Opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of the author, David C. Matthews (unless otherwise indicated). Images used are copyrighted by their respective owners, and appear under the "fair use" provisions of the copyright laws.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Episode Review: #1, "The Beaked People" - Sept. 9, 1967

(WARNING: thar be spoilers ahead!)

Synopsis: Krokar, leader of the warlike Parrot People, plots an attack on the peace-loving Flying Monkeys as the first step in his quest for planetary domination. One of the monkeys escapes the attack, and flies off to summon aid. But this turn of events fits into Krokar's plans, as well.

The frightened monkey explains his people's plight to Zandor, who accompanies the monkey to the scene of the attack. Dorno wants to come along, but Zandor will have none of that: "Stay with your mother!"

The Parrot-Men have set a trap for Zandor; a cage drops on him and the monkey, imprisoning them both. Krokar gloats that Zandor is the first to meet "your planet's new ruler".

Tara calls for Dorno, but comes across a note: Zandor had departed without his shield, slingshot and energy rocks, and Dorno left with Zok to bring them to Zandor.

Dorno finds Zandor's "double-Z" trouble sign, and sends Zok back to get Igoo and the others. Dorno continues to follow Zandor's trail.

"Your rule over this planet is finished!" Krokar rants. Zandor is tied to a log, suspended over the Dark River. A sentry alerts Krokar to the approach of an intruder, whose capture Krokar orders.

The intruder, of course, is Dorno, who's unaware that he's been spotted. Two Parrot-Men ambush and subdue him.

Dorno now stands, bound and helpless, beside Krokar, who plans to make Zandor's son his slave as soon as Zandor falls victim to the River of the Bottomless Pit! Fade to black for commercial break…

Igoo and Tundro (with Gloop and Gleep on his back) march to Zandor's aid, led by Tara riding Zok.

Zandor is dropped into the river, as another sentry alerts Krokar to the approach of "mighty animals". It's now Dorno's turn to gloat: "They're our friends, Krokar. You haven't a chance!" A squadron of Parrot-Men are dispatched to battle the Herculoids.

Igoo uproots a tree to knock down a trio of club-throwing Parrot-Men. Tara and Zok are set upon by flying Parrot-Men, but Zok stuns them out of the sky.

Zandor, unable to break the vines that bind him to the log, is carried helplessly down the river.

Tara dispatches another attacking Parrot-Man with her slingshot and a deftly-aimed energy rock, but is knocked from her perch on Zok's back when the dragon carelessly flies under an overhanging branch. Gloop sees Tara's predicament, and hurries to her aid just as a Parrot-Man raises his club to kill the unconscious Tara. Gloop catches the deadly blow just in time, then squeezes Tara's attacker into unconsciousness.

Zandor is rapidly approaching the waterfall, still helpless against his restraints.

Tundro charges Krokar, knocking the Parrot-Men's leader into the river. Zok spots Zandor, and flies down to his rescue, grabbing the log and lifting Zandor away from the deadly drop. Krokar, however, is not so lucky: unable to fight the powerful current, he is swept over the falls to his doom. And thus ends the menace of the Parrot-Men.
The grateful monkey invites Zandor and his family to a feast to celebrate the defeat of Krokar. Dorno is excited by the prospect of a feast until he finds out what's on the menu: snails, grubs, ants… Dorno decides he's not so hungry after all, and takes Zok to make a hasty getaway. "That's the first time I've ever seen Dorno turn down a meal!"

Comments: For most viewers, this would have been the first exposure to this unusual concept, The Herculoids.  And for a first impression, it's very serviceable; it certainly got me hooked at the time!  There's only one scene I would demand to be changed, but other than that (given that it was a low-budgeted cartoon show aimed at children) a good introduction to the series.

Above is a scan of Alex Toth's original model sheet for the "Parrot Man".  (Click on the pic to enlarge in a new window.) Interesting note: the drawing, which is dated 6 Feb 1967, is labeled "Zartan"; the Parrot Man's name? the original name for the character of Zandor and the series as a whole, perhaps?

Toth's design would undergo further refinement; making the pupils of the eyes smaller, for example. The Parrot-Men are some of my favorite character designs from The Herculoids.

The design of the flying monkeys, though, is a little too derivative of existing H-B models.  I'd have liked to see a more "alien" yet recognizably simian look to the creatures.  Although I do understand that the monkeys had to be kept "cute" so we'd know who to root for in their conflict with the Parrot People.

There are several hindrances the creators of this series faced in their attempts to tell their stories - low budgets, tight schedules, etc. - but one obstacle they brought on themselves was the decision that each half-hour show would consist of two nine-and-a-half minute (or so) episodes.  That's an improvement, somewhat, on the format for their other superhero/adventure shows like Space Ghost, which would cram his adventures into two six-minute segments per show, with another character (in this case, Dino Boy) having his adventure in the middle.  Perhaps Toth et al regarded a six-minute cartoon too short for such a large cast (three humans and five animals!).  Still, I think The Herculoids in particular could have benefitted from having each half-hour show be a single story.  "The Beaked People" would have played better in the longer format, especially for a debut episode.  (Although the vagaries of TV production being what they are, it's very possible, in fact likely, that "The Beaked People" wasn't conceived or produced as the first episode.).

