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."


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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!

4 comments:

Jeremy said...

"I'm also sorry to say that the annoying Corky doesn't improve that much upon further acquaintance."

Hmmm...honestly, I didn't think Corkey was that annoying at all. Sure, his voice may sound a wee bit irritating at times, but nothing really annoying as heck.

"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 actually thought a lot of the background music was not bad at all; the timing and the pacing really gave the show a sense of atmosphere.

"But the characterization of the robot SIR (George Gladir) is a distinct improvement upon that of Superbook's Gizmo"

I could almost agree with you, but I still thought Gizmo had some charm, especially to his character design; certainly more charm and appeal than *sighs* that other Gizmo on that other Superbook.

"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."

Yeah, Professor Bumble is a pretty likeable character. As for Professor Peeper, I agree he wasn't quite as endearing as Bumble. There are some charming qualities with the character that I admire, but doesn't hold up to same likeability level as Humphrey Bumble.

Chris Barat said...

Jeremy,

Thank you for the feedback. Regarding the use of stock music, I think the main thing that precipitated my comment was a stretch of episodes in which the same, exact music was used to open each and every episode. That bespoke a certain lack of imagination in whoever set up the musical accompaniment.

I am thinking of doing a similar posting once Easter comes around again, so watch out for it.

Chris

Mario500 said...

When FamilyNet presented "The Flying House", the episodes had credits. When the Trinity Broadcasting Network presented the series, there were no credits.

I had never seen the name George Gladir before and I had never seen the name in any list of credits for "The Flying House". Could the author of the article explain George Gladir and where he learned about the person?

Anonymous said...

It's been a while since this article and the comments were published, but I also have never heard of George Gladir in regards to FLYING HOUSE. That's Ray Owens as S.I.R. (Helena Van Koert played Gizmo, Season 1; Billie Lou Watt, Season 2) For whatever reason, writing and voice acting credits no longer exist. In fact, FLYING HOUSE no longer has any credits. I have one episode of FLYING HOUSE with voice/writing credits as well as several episode of SUPERBOOK with writing/voice credits. (I have FLYING HOUSE episode THE PRIZE THAT WAS WON AND LOST on tape from 1988-ish.)