The 1970’s really was the Golden Age of Saturday morning cartoons. The three major networks all broadcast cartoons from usually around 7:30 am to about Noon, with the occasional live-action show thrown in for good measure. In these days before VCRs and TiVo, kids were often left with a difficult choice over which cartoon to watch during a certain time period. That’s when re-runs came in handy because you could always catch the ones you missed in the second go round.
Super Friends had various incarnations over the years. The “All New Super Friends Hour” was the second incarnation, running during the 1977 – 1978 season. Each hour show presented four cartoons. The first one teamed two members of the Super Friends; next came the Wonder Twins episodes; the third cartoon was considered the feature for the week, usually running around twenty minutes and featuring the entire Super Friends Team; finally, the last episode paired on of the team with a guest-star hero. This two disc DVD features seven episodes so you get a total of 28 cartoons.
While these cartoons certainly bring back some fond memories of sitting in front of the TV and eating a bowl of cereal, the fact is that they really have not aged all that well. These were produced in an era when networks were very sensitive to the censors and to watchdog groups who were opposed to violence in cartoons. Words such as “Kill” or “Death” were strictly prohibited, as were scenes of physical violence. You just didn’t see Batman or Superman punching out the bad guys. The challenge to the writers became how to present these powerful heroes and all their abilities while satisfying the censors. Well, they did the best they could, but compared to modern superhero cartoons they look positively ridiculous. Batman and Superman are largely interchangeable personality wise. As noted in one of the featurettes, they were really like dads more than superheroes.
The other thing about these toons is that you don’t see the usual arch-villains. Rather the bad guys usually are in the form of an evil or misguided scientist whose experiments run out of control or perhaps strange monsters or aliens like the race of Rockmen from “Invasion of the Earthors” or the plant-like beings from “Day of the Plant Creatures. It is kind of like reading DC Comics circa the early 1960’s.
The Wonder Twins episodes always seemed to involve Zan and Jayna rescuing a young person from some mistake in judgment such as hitchhiking, drag-racing, or vandalizing their school. In between the episodes were short vignettes on topics such as health or safety. The Network basically dictated these be included.
The most interesting episodes to me were always the ones with the guest-stars because it gave you a chance to see other heroes like The Atom, Green Lantern, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Apache Chief and others.
the two featurettes are quite interesting. The first, “One Dimensional Goodness: The Super Friends and the Good Old Days” takes a look at how the creators dealt with the network constraints and makes comparisons to today’s shows. It includes comments from writers like Mark Waid and animation historian, Jerry Beck.
The second, “Origins of the Guest Stars” looks at how characters Hawkman, Hawkgirl, the Atom, and Green Lantern made their first cartoon appearances during this season.
The animation is average; this was the era where minimal animation was a necessity to keep costs down. The shows are rather bland, but if you grew up in that era, this show will always maintain a warm, fuzzy place in your memory.