Thursday, February 28, 2008


Any child who was glued to the TV in the 60s and 70s the way I was became intimately familiar with the handful of cartoon producers who dominated the TV animation market. And just as people develop brand loyalty with everything from cars to toothpaste, I was a devoted Filmation man. I admit I watched everything, and I did have a few favorites produced by those other guys, but Filmation consistently put out material that was right up my alley. Now that many of these shows are being put out on DVD, complete with audio commentary by producer Lou Scheimer and others from the Filmation family, I’ve been reliving some of these wonderful childhood memories.

My earliest memories of Filmation go back to their first Saturday morning cartoon show, The New Adventures of Superman. I was too young to remember when they first aired, but I saw episodes aired as repeats on Sunday afternoons. I do recall, however, the premiere of The Adventures of Batman and Robin which came along a couple years later (the animated show couldn’t air until after the live-action show was canceled). I was a huge Batman fan and was thrilled to death that an animated version was coming to Saturday morning. The frenetic opening credit sequence, with its quick cuts and flashing primary colors, really got me jazzed right off the bat (pardon the pun). I also loved their new Batmobile design. Far more sleek and serious looking that the George Barris creation, it looked like the muscle cars I saw zipping up and down my front street at the time.

Despite the initial excitement over the opening credits, I remember feeling a bit let down by the stories. The format was essentially the same as the Superman show (seven minute adventures with fairly simplistic storylines), but the animation seemed even more limited. Also, I don’t recall the first episode featuring any of the major villains like The Joker or The Penguin. I could be wrong about that, but that was my memory. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but there was something not quite right about the show. Having seen some of those cartoons on YouTube recently, I think I was probably disappointed with the slow pacing. Even with limited animation, Superman could still generate excitement because he was saving jet planes from fiery crashes and shifting the Earth’s orbit. Batman was simply gathering clues and catching crooks. That was great in the live-action show when you had Adam West and Burt Ward chewing up the scenery, but those strangely immobile close-up shots that Filmation was so famous for just didn’t inspire much excitement. Nevertheless, it was Batman, so I stayed loyal.

Around the same time, I remember seeing their movie tie-in shows, Journey to the Center of the Earth and Fantastic Voyage. I was especially fascinated with Fantastic Voyage, just as I had been with the movie. What I liked about the animated series was that they had a flying ship called the Voyager rather than a submarine like in the movie. With Voyager, they could travel anywhere in their miniaturized state. And the hero had an eyepatch! That was really startling to me (I hadn't yet seen Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.). The closing credit sequence (yes kids, they used to have those once upon a time) was especially atmospheric, showing clips of the empty, darkly lit miniaturization lab while moody music played; probably the gloomiest credit sequence of any Saturday morning show in history.

I didn’t discover the Aquaman TV show until the early 70s when it was in syndication. One of the local independent stations ran the show early on Saturday mornings before the network shows started. This was really my first exposure to Aquaman since I never read his comic books. Although I was only lukewarm about Aquaman, I loved the back-up stories featuring other heroes of DC’s line-up like the Flash, Green Lantern, Atom, Teen Titans, and the Justice League of America. The miniaturization thing must’ve really captivated me back then because I was especially fond of the Atom, and I got a real kick out of seeing the whole gang in the Justice League of America sequences. Again, legal issues prevented Batman from being in this animated JLA, but he never had much to do in JLA anyway.

All these action/adventure shows really made Filmation stand out in my mind. I was never a fan of the anthropomorphic funny critters that Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbera cranked out. I liked science fiction and comic books, and that was Filmation’s source material, at least in the early days. By the early 70s, they started branching out. More on that later…

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