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Geektoons: Johnny Quest

There was a time when cartoons were seen as almost exclusively being for children. That attitude has since been broken down, with shows like South Park and movies like Sausage Party being aimed at adults and not kids. Japanese anime helped bridge this gap, but there were some innovative American animated series that helped too. Johnny Quest was one of these shows.

One of the first animated shows intended for an audience of both kids and grown up, Jonny Quest was one of the first realistically drawn cartoons. Instead of the normal slap-stick comedy of other Hanna-Barbera cartoons, this was an action adventure show with occasional comedy relief. Made to run in prime time after the success of the Flintstones, it was meant to be a mixture of old serial action hero stories and the new James Bond movies. In fact, Jonny Quest started off as an adaptation of the radio serial Jack Armstrong, All American Boy.

Jonny is an 11 year old boy who often accompanies his scientist dad on adventures. He has a friend named Hadji that his dad has adopted, and a body guard named Race Bannon. Hadji introduced elements of mysticism with his abilities of levitation and hypnotism. Besides the nefarious Dr Zinn, the Quests face off against angry natives, pirates, even gold smuggling lumberjacks. The animation and story telling were ahead of their time, despite not meeting the standards the show's creator, Doug Wildey, hoped for.
Many things contributed to the demise of Jonny Quest, including Hanna-Barbera artists not being skilled enough to pull of the detailed art that the show called for. There wasn't enough time or money to devote to the show, seeing as Yogi Bear and the Flintstones still were being produced as well. There was also interference to make the show more marketable, such as Jonny's pet monkey being replaced by a very cartoony dog, Bandit.

Despite these frustrations, the show did raise the bar in art and story. It also showed that it was possible to make an animated show that would appeal to grown ups. Not all cartoons had to be funny animals and silly gags. You could have a smart adventure show too. You could have action and science fiction, in a serious way, not like the Jetsons had done. This show I feel helped pave the way not just for kids' action shows like G.I. Joe and the Transformers, but for some of the animated and anime shows aimed at adults like Cowboy Bebop and Heavy Metal.
Jonny Quest may have failed in its initial run, but it proved popular in reruns. It is one of only a few shows to have been broadcast on all three major networks. It was revived with new episodes in 1986 and again in 1992. Cartoon Network has run the show many times. For a show that was considered a failure, it has had a very long run and had a lot of influence. You can watch the 1st part of a documentary about the show below.


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