In search of Jonny Quest

Feb. 13, 2009 | 8:12 p.m.


One of the more intriguing popcorn-movie scripts floating around town right now is Dan Mazeau’s rollicking live-action adaptation of "Jonny Quest," the savvy and sublime 1960s animated adventure series that felt like "Dr. No" for kids or a post-Sputnik version of "Terry and the Pirates."

The old show was flat-out great and the word is that Mazeau’s script is such a nimble revival effort that little Jonny could end up being a 21st century movie franchise.

The script made it on to the 2008 Black List (not that I’m vouching for purity or ongoing relevance of that particular industry poll) and it also got Mazeau the job writing the screenplay for the planned movie adaptation of Flash, the DC Comics hero.

I, for one, hope Mazeau’s script reaches the screen because as a youngster I was fascinated by "Jonny Quest" reruns and their stylish danger and refreshing tone. I was watching them in the 1970s, but the old shows (which originally aired in 1964 and 1965) had a worldly, engaging spirit that set them apart from cartoons that talked down to their young audience. There was a dash of both Ian Fleming and Rudyard Kipling in sensibility of the series, which many people forget was originally aired in prime-time, following in the footsteps of Hanna-Barbera’s other more iconic series, "The Flintstones." (The first "Jonny Quest" episode, by the way, premiered on ABC four days before "Goldfinger" opened at U.S. theaters.)

Check out this loving tribute to "Jonny Quest" that I found on You Tube:

What’s the biggest hurdle to the Jonny Quest movie? Two words: Speed Racer. In Hollywood, most executives have short memories and knee-jerk opinions and after the costly disaster of the Wachowski Brothers and their seizure-inducing "Speed Racer," there will be an instant gag reflex if they hear about another 1960s-era animated action property with a niche following. (Also not helping: The 2004 Jonathan Frakes-directed "Thunderbirds," which adapted the quirky 1960s puppet show into a sleek globe-trotting adventure for young audiences but never really connected with audiences).

But "Racer" didn’t fail because of its source material (its problems were up on the screen, not back in the past) and whenever I hear lazy Hollywood thinkers who casually lump together disparate movie projects I always remember a conversation I had with an industry insider of mine who scoffed when I predicted in early 2000 that Bryan Singer’s "X-Men" movie was going to be a huge hit. "C’mon," he said. "why would this one succeed when ‘Mystery Men’ didn’t?"

If done right, "Quest" would have far more in common with the adrenaline exotica of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" than "Speed Racer"…

QuestThe big question with a "Quest" revival: Who would you cast as the title star?

In the 1960s version, which lasted a mere 26 episodes, the blond and brainy Jonny (who was voiced by Tim Matheson, later of "Animal House" and "Fletch" fame) was the 11-year-old son of scientist Dr. Benton Quest, who was a sort lab-coat version of Fox Mulder tracking down strange and unexplained occurrences in far-flung locales. Along for the adventure was Hadji Singh, the gifted 11-year-old Calcutta orphan who was adopted by Dr. Quest, and Race Bannon, a pilot and man-of-action who always reminded me a bit of Steve McQueen but, it turns out, was actually inspired by the action roles of Jeff Chandler.

"Jonny Quest" was revived as a series in the 1980s (there’s an image from that incarnation here on the left) and then again in the 1990s for a heavily marketed and licensed Cartoon Network series "The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest." The latter aged Jonny to 14 to make him edgier, more physical and less cute (would a live-action movie do the same?) and it lasted for 52 episodes; it won generally good reviews for its stories but less sunny reactions to some of its motion-capture experimentations. I think one reason for that backlash was the simple fact that the original 1960s series was drawn with such flair, and technology is a sad substitute for true artistic style. That’s a challenge for the makers of a live-action film, too, who will be trying to make a movie that resonates with the classic show but also lives and breathes as a contemporary action flick.

Back on the topic of actors, am I the only one thinking that Dwayne Johnson will be the first guy the producers look at when they cast Race Bannon? Although, I have to say, George Clooney with white hair might be the closest thing to my mental image of Race…

— Geoff Boucher


Indiana_jonesHarrison Ford says George Lucas in "think mode" on fifth Indy movie

The lowdow on 13 new remakes of sci-fi classics

"Green Hornet" movie has troubles…and Adam Sandler?

