Thursday, August 18, 2011

Filmation's Tarzan



In the 1970s, children's televsion was generally cheesily produced by such studios and Hanna-Barbera and Filmation. As with entertainment of any generation, that of Generation-X was mostly mediocre, some bad, some good, some crushinly awful, and some truely outstanding. One of the best at the time, in my opinion, was Filmation's Tarzan series, officially called Tarzan: Lord of the Jungle.On a personal note, it was perhaps the third "biggest" shows from my childhood, right behind Jonny Quest and Land of the Lost. As with most series, the first season was arguably the best, but I didn't really start watching until about halfway through the season. After, Land of the Lost was still on, but by this time it was already into its'terribly cheesy third season. I was already familiar with Tarzan from DC comics at the time (Marvel would soon launch a short lived series following the DC Tarzan's cancellation). I knew of the lost lands of Pal-ul-don and Pellucidar from the reprint's Russ Mannings comic strips, which were often printed in the DC Tarzans. I was unaware at the time, however, that many of Filmation's Tarzan episodes were genuine adaptations of Burroughs' novels. To be sure, these stories were severely homogenized and shortened for young viewers. Violence was kept to a strict minimum, and the Ape Man did not carry a knife. Children's TV was still relatively new at the time, and many of the producers of the Saturday morning lineup were the targets of angry campeigns over televised violence, and other supposed dangers that threatened young viewers. These messages were less intended to influence the attitudes of kids themselves then to appease the demands of grownups with clean, wholesome entertainment. Filmation, for some reason, seemed to be the "preachiest" of these companies. Almost all their series, it seemed, had a "moral of the week" tacked on to the episodes. Some, like Batman and the eighties animated Ghostbusters, actually told you what the moral was at the end, just in case you didn't get it, even though though the morals were all about as subtle as a nuclear warhead. Looking back, I really don't think Saturday morning morals were a good thing. They painted an unrealistic view of life, and I was betrayed by actually beleiving such morals once. LOTL and JQ had no "moral of the day" for the kids, and were better shows for that (JQ first aired long before Peggy Charren and her concerned parents took over, thank the Lord.)
The thing is, Filmation's Tarzan's morals did indeed work with my own parents.Becuase of the moralistic content of the stories,they thought it was one of the best shows ever, and heartily approved of my watching. I myself actually liked this seemingly more noble and heroic version better than the Tarzan of the comics. For one thing, Filmation's Tarzan never killed animals,even in battle. He would always simply subdue the beast,and send it on its way by saying the word, "unk!"(that's right--the show used many of Burroughs own ape terms, and much of my knowledge of Mangani-English came from this show). I was a huge animal fanatic at the time, and I actually thought the Tarzan of the comics was a louse for killing panthers and lions in battle. I was even embarrassed to show the comics ( which were, of course, far truer to Burroughs than the TV show) to my parents, who, in turn, reacted with shock and dismay. After graduating to the books, I realized that in realistic fiction writing, it would severely strain credibility to have even Tarzan merely subdue powerful predators again and again, and come away with nary a scratch.
Another curious aspect of Filmation's Tarzan was the total lack of any Black Africans on any of the episodes. Most of the episodes featured the inhabitants of Burroughs' lost cities, none of whom, by the way, were true African natives (I'll leave alone for now the theory that Burroughs' Africa actaully exists in a separate reality were Blacks may not have been the continents first inhabitants), and occasionally white poachers and adventurers. I wondered about this at the time, but the reason was what is now known as "political correctness." Filmation was not adverse to featuring Black characters: witness the stars of Superstretch and Microwoman. It seems there were no Blacks on Tarzan because the producers feared it offend by making the ancestors of African Americans look like savages.Not to mention what with the higly moral tone of the stories, a white man setting them straight every week would probably be seen as unforgivable.
