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In search of Jonny Quest

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One of the more intriguing popcorn-movie scripts floating around town right now is Dan Mazeau’s rollicking live-action adaptation of ‘Jonny Quest,’ the savvy and sublime 1960s animated adventure series that felt like ‘Dr. No’ for kids or a post-Sputnik version of ‘Terry and the Pirates.’

The old show was flat-out great and the word is that Mazeau’s script is such a nimble revival effort that little Jonny could end up being a 21st century movie franchise.

The script made it on to the 2008 Black List (not that I’m vouching for purity or ongoing relevance of that particular industry poll) and it also got Mazeau the job writing the screenplay for the planned movie adaptation of Flash, the DC Comics hero.

I, for one, hope Mazeau’s script reaches the screen because as a youngster I was fascinated by ‘Jonny Quest’ reruns and their stylish danger and refreshing tone. I was watching them in the 1970s, but the old shows (which originally aired in 1964 and 1965) had a worldly, engaging spirit that set them apart from cartoons that talked down to their young audience. There was a dash of both Ian Fleming and Rudyard Kipling in sensibility of the series, which many people forget was originally aired in prime-time, following in the footsteps of Hanna-Barbera’s other more iconic series, ‘The Flintstones.’ (The first ‘Jonny Quest’ episode, by the way, premiered on ABC four days before ‘Goldfinger’ opened at U.S. theaters.)

Check out this loving tribute to ‘Jonny Quest’ that I found on You Tube:

What’s the biggest hurdle to the Jonny Quest movie? Two words: Speed Racer. In Hollywood, most executives have short memories and knee-jerk opinions and after the costly disaster of the Wachowski Brothers and their seizure-inducing ‘Speed Racer,’ there will be an instant gag reflex if they hear about another 1960s-era animated action property with a niche following. (Also not helping: The 2004 Jonathan Frakes-directed ‘Thunderbirds,’ which adapted the quirky 1960s puppet show into a sleek globe-trotting adventure for young audiences but never really connected with audiences).

But ‘Racer’ didn’t fail because of its source material (its problems were up on the screen, not back in the past) and whenever I hear lazy Hollywood thinkers who casually lump together disparate movie projects I always remember a conversation I had with an industry insider of mine who scoffed when I predicted in early 2000 that Bryan Singer’s ‘X-Men’ movie was going to be a huge hit. ‘C’mon,’ he said. ‘why would this one succeed when ‘Mystery Men’ didn’t?’

If done right, ‘Quest’ would have far more in common with the adrenaline exotica of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ than ‘Speed Racer’...

The big question with a ‘Quest’ revival: Who would you cast as the title star?

In the 1960s version, which lasted a mere 26 episodes, the blond and brainy Jonny (who was voiced by Tim Matheson, later of ‘Animal House’ and ‘Fletch’ fame) was the 11-year-old son of scientist Dr. Benton Quest, who was a sort lab-coat version of Fox Mulder tracking down strange and unexplained occurrences in far-flung locales. Along for the adventure was Hadji Singh, the gifted 11-year-old Calcutta orphan who was adopted by Dr. Quest, and Race Bannon, a pilot and man-of-action who always reminded me a bit of Steve McQueen but, it turns out, was actually inspired by the action roles of Jeff Chandler.

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‘Jonny Quest’ was revived as a series in the 1980s (there’s an image from that incarnation here on the left) and then again in the 1990s for a heavily marketed and licensed Cartoon Network series ‘The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest.’ The latter aged Jonny to 14 to make him edgier, more physical and less cute (would a live-action movie do the same?) and it lasted for 52 episodes; it won generally good reviews for its stories but less sunny reactions to some of its motion-capture experimentations. I think one reason for that backlash was the simple fact that the original 1960s series was drawn with such flair, and technology is a sad substitute for true artistic style. That’s a challenge for the makers of a live-action film, too, who will be trying to make a movie that resonates with the classic show but also lives and breathes as a contemporary action flick.

Back on the topic of actors, am I the only one thinking that Dwayne Johnson will be the first guy the producers look at when they cast Race Bannon? Although, I have to say, George Clooney with white hair might be the closest thing to my mental image of Race...

-- Geoff Boucher

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CREDITS: Jonny Quest images courtesy of Hanna-Barbera. Indiana Jones image courtesy of Paramount and Lucasfilm.


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