keeps with tradition and presents Space Ghost & Dino Boy with its original mono soundtrack, entirely originating from the center speaker. The quality is fine, no better or worse than what you would expect of a 1960s Saturday morning cartoon.
When discussing television cartoons of the past, there is no doubt that the nostalgia factor plays a heavy role in ascertaining a show’s worthiness. Space Ghost & Dino Boy carries a lot of weight with Hanna-Barbera fans, and it was a milestone of sorts. One can certainly see why, though. Even though Toth himself thought the show to be mediocre, and he never understood all the fuss about it, his fans know that his work on the show (along with all the other artists) made it stand out as one of the better-looking shows of its era— and it still holds up well today. The space adventure, though told in brief seven-minute stories that could carry little dramatic weight, is nevertheless unsurpassed in its fun quality. The Dino Boy segments are nearly as good, if not quite so flashy. With the addition of the fantastic feature-length documentary, this set is a must-own for fans of old-fashioned cartoon greatness.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?