On DVD: Super Friends: Season One, Vol. One

The 1970s were soaked in the blood of Vietnam and Cambodia, and were reported via Hunter S. Thompson's fear and loathing. Cultural rivalries and civic strife bloomed from our urban centers like fungus from a damp forest floor. Our politics became corrupt, and we knew it. It was a time of war, terror, and general disharmony. It was also an era of unrivaled cinematic excellence, particularly in the United States. From Dirty Harry in 1971 to The Deer Hunter in 1979 and many in between, the decade's films plumbed the psychic depths of what made the 1970s so unrelievedly awful - a decade of dread, distrust, and death. The people responsible for producing children's programming must have felt challenged: how to create something constructive, entertaining, and edifying for kids amid all the horror? This may account for the fact that the 1970s produced some of the worst cartoons known to mankind.

Super Friends, the first incarnation of Hanna-Barbera's long-running but ever-changing series, is one example of the kind of mind-numbing animated havoc that almost wrecked a generation of children. The gulf between this program and Bruce Timm's wonderful Justice League is a deep, black, immeasurable chasm. Super Friends ran one season in 1973-1974 - in other words, concurrently with Nixon's final days. (A more harmonious confluence of televised media nonsense could not have been imagined in Marshall McLuhan's wildest dreams.) We begin with our heroes, a quintet of DC Comics favorites: Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, Superman, and Aquaman. These five are joined by hip youngsters Marvin and Wendy, who have their own special powers and are always saying things like "Right on!" and "Groovy!" Also along for the ride is Wonder Dog, a transparent rip-off of the most annoying cartoon dog ever drawn: Hanna-Barbera's own Scooby-Doo. Just like Scooby, he growls and "ruffs" moronically, mugging nonstop and rolling his big googly eyes.

On DVD: 9

Shane Acker's 2005 animated short film 9 is visually stunning, engaging, memorable, ambiguous, and suspenseful. Acker's 2009 feature version of 9 is narratively derivative, boring, bloated, and unambiguously expository. I point out these contrasts not because Acker is incapable of handling a feature length film - on the contrary, I look forward to his next work - but because 9 represents the small-mindedness of studios and their tendency toward boxed-in and self-defeating thought processes. A short film is a short film, which is a special art form. It has a purpose and a particular approach that make it different. How often does Random House or Simon & Schuster contact an author whose story has just appeared in the latest Glimmer Train and ask them to expand it into a novel? Never. So why do film execs believe that short films are cinematic Sea-Monkeys that just need a little studio cash to grow into features? The short version of 9 is pretty awesome; the feature is limp.

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