Hanna-Barbera (1967), Warner Archive (April 3, 2012), 2 discs, 389 mins, 4:3 ratio, Dolby Digital 1.0, Not Rated, Retail: $29.95
Siblings Chuck and Nancy travel the world of old Arabia in an effort to return their magic rings to their rightful owner, so that they can return home. Aiding them is their genie Shazzan, and a winged camel.
The Sweatbox Review:
Designer Alex Toth is synonymous with Hanna-Barbera shows in the later 1960s. His exquisite work graced such shows as Space Ghost and Herculoids, making pedestrian scripts sing, creating classics out of shows that could have been forgettable. Out of that era, the major Toth-designed show that had until now remained unreleased on DVD was 1967’s Shazzan. Shazzan debuted in the time slot immediately after Herculoids, and went up against reruns of The Flintstones, and the first season of Spider-Man. In my view, Shazzan is the least of any of these, and its therefore understandable that it’s the last to reach DVD.
It isn’t a bad series, but I just have never been able to really get into it. The shows’ opening describes how its boring leads, two siblings generically named Chuck and Nancy, find matching rings in a cave in New England. They discover that placing them together transports them to the land of the Arabian Nights, and gives them access to a genie named Shazzan. In order to return home, they must seek out the true owner of the rings and give them back. It’s decent set-up, but the show never lives up to its potential.
During the course of the series, with two stories per episode, the brother and sister move from place to place, getting into various forms of trouble, and naturally get bailed out by their genie. The stories generally start out fun, presenting conflicts typical of Saturday morning fare. They face thieves with magical devices, evil witches and wizards, monsters (giant ogres and the like), various mystical beasts, nasty genies, and they do so while riding atop a flying camel named Kaboobie. That’s pretty fun, right? During their quest, they also find time to assist royalty and peasants alike. Of course, the plots get a bit repetitive in one important way, with at least one of the siblings getting kidnapped or otherwise separated from the other, making it impossible to use both rings to call the genie forth. Once the kids are reunited and use their rings, Shazzan appears and becomes the show’s biggest liability.
With Shazzan able to do literally anything, there isn’t a whole lot of suspense once he shows up. You name it— ring of fire, golden cage, teleportation, lightning bolts— he can do it all. Even against powerful adversaries, the outcome is nowhere near uncertain once Shazzan joins the fray.
Enjoying the show then rests on how interesting the characters are and how they’re developed; and this being a cartoon from 1967, with only ten-minute stories, there isn’t a whole lot there. Chuck and Nancy couldn’t be blander in both appearance and personality, with their signature trait seemingly being susceptible to getting into trouble. It doesn’t help that their quest never really gets them anywhere, with no sense of progression within the show. They never do find the rings’ owner and go home, making the whole premise of the show rather unrewarding.
Even the Toth designs can’t help much. Shazzan looks great, especially when it looks like they simply dropped a model sheet right into the show, but as I said the kids aren’t too special. The other human characters aren’t very interesting either, and even the monsters aren’t Toth’s best efforts. Maybe I would have appreciated the look of the show much more if the backgrounds weren’t so drab. So many stories take place in the barren dessert, that the eye has nothing much to admire, especially since the color design is generally unimaginative. True, there are also mountains and palaces and treasure chambers, but on the whole there are a whole lot of earth tones in the backgrounds.
Unless you’re a Toth or Hanna-Barbera completist, or just like genie stories, it’s hard to recommend this as a purchase. There are far more interesting shows out there. Shazzan isn’t a terrible show, it’s just not all that magical. That winged camel is pretty cool, though.
Is This Thing Loaded?
Originally presented on Saturday Morning Cartoons – 1970s: Volume 2 (which never made sense, since this is a 1960s show, but whatever), The Power of Shazzan (5:45) nicely offers commentary about the series from fellows like Scott Geralds and Mark Evanier, and shows off some of the beautiful pre-production art. They do acknowledge the core weakness of the show, but it’s hard to argue that the artwork looks great.
The episodes have chapter stops in the appropriate places, allowing once to skip past the opening, or go on to the next episode. For an Archive release, that’s pretty good.
Clear keepcase, with no insert or any episode listing with the packaging, though they’re all laid out in the menus. It’s good to see the Hanna-Barbera trade dress being used consistently.
Ink And Paint:
The episodes look surprisingly good! The video compression work is very strong, with the shows looking at least as good as they did back on 1967 television broadcasts. The prints look just about as good as new, with the only drawbacks being the dust and smudges inherent in the look of any cel animated show from the era. Video artifacts are negligible, making for a very fine presentation
The mono audio also sounds as good as ever, with no hiss, crackles, or pops. Dynamic range is predictably limited, but one can’t fault the DVDs for that.
In truth, Shazzan was not a highlight of 1967 Saturday mornings. I’m sure that anyone who grew up on the show (not me) has fond memories, and will find enormous nostalgic appeal here; but for someone coming to it fresh, it seems pretty ordinary— just another kids’ adventure show being cranked out to meet a deadline. For kiddie entertainment, it’s certainly acceptable; it’s just rather forgettable. The video and audio are pretty good, though, and it’s nice to see the old featurette show up here, so for Warner Archive it is a good DVD release. Fans of the show should be happy.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?
Shazzan: The Complete Series may be ordered directly from Warner Archive.