Throughout 2014 I plan to watch the entire Hanna-Barbera Godzilla cartoon, take snapshots of it and then barf about it on Laser Time. Do I – or you – have the fortitude to see this through?
So back in 1978, just as Godzilla’s popularity began to somewhat wane in both the US and Japan, the animation juggerbums at Hanna-Barbera struck a deal with Toho and began creating a brand new, kid-friendly cartoon for the American audience. This cartoon would run for a few years but find regular placement on the air well into the 1990s… and lucky (unlucky?) for me a whopping ONE episode was widely available on VHS – The Fire Bird, aka the first episode of the show.
As a kid, I really didn’t care for the show. I mean, in first grade I was so ravenous for any Godzilla content that I gladly watched this one episode countless times, but I always kinda knew it sucked. First off, HB licensed Godzilla, specifically – as in, no other Toho monsters. So instead of battling Ghidora or Gigan, Godzilla fights a cyborg whale, big dumb bird and all kinds of not-Toho beasts. Godzilla also lacks his signature roar, and is instead voiced by a guy basically making guttural noises into a microphone.
The other problem is that it reeks of the Hanna-Barbera animation factory; templated storytelling, a bland cast of flat characters, wildly off model depictions of Godzilla and worst of all, a Scrappy Doo equivalent named Godzooky.
He’s a big dumb lizard idiot that gets fatter by the minute, does nothing and all around sucks. But someone – probably the same someone who thinks girls don’t want action figures – thinks kids want kid versions of their heroes, or else… something. No idea how they finish that sentence.
According to these instruments, it’s almost noon!
Anywho, let’s watch the show, shall we? It all starts on an island, where two scientists voiced by Hanna-Barbera 1 and Hanna-Barbera 2 witness a massive eruption…
…which is followed by a massive fire breathing bird that sounds an awful lot like a man doing a pterodactyl impression. Pay close attention to the scale of the bird – he’s titanic now, right? Barely fits outside the mouth of the volcano. Hoo boy, the scale in this episode is a real treat.
So the scientists haul ass in the usual HB style. Get used to this type of scene, because it’s cheap, efficient and… well actually those are the reasons. Running on an infinitely looping background. Way more of this coming. MEANWHILE…
The heroes (?) of the show – who ride around on a boat called the Calico – are minding their own business. Look at ’em. Kid safe, clean cut folks. Getting nods of approval from everyone in this board meeting. Who wants an afternoon bourbon?
Including the blonde kid who looks like Kristen Stewart? Well their fun’s about to end, because…
…that huge eruption caused a massive tidal wave that’ll almost certainly pose a credible threat to the main characters in the first episode. I mean, I really do wonder if they’ll make it out of this.
BUT they won’t make it out before Godzooky can fulfill his role and mug like a doofus for the camera. Very good, yes, I’m 7 years old and even I don’t care if you get swept out to sea.
And here’s where it gets hyper silly. The captain, seeing no way out of this tidal wave scenario, pushes a button that’s tied to his hip. Meaning it might bump into any number of things throughout the day and accidentally summon GODZILLA
Who ROCKETS out of the water at such a speed that it should create its own ridiculous tidal wave but OOOOK let’s go with it. Let’s also not question how or why Godzilla obeys people, who don’t seem to protect, feed or advise him in any way. I mean, I get it, it’s a show, accept this premise and move on, but the movies – even the sillier ones – still treated Godzilla like a sentient, free being and not one at humanity’s beck and call. Leave that shit to King Ceaser.
But hey here we are and Godzilla stops whatever he was doing to politely lift this boat over the wave. Crisis averted, thanks One of a Kind Scientific Marvel Who is also a Walking Metaphor for One of Humanity’s Most Dangerous Discoveries.
“Isn’t he terrific?” – actual thing the kid says to the radioactive lizard
ALLLLSO notice how he want from ankle to chest deep within 5 seconds. I know a flowing ocean is hard to really pin down, but uh, this episode plays so loose with scale. I mean, oh man get ready.
His job done, Godzilla reverse-Poochies back into the ocean, which is yet again around his legs. I suppose that wave could have been around 100 feet tall? I’m more curious how he’s just… sinking into the water. Oh right, that’s way cheaper than having him actually swim or behave like something that lives in the ocean.
Kid Stewart and Godzooky spot the scientists, who need to be evacuated from the exploding island. And you bet your ass we’re gonna do it as cheaply as possible.
That’s two el-cheapo scenes so far. Golly how many will we get…
The Fire Bird shows itself again, which now intrigues the Calico crew because hey, what if we had a second monster-summoning button? So they all pile into a hovercraft and uh…
JESUS again? It’s also amusing that this crack team of scientists, who live in a world with Godzilla, wouldn’t immediately call him up to deal with a giant monster but would call him to lift the boat over a wave.
