Monday, August 22, 2011

DVD Review: The Herculoids: The Complete Series (1967)

The Herculoids: The Complete Series (1967)

(Released: June, 2011 by The Warner Archive Collection)

Another looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Summary: The Herculoids are… are… Well, even after all these years, I’m not entirely sure WHAT The Herculoids are! But I DO know that they (and the Hanna-Barbera studio that produced them) were responsible for the coolest animated action of the 1967-1968 Sat AM television season.

And, if not exactly WHAT they are, I can tell you WHO they are:

Zandor: The human or humanoid leader of The Herculoids.

Tara: Zandor’s wife

Dorno: Zandor and Tara’s son (about 12).

All sport primitive, caveman-like dress and pack weapons such as sling-shots.

Zok: A flying dragon, who shoots laser beams from both his eyes and tail.

Igoo: A huge gorilla-like creature made of solid stone.

Tundro: A ten-legged triceratops, who shoots explosive projectiles from his horn.

Gloop and Gleep: Father and son (?) formless ectoplasmic beings, who can squash, stretch, multiply and reintegrate, and generally bounce around and do anything the writers can come up with. Oh, and they speak gibberish with a wonderful throat-bobbing sound supplied by Don Messick. You might have heard him do something similar for a ghost on SCOOBY-DOO, or aliens guesting on YOGI BEAR.

Set on a prehistoric-looking planet, the humans live in a tree – not a “tree-house”, but a TREE – while the other creatures bed-down nearby.

We never learn who these beings are, how they came together, or how they can even communicate (the creatures growl, roar, screech, grunt, and do that throat-bobbing thing), but what we DO know is that invaders, would-be conquerors, and plain old dangerous natural phenomena find their way to The Herculoids’ planet with alarming frequency (TWO per show, in fact!), and must be turned-away, destroyed, or otherwise neutralized.

And it is THAT (…and perhaps ONLY that) at which they excel!

In the first cartoon (of two), a threat shows up and Zandor leads the Herculoids into battle against it. Then, in the second cartoon, the same thing occurs – but the invading entity shows up in a TEASER before the cartoon’s title card. This only happens in the second cartoon, and not the first, leading me to believe that there was probably a COMMERCIAL inserted between the second cartoon’s teaser and “main body”. Sorry, but I can’t recall that for certain… seems very likely, though.

The show is light on (or completely devoid of) everything but action. But, DAMN… that action was both clever and well-executed within the constraints of 1967 SatAM television. The character designs, by the great Alex Toth, certainly account for some of that! Lots of stock music, left over from JONNY QUEST, also helped!

The trio of credited writers, Ken Spears and Joe Ruby (later of SCOOBY-DOO WHERE ARE YOU, as well as their own animation studio) and David Scott find endless variations on how Zandor, his family, and the creatures under his command bring their uniquely individual talents to bear.

Each individual episode is great fun to watch, but you quickly realize there was a REASON why THE HERCULOIDS aired only once a week. If you’ve seen one, you’ve pretty much seen them all. But, with only 18 shows all told (with two cartoons in each – for a total of 36 adventures), judicious spacing of the shows among the rest of your entertainment viewing can – and will – result in maximum enjoyment.

Credited voices are:

• Mike Road (Race Bannon on JONNY QUEST) as Zandor.

• Virginia Gregg as Tara.

• Teddy Eccles as Dorno.

• Don Messick as Gloop and Gleep.

It is presumed Messick and other actors doubled as the various sounds of the creatures – perhaps even including very early performances by Frank Welker.

Uncredited (but certainly noted), usually as invaders: Paul Frees, Henry Corden, John Stephenson, Hal Smith, and doubtless others.

ODDITY: Starting with Episode Three, Mike Road does the following narration over the opening theme sequence:

Somewhere out in space, live The Herculoids! Zok the laser-ray dragon! Igoo the giant rock ape! Tundro the tremendous! Gloop and Gleep, the formless fearless wonders! With Zandor their leader, and his wife Tara and son Dorno, they team up to protect their planet from sinister invaders! All-strong! All-brave! All-heroes! They are The Herculoids!"

…There! Don’t we feel a lot more knowledgeable now?

Of late, “The Warner Archive Collection” has been pretty diligent at releasing Hanna- Barbera material, and I hope to see that trend continue.

As it is a relatively new enterprise, “The Warner Archive Collection” might require as much initial explanation as do The Herculoids, themselves. And, thanks to me, you’ll learn more about TWAC than all 18 episodes will tell you about The Herculoids. (…How DID they get that NAME, anyway?)

