|Groovie Goolies: The Saturday Mourning Collection (1970)
Starring: Howard Morris, Larry Storch, Don Messick, Larry D. Mann, Jane Webb, John Erwin, Dal McKennon
Director: Hal Sutherland
Every kid who lived through the glory days of Saturday morning programming – from the late ‘60s to the early ‘80s – has fond memories of beloved cartoons from the era; even if they haven’t seen them in years, they still maintain a vision in their mind’s eye of how much fun they had sitting in front of the television, chowing down on sugary cereal and zoning out to their favorite shows. Unfortunately, adulthood tends to do a number on one’s appreciation of these things, so when you go back and watch the things that made you happy when you were seven or eight years old, you often find yourself depressed to realize that the show actually sucked. In the case of “The Groovie Goolies,” however, it’s even better than you remember it…and I’ll explain why in just a moment.
The classic Universal Pictures monster trio – Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man – were scary pop culture staples by 1970, and they’d already had fun poked at them courtesy of “The Munsters,” but Saturday morning television really hadn’t done a whole lot with them. The geniuses at Filmation – who’d already brought the Archies to TV – decided to take the character of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and explore her extended family and friends…who just happened to resemble the aforementioned monsters. Instead of making them scary, however, they made them kid-friendly and fun and, demonstrating the difference between yesterday’s cartoon producers and today’s, they didn’t dumb them down in the process. Dracula became a grumpy old man, Frankenstein was a naïve man-child, and the Wolf Man was a surfer dude – with a voice not entirely dissimilar to Wolfman Jack – who came complete with a skull-shaped hot rod called the Wolf Wagon. Other monsters came into the fray as well, like the Mummy, a skeleton named Boneapart, resident physicians Drs. Jekyll and Hyde (envisioned here as one man with two heads), a carnivorous plant named Orville (who looks suspiciously like Audrey II, from the yet-to-premiere “Little Shop of Horrors” musical), a witch named Hagatha, Bella LuGhostly (who even more suspiciously resembles ‘50s TV horror host Vampira), and many unnamed ghosts and devils.
The show was equal parts “Laugh-In” – particularly the segment called “Weird Window Time” – and “The Archies,” mixing rapid-fire jokes and sketches with two songs per show. The jokes are generally either sight gags or some of the worst puns you’ve ever heard in your life…and trust me, I know of what I speak…but, c’mon, it’s a kids show, it’s not “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”; given the age group to which the writers were catering, it’s perfect material. The songs are standard bubblegum fare, with lyrical emphasis on monsters, ghosts, and ghouls, performed by groups with names like the Mummies and the Puppies, the Spirits of ’76, and The Rolling Headstones. (I’m stunned to find that, although I’ve not seen an episode of this show in probably 25 years, I still know several of the songs by heart!)
What’s really caused the show to hold up is its look. The character designs are unquestionably some of the best of all time, the colors are bright and luscious, and the backgrounds are fantastic. Horrible Hall – the monsters’ residence – has the classic haunted house look to it, but it’s what inside that’ll blow your mind. There are lamps with women’s legs as the base (which regularly kick along to the music), a spook-koo clock with a vulture that comes out at the top of the hour, a lovesick loveseat (with very grabby arms), and no end of trap doors and sliding passageways. When the power trio of Drac, Frankie, and Wolfie are playing songs, Wolfie’s playing something that looks like a sitar, Frankie’s got a keyboard made of bones, and Drac’s pipe organ has a second set of hands – furry, with claws – which extend from above the second level of keys to play along with him. In an audio commentary for one of the episodes, moderator Wally Wingert is incredulous at how little the show has been merchandised over the years, and you can see why; it’s amazing that there haven’t been t-shirts, action figures, and the like.
Filmation Studios has had a long and glorious history in animation, but if you have to select the most visually impressive, historically underrated jewel in their crown, it’s “The Groovie Goolies”; with this release, here’s hoping it gets the appreciation it so richly deserves…and inspires someone to release a CD of the Goolies’ songs.
You have to give the producers of this set credit for trying to do something a little different with the standard retrospective documentary, but the 45-minute “docu-comedy” – completely with a “Goolies”-inspired laugh track, is more of a noble failure than a roaring success. Still, the interviews with the show’s creators and some of its more famous fans (Alice Cooper, Forrest J. Ackerman, and Oscar-winning make-up artist Bill Corso) make it worth watching, as does the appearance by the punk band, the Groovie Ghoulies. (Note the subtle but lawsuit-preventing difference in spelling.) As mentioned above, there is also a pair of audio commentaries on the first two episodes, along with a follow-the-bouncing-skull version of “Goolie Get-Together.”