A great trip down memory lane. I was fascinated with these cartoons as a kid and it brought back all the fun and enjoyment. Fast paced with little explanation as to why anything is happening (as kids we didn't need it) but lots of action and the hero always wins.
Notoriously budget-driven and technically unimpressive, the Hanna Barbera cartoons of the 60s and 70s did not represent animation's finest hour. Let's be honest: today most are watched solely for their camp value. Well, The Herculoids had no shortage of that. But it was also a show with something more.
That "something more" certainly wasn't highly sophisticated or even entirely rational storylines. I can clearly recall at least one scene in The Herculoids where a hero and a villain in different locations appear to spar verbally without any apparent way for either one to hear what the other is saying. They just do. And quite apart from such obvious incongruities, every single episode of this show tells exactly the same story. Invaders want to take over the Herculoid's planet - or some part thereof - and The Herculoids and their human allies stop them.
But this repetitive retelling is not necessarily uninteresting. The Herculoids' planet, Quasar, is depicted as a primordial wonderland: a dense amalgam of savagery and Eden. For their part the would-be invaders are almost always depicted as far more technologically advanced than our heroes, and are generally intent on exploiting the planet for their own selfish ends. One could almost say that Quasar was the Pandora of its day. The Herculoids and their human allies invariably see off these rapacious interlopers through a combination of raw prowess, cleverness and cunning, and of course, by working co-operatively together as a team. Given that this show is a product of the late 1960s, it's hard not to see in all this the anti-colonial sentiment of the day.
But if Pandora is really Iraq, given the zeitgeist of the time in which this cartoon was made, would it really be too much to equate Quasar with Vietnam; or at least, with something as close to it as you were going to get in a Saturday morning cartoon? Taken literally, this is probably going too far. But taking the idea rather as merely an expression of what was in the minds of the writers and their viewers at the time, we are lead into a world where things are considerably more murky. What, for example, are we to make of the fact that unlike the natives of Pandora, this show's humanoid heroes are drawn not only as actual humans, but also as Caucasian? Or of the fact that these human heroes are not merely the allies of the more monstrous - and more obviously indigenous - Herculoids, but are clearly very much in charge of them? I shall leave you to explore the various layers of interpretation here for yourself.
But if we are looking for evidence of colonial or even war-like metaphors, it is worth adding that by the standards children's television, the violence in this show is unusually serious. I'm not talking here about how The Herculoids is actually drawn. On that level all of the violence is very much "cartoon violence". There is no shortage of fighting or of things getting blown up, but these are depicted no more graphically than in any other adventure cartoon. Indeed, if anything slightly less graphically; probably due to cost constraints. The more serious part is that in some episodes it is quite explicitly stated that the villain is actually killed in the end. While the death itself always happens "off camera" (typically the shot will pull back so as to merely show the villain's space ship exploding), clearly this is not standard Saturday morning cartoon fare. Although that said, to be completely fair it was also not wholly atypical of the specific crop of Hanna Barbera adventure cartoons (including Space Ghost,Birdman and the Galaxy Trio, and The Mighty Mightor) that came out at around the same time.
Political interpretations aside, this show is really at its most engaging on a purely sensual level. Maybe it's the vintage sci-fi fan in me talking, but I just love the way The Herculoids looks. Not the actual animation per se, which as with all Hanna Barbera cartoons of the period is extremely basic. Rather, it is the fundamental design that draws me in. Like a lot of the science fiction of the 1960s, the visuals are very much like those of 1950s era sci fi, only more lurid and intense. Once again some may feel that I am pushing my theme too far, but on a purely visual level The Herculoids could almost be described as a low-budget rendering of Forbidden Planet.
On an audio level too, The Herculoids really has something. Ironically, the sound effects and background music are exactly the same as those used in other Hanna Barbera cartoons of the period. As I said in the beginning, this is a studio that was notoriously budget-driven. The difference is that the in The Herculoids this stock audio catalogue is actually used rather well; or perhaps rather that its inventory of effects just fits especially well with this show's material. Either way, whoever was editing the music made especially good use of one particular fragment of electronica that recurs quite regularly in virtually every episode. Here too we could almost say that the effect is that of a low-budget Forbidden Planet. In the end, it's not this show's seriously convoluted political subtext that keeps me coming back for more. It's the way The Herculoids looks and sounds.
Overall, The Herculoids is an interesting piece of animation history, and one with rather more layers than many might expect given its simplistic storylines and technical crudity. And... if nothing else, it offers a delightful taste of nostalgia for those who grew up watching this show in 70s and late 60s.
I am child born in the late 1960s and grew up with saturday morning cartoons, especially HB. I am a huge fan of sci-fi, especially cartoons like herculoids, jonny quest, return to the planet of the apes, Star Trek the animated series, etc. I have watched the Herculoids and imaages are very good. The only issue i had is that i thought this show was part of Space Ghost Series.
Herculoids is a great show, if you like sci-fi cartoon!!