As the old vaudeville joke runs, there's some good news and some bad news about this season's animated Saturday morning programs.
The good news: The general level of animation on Saturday morning actually looks like it's improving--a trend that began last year with Disney's "The Gummi Bears." It's nice to see characters do something other than formula walks, runs and falls for a change.
The bad news: While the animation is improving, the writing seems to be declining. Character development barely exists: Villains are bad, heroes and heroines are good, and no one has any reason for doing what he does. The same threadbare storylines are being recycled with only minor variations, and dialogue remains at the "golly, jeepers" level.
The practice of disguising toy commercials as animated entertainment for children, which began in the syndication market, has infiltrated network programming. Four new shows ("Pound Puppies," "The Care Bears Family," "Foofur," "Lazer Tag Academy") are based on toys.
It's regrettable that the Federal Communications Commission hasn't acted to prevent this often-blatant pandering, which amounts to exploitation of young viewers.
Here, in no particular order, is an overview of this year's new Saturday morning network programs:
ABC CHILDREN'S SHOWS
The Flintstone Kids (Hanna-Barbera). The original "Flintstones" juxtaposed a contemporary suburban sitcom with a stone-age setting. The gimmick here of turning Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty into children doesn't improve the show, and reruns of the original series would be a lot more entertaining.
The Real Ghostbusters (DIC). Although based on a blockbuster comedy film, this series emerges as an ordinary Saturday morning comedy-adventure, virtually indistinguishable from countless other shows. Like CBS' "Teen Wolf," it fails to utilize the power of animation to create otherwise impossible effects and transcend the limitations of live-action film.
The Care Bears Family (Nelvana) is a half-hour commercial for sticky-sweet, depressingly successful toys. The series showcases the various stuffed animals while attempting to disguise its shameless commercialism behind smarmy pronouncements about "feelings." The saccharine antics of the Care Bears may induce nausea in anyone whose age or IQ is over 9.
Pound Puppies (Hanna-Barbera). The numerous ads stress that these "lovable" toys want a home and, in the series, the badly designed dogs want to leave the pound and find a home. What a coincidence! Holly, the spunky little girl who runs the pound, has to watch out for the nasty Katrina Stoneheart and her daughter, Brattina. (Why make the bad guys wear black hats when you can name them "Brattina"?) As the show puts the audience to sleep, someone should do the same to the dogs.
CBS CHILDREN'S SHOWS
Wildfire (Hanna-Barbera). Although she seems like an ordinary spunky farm girl, 12-year-old Sara is actually a princess from another world. A stallion, Wildfire, carries her from Earth to the planet Dar-Shan, where they battle the predictably evil and inept sorceress, Diabolyn. Despite the hackneyed writing and poor animation--the artists don't understand how a horse moves--"Wildfire" is sure to be a hit with little girls, its obvious audience.
Galaxy High School (TMS). Two American teen-agers, bookish Aimee and athletic Doyle, are whisked off to a high school in outer space that resembles an old "Jetsons" background. As many of the aliens who comprise the student body hate Earth, it's not clear what the newcomers are doing there. The stories focus on publicly humiliating Doyle, and the "humor" is often cruel. "Galaxy High" features some of the best animation on Saturday morning, but it's wasted on these inane, mean-spirited scripts.
Teen Wolf (Sothern Star/Atlantic) is based on the film starring Michael J. Fox. Instead of waiting for a full moon, Scott Howard turns into a werewolf every few minutes. "Teen Wolf" illustrates just how little imagination goes into most kidvid: Instead of using animation to transform a human into a wolf (or a wolf-man) on the screen, the artists just simulate the monster makeup in the film.
NBC CHILDREN'S SHOWS
Kissyfur (DIC). The lush backgrounds and some of the character designs owe a lot to Walt Kelly's "Pogo"; all that's missing is the imagination, wit and draftsmanship. An obnoxiously cute little bear, Kissyfur lives with his father and plays with an equally drippy group of animal children. Two determinedly Southern alligators are supposed to provide comic relief, but the directors time the comedy material so badly that the jokes land with a thud.
Foofur (Hanna-Barbera) may be the most vapid program in the history of Saturday morning animation. The laid-back, "hip" title character is the leader of a group of dogs who inhabit a vacant house. They spend so much time being laid-back and "cool" that no one does much of anything. The handsome watercolor backgrounds look more dynamic than the animation, and the show is only slightly more exciting than a test pattern.
Lazer Tag Academy (Ruby-Spears) is a stinker, even by the undemanding standards of Saturday morning kidvid. Jamie, the spunky Lazer Tag champion, uses her weapons to travel through time and space, protecting "the perfect world of 3010." In 1987, she befriends three of her own ancestors, and together they fight another relative from 2051--a premise that raises lots of convoluted problems, which the writers simply ignore. Although it's played down in the scripts, the Lazer Tag toys are light guns and target belts: Children are encouraged to shoot each other "for fun," which some parents may find objectionable.