Classic Sci Fi TV: Our ongoing look back at many of the classics of science fiction and fantasy television.
What Is It? This classic Hanna-Barbara animated sci fi/adventure series followed the young Jonny Quest and his friend Hadji as they travel around the world with Jonny’s scientist father Dr. Benton Quest and family bodyguard Race Bannon (along with their dog bandit) making new scientific discoveries while also thwarting the plans of villains who threaten the world.
When Did It Air? 1964-65, ABC, One Season Totaling 26 Episodes
Starring: Tim Matheson, Mike Road, Danny Bravo, John Stephenson, Don Messick
Created By: Doug Wildey
Is It Must-Watch Sci Fi TV? Yes. The original adventures of Jonny Quest spurred the imaginations of many who watched it from their young years to later in life and have cemented themselves as classics of the genre.
The Skinny: During the early 1960’s, the notion that sci fi was just for kids, exemplified by such 50’s shows as Captain Video and Space Patrol, was being challenged by genre entries with broader appeal such as The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Thriller. Coming out in 1964, Jonny Quest could be seen as a bridge show between kiddie sci fi and a broader acceptance of the genre as it appealed to younger viewers with its animated tales, but also to the kid in us all with its timeless sense of adventure along with its pulpy sense of fun. Consider Jonny Quest to be the Indiana Jones of his day with the show’s ability to deliver a great action-adventure yarn peppered with genre elements that could be enjoyed by a broad audience.
Of course, the show comes from a simpler time and lacks the sophistication that modern viewers typically look for these days as it went for straight-forward adventure tales. The villains were typically one-dimensional and the main characters were barely fleshed beyond that level. Jonny Quest also lacks the political correctness that would later creep into television shows (especially those aimed at a younger audience) with its racial stereotypes for villains as well as the levels of violence in each episode. But those are signs of a different era, and today we can enjoy the show’s sincerity in its attempts to deliver a fun tale with a sense of wonder and adventure. Its influence has been vast since it first aired, leaving a lasting impression on many who watched during its original run or in the endless Saturday morning repeats that followed. It delivered a grand adventure that appealed to viewers young and old and has remained an icon for the genre for over fifty years since it first debuted.
Cancelled Too Soon? Perhaps. Because it was expensive to produce an animated series for Prime Time, ABC moved it to the Saturday morning line-up where kids would watch the same twenty six episodes over and over (and over). But many of us would have loved to have had another season or two from the original creative team. The show was revived in the 80’s with thirteen new episodes (known as The New Adventures of Jonny Quest) as well as a couple of television movies, but that did not quite capture the spirit of the original (though it was still watchable). There was also a 90’s revival, but that one, which mixed in CGI-animation, moved even further away from the direction of the original show.
Is It a Good Reboot Candidate? Absolutely. There is a live-action movie supposedly in the works from Grindhouse master Robert Rodriguez, but a return to the animated series would be quite welcome. And while the temptation would be to update the show and bring it into the 21st, I believe a retro version would be the best way to go. Keep Jonny Quest set in its original era and just produce new episode in the spirit of the 1960’s version. But a modernized reworking is an option as well if done right, perhaps having a grown-up Jonny Quest taking over the Benton Quest role and focusing the series on Jonny Jr. With all the reboots and revivals in the works on television (including a live-action version of The Jetsons in development at ABC), I’m surprised JQ hasn’t been considered. Perhaps the movie has the rights on lockdown, but I would definitely love to see some new adventures of the original Jonny Quest in retro-animated form.
Did You Know? Jonny Quest creator Doug Wildey came to Hanna-Barbara after working on Space Angel and they asked him to adapt the radio program Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy to an animated series. Test footage for this series was produced, but rights issues with the character kept it from moving forward. HB then asked Wildey to rework the concept into what would become Jonny Quest. The test real for Jack Armstrong did see the light of day, though, as it was used for the JQ end credits sequence.
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