Thursday, December 22, 2011
It's a Titan Crew Christmas! THE FLYING HOUSE, Episodes 1 and 2
The Flying House (1982-83) represents the "last bow" of the crew of talented voice professionals who brought us Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion. It's at once a "sequel" of sorts to Superbook and a "leap forward" from that earlier series, both aesthetically and thematically. Indeed, I think it's one of the better animated series of any stripe from its early-80s time period -- a pretty fallow period, to be sure, but there's a considerable amount of entertainment value to be found here.
The "blowback" that Superbook received for thrusting its young protagonists directly into Old Testament storylines -- a backlash that led to the rejiggering of the series' premise into what I consider to be an inferior format -- evidently dissipated very quickly. One would think that, if making modern-day interlopers prime movers in Old Testament tales were a no-no, then doing the same with the story of Jesus Christ and His ministry on Earth would be absolutely verboten, especially for a show telecast on the CHRISTIAN Broadcasting Network. CBN bigwigs, however, evidently decided that it was "no big" for bungling Professor Humphrey Bumble's (Hal Studer) time machine to transport Justin Casey (Billie Lou Watt), Angela Roberts (Sonia Owens), and Corky Roberts (Helena van Koert) into "extremely close and incredibly extensive" contact with Jesus and His disciples. Fer corn sakes, when the gang lands in ancient Israel, the shepherds immediately mistake Justin for the Messiah... and the interaction only "ramps up" from there. I think we really have to salute CBN for its open-mindedness in sanctioning this show for American consumption. Put it this way: I rather doubt that a similar show depicting young Middle Eastern children traveling back in time to hobnob with Mohammed will be appearing on Al-Jazeera anytime soon.
The series' first two eps, "Blast off for the Past" and "Star-Spangled Night," introduce us to the characters and take us through the events of the Nativity and the flight to Egypt. Go to the CBN Web site and enjoy, and we'll touch base on the "other side."
The flaws of The Flying House are present at the creation (sorry if I'm mixing Testaments on you there). You hear many of the same basic musical themes over and over and over again in episode after episode, which gets real old real fast. Yeah, I know that the earliest Disney TV series used stock music as well, but nowhere near as unimaginatively as The Flying House tends to. I'm also sorry to say that the annoying Corky doesn't improve that much upon further acquaintance. But the characterization of the robot SIR (George Gladir) is a distinct improvement upon that of Superbook's Gizmo, and Professor Bumble provides a humorous adult presence that Superbook did not have. Professor Peeper's prickly relationship with his son Christopher in Superbook may have given the adult-child relationships there an extra layer of realism, but Peeper could not be classified as endearing by any stretch of the imagination. Professor Bumble, by contrast, with his innocently inflated ego and deviated-septum-influenced voice, is a hoot. Here is where Hal Studer really came into his own as a good voice actor.
Though it's not apparent in these first couple of episodes, The Flying House also took some interesting stylistic chances in its narratives. Entire episodes were devoted to "expanded versions" of Jesus' parables, and, as if to emphasize the "story within a story" nature of these tales, the parables were generally animated in a highly stylized, almost two-dimensional fashion. In many cases, the look was almost that of a more serious version of Jay Ward's Fractured Fairy Tales.
The Flying House's core voice cast of Watt, Ray Owens (the adult Jesus), Studer, van Koert, and Gladir is supplemented by a rotating group of old pros that includes Gilbert Mack, Corinne Orr, and Peter Fernandez. (I suppose that this is why Hal Erickson, in his slightly sniffy entry on The Flying House in TELEVISION CARTOON SHOWS, complains that the show's supporting players, in particular the antagonists, tend to sound like Speed Racer villains.) Billie Lou Watt's "Astro Boy/Kimba" voice for Justin is getting a bit on the thin and strained side by this time, and van Koert's Corky will occasionally "scrootch" your inner ear with his wailing, but, by and large, the voice performances are sturdy enough. Amazingly, no end-of-show credits are given for writing, voice-acting, or anything else, for that matter -- a serious oversight, but certainly no more of one than the absence of any reference whatsoever to the show's New Testament setting in the opening sequence (which would have been a "title sequence" had a title card actually been shown at any point).
All 52 Flying House episodes are available for viewing on CBN's Web site. Give them a look!