Sunbow Animated Series by Shout! Factory - Season 1.1

Release Date: July 14th, 2009
4 Disc DVD Boxed Set
MSRP: $29.99

A funny thing happened as I grew older... quite often one looks through the days of lore with rose-colored glasses and when looking again at a later time, you find yourself disappointed with what you once thought was a great movie, tv show, or cartoon. But then, there were the Sunbow days.

As a kid, even only around 9 or 10 years old, I had little patience for the Sunbow cartoon. My life of G.I. Joe those days was the comic book and nothing else. To me, even at my young age, the plots were rediculous, the characters over-the-top, and the personalities totally unrealistic and outrageous. But now, everything I used to hate about Sunbow, is now everything I love about these cartoons. You have to have a certain appreciation and a knowledge of what you're getting into. Understand that these characters are "characters" in the very sense of the word. Sure, Bazooka is pretty damn dumb, but when it comes to Bazooka, who do you remember him ass? The bafoon in the Sunbow days, or the guy in the shadows in the Marvel comic who never had any real depth or character?

When you think Shipwreck, who do you think of? The wise-cracking, hard-edged goof off from the cartoon, or the cookie-cutter Navy guy in Marvel? I understand that Larry did fantastic work with all of the different characters he had to work with, but there are certain traits from the Sunbow days that carry just as much credence and depth when it comes to looking at the mythos as a whole. I do have to say that the 25th Anniversary line convinced me of this as well. As each and every figure with a Sunbow tie came out, I felt compelled to display them together. Slowly, nearly the entire cast of cartoon characters were on top of my bookshelf, and I loved it. While I would never invest in the cartoon as a credible part of my personal G.I. Joe "universe", there is a lot to love about those cartoons.

And, in all honesty, I think Shout! Factory hit it out of the park with this initial Season 1.1 set. Far and away the best of the Sunbow cartoons to me were the first three 5-parters. Yeah, the plots were all essentially the same, characters came and went, and there weren't a whole lot of twists and turns. But the feeling of seeing these 5-part series for the first time sitting in my living room as a kid really brought back some nice memories. Sure, as a kid the plots were silly, but it was still G.I. Joe, and I watched it religiously. The folks at Griffin-Bacal always had unique ways to introduce their characters, and if you could grasp the fact that these are super heroes, not necessarily military soldiers, there is a lot to enjoy.

The breakdown of the discs is as follows:

Disc 1 (The Mass Device)
1. The Cobra Strikes
2. Slaves of the Cobra Master
3. The Worms of Death
4. Duel in the Devil's Caudron
5. A Stake in the Serpent's Heart

Special Feature: Looking Back with Ron Friedman Part 1 (of 3)

The MASS Device is a great 5-Parter, that only falls just short of the Revenge of COBRA in my list of favorite Sunbow moments. It was the trend-setter that laid the groundwork for the rest of the series, and not only that, but the weapons actually sounded vaguely like machine guns! And of course, I can never get over this sequence:

And of course, who can possibly forget the first time we really get introduced to Duke, and at the same time quickly figure out that he's pretty much the mack daddy with the ladies...

It's obvious in the Sunbow days that Duke is pretty much the main man, and the Joe team kind of revolves around him. Sure, as the Seasons progress, that sometimes shifts to Flint, but he's still there, directing the show. For this reason, many comic fans have an intense dislike for Duke, mostly because he kind of stole Hawk's role, but as long as you can appreciate them as separate characters and separate universes, who each have a right to exist in their own spotlight, I don't see it that badly.

Disc 2 (The Revenge of Cobra)
6. In the Cobra's Pit
7. The Vines of Evil
8. The Palace of Doom
9. Battle on the Roof of the World
10. Amusement Park of Terror

Special Feature: Looking Back with Ron Friedman (part 2 of 3)

Even though the MASS Device seemed to have a (slightly) more militarized nature, I still find myself considering the Revenge of COBRA as my favorite G.I. Joe 5-Parter. Working Zartan, Firefly, Scrap Iron, Flint, Lady Jaye, and a host of other cool characters into the mix really helped liven up the series and gave it the direction it needed to continue on for two seasons. I still say one of my favorite sequences in the entire series was when COBRA steals the cannon at the beginning, as Duke and Snake Eyes try and fight them off, back to back.