“The Warner Archive Collection” offers online exclusive DVD packages that are “manufactured-on-demand” (or MOD). They are not mass-produced, standard pressed DVDs, but are recorded on DVD-R.

I don’t consider DVD-R to be the most desirable medium. Though the end product is certainly superior to “bootleg” material, it is sometimes a step or two below the mass-marketed product we know and love.

At least in this regard, Warner plays fair with us by issuing the following disclaimer:

This disc is expected to play back in DVD video ‘play only’ devices, and may not play back in other DVD devices including recorders and PC drives”.

True enough. Warner Archive discs are not recognized by my computer, though they play just fine on my Blu-ray player.

“The Warner Archive Collection” product takes a no-frills approach. Extra Features, if they exist at all, are kept to a bare minimum. Movies are not segmented by “Chapters”, but the Skip Forward and Skip Backward keys of your DVD remote allow you to navigate at ten-minute intervals – regardless of where that ten minute jump will land you logically within the story.

But, at least for animated series like THE HERCULOIDS which are ALREADY segmented into different cartoons, the Chapter Skip functions adhere to the boundaries of those segments. No subtitles are included and source material is generally fine and sharp, though not always as pristine as a standard release.

Retail prices are often higher than they might otherwise be, but that comes with the nature of “Manufacture on Demand”. Sales and other promotions are offered regularly, once you’ve made the initial foray into TWAC, mitigating the impact of pricing somewhat.

On the plus side, “The Warner Archive Collection” is able to offer many movies, TV shows, and animated series that would not likely find support in the present-day mass market. “The Warner Archive Collection” has provided such wonders as Hanna-Barbera’s ‘60s series FRANKENSTEIN JR. AND THE IMPOSSIBLES and Irwin Allen’s early ‘70s aborted TV pilot CITY BENEATH THE SEA... just to name two.

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.


It’s Warner Archives: That means virtually nothing in the way of Extra Features, subtitles, etc. No commentaries. And, there is a needlessly limited choice of devices on which to play it, vs. standard DVD. But, hey… We knew that going in!

 Not Much Depth: But, in the days before Mr. Sulu and Lt. Uhura even had first names, did we even need it? Let The Herculoids remain a mystery. That’s part of the fun!


It’s Warner Archives: That means we get a series that (at the present time and economic and technological climate) would probably not garner sufficient support for a general DVD release. Given a choice between THE HERCULOIDS as a Warner Archive Collection release, or no release at all, I’ll gladly take a TWAC version.

The “Special Feature”(singular): The short Herculoids feature from SATURDAY MORNING CARTOONS 1960s Volume One is ported over to this set. Even if you already have it, it’s worth seeing Paul Dini, Mark Evanier, Scott Jeralds, and others wax nostalgic over THE HERCULOIDS.

Chapter Skips: Imagine listing this as a “PRO” but, unlike many Warner Archive products, this one actually skips forward and backward to LOGICAL points in the show: First Cartoon, Mid-Break of First Cartoon, Teaser of Second Cartoon, Mid-Break of Second Cartoon… but not directly to the End Credits (but they’re the same for every show, anyway).

Action: And, of the non-stop variety, to boot! Villains were killed nearly as often as they were driven off! Gotta love that in a cartoon! ANY cartoon! And, to the do-gooders who objected to the content, THE HERCULOIDS emphasized the value of TEAMWORK! No one Herculoid could destroy a foe… it took ‘em ALL! Nyaaah!


THE HERCULOIDS was produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions during the curious window of time where they had, once and for all, abandoned the “Three-Feature-Funny-Animal” type of series that put them on the map.

The 1966-1967 season marked the end for MAGILLA GORILLA, PETER POTAMUS, ATOM ANT, and SECRET SQUIRREL. It was also the season that begat FRANKENSTEIN JR. AND THE IMPOSSIBLES, still a (somewhat) “funny” series that sort of bridged the way to the more straightforward and adventurous SPACE GHOST AND DINO BOY. The season also saw the short-lived comedic SPACE KIDETTES.

1967-1968, for H-B, was completely given over to the action and adventure type of show (of which THE HERCULOIDS – along with SPACE GHOST – were the best), until an uprising of do-gooders began pounding Saturday Morning programming into the type of tepid pulp it pretty much remains to this day (The ‘90s series from WB excepted!)

So, one might choose to indulge in THE HERCULOIDS as a game-changing, historic series. Enjoy it for that, or a flat-out action series. Just enjoy it.


joecab said...

Wait ... Warner Archives also has Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles? Thundarr? Moby Dick/Mightor?

The Space Kidettes and Young Samson?!?!?!?!


Joe Torcivia said...

