Last week, in our continuing exploration of fan-favorite properties that remain unadapted by Hollywood, we took a look at Hanna-Barbera’s The Pirates of Dark Water. That story didn’t get quite the response that our post for Disney’s Gargoyles did, but I’ll chock that up to Dark Water being more of a niche property. So let’s return to something a little more familiar. Today’s subject has been around for almost fifty years in various adaptations but a live-action feature has yet to be cracked. It’s longevity speaks volumes toward its potential for a contemporary reboot. We’ll explore this family-focused, action-adventure series after the jump. Hollywood! Adapt this: Jonny Quest.
Before we get into today’s topic of discussion, let me just say that all of the future articles of “Hollywood! Adapt This” won’t necessarily be from old cartoon shows (although a LOT of them certainly will). We plan on revisiting vintage cartoons as well as live-action TV shows and movies that could use a reboot, video games that have yet to be adapted and even board games or other properties if they’re worthwhile. The point being, there’s a wealth of material out there to talk about, so feel free to suggest what you’d like to see in a future article. Now, let’s get to talking Jonny Quest.
What It’s About:
Jonny Quest was an original creation by comic-book artist, Doug Wildey, who designed the show at the behest of Hanna-Barbera productions. Wildey drew inspiration from a then-current radio show, ”Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy,” as well as action movies, science magazines, Milton Caniff’s “Terry and the Pirates” comic strip and, as per a studio request, James Bond films. From all of that,we got Jonny Quest, an animated series that centered on the adventurous title character; his genius scientist father, Dr. Benton Quest; his adopted brother; Hadji; his bodyguard, Roger “Race” Bannon and his French bulldog, Bandit.
While Dr. Quest worked on top-secret government projects that caused him and his family to travel all over the world, Race was assigned to watch over all of them and to protect them from nefarious forces out to gather intelligence or steal their technology. Of course, Jonny, Hadji and Bandit always got into their fair share of trouble, necessitating a rescue mission courtesy of Dr. Quest and Race. The first run of episodes back in 1964 led the way for other Hanna-Barbera action-adventure series like Space Ghost, The Herculoids and Birdman.
Jonny Quest was episodic in nature. Each episode would feature Dr. Quest working on such-and-such an invention while Race was busy working out or wooing the local ladies. With the adults preoccupied, Jonny, Hadji and Bandit were free to stir up trouble in exotic locales ranging from jungles to deserts to snow-packed mountains to underwater observatories. And man did they have to fend off some crazy bad guys! For a studio that was famous for such cartoonish properties as The Jetsons and The Flintstones, the bold, more realistic style of Jonny Quest’s animation managed to bring to life heroes and villains alike. There were your typical stock villains like natives/tribal people, pirates, masked henchmen, and your more iconic foes, such as the lizard men, spies from rival government agencies, foreign assassins and, especially, the nefarious Dr. Zin. An overwhelming number of the villains were stereotypes of Asian or Middle Eastern people, somewhat typical of Cold War-era fiction of the time. Adding to the absurdity, Jonny Quest also featured an ample supply of robot spiders, dinosaurs and mummies!
How Could / Why Should It Be Adapted?
Reruns of the original 1964-65 run of Jonny Quest can still be seen on channels like Boomerang today. Those episodes were later edited for content and ran alongside newly produced episodes that were more “kid friendly” and featured more scenes of comic relief with Bandit. This new iteration, dubbed The New Adventures of Jonny Quest, ran in the mid-1980s. Two animated telefilms (Jonny’s Golden Quest and Jonny Quest vs the Cyber Insects) followed in 1993 and 1995. Around the same time, another series reboot was attempted with teenaged characters, this time called The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest. It gets a bit confusing since two versions of this series actually ran, each for 26 episodes; one was more futuristic with 3D animation and existed in a virtual world, while the other was more similar to the original cartoon. There were also a trio of video games and a run of comic books based on the property. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Christopher McCulloch’s The Venture Bros., which is a hysterical satire of the Jonny Quest series.)