But in spite of all this, the basic plots of many of Burroughs original novels remained remarkably intact. And even in those that deviate largely from their sources remain largely the same in their basic content. There is an adaptation Tarzand & the Golden Lion, which features Tarzan's rescue and training of Jad-bal-ja, and the liberation of the devolved humans (not negroid in this version) form their slavery in the Valley of Diamonds. Another features tarzan's journey to the Valley of the Suplecre form Tarzan Lord of the Jungle, which ends in a jousting matching between Tarzan and Malord, a villain taken directly from the book. There is also an adaption of Tarzan and City of Gold, which includes Queen Nemone, her lion Belthar, Tomos the Cathnean Prime Minister, and Tarzan's battle with Phobeg. This scene is remarkbaly true to what ERB wrote, with Phobeg eventually returning the favor for sparing his life. Phobeg is much more of jerkish braggart in ERB original, though. The episode even includes the scene in which Nemone, having fallen for Tarzan, tells him, "Belthar does not like you!" The city of Cathne, BTW, was re-christianed "Zandor" on the TV show, perhaps to avoid confusion with the name of the rival city, Athne, which retained its original name. Filmation also included episodes on which Tarzan returned to both he Valley of Diamonds and to Cathne/Zandor. Strangely, he never visited Athne, even though he helped Athneans on each of these episodes (he did eventually visit Athne in the novels). Stranger still, Tarzan would return again to both locals during the 1979 season.




Above are production drawings of Queen Nemone (top), the Athnean girl Thea (middle), and Phobeg, Tomos, Belthar, and Nemone respectively (bottom)

There are also adaptations of Tarzan and the Forbidden City and Tarzan at the Earth's Core, though the latter bears very little resemblence, plotwise, to the original. No dirible transports the Jungle Lord through the polar opening, and there is no mention of David Innes. Instead, Tarzan helps a young Pelluicdaran whose Neanderthal tribe is at war with a race of pallid underground dwellers. The kid looks higher evolved like a Cro-Magnon, BTW. During their journey through cavern world, they encounter an eryops, a huge labrinthodont amphibian, which would be called a "sithic" in Pellucidar. Tarzan incorrectly refers to the beast as "an ancient ancestor of Gimla." Once they enter Pelluicdar itself, Tarzan and the lad are menaced by a tyrrannosaurus rex, which the boy refers to as a "Zabor." Actually, the true Pellucidaran term is "zarith." Tarzan is able to defeat the beast by ramming a tree in his mouth. Later, they encounter a pterandon (thipdar), which is called by the correct pellucidaran term. The huge pterosaur swoops down and captures Tarzan, nearing feeding him to her brood of squalling young. Yes, the flight to the thipdar's nest is the one scene on the episode lifted directly from the book. They also encounter a dimetrodon (grator) which Tarzan wrestles twice in the episode. There are also mammoths and huge panther that Tarzan summons to his aid during the battle between the cavemen and the pallids at the end. The episode ends with the two tribes seeing the error of their ways and becoming allies. In contrast, the Forbidden City episode reasonably follows the original, with Tarzan helpinmg a couple locate their missing son, held captive in the ciy of Ashair for seeking the fabled Father of Diamonds. One difference is that Tarzan's battle with a dwarf t-rex has been pruned. Also, there is a giant Octopus but no giant eel in Ashair's aquarium. The ending, in which the long sought-after Father of Diamonds turns out to be a mere lump of coal, is also intact, although the villain does not fall over dead from shock like in the book.
The first season also includes many original tales, most with Burroughs-type themes, such as the discovery of lost cities and races, including a displaced Viking colony, and city built entirely form elephant ivory. This last was not Athne, "city of ivory", and resembled none of Burroughs lost civilization. It was ruled by an evil monarch who has his soldiers slaughter the jungles elephants for their tusks. He captures Tarzan and tries to get the Ape Man to divulge the location of the Elephants' graveyard. Eventually, the mangani and Tarzan's other animal friends save him, ands the tyrant is overthrown. Also of note on this episode is that Tarzan gathers a huge congregation of animals on "the plain of the baobob trees," as a distraction for the king's soldiers. Also, the inhabitants of the city worship a giant wooly mammoth as a sort of god of elephants. The beasts is eventually set free by Tarzan. Where did the mammoth come form--Pellucidar? The great chasm seen in the earth would suggest it. The mammoth's name, Ben-Tor, BTW, means "great beast," in the language of the primitives of Pal-ul-don--hardly a coincidence, since the mammoth is also called"Great Beast" in English. Another episode has Tarzan encountering robot double of himself created by two diamond-smugglers intent on plundering the vaults of Opar. Strangely enough, this is the only episode involving Opar at all, and even here, La and beastmen are nowhere in sight. Wait, not quite, about there being no Opar at all in the other episodes. In the episode "Tarzan the Hated," the female archeologist refers to the Valley fo Diamonds as being "in the Opar region."