Guy Ritchie talks "Sherlock Holmes"

CREDITS: Jonny Quest images courtesy of Hanna-Barbera. Indiana Jones image courtesy of Paramount and Lucasfilm.

More in: Uncategorized


35 Responses to In search of Jonny Quest

  1. Pete MIller says:

    Jonny Quest was one of my favorite shows as a kid along with the original Batman. As a kid there was nothing more exciting than these 2 shows. Race was such a bad*ss. I thought he was the coolest.
    I think that making it as a contemporary movie would force changes on it that would be harmful to the tone of the globe-trotting adventures of these two boys and their guardians. The current political correctness may be too much for Jonny Quest.

  2. Jack Meoph says:

    As long as there is no Bandit. An animal would ruin the picture, because you'd have to come up with some cheesy rescue/action scene that would end up bordering on the ridiculous. Make Hadji a girl, and no snake charming theatrics.

  3. Mark says:

    Who would even want to see a Johnny Quest movie? Do these Hollywood types even do any type of marketing or research?

  4. Landau says:

    How anyone could have greenlit a $200 film on something as niche as Speed Racer (with a following that's over 40) makes no sense at all, even with the Matrix bros. behind it?
    On this level, a Jonny Quest movie would be folly. Perhaps if they made it cheap (although an unambitious Jonny movie will probably not go far either). The "Get Smart" movie, for instance, did pretty well because they had big enough stars and it wasn't a costly flick. Nobody was clamoring for a "Get Smart" movie trying to ape the flavor of the original. Even "The Nude Bomb," which starred Don Adams himself, bombed back then.
    Nah, after some thought, a Jonny Quest flick is not a good idea. The people who love it are too small a niche and too old, while the rest of the public will not care.

  5. haji says:

    yea, the original white stereotype paradyne now a forgotten memory

  6. joppy says:

    hey that kid looks like obammma

  7. Antonio says:

    A little bit of common sense will make you see obvious differences between Johnny Quest and speed racer, speed racer was no good as screen material, and the casting and filmmaking was horendous, just as Dragonball will be. Just make a Indiana Jones kind of adventure respecting the original characters with a good script and good casting, tone down the dog, and everything will be fine.

  8. Tim1965 says:

    Who would want to see a "Jonny Quest" movie when each year Cartoon Network runs 15 funny, fabulous, wonderful, though-provoking, belly-laughing, pop-culture-ripping episodes of "The Venture Brothers"?????
    They should make a "Venture Brothers" movie. Heck, the show has even featured Race Bannon in a hilarious opener involving snake-men, a parachute jump, a bad airplane accident, a group of curious neighborhood kids, a slight breeze and a toxin which can turn living things into bombs of extraordinary magnitude.
    You can't get funnier than that. (It looses something in the translation, I know…)

  9. Morris says:

    I'd love to read that script. As pointed out, we're surrounded by political correctness. What we thought was a blast as kids might be considered unacceptable.By the way, every time I hear the word "edgier" I have to shake my head.A well written article in any event.

  10. Art Cicle says:

    Mr. Geoff Boucher, you may think you speak English but the structure of your article is insane, I had a hard time decrypting your article, please, do have an editor look at it next time.

  11. Valerie says:

    I must be in the minority here. I actually liked the Speed Racer movie. I grew up on the cartoons. I saw it in the theaters and now own it on DVD. It would be interesting to see how the do "Johnny Quest". I watched it back in the 70's, but I really don't remember much about it anymore.

  12. Gaby C says:

    Jack: I think any guy over age 45 would want to see it. Back in the late 60’s I loved the action and gunfire of the original, and unlike most cartoons someone usually ended up dying – remember the mad scientist with the pet pterodactyl?? Of course Hollywierd would have to sissify Jonny, make a global warming/cooling statement and add a girl. A final note – I hated the cartoon Speed Racer, it never held a candle to the original JQ, so why not make a flick?