Godzooky is told to wait on the boat, but because his two primary directives are 1) Look goofy at the camera and 2) Constantly get into trouble so we can pad the show, you better believe he’s gonna wander into the volcano an-
YUP. Sweet, precious seconds of the show’s run time eaten away. Excellent! Less Godzilla for us to worry about!
Meanwhile, the team enters the volcano and uuuuuugh engages in another one of these cost saving / time padding scenes.
They EVENTUALLY find the Fire Bird, an… hey wait, wasn’t he the size of the volcano mouth before? Now he’s like, chillin’ in the sauna with a huge, empty volcano above him. Also check that saucy pose!
Kid Stewart enters the very same chamber and calls for help, and the crew says Godzooky has to fly them across to safety. By the way, Godzooky is the entire background of this shot.
This escape introduces another trope the show falls back on repeatedly, which is the monsters vamping for many, many seconds as if it’s equally as visually interesting as seeing the movie creatures stomp around. The show assumes kids will find this as entertaining as the live action films, which would maybe have been true when cartoons were invented, but even by 1978 it’s like… yeah they’re cartoons yelling at each other. Get to the point.
Oh, speaking of vamping… the team finally calls Godzilla to tackle Fire Bird and he LEAPS UP from the ocean and basically just swings at the air for five or six seconds.
And again, the scale. So, is he really close to the camera and the island is far away? Is Godzilla just that huge? I mean, it seems like the island has to be reeeallly far away, otherwise how could he even walk around on it, or how could Fire Bird even pose a threat?
Eventually, the Fire Bird decides to engage Godzilla, but not before mashing his sexy thighs in the volcano mouth. First thing he does is fire some heat rays at Godzilla…
Which uh, you’d think wouldn’t bother a lizard born from nuclear explosions, but hey, sure. I do love the put-out gesture he makes, which are more in line with a blue collar “I’m too old for this shit” than “atomic horror made physical.”
Eyyy there ya go, that’s on model for sure. That’s basically Homer Simpson. But note the head/body ratio. It’s about to go haywire.
Oh this is what the humans were doing this whole time, by the way. If you care. And you DON’T. NO ONE EVER CARES WHY EVEN SHOW THEM.
The Fire Bird retreats back into the volcano, and uh, apparently shrinks? Just a moment ago he was squished in the volcano top and now he’s nothing but net. Godzilla gives chase…
Finally on the island, we see Godzilla is indeed small enough to easily walk around and even lose track of the airborne Fire Bird. So it would seem neither of them are that big after all? But yeah the bird gets the drop on Ziller and gets a cheap shot in.
G then winds up for a big ol’ tail smash, contorts his face into an elderly crocodile and finally gets one good hit on the bird. He sends it flying across the island, and when it lands…
Oh boy does he vamp. BOTH of them just cut loose and gesture at each other for several seconds, while audio of two men screeching at each other plays over this stirring scene. No blows are traded, no powers are used, just straight up padding.
So how is this resolved? Godzilla literally just falls off the island. The cliff gives way and down he goes. And he’s that small now. Sure. Why not.
The Fire Bird escapes to the arctic, where it will now start melting the ice caps. They’re also afraid it’ll lay eggs and make more birds, which suggests there are two of these things around in the first place. That’s never addressed. What IS addressed is the continued change in Godzilla proportions, which now resemble something that walks like a ’70s disco strut. I think this animation cycle is what made me – even as a 7 year old – throw my hands up and walk away. It is used in every episode… more than once.
The fight, excuse me, the charade-off continues until Godzooky throws himself in the fray. Of course he’s only here to get hurt or maaaybe make a little kid laugh when he’s smacked down by the fire bird.
But not to fear – Fred “Godzilla” Flintstone quickly picks Zooky up and places him on a tall, narrow ice pillar that will surely keep him out of harm’s way.
Both monsters fall into the sea, and uh, writhe around for a bit. I guess they’re small enough now to comfortably fit below the surface?
Aaaand how is the Fire Bird defeated? Godzilla traps it in a cave, buries it alive and lets it drown. Or freeze. Basically some really slow, inhumane death that’s way worse than just breaking its head off.
He then SOARS up from the ocean floor and yells a mighty victory roar. Again, wouldn’t that make a horrendous tidal wave that’d threaten the ship? And how did he suddenly get SO BIG that he’s ankle deep in the ocean again? This may sound nitpicky but these are things I asked in 1987.
And that’s basically the first episode! I’ve watched this god damn thing so, so many times, which is why I took so many pictures – I can really go on and on about this one episode. I figure subsequent episodes won’t be as verbose and image heavy… however, I do want to end each post with a special “Mug Section,” which is just a collection of odd “stall for time / mug for the camera” moments.