Another episode had Tarzan encountering an ancient Egyptian civilization. In the original novels, only Ashair, the Forbidden city, was possibly of Egyptian derivation, but the city on this episode is very obviously Egyptian in origin, complete with pyramids. The city is ruled by an evil queen who has the inhabitants convinced she was a powerful sorceress. Tarzan exposes her "magic" for the fakery it is. He also is pitted against a Nile crocodile. Of note in this episode is that the city's inhabitants hail tarzan as a savior becuase of towering statue of him with Nkima perched on his shoulder, which stands over the entrance to the city. The statue's origin remains a mystery to the end, in which Tarzan says, "Well he is a good-looking chap isn't he?" and then throws back his head and laughs. I've actually thought of a possible origin for that statue, depending on whether you consider Phillip Jose Farmer's Tarzan pastiches canon; one of Farmer's stories has Tarzan (who according to Farmer, is immortal) going back in time and having adventures from the end of the Plesticene to the modern era! This is why in Farmer's Hadon of Ancient Opar there are rumors of a bronzed god-man who rides an elephant. So was Tarzan there previously, in the ancient past? Did he become revered as an Egyptian deity? Of course, the Filmation cartoon series can hardly be considered canonical itself, but it makes you wonder. Nikima, by the way, IS very much in this series. He's the one character (other than Jad-bal-ja), who is also a regular in the Tarzan novels. That is, until the 1979 episodes, but I'll get to that later.
For the second season, Tarzan was paired with Filmation's Batman cartoon, under the title The Batman/Tarzan Advnture Hour. They did this sort of thing with kids' shows all through the seventies. I've read this was idea of Fred Silverman, one of the Bigwigs in charge of children's programing. He thought this approach would be more attractive to children, even though they were still obviously very separate shows--Tarzan and Batman certainly didn't team up, though there was a far more recent Dark Horse commic series where they did. Although the episodes were still good at this time, the overall quality seemed to be slipping. Fewer animals were shown, more invented cities, and less Burroughs-derived material was the general rule this time. I remember them showing one new episode, followed by one old one, the old ones being generally the better. The episodes also seemed to take on a more fantasitic quality. There was one where Tarzan befriended a beached whale who took him to a sunken colony of Atlantis, where whales and dolphins were enslaved by a cruel monarch with no sense of animal rights. The villan was overthrown, though he came to realize the error of his ways. There was an episode where Tarzan encounters a race of bird-people, winged men who lived in luxury, while they oppressed the "land people," a tribe of peasants. This episode was the first to feature "Argus", the giant eagle, a character from the Dell comics series! They did do an episode that seemed like a semi-adaptation of Tarzan and the Ant Men, which featured two warring races of miniturized humans. One of the tribes invents a huge robot called the colossus to defeat the other. The political conflict on this episode made it seem rather like "Tarzan in Lilliput," although like Burroughs' novel, it also had the Ape Man shrunk down to miniture size.
One of my favorite second season episodes was the one where Tarzan and Nikima venture into the mountains and encounter the Den-Lu-Mangani, a race dwafish prehumans. A band of Spanish conquistodors seeks the treasure of dimunitive ape-men, which is located high in an ice-cliff. Tarzan saves one of Den-Lu-Mangani first from the ruthless leader of the conquistodors, then from Tar-sheeta, "the great snow tiger," whom the Ape Man battles. The name "Tar-sheeta" technocally would mean "white leopard," in ape lingo but Tarsheeta is a huge, shaggy-furred white saber-tooth. The rest of the conquistodors abandon their leader once his pursuit of the treasure causes a cave-in that nearly kills them all. They are saved by trzan and Tar-sheeta, now an ally. Peace between the conquistodors and the Den-Lu-Mangani is attained by the end. It is never explained where the 15th-centry Spaniards have come from, but perhaps they hail from another displaced city, one form 15th century Spain, somewhere in the vastness of Tarzan's jungle.
This season also included a one-time venture to Pal-ul-don. The story was a take on Alexandre Dumas's The Man in the Iron Mask, with a Waz-don chief named Den-at imprisoned behind mask in a tower by his evil twin, Tan-at, who impersoantes him and takes over the tribe. He tells the other Wz-dons that the tower holds a deadly beast. Tarzan climbs the tower and learns of the ruse, and that the key to the mask has been desposited in the cave of a fierce dimetrodon. Tarzan allows Tan-at to capture him and put him to work in the mines. The jungle lord sneaks off to find the key. After wrestling the dimetrodon, he succeeds in recovering it. All is put right in the end, with Den-at opting to banish his evil sibling, rather than subject him to the mask, a true act of mercy. Oh, and Tarzan summons a gryf (a Pal-ul-donian triceratops) whose injured foot he had cared for earlier, to save the Waz-don tribe when the tower nearly collapses. Not that it matters greatly for the cartoon, but I doubt Burroughs' Waz-dons could work iron.
