Nether Regions 04.26.11: The Mighty Thor - The 1966 Cartoons
Posted by Chad Webb on 04.26.2011
As we prepare for Kenneth Branagh's big screen adaptation, revisit the Thunder God's entry into animation by going back in time to 1966. Do you love Thor? You might not after checking out this series...
Nether Regions started as a segment of the Big Screen Bulletin that meant to showcase films that have been discontinued on DVD, are out of print in the United States, are only available in certain regions outside the United States, or are generally hard to find. Now it is a column all its own! You might ask, "Why should I care about a film I have no access to?" My goal is to keep these films relevant because some of them genuinely deserve to be recognized. Every time I review a new film I will have a list of those I covered below so you can see if they have been announced for DVD release, or are still out of print.
THE 1966 THOR CARTOONS
Featuring the Voices of: Chris Wiggins, Len Carlson, and Peg Dixon Directed By: Grant Simmons and Doug Wildey Written By: Ralph Bakshi, Doug Wildey, and more Running Time: 19-21 minutes per episode without commercials Release Date: 1966 Missing Since: Never Released Existing Formats: 2 episodes can be found on VHS Netflix Status: Not Available Availability: Extremely Rare
The Thor cartoons were part of the anthology animated series The Marvel Super Heroes, which was syndicated and first shown in the US in 1966. It was a half-hour show that ran three separate seven minute segments that focused on an individual super hero each day of the work week. It was broadcast at different times on various local stations. Here is how the line-up went:
- Monday: Captain America
- Tuesday: The Incredible Hulk
- Wednesday: The Invincible Iron Man
- Thursday: The Mighty Thor
- Friday: Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner
The Rainbow Bridge of Asgard: an intergalactic pathway of Godly lovliness.
I'm going to cover this series by touching on the episodes of one given superhero at a time. The Thor segments are berskely goofy, to the point where I have serious doubts about the upcoming live-action film. These segments follow "The Mighty Thor", who lives on Earth as Dr. Donald Blake, who has a private practice. In order to become Thor, he just walks out back into a creepy alley and pounds his wooden cane on the ground. This transforms him into Thor and the cane becomes the hammer Mjolnir. Thor travels in a way that must get his arm tired from time to time as he swings his hammer (fashioned with a strap) around his head and this acts as a propeller similar to helicopter. Over the course of the episodes, Thor has the opportunity to return to Asgard, but he sticks with the 3rd rock from the Sun because of his spicy nurse Jane Foster.
For those that hate the idea of Heimdall being portrayed by Idris Elba, rest easy knowing he is fully Caucasian, yet equally as bearded here. Heimdall is the guardian sentry/gatekeeper of Asagard and stands firm at his post on the Rainbow Bridge. After seeing the character on display, I have come to the conclusion that the complaints about his skin color are pretty trivial. I know I know, Norse Gods should be white. Oh well. Odin looks basically the same with long flowing white locks and an imposing presence. He has a beard also. Thor's is on layaway. We get to witness Odin taking a bath in the episode "At the Mercy of Loki", which could have been changed to prevent nightmares. Odin is informed of sudden news while bathing, but did he have to be told there? Just saying.
Loki is a character that left me speechless. If you can track down the first episode, where Loki is freed from his punishment of being imprisoned inside a tree, I urge you to do so. It is hilarious. That, in a nutshell, describes most of the episodes. Loki tries to beat Thor, gets caught, and Odin punishes him in ways that a kindergarten teacher would her students. This irritating little ant attempts to cause world destruction and havoc, yet is constantly handed sentences that are the equivalent of a time out chair. Despite every action Loki takes against Thor, his persistent deception and lies, Odin always hears him out when he tries to turn Asgard against Thor. It makes no sense. Do not expect continuity here folks. Loki is largely responsible for the other villains attacking Thor as well. If he can't defeat his stepbrother himself, he manipulates someone else, such as: The Executioner, The Enchantress, The Absorbing Man, Sandu, Skag, and Sertyr to name a few.
I was prepared to rate each episode, but most of them are the same, and outlining the story for each would not be easy because they tend to be convoluted. Suffice to say that Loki wants to silence his arch-nemesis Thor, and the plot escalates from there. If Loki is not the center, it is probably Odin getting mad at Thor for some petty reason. One of the better episodes, "To Kill a Thunder God", was one of the few where Thor's peril appeared legitimate. Here his foe was The Destroyer, who we're told can only be vanquished by Odin. Even Loki is upset he unleashed this monster after years of being trapped in a tomb. The rest of the episodes were rather silly, and in several cases, Thor would conjur up some ability we had never heard of before, that applied only to that particular situation. Many of the fights reminded of the play scenes in Toy Story 2 when Andy would have Woody and Dr. Porkchop recruit help in battle, each of which trumped the one previous. Loki always had a backup villain to throw at Thor, and the Thunder God would always overcome the obstacles like Inspector Gadget.
The sultry Un-Portman like Jane Foster.