Why did I mention all of that? To show that the franchise clearly has legs and can benefit from a fresh take. In the early 1990s, when Turner acquired Hanna-Barbera, director Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon, The Goonies) picked up the rights to Jonny Quest for a live-action feature. Sadly, that never materialized. We heard word about another possible attempt when Zac Efron and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson were reportedly circling as recently as 2009. Alas, it appears to be dead for the moment.
But Jonny Quest need not go unadapted! From a marketing standpoint, what better franchise exists on the market today that is as creatively open-ended as Jonny Quest, yet is aimed at a tween/teen market? Arguably, book adaptations like Harry Potter or The Twilight Saga have character arcs with defined beginnings and endings. The Jules Verne-inspired Journey movies (Journey to the Center of the Earth, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) might be the closest contemporary comparison that’s made a successful run. But, a property like Jonny Quest has more in common with the James Bond franchise in that new stories and adventures can always be dreamed up and new actors can always replace the old. The possibilities are quite literally as boundless as the imagination.
Beyond the franchise-ability of Jonny Quest, the unique conceit that’s central to the property gives a rich foundation for storytelling. Jonny Quest is as much about family as it is about science, action and adventure. Jonny’s mother died when he was very young, a plot point that is explored more in some iterations than in others. Surely he feels a sense of abandonment, which could be the root cause of his rebellious behavior. Related to that, Dr. Quest’s grief, guilt and heavy burden of responsibility for Jonny and Hadji wears on him to the point that he retreats into his scientific work, a world that he can control and understand. Race is more of an adoptive father figure, a macho symbol that the kids aspire to emulate (and many fans have posited a homosexual relationship between the adult characters, mostly in jest but, hey, in the hands of a competent writer these days…). Hadji, once an orphan on the streets of Calcutta, now has access to money, information, technology and power; how does that affect him? How does that clash with his search for his own identity? There’s a lot to chew on here and a solid, complex, character-centric story could be layered in amidst the laser guns, robots and hoverjets.
The Final Word:
Should Jonny Quest be given the live-action treatment? Hell yes! It’s about time we got a series that touts scientific advancement and cutting-edge technology as a societal boon instead of a cause of ill. There’s plenty of room here to pen a story that balances character development with audience-approved set pieces. Plots can take on elements of espionage, treasure hunts, heists, rescue missions; each film in the series could extend into genres like hard sci-fi, contemporary action-adventure and spy thrillers, yet maintain a cohesive franchise feel and appeal.
And let’s not forget the locations! Even though it was a cartoon (and a fairly racist and myopic one at that), the original Jonny Quest introduced exotic locales that you just couldn’t look away from. The bold colors and realistic animation of the cartoon was just something that hadn’t been done in an animated show before. In the right hands, a director could bring those globe-trotting scenes to life in much the same way. A new, unique location for each subsequent movie would be a helluva lot more exciting than revisiting the same gloomy temperate forest in the Pacific northwest or the same magical castle (no matter how damn inviting and awesome it may be). Give me a movie (or series) that transports me somewhere, that wows me with forward-thinking and scientifically-oriented imagination and makes me connect to the characters in a lasting way that will have me wanting more. Give me Jonny Quest!
I’ve posted the intro/end credits to the original cartoon for those of you who haven’t seen it (I absolutely love the old jazzy intro music, too).
And, just for comparison’s sake, here’s a look at the intro for the 90s’ series:
So what do you think, should Jonny Quest get another shot at a live-action feature? Let us know in the comments below! Personally, I’m torn at the moment on what age Jonny and Hadji should be, but I’m 100% convinced that Stephen Lang (Avatar, Terra Nova) should play Race. Feel free to leave your suggestions below!
If you’re interested in picking up some of the Jonny Quest series on DVD, check out the links below:
Tune in next week for “Hollywood! Adapt This” when we take a look at a very obscure property that we think “suits” Michael Bay perfectly!