The Jonny Quest title sequence: an appreciation

What’s happening on this DVD cover? 
Someone has stolen the jet!  And we need it, because either
it’s a beautiful sunset, or else an atomic bomb has gone off!
Quick, let’s run to see if we can, I don’t know, outrun the atomic
blast!  Maybe Skeet Ulrich will be able to help!  Bring the
binoculars, Dr. Quest!  Lead the way, 10-year-old boy!  Let’s
bring the dog, we might need him to eat later!

My interest in The Venture Bros has led me to Jonny Quest.  Any fans of VB out there, I urge you to try to watch some of this show.  There will be much you recognize, and the show is also a valuable viewing experience on its own terms.

Jonny Quest was one of those shows that I watched the title sequence of every week but never stuck around for the whole show.  I could name dozens of others, including Baretta, Mannix, Perry Mason, Ironsides and Barnaby Jones.

But now that I’m actually watching the show, the title sequence has a bizarre, compelling logic all its own.  Quite apart from the bizarre, compelling logic of the show.

First of all, there is no title card telling us the name of the show, which has to be a first.  Apparently the title of the show must have been announced elsewhere, because each show starts cold with:

Jonny?  Dr. Quest?  Race?  Hadji?  Bandit?  No!

INDIANS!  Indians run through some jungle undergrowth.  Why are they running?

CUT TO: Some Guy in torn clothing, also running through the jungle, looking rather upset.  The Indians are chasing him!  No wonder he’s upset!  Who is this man?  Is this who the show’s about?

No time for questions!  Here comes a LARGE PURPLE PTERODACTYL, diving out of the sky, its mouth agape, a savage screech emanating from the depths of its prehistoric lungs.  Is the pterodactyl going to swoop down and get the worried man before the Indians catch him?

No!  The pterodactyl is apparently after A PANTHER, who looks up from a patch of jungle as though hearing something, maybe a pterodactyl screeching and diving out of the sky.

MEANWHILE, on the other side of the jungle, aCROCODILE slithers silently into some swampy water.

BUT HERE COMES THE PTERODACTYL again!  He can’t seem to make up his mind who he’s going to swoop down upon!

Luckily, THE ARMY is here!  And they’ve got machine guns!  And they’re shooting them!  Are they shooting at the pterodactyl?  Is that the best way to deal with the appearance of a prehistoric creature?

But wait!  No, they’re not shooting at the pterodactyl at all, they’re shooting at A LARGE, ROBOTIC WALKING EYE!  A LAVENDER walking eye, no less!  Why?  What threat does the walking eye pose to the army men with the machine guns?  It must be a pretty big threat, because HERE COMES A TANK for backup!  The tank FIRES at the Walking Eye, blowing it to Kingdom Come!  The world is safe from the menace of Walking Eyes!

Meanwhile, a MUMMY staggers down a well-decorated hallway.  It SMASHES through a wall with all the strength and unstoppable power of a 5,000 year-old dried-out corpse.

It must be a very threatening mummy, as TWO GUYS in colorful hazard suits fire rifles at it!

With no affect!  The mummy PICKS UP an EGYPTIAN GUY in a fez!

While RACE BANNON (the first appearance of an actual character from the show) shoots at the mummy with a rifle, causing a CAVE IN that clouds the screen in an explosion of dust.

LATER, or MEANWHILE, or APROPOS OF NOTHING, four guys in bright red Cyclops uniforms glide over the eerie, desolate surface of the moon in special tin-can-shaped hover-pod-craft.

Back on Earth, a VULTURE swoops down out of the sky.  So many winged creatures in this show, so much swooping.  And here’s poor BANDIT, a small, adorable bulldog, running for his life!  Look out Bandit!  Too late, the vulture has scooped him up from the ground!

Is the vulture going to eat Bandit?  Or is he just rescuing him from the TRIO OF DEADLY POISONOUS ADDERS slithering across the ground?  Or maybe from the pair of LEASHED KOMODO DRAGONS skulking through the bush?

Don’t worry Bandit, here comes Race Brannon, swinging off the deck of a moss-covered shipwreck!  He’s — he’s — he’s kicking over a guy in a lizard outfit, that’s what he’s doing!  That’ll fix those adders and komodo dragons!  But he’s too late!  Another Lizard Guy fires off a LASER CANNON from the deck of the moss-covered shipwreck!

The laser blast annoys DR. BENTON QUEST, who, as luck would have it, is seated at the controls of AN EVEN BIGGER LASER CANNON, which he fires in defense tout suite!  It’s facing the wrong direction, but Dr. Quest is, apparently, prepared to overcome this problem, as his laser blast somehow magically CHANGES DIRECTION and BLASTS the moss-covered shipwreck, killing all the lizard-guys!  Hooray!

Later, a jet plane glides through the stratosphere, and THE TITLES BEGIN.  Still no main title, but at least we get to know who the characters are.

