It’s not often that I find a cartoon show that I loved as a kid that also appeals to my own kids. So far, we’ve settled on Warner Brothers cartoons and Scooby Doo. The Warner Brothers cartoons are, of course, timeless, but I’m not quite sure why they all love Scooby. Scooby the dog is funny, there’s some cool music and catching the bad guy at the end is satisfying but it very repetitive. Still, I loved it at the same age, so I can’t complain.
We’ve recently added another to the list: Jonny Quest.
The Boomerang Network is airing the show at 7:30 p.m. on weekdays. My nine-year-old twins discovered it on their own and now won’t miss an episode, even though they’ve seen all of them multiple times. To summarize the show: Jonny and his friend Hadji travel the world in the wake of Jonny’s brilliant scientist father, Dr. Benton Quest, and the family bodyguard, Race Bannon.
In many ways, it’s exactly the show I remember and loved.
The gadgets are still incredibly cool, the show has genuinely scary moments, and the theme music can’t be beat. Race remains the best nanny ever, though he’s definitely less worried about the well-being of his charges than most parents would be. Want to rid in a hovercraft? Sure. Want to use a jetpack and go hunt a monster? No problem.
Dr. Quest shares this attitude, dragging the boys off to various remote locations which are often full of monsters, human and otherwise.
However, there are some problems with the show:
- The animation is very primitive. Panels are reused multiple times, as in many Hanna-Barbera shows of the same time period. It makes the action very static and stilted. This went over my head as a child but is painfully obvious now.
- And the show is backward in a way that I didn’t expect.
- I thought it would be the science that was hopoelessly outdated. Yet the hovercrafts, video walkie-talkies, various submarines, lasers, and other gadgets are still ahead of the curve, even today.
- Where the show is behind the times is socially.
- First, there’s the lack of female cast members, girls or women. It’s not that the show presents women in a bad light, it’s simply that with one or two exceptions, women aren’t present at all. But given there are plenty of adventure shows today that include girls or have girls as the lead characters, this didn’t bother me too much.
- More important and worrisome are the sterotypical portrayals of non-whites, especially given what it might teach my kids in today’s multi-cultural world.
- While Hadji is a person of color who is fully accepted into the core Quest clan and that’s a good message, basically everyone else with an accent is either a villain or incompetent.
- And it can go beyond the accent, into full blown racial stereotype. Dr. Zinn, who I thought a cool villain years ago, seems more like another version of over-the-top Chinese villains like Fu Manchu.
- Occasionally, there are white people with accents who are the bad guys, like the Russians who want a missile guidance system, or the white hunter who uses natives to do his dirty work, but those are in the minority.
- Many of these non-white are from primitive native cultures, too, like the ones threatening our heroes in the opening credits. There’s definitely a ‘white man good, other cultures inferior’ vibe.
- The twins noticed this about the same time as I did, so I tried to turn it into a teachable moment and we talked it out. Having Hadji as a good example definitely helped, as did showing how adoptive kids are valued in a somewhat unconventional family.
- The last unexpected element I had to explain was the frequency of violent death. Race shoots bad guys, they die. The invisible monster not only destroys the village but the people in it. The overgrown lizard sometimes eats its creator. The mummy takes out the potential Egyptian dictator by burying them both under rubble in a tomb.
- Various others get thrown off cliffs, smashed by boats or rocks, or attacked by whales. There is no gore but it’s clear that these characters die.
I don’t know if it’s necessarily damaging for the twins but it does remind me that it was a different era.
And as entertaining as rewatching JQ with my twins has been been, explaining those differences has made it much more challenging that I anticipated, especially for what I remembered as simply being a fun adventure show.