The animation is very crude and poorly done. Aside from possible appreciation of the voice cast, you might as well read the comics. Thankfully the images are color, but the content on screen is as limited as humanly possible, even for the 60's. They used xerography, which is a dry photocopying technique where they took images directly from the comics and manipulated them as little as they could for animation. When the characters speak, the mouths go up and down, and occasionally a limb will move, but it doesn't happen often in each episode. When Thor ventures to Odin by crossing the Rainbrow Bridge, it is a leap consisting of his character figure being moved as if by an invisible hand. This is the biggest problem with The Mighty Thor. It's impossible to become invested in the characters when the production team is doing next to nothing to entertain us. But for those purists out there, you will be ecstatic knowing the stories are represented just like the comics.
Below you can take a gander at the episode list, complete with all the different titles:
Episode 1: Trapped by Loki, Vengeance of Loki, Defeat of Loki
Episode 2: Chained Evil; Sandu, Master of the Supernatural; Enchanted Hammer
Episode 3: Enchantress and Executioner, Giants Walk the Earth, Battle of the Gods
Episode 4: At the Mercy of Loki, Trail of the Gods, Return To Earth
Episode 5: The Absorbing Man; In My Hands, This Hammer; Vengeance of the Thunder God
Episode 6: To Kill A Thunder God, The Day of the Destroyer, Terror of the Tomb
Episode 7: The Grey Gargoyle, The Wrath of Odin, Triumph in Stone
Episode 8: Mysterious Mister Hyde, Revenge of Mr. Hyde, Thor's Showdown with Mr. Hyde
Episode 9: Every Hand Against Him, The Power of the Thunder God, The Power of Odin
Episode 10: The Tomorrow Man, Return of Zarrko, Slave of Tomorrow Man
Episode 11: Enter Hercules, When Meet Immortals, Whom the Gods Would Destroy
Episode 12: The Power of Pluto, The Verdict of Zeus, Thunder in the Netherworld
Episode 13: Molto, the Lava Man; Invasion of the Lava Man; Living Rock
EPISODE COMMENTARY: #11 - ENTER HERCULES
"Episode 11" commences with Thor at Asgard looking at his Papa Odin like a lost puppy dog. He misses Jane Foster, and humbly requests to return to Earth. This is granted, but upon arrival, he finds Jane in a hospital bed. He must figure out what happened. How does he do this?: Well, reveal his identity as Thor of course. They declare their love for each other, and Thor leaves, not knowing how she ended up in the hospital. Meanwhile, Odin sees this and is pissed...because well that is against Asgardian Law. He sends Hercules to Earth for undisclosed reasons. Thor then returns to face Odin, assuming he's in trouble, and is promptly ordered to face the RITUAL OF STEEL! This means he battles lots of his friends with their weapons of...erm, umm, steel. He survives, but that wasn't the punishment. Sure, Loki tries to kill people and rule Earth, and gets a slap on the wrist, and Thor receives multiple punishments of extreme danger. Odin has lost his marbles. Hercules is still on Earth sleeping, and wakes up to move a tree that is blocking a train. He reveals his identity immediately and nothing happens. He is embraced as a celebrity who plays the guitar and then threatened during a robbery by three skinny masked men. Ugh. Onto Part 2...
The bullets bounce of Hercules, and Jane Foster, apparently healing well, sees a large burly man with a skirt and short dark hair and thinks it must be Thor. She walks right up to him, calls him Thor, and then realizes it is not him. Hercules is instantly smitten with this red-haired vixen. Thor returns and Jane is mad at him because he left, even though he said he would, and she said she would wait. Ahhh! This makes no sense! They battle: Pow! Twang!, etc., etc. The men who failed to beat down Thor during the RITUAL OF STEEL tell Odin he's in love and to get over it. He's grumpy and ignores these reasonable pleas. Still fighting tooth and nail, Hercules and Thor battle everywhere while some crowd looks follows them I guess and looks on. Odin sicks Cedring the Merciless to strip Thor of half his powers. This weakens him enough that hercules wins, and the city people love him and turn on Thor. They're like New Jersey sports fans. Jane decided she loves Thor again and was just trying to make him jealous before. Thor wants none of it because he's not as strong. And I thought I was stubborn. Odin speaks to Jane from above (via creepy large eyes in the sky) and says "Go to him woman! He took his loss like a God." So, if we are understanding it all. Odin strips Thor's powers, then when he loses, which must have been the point, he admits this to Jane and allows them to be together. My head will explode soon. In the end, we never found out why Hercules was sent to Earth, nor why Jane was in the hospital. This episode sucked. The End.
This interpretation of Thor is the definition of lame, and I realize one must let some flaws slide with cartoons, but this would have been rated "FAIL" by a 5 year-old with common sense. Few of the storylines are coherent or consistent, the voice acting borders on soap opera, the animation is cringe-worthy, and Thor strikes me as a very weak-willed superhero/God, whatever, in this embodiment. As you can see above, you can access plenty of episodes on YouTube. It's only worth the time if you're a huge Thor fan and are curious.