Sunday, December 12, 2010

Freedom Force

I had a vague recollection of this Filmation cartoon from my childhood (1978, to be exact). I couldn't really remember much about it, but it was available on DVD, so I stuck it in my Netflix queueueueue, and a year or so later, it arrived in the mail. Freedom Force was apparantly spun off of another cartoon called The Space Sentinals, and also off the Isis live action TV show, which was itself spun off of the Shazam! live action TV show. If I remember correctly, Shazam! had an animated sequence where Captain Marvel talked to the elders (Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury), which I think was probably the inspiration for these cartoons, and...hey, are you listening? I'm talking here! Sheesh...

Watching cartoons in the 70's was pretty weird. Like, every year there would be a new Flinstones cartoon, but they'd make some change to the formula, like Pebbles and Bam-Bam would be teenagers and look exaclty like Fred and Daphne from Scooby Doo, and then the next year Fred and Barney would be cops, and they'd have The Schmoo for a sidekick, and so on. You could just imagine the network executives coming up with all these innovations and forcing them on the people making the cartoons. There was a Tarzan cartoon, and then the next year it was repackaged as the Tarzan Power Hour, and each half-hour Tarzan episode was edited down to 10 minutes and stuck in with Batman and Robin or Dr. Shrinker or some shit about a talking dunebuggy, or whatever they were doing that year. Then the next year it was the Tarzan Super 7, which is where Freedom Force existed.

So yeah, Freedom Force is basically a Justice League of mythological heroes, featuring Hercules, Isis (her powers are the same as Storm from X-Men), Merlin, Sinbad and Super Samurai. Super Samurai is the best touch, I think. He's a Japanese kid who can turn into a giant samurai. They couldn't even be bothered to look up a mythological hero from Asia, they just throw Super Samurai in there.

I remember being very excited by this show, because it was really all my favorite things rolled up together. I was obsessed with Saturday morning cartoons, I loved superhero teams, my favorite book was this big, illustrated book of Greek myths that my parents got for me, my favorite movies were the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad movies, and my favorite toys were Shogun Warriors (I didn't really know much about Japanese culture, so that's what I assumed Super Samurai was). Because it was part of an anthology series, each episode is maybe 15 minutes. Not much time to develop plot or character, and the whole cast isn't even put to much use: Sinbad only appears briefly in one episode from the entire run (his goofy sidekick, who you see riding the carpet with him in that frame from the opening credits, actually gets more screentime!).

It really upsets me whenever I see a children's movie or TV show that is obviously based on the idea that kids will watch any crap you put in front of them, but watching this really hammers home that, at least for me, this assumption was completely true. If you put a bunch of superheroes fighting monsters on Saturday mornings in the 70's, I would watch it no matter how awful it was. I mean, I already knew this to be true from going back and watching Superfriends and Spider-Man, but it always stings a little.

One thing that's funny about this is how they always try to shoehorn a little lesson for kids in this show. That guy above, that looks like Barry Gibb with earmuffs? He was the ruler of a magical kingdom of dragon riders, who was having an argument with his brother who was trying to develop airplanes or something (that's his son in the picture below, wearing bellbottoms). So they were having a war to settle it, and Hercules and Isis got them to sit down and work things out, and learn an important lesson about cooperation. I should think that's stupid, but it's actually kinda cool. If only we could get Superman or Oprah to sit the Israelies and Palestinians down and talk about their feelings to each other, maybe they'd decide to work things out too.


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