Sunday, August 09, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: The Fantastic Four's Second Cartoon!

Fox's ballyhooed Fantastic Four reboot (which is terrible, by the way) is currently in theaters and flopping rather spectacularly, which certainly demonstrates the inevitably disastrous results of taking the classic superhero book team so far off-model. Another example of the FF going off-model, albeit to a lesser degree, was when they returned to animation in 1978 (having previously starred in a series produced by Hanna-Barbera eleven years prior).

This show, labeled The New Fantastic Four, boasted scripts by comic and animation vets like Roy Tomas and Christy Marx. It also featured storyboards by none other than legendary FF co-creator Jack Kirby himself, making this the very last time that Kirby contributed to the Fantastic Four following his lengthy drawing the team's comic title (though his storyboards would later be repurposed for a comic story much to his chagrin). Premiering in fall of '78 on NBC, here's what it looked like:

As you can see, it's pretty standard issue stuff. We've got Reed, Sue, Ben, Jo--wait, H.E.R.B.I.E. the Robot? Who the hell? Yep, it turns out that as a result of Marvel having signed over the TV rights to the Human Torch to Universal (part of the same deal that birthed the Incredible Hulk TV show, a Dr. Strange TV movie, and the Captain America telefilms), ol' Johnny couldn't be included in this animated FF, so they hastily devised a robotic replacement for the Torch.

The series was produced by DePatie-Freleng, who had previously done the Planet of the Apes cartoon, and this one was beset by the same problems of limited animation (though it featured a lot of the same library music as Return to the Planet of the Apes). H.E.R.B.I.E. (voiced by Frank Welker), is and was rightly pilloried by fans, but I have to admit there's something endearingly goofy about both him and the show today. Heck, just watch the way Mr. Fantastic defeats X-Men baddie Magneto:

This version of the FF would prove short-lived, however. While the the Hanna-Barbera series made it to twenty episodes, The New Fantastic Four couldn't manage even that, airing instead for a single 13-episode season and gone by December of '78. (Later, H.E.R.B.I.E. was incorporated into the actual comics, mainly to poke fun at how silly the TV show was.) However, that wasn't the only animated version of the Fantastic Four (or at least one quarter of them) to turn up that decade. The following year, the same network, NBC, aired this:

Why yes, that is Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. And oh yes, that is indeed the Thing. The show in question: Fred and Barney Meet the Thing. Now mind you, the series itself didn't involve the characters actually meeting (which makes the title that much more perplexing). Rather, it was a half-hour skein with one half devoted to the continuing antics of our favorite Flintstones, with the other half chronicling the continuing solo adventures of the Fantastic Four's rocky hero.

In this incarnation, the Thing shifts back-and-forth with his alter ego, awkward teen Ben "Benji" Grimm (the in-story explanation for this is that an experiment to cure Ben has left him stuck as a precocious pup). Just as the '60s FF was a standard Hanna-Barbera from that decade, so too was this one was part of the '70s HB template. Each of the thirteen installments of The Thing had him hanging out with his wacky pals and thwarting various (non-scary) baddies. It's utterly forgettable. Don't believe me? Here, watch:

Notice that the Thing's voice (provided by Joe Baker) is meant to evoke the vocal stylings of Jimmy Durante (ha-cha-cha-CHA!) Talk about a weird, weird show. Neither The New Fantastic Four nor The Thing lasted very long, but they do retain a special place of fondness for me despite their obvious flaws. Unfortunately, they're also not available on DVD or streaming, so we have to content ourselves with YouTube uploads if we're ever in the mood to hear "Thing Ring, do your thing!"

One Year Ago in Nostalgia Theater: The Ninja Turtles' Pizza Crunchabungas!

Two Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Believe It or Not, It's Just The Greatest American Hero

Three Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: When He-Man Wore Pants

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