Of course the very concept of the Weather Dominator is rediculous, but it was really the silly nature of some of these early cartoons that shaped the concept of COBRA and COBRA Commander for years to come. When G4 TV had COBRA Commander travelling the country trying to be elected president last year, what personality did they use? The one from the cartoon. Chris Latta singularly made that character "real" while making him so unreal, and that's had a very long-lasting impact on G.I. Joe lore.

Disc 3 (The Pyramid of Darkness)

11. The Further Adventures of G.I. Joe
12. Rendezvous in the City of the Dead
13. Three Cubes to Darkness
14. Chaos in the Sea of Lost Souls
15. Knotting Cobra Coils

Special Feature: Looking Back with Ron Friedman (part 3 of 3)

By the time we get to the third disc, we can pretty much figure out the formula...COBRA has a plan to take over the world, G.I. Joe has to stop it by travelling to all corners of the globe, etc, etc... but what really made this 5-parter cool was, once again, the additions of all the characters. Dusty, Airtight, Quick Kick, and of course Alpine and Bazooka really solidified the G.I. Joe cast, and this was about as good as it got when it came to the Sunbow cartoons.

Disc 4
16. Countdown for Zartan
17. Red Rocket's Glare
18. Satellite Down
19. Cobra Stops the World
20. Jungle Trap
21. Cobra's Creatures
22. The Funhouse

Special Features:

- Knowing is Half the Battle Public Service Announcements: Seven different PSA's that are either separate or can be played one after the other.

- 12" G.I. Joe Toy Fair Presentation from 1963

- Printable .PDF file for "Jungle Trap" script, one of my favorite episodes.

- A nice assortment of vintage toy commercials

As you can see, the first 3 discs are all 5-parters, Disc 4 contains the first run of Season 1 episodes, which are all episodes that I loved. Whether it's just a coincidence or not, I'm not sure, but for some reason there were just an ecclectic choice of characters in those first few episodes that really appealed to me. Whether it was Recondo and Snake Eyes in Jungle Trap, Storm Shadow and Spirit renewing their rivalry in Satellite Down and Countdown for Zartan, or just the fact that there seemed like so much more they could do with the series when it first began. I'm not sure what the appeal of these first seven episodes is, but I know they rank high among my favorites for whatever reason.

Maybe it's just the appeal of seeing my favorite toys in cartoon form, and maybe it's because those first few years were pretty magical as far as character selection goes. Back in the day, even without the appreciation for what the Sunbow cartoons had to offer, I still sat religiously in front of the TV glued to WLVI Channel 56 out of Boston after school to see the characters come to life. But while I rolled my eyes at Bazooka and COBRA Commander, and the fact that the COBRA Troopers couldn't hit the broad side of the barn, I can now look back twenty some-odd years later and appreciate the Sunbow days for what they were. Like it or not, this is the G.I. Joe that much of the mass public remembers. The PSA's, COBRA Commander's unique personality and voice...even the red and blue lasers. Looking back at it like this, you can really see where the film got some of its outlandish concepts, but the fact that the filmmakers have been able to work in some real-world military stuff and much more serious action to boot.

From a more technical perspective, everything I've seen from these DVD's has been a joy to watch. Now, I'm a toy reviewer, not an audio/video guru, so I can't tell you how the remastered audio sounds or how the aspect ratio on the video looks, but I can tell you from a Joe fan's perspective, watching these DVD's is an absolute pleasure. The video is clear and crisp, the sound is great, and these look awesome on my flatscreen TV. I did do some comparisons between the RHINO versions of the series and SHOUT!, and I didn't notice much difference in video. Honestly, I'd have to say that's probably a good point, because since the RHINO DVD's are so prohibitvly expensive these days, you can do yourself a real favor by picking up the Shout! Factory ones, which are very comparable in video and audio for a fraction of the price.

This Season 1.1 set from Shout! is a great mix of nostalgia and entertainment. If folks can overlook the somewhat dated animation (though it does hold up fairly well, honestly) and the rediculous plotlines, there is a lot of fun to be had, either for just nostaliga sake, or to see your favorite characters mix it up. With the little extras it comes with, like the rub-on tattoos and the episode book, there are plenty of other things to enjoy as well as the series itself. Shout! did a very nice job

GRADE: out of FIVE