Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saturday Morning Cartoons: GODZILLA


If you were a kid in the 70’s and 80’s, you know the Hanna Barbera logo... it was the last sign-off for multiple television shows every Saturday morning when you snuck down-stairs, grabbed a bowl of Frankenberry cereal (or Nintendo cereal), and waited for the “grownup shows” to stop and Saturday Morning Cartoons to start.  The sound of the H-B logo takes me back to snuggling in the sleeping bag (blue, with flowers and a red interior) my granny made for me.   

Hanna Barbera is famous for coining the “Four meddling _______ & a _______” format of adventure show: Scooby Doo (4 kids & a dog), Captain Caveman (four musicians & a caveman), Jabberjaw (four  kids & a shark doing a Three Stooges impression), and countless others. I watched and loved all of those shows back in the day.  

Let’s talk about their 1978 effort, four irritating scientists & Godzilla plus a horrible “Scrappy Doo” version of Godzilla. Statement of bias; I don’t much like this show.  If you liked the show, I’m glad. I have some guilty cartoon and cinematic pleasures of my own.

Why am I writing about it?  I LOVE Godzilla.  And I love my 6 year old, and SHE loves this show.  So I’m going assume it’s doing its job by entertaining kids.  If you have kids and want to introduce them to Kaiju, this is a great way.

Like their other shows, GODZILLA is fairly described as “semi-animated,” a production technique that allows a show to be animated in about half the produced frames. Only the body parts that need to be moving are animated, and there is lot of reuse of animation. Most television cartoons of this era use the technique, but it is particularly noticeable (if not egregious) in this show. 

Gadzuki, everybody.
This series is pretty much summarized by the phrase “Godzilla Ex Machina.”  The plot of each episode is “Crew of the Calico gets in trouble, calls Godzilla like a giant doberman with firebreath, and the day is saved.”  Also, Gadzuki, the Scrappy Doo to Godzilla’s…Godzilla, bumbles around, gets stuck and causes problems and generally Jar-Jars up the place.  Fie upon thee, Gadzuki.  I hate you worse than Minya.

This Godzilla cartoon (there have been others) was an anchor show for a rotating host of other Hanna Barbara action cartoons aired from 1978-81 in various combinations.  There are 26 half hour episodes.  Well, really, there is about one proto-episode, and they switched the monster and the lesson learned 26 times. History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man.[1]

It IS fun to see the cartoon Kaiju battles, and that payoff is pretty clearly where the animation budget (such as it was) was spent.  (About $3 grand an episode, the internet tells me).   A super cut of the Kajui monster battles would be pretty great, although sometimes they change scale from scene to scene. And, sometimes, their powers are interestingly modified. 

Something you’ll read a lot about if you research this show is that Godzilla breathes fire instead of destructive atomic energy. I’m fascinated by this choice.  By changing Godzilla’s breath weapon from atomic furnace to fire, Big G is effectively turned into a wingless fire-breathing dragon.  The whole overtones of the original movie relating to  the terror of the destruction of the atomic bomb are changed if Godzilla isn’t an atomic monster.  Perhaps the decision was a graphic choice; red flames instead of blue glowing radiation, but it is one that is curiously prevalent in a lot of American depictions of Godzilla. 

Regardless, giving Godzilla fire breath and having him run to heel and assist like Puff the Magic Dragon is a fundamentally different message from “unstoppable atonic monster of our own creation protects his territory from the menace of mankind.”  I might be reading too much into a Saturday morning cartoon, but hey, that’s what I’m here for.  Also, Godzilla has laser beam eyes, or heat vision, or something.  For…reasons.

Worth watching a few episodes if you are a Godzilla completist, but really, there are a lot of shows that do the formula better.  

For the die hard lovers of the show, or the (probably more numerous) college kids who fell in love with Sea Lab 2021 and Venture Brothers style modern send ups of 1970’s adventure shows, Cartoon Network created a short called “Godzilla vs. the Y2K Bug" using footage from the show.  It’s a one trick pony, so I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s kinda fun. 

[1]  The first concert I ever attended on my own in a dive bar was a Blue Oyster Cult concert.  The song “Godzilla” blew my mind, and I really wanted to put it in this review. Check it out. It’s way better than this cartoon.  It should be the soundtrack for the super cut of kaiju battles I mentioned.  Internet, you should make that. 

JONATHAN M. CHAFFIN is an Atlanta-based graphic designer and art director and a lifetime fan of horror stories and film. His current project is where he uses artifacts and ephemera to tell stories... he also produces horror-themed tiki mugs and barware like the Horror In Clay Cthulhu Tiki Mug. In addition, Jonathan occasionally does voice-over and podcasting work and appears on panels at sci-fi fantasy and pop culture conventions on a variety of topics. You can follow him @CthulhuMug on twitter or by friending HorrorInClay on Facebook and G+

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