  13. KJ says:

    In hind-sight as an adult, thinking about my favorite show "Johnny Quest," I wondered if Race Bannon and Dr. Quest were gay. Maybe partners. Were there ever any females on the show? Maybe that approach could bring this great series into the 21st Century.

  14. charles says:

    It would be really dull. I watched it when I was a kid but only because I was interested in science and it it never really was anything but a rich white kid and his sidekick getting into trouble. Decode genomes? Defuse atomic weapons, or how about an Indian atomic war on Pakis?
    Hollywood, or whatever the place where these things get made, needs to find something new, not old reruns which were boring. Disney is too much of a formula and is dead artistically. When is somebody going to try a NEW IDEA!
    This particular cartoon was a heavy user of repeat frames. This alone makes it worthless.

  15. nick bischoff says:

    I second The Ventures Brothers as a full length feature…BRILLIANT show!
    A JQ live actioner has possibilities – a kid's version of Indy Jones (sure as heck couldn't possibly be as bad as Speed Racer or the last Indy movie – blech!!)…but there is, especially on watching them again on Boomerang, a casual racism pervading the series (bad guys are almost always scheming shifty eyed foreigners of differing racial backgrounds to our heroes). Still, it was a great piece of escapism for kids, and the pulsating theme music was AMAZING.

  16. Ted says:

    Doug Wildey (creator of the original 'Jonny Quest') was asked by George Lucas to storyboard a certain sequence of the 1981 "Raiders of the Lost Ark" but declined. When he eventually saw the completed picture he recognized the extended cliffside truck chase (with Harrison Ford climbing underneath the chassis in a mega action set piece) for what it was: a tribute to a certain episode of his 'Jonny Quest.' Wildey's career was full of such missed opportunities but he probably nonetheless appreciated the cinematic tribute. NOT doing a modern version of the property is the best move today's excuse for Hollywood could possibly achieve. Their amped up "Speed Racer" actually insulted a property considered immune to degradation.

  17. Morris says:

    I’d love to read that script. As pointed out, we’re surrounded by political correctness. What we thought was a blast as kids might be considered unacceptable.By the way, every time I hear the word “edgier” I have to shake my head.A well written article in any event.

  18. raschumacher says:

    For example, a LGBT version of Forbidden Planet?

  19. Scott says:

    Valerie , you're not alone. There's a lot of people out there who loved the Speed Racer movie. But most that do still loved the original series as well.
    If Jonny Quest is true to the original source it will befall the same fate as Speed Racer, if they want a hit they will make a young Indiana Jones movie and have it be Jonny Quest in name only.

  20. The biggest hurdle will be to find actors who only move with their mouths. Reducing action to only three frames per second should prove equally difficult.
    When film looks backwards and finds inspiration in insipid, badly produced television, the industry is in deep trouble.
    Looking forward by making original, highly creative works is what is needed. Not the opposite.

  21. Mr. What says:

    This show is so gay. Come on….2 adult men, traipsing around the world, sleeping in the same tent. Yes, I really enjoyed the show as a kid. But when you look at it now…stereotypes abound. Some of it borders on racist. Even if you take out those elements, it is still gay…mind you, there's nothing wrong with that.

  22. Thomas Boyd says:

    I was 12 years old in 1964, the year Quest debuted, and I immediately fell in love with the character, the show's sense of adventure and possibility. Like most kids of that era, I watched more than my fair share of television. There's is nothing–absolutely NOTHING–I have enjoyed more on TV, before or since. Nothing on TV has been as enjoyable. I adored that show and, to a certain extent, my life, such as it was, revolved around it. In planning my weekly schedule, the first thing I checked back then was the TV listings to find out when Quest would be on. Every Thursday night at 7 p.m., I would move heaven earth to be plunked down in front of a TV agog with a sense of adventure and wonder I found in watching Quest. I found the stories unforgetable and have replayed them again and again ever since inside my head. And I have no doubt that I will continue to hum the music from that show for the rest of my life. I found it exlirating, especially the opening credits. I have never understood why the composer of the show's memorable music, Hoyt Curtin, is not famous. In my view, he was a genius.
    Hollywood ALWAYS mucks things up when it turns a successful TV show into a movie. The list of failed TV-to-film conversions is as long as it is bad: Bewitched, The Beverly Hillbiliies, Starsky and Hutch, The Flintstones, Speed Racer, The Brady Bunch, etc. I have an unwritten rule that I will not see any film that is a TV-to-film recycle. However, if a Quest film is made, I'll be the first in line to see it.