And look!  One of them is a little blond boy named JONNY QUEST, who apparently is the star of this show, even though this is the first (and only) time we will see him in the title sequence.  Apparently he was too expensive to book for the earlier shots.  He sits looking out his airplane window, looking for all the world like he’s bored and distracted by having to be in a TV show at all. 

When his name appears onscreen, a very strange thing happens.  Jonny does a take to camera, but it’s not a smile or a thumbs up or a wink; he gives us a sly, condescending nod, as if we’re old friends of his and share a deep personal secret with him.  I can’t tell you how much this shot unnerves me.  I don’t wantto share a deep, personal secret with a ten-year-old boy I’ve never met before.  How did the animators achieve that look?  Why did they?  Why isn’t Jonny just happy to be on a TV show?  Why can’t he smile and wink, why does he have to give us this sleepy, indolent nod and weary, sexy grin?  How am I ever going to un-see this shot?

Dr. Quest, Race (or “Race” as they spell it) and Hadji, for their part, do not even deign to look at the camera as their names come up; they’ve got other things on their minds.  Dr. Quest, at least, isn’t wearing the perpetually pissed-off scowl that he wears in every other shot in the show; here he almost looks as though he might actually be enjoying himself on this silent, conversationless jet trip.  Race is busy piloting the jet of course, he doesn’t have time to participate in title-sequence shenanigans, and Hadji is too interested in the antics of Bandit, who looks out the window and barks.  At what, we don’t know.  Maybe he’s just trying to break the deadly still mood of this silent jet where no one speaks and no one can even look at each other.

Dr. Quest has a problem with his son, which will be explored in posts to come, but all the dynamics are right there in the final shot: the two adults sit in front, staring dispassionately out at the world crawling slowly below them, and the two ten-year-old boys sit in back, not speaking to each other, smiling wanly as though remember some fond memory of lost love as the jet hurtles through the sky.
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10 Responses to “The Jonny Quest title sequence: an appreciation”
  1. catwalk says:

    but, dude!
    those komodo dragons used to scare the bejeezus outta me!
    and that walking eye? what did it do?!?!
    frogmen and shipwrecks! lumbering, thundering mummy!
    it was my love for that show that hooked me on
    the venture brothers the second i saw it.

  2. seijiwolf says:

    Wait until you meet the bizarre beat poet sherpa

    My friends and I all hooted excitedly during the episode where Dr. Quest melts a model city with a sonic disrupter and then proceeds to sternly inform a group of scientists that it’s “(their) job to find a peaceful application for this technology.”

    It made the same noise as the Ooo-ray and everything.

  3. popebuck1 says:

    Re: Jonny’s world-weary take to the camera…

    Think about it. You’re ten years old, and already you’ve seen more of the world than James Bond, not to mention more exposure to death, destruction, and mayhem than most war correspondents get in a lifetime. Is it possible NOT to be jaded by all this? For pure “jading” potential, being Jonny Quest makes being a child sitcom star seem like a walk in the park – and we all know how much THAT messes people up. No wonder that Jonny himself, in the Ventureverse, ended up alone, ranting, and strung-out on crystal meth at the bottom of the sea.

    “I am Jonny Quest. I have seen the ruination of civilizations and cities. I have known the love of Spider Queens and the pain of losing faithful comrades. I am ten years old, and the world has no more to offer me. Weep for me, kind stranger, for my own tears will not come.”

  4. See, I never read them as indifferent or ignoring each other in the cockpit shots. A little bored, perhaps, but clearly checking each other out on the sly. Quick, paranoid, sideways glances that seem to say “do they know?” or perhaps “did you say something?” They almost read as a gang, returning from a heist, each one with a plan for screwing the other three over and just biding his time for the right moment. Maybe a touch of regret over that guard they had to kill–did Race really have to do that? Now we’re all facing life if we get pinched–well, it’s him or me, and as soon as we land…

  5. toku666 says:

    It’s actually kind of mind-boggling to me when people are rabid VB fans but didn’t watch this all the time as a kid. I LOVED Jonny Quest, and out of the title sequence, I especially love the Alpert-esque horn solo that accompanies “Race” appearing on-screen, as well as the undersea motifed portion of the sequence.

  6. laminator_x says:

    JQ is a boys’ vision of paradise.

    At “school” you take your textbooks to the beach where your secret-agent-teacher intersperses Judo and waterskiing with the three R’s. You travel the world in your dad’s jet having exotic adventures with your best friend and your dog always at your side. The world is filled with wonders of magic and science. What more could you want.

    Something I see watching Quest as an adult, is that they actually bothered to make the vehicles and props real items most of the time. I could name the models of cameras that Johnny and Dr Quest use. The crazy old German flying ace doesn’t have just any planes, he has a Fokker and a Spad. It seems to give a finish of verisimilitude to the whacked out plots.

    • Todd says:

      Re: JQ is a boys’ vision of paradise.

      Something I see watching Quest as an adult, is that they actually bothered to make the vehicles and props real items most of the time.

      Graphically it reminds me a lot of Milton Caniff, who also cared a lot about those things.