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Jonny Quest: The First Adventure Cartoon, Facts And Trivia

Entertainment | October 9, 2020

Hadji and Jonny Quest. Source: Flickr

Jonny Quest aired for one season, just 26 episodes in prime time in 1964-65, and was unlike the Disney-type shorts and sitcom-based cartoons that animation studios had previously produced. It featured suspenseful plots and anatomically accurate humans -- these were cartoons but not caricatures or talking animals. It was inspired by comic strips and James Bond, and it was a hit -- unfortunately, it was too expensive, so it was canceled after one season. Jonny Quest then ran in syndication on all three major networks for the next 20 years. 

Prior to the mid-‘60s, cartoons tended to fall on the kookier side, entertaining young children with slapstick comedy. Hanna Barbera then came around to change animation forever with the 1964 series Jonny Quest, the hit show that introduced the world to action cartoons. Jonny Quest interested audiences of all ages with a new adventurous tone that had never been seen before. The groundbreaking series was a massive influence on adventure and superhero cartoons that followed and are still produced today. Any cartoon that isn't so, well, cartoony.

Radio Dramas And Comic Books Inspire A New Type of Series

Funny animal characters from classic children's cartoons. Source: Flickr

Radio serials, dramatic tales told over radio airwaves, TV serials including The Lone Ranger, and comic books were all the rage during the 1950s and early 1960s. Hanna-Barbera Productions was making kids' entertainment in cartoon form in the early '60s, but it was all of a certain type; the company's lineup of shows up to 1963 was built around characters Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, the Flintstones, Top Cat, Yogi Bear and the Jetsons. The company saw action and adventure as a trend that had yet to be attempted in cartoon form; it would mean creating an entirely different series from all of their previous works. 

Doug Wildey Brought Accuracy To The Characters

Doug Wildey art for Jonny Quest. Source: Flickr

Comic book artist Doug Wildey was initially hired to design a cartoon based around the 1930s radio drama Jack Armstrong, The Adventure Boy, but since they could not legally obtain the rights to this character, Wildey had to modify this idea to something more original. Wildey brainstormed using science magazines, action/adventure films, and comic series such as Terry And The Pirates to help create a new concept. His main inspiration came from the popular James Bond film Dr. No, released in 1962, which whipped up public interest in spy-related themes (it also inspired Get Smart). All of these sources led to the creation of one of the most innovative cartoons of all time, Jonny Quest, which first aired on September 19th, 1964 on ABC at 7:30 PM. This was one of the first cartoons to ever be aired on prime time television. 

The Characters And Plot Of Jonny Quest

The main character Jonny Quest (voiced by Tim Matheson, who would later play Eric Otter of National Lampoon’s Animal House) is a brave 11-year old boy who prefers globe-trotting adventure to sitting in class waiting for the bell to ring. Jonny’s father, Dr. Benton Quest, is not only one of the top scientists in the world, but he also works for the United States Government. Quest raises Jonny and Hadji, Jonny’s best friend who was eventually adopted into the family, on his own as his wife mysteriously passed away before the show’s plot began. The cause of the mother’s death is never explicitly stated, but there are subtle hints that she was kidnapped. Roger “Race” Bannon also joins the clan as a special agent hired to protect Jonny from danger at all times. Of course, in typical Hanna-Barbera animal-loving style, there is also Jonny’s trusty pal Bandit, the beloved bulldog of the show who provides a little humor. 

 This courageous group takes on exciting missions assigned by the government as Dr. Benton examines scientific marvels all over the world. These quests often lead to mystery and adventure as evil villains try to stop them so they can use the latest discoveries to become rich or even take over the world. As might be expected for a fun cartoon, the group always defeats the bad guys.

Villain Dr. Zin Personified The Old 'Yellow Peril' Stereotype

The evil Dr. Zin watches Dr. Quest and Race Bannon. Source: Pinterest

Jonny Quest was not exactly politically correct, with occasional racist touches, and one character in particular, Dr. Zin, who played to a common white-American fear. While most of the evil criminals of the show only appeared in one episode each, Dr. Zin was the recurring arch nemesis who repeatedly tried to crush the family’s scientific goals. Dr. Zin was depicted as an Asian with yellow skin and a wicked laugh, which played to the "Yellow Peril" stereotype that dated back to the 1800s. Yellow Peril was still a cultural trope in the '60s, with the persistence of "Fu Manchu" style villains and the Marvel Comics baddie The Mandarin. East Asian villains were also popular with the rise of the Cold War; while the Soviet Union was the nuclear threat, Americans feared the rising power of the communist "Red China" as well.

Jonny Quest Left A Legacy That Inspired Future Adventure Cartoons

Jonny Quest broke completely new ground with how unconventional the series was from previous cartoons. Before this show, animation was pretty simple and very different from reality. However, Jonny Quest’s portrayal of colorful backgrounds and extraordinary details of the jet packs, outrageous characters, gadgets, and the vehicles made viewers rethink how cartoons could be. The visuals were actually very realistic, a feat no other cartoon had accomplished. The villains were darker and much creepier than anything audiences had ever seen, which caught the eyes of both kids and adults alike. During a time where special effects had not advanced very far yet, options were limitless when creators could draw anything crazy they wanted to happen for a cartoon.

Hanna-Barbera Canceled 'Jonny Quest,' But Learned From It

Though today it's a significant TV and animation landmark, Jonny Quest aired for just one season of 26 episodes. The show was expensive to produce, forcing Hanna-Barbera to cancel it. Yet even the company that killed it learned from it, as evidenced by action/adventure cartoons that followed. Hanna-Barbera Productions used the concepts of Jonny Quest for their newer series Space Ghost, Blue Falcon, Herculoids, and even Justice League of America. The ideas of "real-life" adventurers or superheroes, mystery fused with humor, action, and reality in a TV cartoon were essentially invented by Jonny Quest and utilized within some of the most popular cartoons of the future. One of Hanna-Barbera's all-time hits, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, was in its way Jonny Quest with slightly different ingredients: make the human characters groovy teenagers, concentrate on spooky mysteries rather than espionage, and dial Bandit's funny-dog comic relief up to 11 to get Scooby.

Reruns of Jonny Quest were aired for the next decades as its popularity continued to grow so much that Hanna-Barbera released new episodes in 1986. Ten years later, the ‘90s led to a revival series The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, which captured the spirit but could never be as successful as the original series.  

Tags: 1960s Cartoons | Childrens Television | Jonny Quest | Tim Matheson

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Emily Morenz

Author

Despite her younger age, Emily Morenz (Emo) is a serious 1960s/1970s enthusiast who is pretty much the Austin Powers of this decade. Through her all-vintage wardrobe, obsession with old time rock 'n' roll, and her mid century bedroom and 1,200+ vinyl collection you might think she just stepped out of a time machine. Emo plays the rare gems of the ‘60s and ‘70s on her radio show on OC’s 101.5 KOCI and teaches rock ‘n’ roll history on her podcast “The Rock & Roll Sweetheart.” When there's not a pandemic, she's rockin’ out with all the middle aged-men at every single classic rock concert happening around the town, and she will battle her away to front row and dance hard. Paul McCartney even once brought her up on stage to dance...while she was in a walrus costume. You also might find Emo surfing waves, skateboarding through a neighborhood, groovin' '60s gogo style, and pretending like she can play bass. And she's obsessed with peanut butter and corgis.