By the following season, Tarzan was whittled down to fifteen minutes in order to fit among various other Filmation series, in Tarzan and the Super Seven. Needless to say, this move didn't do the show any good. The season's new episodes were rushed, and had little to no authentic Burroughs in them (though they managed to retain relative quality), and the old episodes had many of their better scenes cut out. The moral messages this season were somehow more blatant, and very heavy-handedly politically correct. One episode carries a very environmentalist theme, with a "lost civilization" that has invented steam-powered saw machines, and is devestating Tarzan's jungle. A group of rebels have saved some of the trees in their own land, by pretending a certain forest is haunted. Eventually, the city's queen and her underlings learn the value of trees, and destroy no more forest. Another episode has Tarzan and a female aviator discover a valley where mythical creatures thrive. They recover a lost orbital satelite from the lair of a minotaur. This episode features a mischeivous satyr who learns the folly of his practical joking. Perhaps the best episode this season features Jad-bal-ja, and a lost colony of ancient Mayas. In the original novel, Tarzan and the Castaways, Tarzan also discovers a lost colony of Mayans, but it is on an island, NOT in Africa. Here, the Mayan city is ruled by a man-god who calls himself Kukulkan, and can assume the form of a winged serpent, which is also the likeness of the Mayan deity of the same name. It turns out that Kukulcan is actually an extraterrestrial who is keeping the cities' inhabitants as his own personal lab animals. Remarkably, this episode is strikingly similar to one of Filmation's Star Trek series, on which Kukulcan is also revealed as of extraterrestrial origin. He is, I beleive, portrayed as being more benevolent on the Star Trek series. There is also a similarity to an episode of The Young Sentinels, on which the Egyptian jackel-headed god Anubis is also an extraterrestrial. Filmation may have used the same writer for each of these stories.
In contrast to the fairly low quality and heavy moralizing of these episodes, the following season, 1979-80, proved to be a pleasant surprise. Tarzan returned to its half-hour format, this time paired with Filmation's new Lone Ranger cartoon. And contrary to the general rule that when a show jumps the shark, it's all downhill from there, this new season proved as good as the first, and in some ways even better. For one thing, contrary to an increasing trend to show less wildlife, far more animals were shown this season, including Horta the warthog, and Dango the hyena. There also seemed a conscious attempt on the part of the writers and animators to steer the series back in the direction of authentic Burroughs. Some of the characters and locations of the first series returned, and most episodes had a very Burroughsian flavor, whether directly inspired or not. On a more minor note, it was this season where they used a real elephant sound for the "voice" or Tantor. The kookaburra call, so common to many actual Tarzan movies, was heard in the background during this season. This gave the series a more authenic jungle flavor not felt until then, even though it's not technically accurate at all--kookaburras a native to Australia only.
Tarzan again revisited the Valley of Dianmonds and the city of Zandor/Cathne (although the latter epsiode was a virtual repeat of the earlier episode set in an ancient Egyptian civilization, only with Queen Nemone as the one practicing fake magic to deceive the populace). The one in the Valley of Diamonds featured a character known as "Fana the Huntress," a female warrior who is trapping animals in Tarzan's jungle. Fana's trusted pet is Pasha, a white tiger whom she captured in India. Though Fana seems to have a fondness for her feline companion, she sometimes curses him as a "stupid beast", and lashes him with a whip. Her goal is to capture Tarzan's friend Jad-bal-ja, the Golden Lion, and train Jad to hunt with her alongside Pasha. Naturally, Tarzan is very opposed to this, and warns Fana to leave his jungle. He and Jad take refuge on the veldt. Meanwhile Fana and Pasha are captured by the Bolgani and taken to the Valley of Diamonds. The Bolgoni intend to keep Fana as hostage in order to lure Tarzan. Pasha manages to escape, but refuses to free his mistress on account of his earlier harsh treatment by her. Tarzan later saves Pasha from as pack of hyenas. He, Pasha, and Jad are then able to rescue Fana from the Bolgoni. As a result of her captivity, Fana learns to respect the rights of non-human animals, and promises to return Pasha to his own country and free him there.
