I have long been a fan of television spin-offs. But the sad truth of it is for every Laverne & Shirley there’s a Joanie Loves Chachi, and for every Jeffersons a Gloria. Even old school Saturday morning juggernaut Scooby Doo, Where Are You! launched a number of notable (and equally forgettable) offshoots. Interestingly enough, a childhood favorite of mine, Scooby’s All-Star Laff-A-Lympics, has been released by our friends at Warner Home Video just in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Less a proper spinoff than a oddly-conceived Hanna-Barbera mash-up of shows past, the Laff-A-Lympics saw three teams of cartoon contestants vying for gold, silver and bronze medals in a series of unlikely sporting events. Obviously conceived as some bastard offspring of the Olympic Games and Battle of the Network Stars, the show’s original season ran from 1977-1978, with a second half-season leading into ’79.
Though the entire show’s run was a mere 24 episodes, this initial release includes only four. Still, at a $10 price tag the DVD’s 88 minute running time (plus a bonus episode of Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get a Clue!) seems adequate. It also includes foreign language tracks and subtitles, which is a pleasant surprise for what is essentially a budget release.
The episodes themselves, which take The Scooby Doobies, The Yogi Yahooeys and The Really Rottens everywhere from the Alps to the Sahara, the UK to the southeast Asia, and even into the Florida swamps, sees a string of big name characters (like team captains Scooby and Yogi Bear), second-stringers (Dynomutt and Captain Caveman) and original characters (practically the entire Really Rottens lineup) competing in everything from a skiing competition to a race to photograph the famed Loch Ness Monster. It’s a far cry from a realistic sports outing, but this is seventies-era Hanna-Barbera we’re talking about.
Obviously this is far from the studio’s best work. The picture is presented in the standard aspect ratio – again, this is a seventies relic – with absolutely no visible enhancement. The animation is crude at best, and many of the scenes seem positively plagued with on-screen grime and artifacts.
The voice-acting, on the other hand, is pure nostalgic gold. While the writing (and the music) is cheesy and horribly dated, the voices hit very much in the vein of “the original hits by the original artists.” This is especially true with regard to the series’ true stars, color commentators Snagglepuss and Mildew Wolf. Sure, by this point Mildew was voiced by John Stephenson, but he’s doing his very best Paul Lynde impression, so I award him full points.
Admittedly, the episodes are ridiculously formulaic, with the Doobies or Yahooeys always winning after the sinister machinations of the Rottens (headed up by Muttley and Dick Dastardly analogues Mumbly and the Dread Barron) are uncovered via instant replay and the show certainly never looks as good as any of Hanna-Barbera’s genuine cartoon classics, but it’s an amazing kaleidoscope window into the fast-food childhood that was the life of the seventies geekling.
Despite ample servings of cringe-worthy moments and endlessly recycled background cells, Scooby’s All Star Laff-A-Lympics, Vol. 1 netted multiple viewings by both me and my kids. It’s an easy recommendation for the Boomerang set, fans of retro kitsch and anyone who was raised in the preternatural glow of the cathode-ray tube.
It’s an odd cultural artifact from a bygone era where bell-bottoms were acceptable sportswear and everyone had a crew of teenage sidekicks. It definitely doesn’t bring home the gold, but it’s a solid enough showing for silver.
WIRED: low price-point, a splash of bonus material, retro-charm, huge cast of Hanna-Barbera characters, guest appearances from cartoon greats like (an apparently time-displaced) Fred Flintstone
TIRED: includes only four original episodes, questionable image quality, the stigma of actually owning something as dated as Scooby’s All-Star Laff-A-Lympics
Review material provided by Warner Bros Home Entertainment Group