  23. Ash says:

    Okay so the rumor is Zac Efron is going to play Jonny. Which could be okay, maybe? Or not? I don't know without reading the script… but can someone please sign him on to play Kira in the live-action Death Note. Seriously, Zefron was born to play Kira.

  24. jerry k says:

    Some of the comments here are hopelessly misinformed. The men of Jonny Quest are not portrayed as gay. Dr. Quest is a widower with a deceased wife and Race Bannon makes out with Jade (his hot girlfriend) in 2 episodes. Also, charges that the show is racist are ridiculous. In fact, it was quite progressive for the time. Hadji must have been one of the first non-white heroes on American television (if not THE first). He was always treated as perfectly equal with the rest of the Quest family. And so what if half the villians were foreign minorities. The show takes place in foreign countries, after all, and a similar number of Quest allies are also minorities. Political correctness is making humorless babies out of us all.

  25. Rustytoons says:

    jerry k……"political correctness is making humorless babies out of us all "…..You, sir, are my hero!

  26. Frank says:

    I think that the timing is right for a live action Jonny Quest. America in these times needs to return to the can do and endless possibilities of the 1960s. The movie would have to closely follow the style of the 1964-1965 original series. The current world of terrorism, global uncertainty and rogue nations is very analagous to the context of the show's settings during the 1960s. As for casting I think Edward Norton with a goatee would be a perfect choice for Dr. Quest. As mentioned previously Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson would be perfect as Race Bannon. Lucy Liu, or perhaps Michelle Yeogh would be great as Jade. The casting of Jonny and Hadji would depend on how the writers would present the story. However, making them perhaps 12, 13, or maybe 14 would allow for a future of sequels if the intial movie would be successful, which I believe it would.

  27. Some 1 Else says:

    The original Jonny Quest had a lot going for it that previous commentators missed. It was the first comic strip to use lasers, sonic weapons, and other sci-fi gadgets. It had action, adventure, and no concerns about pleasing a special audience. It had mysterious villains, and mysterious helpers. (I seem to remember some of Race's former girlfriends in an episode.)
    The original series obeyed the laws of physics. It was carefully drawn so that objects in flight had the correct momentum. This might seem silly to mention, but the follow-on series "The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest" did not do this. Cars suddenly turned around, like the Scooby-Mobile, going instantly from 60 mph one direction to 60 mph in the other direction. This looks too unrealistic and is a distraction for an audience that is trying to "suspend reality", and believe in the movie.
    The follow-on "Real Adventures" also suffered from the addition of a fifth-wheel, "Jessie" to please the politically correct whosits. Five way conversations don't play well.
    Also, the second series made Jonny look foolish, instead of daring. There is a big difference. People want to be daring and skilled, not foolish. It would be hard to emulate a "Jonny" that was dopey.
    Who-ever they cast for it, the lead has to look like a 12 year old. Zac Effron isn't going to cut it as a kid who is supposed to be listening to what his father tells him to do.
    Bandit has a role. Yes, the dog was used for comic relief, but in at least one episode he wakes up everyone when the boat is on fire. At other times his sense of smell was used in the scripts. So, Bandit has a nontrivial role.
    I think this movie will rely on people's curiosity to buy a ticket. The producers don't sound like the movie will deserve the real emotion and excitement of the original.
    Sounds like the live-action version is doomed from the start, relying on people's curiosity and foolishness to buy a ticket.

  28. Pim Vielen says:

    I fore one, would really like to audtion for the role of Johney Q.

