Happy 50th Anniversary Jonny Quest! That’s right– it was 50 years ago today in 1964 that animated action/action series from Hanna Barbera made its debut on ABC and sparked a cult following that lasts to this day.
With its combination of action and science fiction, Jonny Quest took audiences by storm in the 1964 – 1965 Fall season. The series featured grim action, frequent character deaths, and a much more realistic tone and visual style than anything previous developed by Hanna Barbera – a studio better known for series such as The Flintstones and eventually Scooby Doo. It was comic artist Doug Wildey that gave the series its distinctive style. The artist took inspiration from then-cutting edge technology featured in magazines like Popular Science and Popular Mechanics as well the comic series Terry and the Pirates and even the first film in the James Bond franchise Dr. No. Villains and menaces were presented in a realistic fashion and the action was far more cinematic than other animation at the time. While there were a few exceptions, the series treated its subjects and its stories as seriously as possible and avoided many of the cartoon cliches that were often played for laughs.
Jonny Quest balanced action and humor through the use of its multi-generational and multi-ethnic cast. While Jonny may have been the title character, the focus of the series was divided up between this genius scientist father, quasi-mystical childhood friend Hadji, and coolest bodyguard ever Race Bannon! When the series called for dark action, the focus shifted to Dr. Quest and Race while Jonny and Hadji were stars of the more lighthearted adventure sequences. Last, but not least– there was Bandit, Jonny’s trusty dog whose bark was always more prevalent than his bite.
The “Quest team” faced menaces from lost species to sinister secret organizations to an extra-dimensional energy creature that evoked memories of the classic film Forbidden Planet! Mummies, Nazi criminals, and even a pterosaur were all menaces that were overcome by this fearsome foursome and their trusty dog!
It wasn’t just the visual style that made Jonny Quest unique. One has only to watch a few minutes of the series before the distinctive musical style of Hoyt Curtin finds you tapping your fingers to the cool beats of the jazz orchestra. Rather than the bombastic marches of the Hollywood series, the Adventures of Jonny Quest had a decidedly cool and modern feel that sets the series aside from its peers to this day. Sadly, an official soundtrack album to this series has never been released, although a solid bootleg album of Curtin’s music can be found through “other means.”
Wait a minute– what does Jonny Quest have to do with G.I. Joe? One has only to look at the 1970 launch of the G.I. Joe Adventure Team to see the connections. A daring team of ex-soldiers and scientists turned adventurers and explorers travel the world to avert natural disasters, confront nefarious villains, and even save the occasional endangered species. Sound familiar? The G.I. Joe Collector’s Club must think so; the next time you call up their office just listen carefully to the hold music. (Not to mention several mentions in the Adventure Team newsletter comic and bios.)
The series lasted for only one season on ABC but it returned to the airwaves a few years later on CBS and then a few more years later on NBC making it one of the only series ever to air on all three major networks. It has served as an inspiration for countless television, comic and movie series over the intervening decades and is still shown on sporadically on Cartoon Network. Not bad for a half-century old series. Sure, there were a few follow-up movies and an attempt to modernize the series in the late 90’s but none of these captured the same spark and flair of the original 1960’s series. Now if only we could get some decent 1:18 scale figures of these characters!
Why was Jonny Quest so popular? Why has it endured for a half century? I think it’s the fact that Jonny Quest embraces so many genres in one convenient package. It’s horror, science fiction, spy thriller, and adventure series all rolled into one package. The stories combined so many elements from 60’s super-science to pulp era villains that its almost hard to drop JQ into one single category. If you took James Bond, Indiana Jones, Reed Richards, Jack Armstrong, Nathan Drake, and MacGyver and threw them all into a centrifuge the resulting combination would be Jonny Quest!
Happy anniversary, Jonny Quest! You’ve been often copied but never equaled!