Well, gee… I tried to warn you all in the “Mo’ Moby” and Humphrey Bogart “Crime School” posts… but YEAH! Warner Archives has released some great stuff, its noted faults notwithstanding. It’s just chock-full o’ stuff I never thought I’d see!

It took Space Kidettes and Young Samson to finally get me to bite but, once I did, that opened the door for Franky Jr. and The Impossibles, Herculoids, Moby an’ Mightor, a few Irwin Allen oddities including “The Story of Mankind” (Which, in some way, explains EVERYTHING he did thereafter!), more Cagney and Robinson films… and The Man from Atlantis and (this week) The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.! Such great stuff.

My only real problem with it is that they don’t play on the computer… so I must find time to watch them in the living room, negotiating viewing time with the missus.

Make an initial order, and you’ll be on a promo list, from which you’ll get discounts on lots of their other titles. It’s worth it!

joecab said...

Thanks for the tip, Joe! I guess I missed those earlier posts somehow. I think the last time I saw the Space Kidettes was when I was in Madrid over 10 years ago ... man, TV was a 1960's H-B bonanza over there. I caught Yogi's Birthday party too.

joecab said...

Oh I almost forgot: if you haven't already seen it, check out this Batman:the Brave and the Bold opening; I promise you will lose your $#!? over it:

Joe Torcivia said...

And I haven’t seen Space Kidettes since its original airing in 1966 -- when the non-HB “Go-Go Gophers” were in the middle of the two Kidettes chapters!

By 1966, H-B had lost a step from its earlier glories, but the series was still enjoyable, thanks especially to Daws Butler as Captain Skyhook! That was pretty much Butler’s swan-song as H-B’s lead voice actor. After that, they just didn’t do the kind of shows that would give him featured roles. He had a few minor roles in WACKY RACES – but none of the leads, unless you count Peter Perfect… and I don’t.

As for that link… HOLY FREAKING… Um, quick… What can I say on a family Blog… Oh, Hell… EVERYONE, just watch it!

For frag’s sake, stop reading this and watch it!!! …NOW!!!

Who says nothing good can come of the formation of property-consuming, monolithic media conglomerates! Not ME, after this! I want this to be released on DVD!!!

Signing off in slack-jawed disbelief!

Ryan Wynns said...


Nice job! Don't know if I'll ever make it a point to seriously watch Herculoids, or any of the other '60's H-B superhero/action series -- I always found them (as, unfortunately, I'm wont to say about a lot of H-B stuff) a bit boring. Your review brings out the qualities in them that I'd find appealing, though, since I know and can relate to where you're coming from!

However, I would really like to one day give the original Jonny Quest a fair has an aura about it that makes me think, "Wait, shouldn't I be a huge fan of this!" One way or the other, I definitely have always thought that the opening title sequence and end creits sequence are phenomenal!


Joe Torcivia said...


One thing you should not perish from this Earth without sampling is the ORIGINAL JONNY QUEST!

I can’t speak for any of the later versions. I’ve never seen them. But, if they are consistent with most post-sixties H-B, I don’t feel the worse for my non-experience!

In the ORIGINAL JONNY QUEST, you will find the INVENTION of the half-hour adventure cartoon! No such thing existed before, despite its being rather common in later years. And, although it certainly *IS* Hanna-Barbera, it’s nothing akin to anything they had done previously.

And, if you like what you find in CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN, I’m certain you’ll like what you find in the ORIGINAL JONNY QUEST! The full series is on one DVD set – and Boomerang runs it at or around midnight nearly every night (last time I checked).

On a totally unrelated note, you write: “Your review brings out the qualities in them that I'd find appealing, though, since I know and can relate to where you're coming from”.

That’s interesting – and right out of my “Know the Reviewer” school of thought! To explain that, I am more likely to read a review of something I ALREADY HAVE, or have ALREADY SEEN, from an unknown reviewer, to gauge the degree said reviewer’s opinions coincide with mine.

Because, truly, what someone else thinks is no indication of whether or not *I’ll* like it – unless I know how that person’s opinions stack up against my own.

As with an exchange we’ve had on your Blog… If you like CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN – and know that *I* also like CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN, and then recommend Lee and Kirby’s FANTASTIC FOUR as something great in that same vein… you can reasonably conclude that you may very well like Lee and Kirby’s FANTASTIC FOUR as well.

Since you appear to have a somewhat lower opinion of Hanna-Barbera than I do (…and, I must add that my overall high opinion of H-B relates strictly to their pre-seventies product), and I say that you will like the ORIGINAL JONNY QUEST… chances are you WILL like the ORIGINAL JONNY QUEST but, perhaps, not quite as much as I do.

As I say: “Know the Reviewer”!