  29. Steve T says:

    The Jonny Quest movie is something that I have wished would happen for years. The original series was such a great collection of stories. 'The Invisible Monster" and the "The Sea Haunt" scared the crap out me as a kid.
    My wish list:
    Daniel Craig as Race Bannon (serious, smart, and lethal)
    Jimmy Bennett cast as Jonny (He is the 'young kirk' driving the car in the Star Trek movie) You need a tough smart kid with an edge.

  30. Dennis Appell says:

    I'm limiting my comments only to fillin gthe role of Race Bannon. "Back in the day" – shortly after the original "Jonny Quest" series aired – I think Tab Hunter would probably have been an excellent choice.
    Today, Dwayne Johnson? Sorry, I think he carries a little too much "cheese" factor. Don't get me wrong – I like him – but he would do to Roger "Race" Bannon what Roger Moore did to James Bond 007. Thankfully, this "Quest" project has *nothing* to do with Joel Schumacher (PLEASE?) – who otherwise would likely try to snap him up for the part. If they do go with DJ, I hope they have him play the part with *very* little humor – more like his role in "Doom".
    My short list: Unfortunately, Pierce Brosnan is too old for the part. Now Vin Diesel with *hair* might be the ticket! [Don't you Hollywood folks *dare* have a bald Race Bannon!] Or perhaps a bleach-blonde Matt Damon. Jason Stratham would also be an excellent choice.
    Now if I can just get over a 20-ish Jonny…

  31. larry levinson says:

    Tim Matheson as Benton Quest has a certain symmetry. Clooney is not brawny enough for Race.

  32. victor says:

    I am a big fan of Jonny Quest. It really is a beautifully drawn and written piece of pop art at its best.
    If you watch the episodes from the original 26 episode run that are not shown on any channel any more you will realize why they are not shown. These episodes are so racist it is downright creepy! Take the 3rd episode where they go to the rainforest to save an innocent white scientist from the indigenous people the "Poho". The whole episode the Poho who are merely keeping strangers out of their n backyard are portrayed as stupid evil primitives with no right to there own land. ALL the main adult characters CONSTANTLY referred to the Poho as devils and "evil savages". What the heck is the scientist doing in the Poho territory anyway? It doesn't matter the Poho have no right to beef with any superior white man over anything. They maime and kill their way through one native american after another. Of course they convince the Poho they are gods to…It's insane. What the heck did benign rain forest dwellers ever do to ANYONE to earn this portrayal? This is all done with a straight face and total coolness which sends a chill up your spine. I used to hate how the parody "Venture Brothers" lampooned the original series as being hyper imperialist and racist. Now I know where they are coming from. The only thing you can do is not show these eps (trust me editing won't help lol) and make fun of them to save face.
    The OP was right. This show does allude to Rudyard Kipling. Kipling was famous for his saying of "The white man's burden…to civilize the world".
    The original JQ goes from chinese to arab to native americans to indigenous africans brutally civilizing the savages. Beautiful and stylish…But really guys you can't even show but 7 episodes from the original run. Hopelessly racist.

  33. tarbo says:

    The three most influential moments of my childhood were the Thunderbirds, The Adventures of Tin Tin, and Jonny Quest. They ruined the Thunderbirds with that awful remake, Spielberg of all people is now ruining Tin Tin. I just pray they don't ruin Jonny as well. Damn you all!

  34. snazzypants72 says:

    People, keep Jonny Quest as it was. A Indiana Jones, meets James Bond meets Terry & The Pirates / Tin-Tin. Dont make it a modern times film….or DO…but dont name it JQ. Political incorrectness….. if fine… if done the right way, and in context with the time frame. This is such a no brainier, that I have begun working on a JQ film short – fan film. I have been a Quest fan since the early 70′s when those great Hanna Barbera cartoons (Doug Wildey designs) used to scare this willy’s out of me! My film is staying as absolutely true to cartoon as possible. Set in the early-50′s, dark, spies from mysterious foreign lands, new technologies from the post war era, superstition, suspense, nazi’s, Dr.Zin, elements of old sci-fi and yes……..bandit. This is coming from a life long fan and someone who want to pay homage to those great old cartoons which STILL have withstood the test of time over 40 years later. Stay tuned!
    For more info, write – Justin:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

E-mail It
Powered by ShareThis