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Monday, April 8, 2013

'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids:' Spies, Dog, and, Rock and Roll



Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids
Warner Archives recent DVD release of the complete series of the 1973-74 Hanna-Barbera cartoon "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids" is another reason for children of the '70s to rejoice regarding the founding of Archive.

Archive had me at the "unreal" "Goober and the Ghost Chasers" and "The Funky Phantom." Adding "Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space" and "Speed Buggy" to the mix were great bonuses. One can only hope that "The Partridge Family 2200 AD" sees the light of day long before the twenty-third century.

Well-known common threads of these awesome rarities are that they had limited network runs and little or no syndication. The series mentioned above that Archive has released have the additional element of being variations of the "Scooby-Doo Where Are You" formula of four "meddling kids" and their dog engaging in crime-busting adventures.

"Butch Cassidy" stands out from other series in the "Scooby" genre in ways that increase its appeal among kids in the eight-to-twelve age range.

First, these secret agents who use their cover as the country's top rock band to travel to hot spots all over the world actually set out to accomplish missions, rather than stumble into trouble while engaged in typical teen behavior or doing their job. Even the "Goober" gang merely set out to document eerie goings-on, rather than thwart the plans of the nefarious villains who induced fear to facilitate their criminal activities.

A typical "Butch Casssidy" episode begins with the computer known as Mr. Socrates using Butch's spy ring to summon the gang to Socrates' headquarters to give the group its assignment. The pilot's plot that had the group playing a concert in a Cold War era eastern European nation as a cover for their mission to smuggle out a defector was typical. The reference to that Iron Curtain country generally banning rock music was a surprisingly adult reference in a Saturday morning cartoon.

Additionally,  dreamy teen idol Butch (who was based on real-life dreamy teen idol David Cassidy) and his bandmates were not nearly as cartoonish as their counterparts on other series. Butch was very brave and true but did not ham things up nearly as much as "Scooby's" Fred.

Wally the drummer, who was the Shaggy of the group, regularly expressed fear but soldiered on bravely and never melted down. Despite this, "Butch Cassidy" did not seem to explain why the spy agency even hired this nervous guy or why Wally took the job given that he regularly complained about  going on a mission even before facing danger.

As an aside, The Monkees' Micky Dolenz provided the voice of Wally. A scene in which Wally said that he knew how to ride an elephant because he had seen the 1937 "Elephant Boy" film three times was a nice homage to Dolenz' first series "Circus Boy."

Additionally, aside from the awesomely catchy theme song, not all the songs in "Butch Cassidy" fell into the typical Hanna-Barbera bubblegum music genre. The tempo on some songs, such as "Stranger" from the pilot, was much slower than a standard Hanna-Barbera offering.

An offshot of the more mature nature of the music in "Butch Cassidy" was the lack of the comical chase scenes, often set to bubblegum music, that were a memorable element of "Scooby-Doo."

Further, a "Butch Cassidy" episode that involved a mission to ensure that a scheduled coronation of  a 16 year-old middle eastern prince occurred included numerous references to real-life music from the '60s. These included discussions of Jimi Hendrix and Joni Mitchell.

Lest one be concerned that "Butch Cassidy" was more "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." than "Josie and the Pussycats," "Cassidy" retained good kid-oriented humor. Elvis the dog who served as the band mascot always took the most comfortable seat in the room and often rocked out as the band performed.

Elvis additionally took great joy in aggravating Mr. Socrates, who seemed to be the world's only computer that was allergic to dogs; that might have been his "terminal" disease.

Other humor came in the form of the band hiding in crates and taking other extreme measures to avoid zealous fans. One of the better segments regarding this theme had the group drive their car directly onto a platform that a crane lifted into the hold of a ship. Seeing the rugged sailors in the hold greet the band as enthusiastically as a mob of tween Bieberers was hilarious.

The bottom line is that "Butch Cassidy" was the Rodney Dangerfield of the "Scooby-Doo" genre shows. It did not get much respect despite combining above average plots, genuinely good music, and good humor at the expense of unduly enthusiastic rock fans.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Butch Cassidy" is encouraged to email me.