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Sunday, October 27, 2013

'Space Stars:' Best Ever Space Camp

Space Stars: The Complete Series
Warner Archive's recent DVD release of the 1981 Saturday morning cartoon "Space Stars" is reminiscent of the "magic" green grass in Easter baskets in that Archive seems to always find another Hanna-Barbera series to release in the same manner that there is always one more jelly bean or small chocolate egg nestled in the grass despite previous certainty that you found them all.

"Stars" is a great example of a good marriage between art and commerce. This union relates to Hanna-Barbera getting more mileage out of vintage space-oriented cartoon characters in its stable by producing a series of new shorts featuring those childhood favorites.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of "Stars" opening credits provides a great sense of the 60-minutes (actually closer to 45) of laser-blasting action in each episode.
Little doubt exists regarding defender of the universe Space Ghost and his crew of teen siblings Jan and Jace (along with mischievous space monkey Blip) stealing the show. The lesser-known Herculoids, who are a very entertainingly bizarre mix of primitive and futuristic elements, are along for the ride.

Astro from the uber-classic Hanna-Barbera prime time cartoon series "The Jetsons" moves up to headliner status in "Astro and the Space Mutts." This one has this particular dog wonder teaming up with a space cop named Space Ace and two canine second bananas named Dipper and Cosmo. Astro's borderline creepy admiration of Ace is even more intense than his regard for George Jetson.

The Teen Force is the new-comer to the party. Similar to one theme in "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," this group of super-powered space-scooter riding teens uses a stable wormhole to travel from their dimension to our universe to save our bacon. Considering that they do not even wear full helmets, there is no use pretending that the Milky Way is not still in their eyes during their missions. (It seems as well that their agenda does not include the "hopeless case" of trying to create" perfection on earth.")

The Force's primary foe is domination-oriented Uglor, who is also a frequent Space Ghost foe and messes with the Herculoids when he gets bored. One of his best efforts involves emulating the classic scifi film "When Worlds Collide."

The theme of each Force member having special powers, which include telekinesis and the ability to rearrange their molecules, evokes thoughts of the spectacular "Ultimate Spider-Man" series that currently airs on Sunday morning. This one has Peter Parker leading (and regularly bickering with) a team of similarly "enhanced" adolescents.

The primary format of "Stars" has each team, which regularly joins forces with one or more group from "Stars," battle Uglor or another space villain who typically is seeking to dominate one world or another.

The Herculoids" play this quite straight; Space Ghost shows the same super-hero level bravado that later lands him a late-night talk show on Cartoon Network; the Teen Force seem to revel in their adventures, and Astro et al provide pure comic relief in the most brightly animated shorts in the bunch.

It is very cool to see that both the style of the aliens and many of the themes borrow from the highly awesome Hanna-Barbera show "Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space." Seeing that particular Scooby gang make a cameo would have made a terrifically campy series even better.

The Space Ghost segment "Planet of the Space Monkeys" is a strong contender for cutest cartoon of the series. This one has a sad Blip leaving Space Ghost and the kids to live on a planet with his own kind where he quickly becomes a hero. He additionally gets up to some terrific monkey shines in this one's final seconds.

The plethora of bumper segments in "Stars" are designed to entertain and educate. It is nice as well that the challenges that they present are so easy that every audience member who is old enough to pour the milk into a bowl of  Froot Loops without spilling it all over the counter can figure it out.

The "Space Facts" feature has one group of Stars explain space-related science, such as the composition of a comet and both the origin of stars and why we cannot see them during the day. The solution to the "Space Mystery" segment that follows is based on the "Space Fact" from that episode. For example, the nature of lunar-influenced tides provides the solution to one such mystery.

The "Space Code" segment provides the eight-year-old in all of us a chance to crack cyphers that are so simple that we would have been watching "Stars" in German if the allied forces had used them in World War II.

The back-cover art from the "Stars" set states that we have our friends at Archive to thank for restoring every segment. This week's "Space Mystery" is determining which individual archivist deserves a "pat" on the back for this tremendous gift.

The space briefing regarding "Stars" is that this entertaining show is one of the more action-oriented series in the Hanna-Barbera catalog and provides fans of Space Ghost and the Herculoids who thought that the '60s series and the talk show were it for those heroes to see another set of adventures featuring them.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Stars" is welcome to email me. You can also use space-age technology to follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.