Another episode, "Tarzan and the Sifu," had the Ape-Man encountering a displaced Chinese civilization, something Burroughs never got around to inventing (but Burne Hogarth, in the newpaper strips, did). Tarzan befriends a young martial artist who intorduces himself as "nephew of the Sifu." Tarzan accompanies the lad to his city, Dhou Jing, where they learn that a traitor named Wu Han has imprisoned the Sifu and assumed the throne. Wu Han informs the Ape-Man that he intends to attack and conquer the other cities in this jungle (it would be interesting to see a Chinese army storming Cathne). It seems that Wu Han has gained possession the "Dragon Pearl", an orb he uses to summon a fire-brething dragon from its lair beneath the city. When Tarzan battles the beast in the arean, Wu Han calls Tarzan a mighty warrior and offers to make him a fellow conqueror. Tarzan declines the offer of course. The imprisoned Sifu gives Tarzan the "inner strength" for him to bend the bars of their cell. Tarzan, the boy, and his uncle escape, and Tarzan summons Tantor from the jungle to defeat the dragon. It ends well, of course, with Wu Han overtrown, and the Sifu reinstated.
The most remarkable development this season was, however, the inclusion of Jane on one episode. It is generally assumed that Jane was absent in this series. Well, almost. Jane does appear on this season in a semi-adaptation of Tarzan of the Apes. Jane and her father are abandoned by mutineers on the Congo river. Tarzan trails then, once saving them from a python and then a lion. Tarzan takes them to the cabin on the coast that was built by his parents. Not long afterward, the rogue ape Kerchak abducts Jane. Tarzan had defeated and banished Kercahk in an earlier scene, and the ape wants revenge, as well as a desire to take jane has his mate. That's right-- this scene is actually in the episode. Only here Tarzan only defeats Kerchak instead of killing him in battle, then rescues him from falling over a cliff. Naturally, Kerchak learns the error of his ways. This incident pays off later, when Jane and her father discover the ruins of the lost city of Kaluum, a realm never found in the pages of Burroughs. They are attacked by the city's fabled guardian, a gargantuan ceratosaurus-like monster. The city's inhabitants tell Tarzan that the beast came from below, and drove the city's populace undergound, the same place the beast came from. Does this indicate that the prehistoric-looking behemoth is, perhaps, Pellucidaran in origin? Anyway, Tarzan, with the help of the grateful Kerchak, is able to defeat the monster and drive him back whence he came. Interestingly, the creature looks EXACTLY the same as one of the dinosaur-like monsters of the planet Mongo that appeared on Filmation's Flash Gordon series, also running at the time. The story ends with Tarzan, having fallen in love with Jane, promising that he'll see her again.
All of this seemed a great improvement. The 1980 season, however, (if it can even be CALLED a new season), proved a major disapointment. Not only were no new Tarzan episodes produced, the old ones were whittled down once again to fit a fifteen-minute time-slot, along with similarly shortened episodes of The Lone Ranger, to make way for episodes of an animated Zorro. It is easy to blame this new Zorro cartoon for Tarzan's demise, although it was aruably as good as both the Tarzan and Lone Ranger series; it just didn't go over as well. Zorro was soon cancelled, and Tarzan and The Lone Ranger with it.
Around that time, I graduated to the actual Tarzan books, as well as to other Burroughs creations. AS sufficient as these cartoons were at the time in their depiction of lost cities and monstrous beasts, they still pale in comparison with the original stories that inspired them. I never had a need to return after encountering the real Tarzan. At least, not for a while. Years later, I was able to find some tapes of the Filmation series at a comci convention.More recently, I did manage to find all of them on DVD, though not an official release, of course. They are worth a look for anyone who can find these cartoons today. After all, despite their shortcomings, there was actaully more authentic Burroughs to them than many other adaptations, including the Ron Ely TV show, which was also running in sindication at the time, and the many movie adaptations.

2 comments:

  1. Wonderful series (from the few episodes I've seen). I've read that it remains as perhaps the truest adaptation of the novels. I got the Flash Gordon DVD set and wish this one was going to be released.

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  2. Interestingly enough, the Tarzan and Star Trek episodes involving Kulkukan were both written by the same individual. These episodes are discussed in the second book of Win Scott Eckert's excellent two-volume magnum opus, CROSSOVERS, published by Black Coats Press and available at Amazon.com

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