Wednesday, March 23, 2011

On DVD: Josie & the Pussycats (1970)

With DC & Marvel having had their TV adaptations swept off the airwaves by 1970, Archie Comics was the only publisher with any of their characters on the air. Archie's Funhouse was the 3rd incarnation of the Archie gang in as many seasons, and at the same time, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch had been spun off, sharing a half-hour with made-for-TV cousins, the Groovie Goolies. Filmation, which produced those series, no longer had a monopoly, however.

That's because Hanna-Barbera obtained the license to adapt Josie & the Pussycats for television, fresh off the runaway success of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? the previous season. Following the formula that made Scooby an icon, Josie & the Pussycats were sent to various exotic locales, but instead of fake ghosts & monsters, they encountered a number of spies and would-be world conquerors. H-B did the same thing with the other licensed property they acquired that year---The Harlem Globetrotters.

The studio's grand dame of voice-overs, Janet Waldo, applied a more mature version of her Judy Jetson voice for Josie. Jackie Joseph ("Little Shop of Horrors") was cast as vapid drummer Melody, whose naivete could be mistaken for being about as smart as a bag of hammers. Newcomer Barbara Pairot voiced Valerie, who was a whiz with electronics (perhaps inspired by Mission: Impossible's Barney Collier, played by Greg Morris), and was improvising tools for escape long before MacGyver or The A-Team. The singing voices were done by Cathy Daugher, Patrice Holloway, and Cheryl Ladd (pre-Charlie's Angels; billed as Cherie Moor, a shortened version of her given name, Cheryl Stopplemoor). Rounding out the ensemble, you had Alan, the band's roadie (Jerry Dexter), who was also Josie's boyfriend, and the brother-sister team of Alexander & Alexandra Cabot (Casey Kasem & Sherry Alberoni). In the comics, Alexandra was also a witch, but as we've documented before, with Sabrina, a good witch, on the schedule, they didn't want to highlight an evil witch, so Alexandra had her powers taken away, and her familiar, Sebastian (Don Messick, of course), became the unsung hero, occasionally facilitating the gang's escapes. Otherwise, Alexandra & Sebastian became the gang's answer to Dick Dastardly & Muttley (Wacky Races). Alexander, a shady sort in the comics, became less of a weasel and more of a coward, to correlate with Kasem's Scooby-Doo role of Shaggy. It should be pointed out that Kasem didn't voice as many supporting characters as he would on Scooby-Doo or other shows, or as frequently.

16 episodes were cycled through over the course of 2 years, and then Josie & the Pussycats were launched into outer space in 1972. Unfortunately, the quality of animation suffered (largely produced in Australia), as did the writing, but that also was allowed to cycle through for 2 seasons. At the same time, though, the gang did seem to return home after all, what with the guest appearances on The New Scooby-Doo Movies. Josie was picked up by NBC as a mid-season replacement during the 1975-6 season, but only the original series, which went into syndication soon after.

The drawbacks to the DVD release in 2007 are these: Disc 2 is a two-sided job, with 4 episodes per side, plus a bio on Josie's creator, Dan DeCarlo, on side 2. The bio features comments from Casey Kasem (the only cast member interviewed), Paul Dini, Stan Lee, Scott Shaw!, Mark Evanier, Bill Morrison (Bongo Comics), and DeCarlo's widow, Josette, the inspiration for Josie herself. There are trailers for other releases WB had planned at the time, but no behind-the-scenes stories on how the show came to be.

Here's the familiar open, uploaded by CartoonsIntros. Patrice Holloway is the lead singer:

Rating: C+.

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