Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Retrospective: Journey to the Center of the Earth Animated Series

When I was but a wee lad (probably early elementary school), I first became acquainted with the Sci-Fi Channel, which ran a lot of older cartoons.  On weekdays, there was Defenders of the Earth, which I thought was quite cool (it combined Flash Gordon and his nemesis Ming the Merciless with the Phantom--the Ghost Who Walks--among others) from the 1980s, but on Saturday mornings, there were even older cartoons like Star Trek The Animated Series.

From a few years before the Star Trek show was the animated series Journey to the Center of the Earth.  Apparently it was an animated, kiddified (if that's even a word) version of the late-1950s Journey to the Center of the Earth, since it includes elements from that film like the evil Count Saknussem and Gertrude the Duck.  I was curious about the show, so I figured I'd go looking to see what I could find on the Internet.

Here're both halves of the first episode, courtesy of YouTube:

Creating an animated film capitalizing on a theatrical release strikes me as a good marketing idea.  You could draw in the people who saw the original in theaters or those who liked the book on which it was based.  Furthermore, since many parents probably viewed the theatrical film as not particularly appropriate for the youngest children (Count Saknussem murders some rival explorers and even kills and eats Gertrude the Duck and there are various scary situations involving natural disasters and dinosaurs too), this is something kids could watch.

Plus an episodic TV series gives the creator the opportunity to expand the storyline, since he or she has a lot more time to work with.  An actual journey into a subterranean world (assuming such a thing could exist) would take months--this wouldn't work for a theatrical film, but it would work for a TV series.

Of course, the series does show its age.  The animation quality isn't the best and some of the characterizations are rather stereotypical.  Lars, the party's Scandinavian guide, has a ridiculous accent, speaks English poorly, and goes around saying "in my country" a whole lot.  The professor's niece is really ditzy and easily frightened.  And Torg, Count Saknussem's thuggish and stupid minion, has a distinctly Asian-henchman look to him (think Oddjob from the James Bond films).  One wonders why he puts up with the Count's abuse--I would imagine it's because he's too dumb to know better and because serving the count gives him the chance to indulge in sadistic violence (see the scene where Torg wants to kill Alec but the Count wants to keep him as a hostage).  And some of the dialogue is laughably bad--in TVTropes terms, Narm.

That being, the 1950s/1960s cultural vibe does have its pluses.  The professor is an athletic hero rather than being a cliched nerd or "evil or misguided," as scientists were often portrayed in later media.  Furthermore, the protagonists were willing to do violence and use weapons when needed--Lars throws Cerebrus off a cliff into a river, the professor's niece shoots a menacing griffin with a flare gun, and Alec is willing to brawl with ancient Greek warriors rather than count on someone else to save him.

I don't think I'm going to be watching all the posted episodes on YouTube, but those of you who are interested in animation, particularly vintage animation, might find this interesting.

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