Our first look at the Herculoids themselves was obviously designed to be a heartwarming comic moment, as Dorno attempts to get Igoo to crack open some "kono nuts" (which look suspiciously like coconuts).  This scene could also fulfill two other purposes: establishing these fearsome-looking creatures as gentle and friendly under "ordinary" circumstances; and tapping into some serious wish-fulfillment: if you were young, and had these powerful creatures as your friends, isn't this what you'd want to do with them?

I'm very happy to see that Tara sees some action in this episode, and acquits herself very well.  She proves that she's just as deadly a shot with a slingshot and energy rocks as her husband Zandor, dispatching an attacking Parrot Man, himself a flying target, from Zok's back while in flight.  And although she's capable of feeling (and showing) fear, she doesn't let it incapacitate her.  Unfortunately, seconds later she becomes the victim of the series' first real "OCO" moment...

The "Oh, Come ON!" Moment: after showing herself more than competent in battle, Tara is knocked off of Zok's back by an overhanging branch!  This begs a couple of questions:

  • Why weren't Tara or Zok watching where they were going?

  • How low to the ground were they flying, to still be victimized by a tree?

I know the purpose of the scene was to get Tara imperiled, and I can certainly understand that, but weren't there ways to do it that didn't make the characters look like absolute chumps?

Here's how I would've handled that scene: Tara would've been knocked off Zok's back by a well- (or maybe luckily-) aimed club thrown by a Parrot Man that neither Tara nor Zok sees in time.  It's easier to miss an enemy than it is a tree, after all.  The low-flying part?  Well, I guess that was to make sure that Tara wasn't seriously hurt when she hit the ground.

I will say, though, that that's a very effective sequence wherein Gloop is putting the squeeze on Tara's erstwhile attacker; he really looks like he's in serious pain!  I can imagine them recording some squawks of pain for that scene, only to discard them as making the scene too disturbing!

Heh - a thought that occurred to me as I was typing this: the only human character to show any heroism in this story was Tara!  Zandor was captured without a fight, and spent most of the rest of the episode tied to a log; Dorno at least put up a fight, but didn't have any defeated Parrot Men to show for it.  At least Tara knocked down one of her attackers.

I love the name "Krokar", too, although there is one spot where one of his underlings calls him "Trokar".  I loved a lot of the names they gave these characters, both here and in Space Ghost: Zandor, Zorak, Markon, Mekkor... Great names!

Apparently Tundro shoots flames out of his forehead horn (the same one he shoots energy rocks out of) whenever he's happy. This is a useful ability to have, yet we never see him do this again…

I'm amused that, in the scene when Tara is calling Dorno, she strikes such stylized poses, like she's a pinup model. Well, she is designed like one, much to my delight. I guess this makes her cartoons' first MILF.

Tara's got really strong thighs, too: with no saddle or bridle on Zok, those lovely legs are all that's holding her onto Zok's neck!

Continuity error: as Tara is flying to Zandor's rescue, she's shown not carrying anything until we get closer to the scene of her encounter with the Parrot-Men…

…then suddenly, she's got a satchel slung over her shoulder in which she presumably carries her slingshot and energy rocks.

It's interesting to note, also, that Dorno refers to his parents by their names much more often than by "Mother" and "Father" (or even "Mom" and "Dad"). I do remember, even at the age I was originally watching these shows, that a trend was beginning (short-lived, as it turned out) among some parents to allow, or even insist, their children refer to them by their first names… a trend that my own parents were having absolutely no part of, let me tell you! Even today, it doesn't occur to me to address my father as anything but "Dad".

This is the first (and as I recall, only) time during the series that Zandor's "rule" over the planet (unnamed in this episode) or even any part thereof is mentioned.  Yet some of the promotional material, as well as several online articles, will refer to Zandor as "King Zandor", with some writers even extending the premise to refer to "Queen Tara" and "Prince Dorno".  Aside from this one statement by Krokar, however, there's never any mention in the series itself of Zandor and his family being rulers of anything, at least none that I can recall. If I do come across one, though, you'll read about it in the appropriate episode's review.  I'll have a longer post on the topic of "King" Zandor in the future.

Even though Zandor would show more heroism in later episodes (and Tara less, unfortunately, due to the male-chauvinism of the times), "The Beaked People" serves as a good introduction to the world of the Herculoids.  The goodwill this episode built up for our heroes (and heroine) would not be diminished much by what is probably one of the weakest episodes: the very next one in this show...


  1. Great analysis on the first episode, David. The addition of Alex Toth's concept art of the Parrot People looks incredible. In my opinion, I would have kept the original eyes rather than go with more human peepers. Would give the Parrot People a more alien and threatening feel to them.

    Also, thanks for explaining the reason for Dorno not referring to his parents as mom and dad. I've seen some episodes of the Herculoids and always wondered why the hell did he mentioned them by their first names. Last I checked, I called my folks mom and dad when I was little. I only learned their first and last names just in case I got lost in a mall or something.

    Even though I haven't seen this episode, I do agree on your points that (a) The 9 minute episode could have been extended to a whole 22 minute show (minus commercials) and (b) the OCO moment and the continuity mistake should have been fixed. One thing that bothers me is that they never mentioned how the Herculoids, the only human beings on the show, fit into the planet. Are they royalty? Stranded Earthlings on an alien planet (Swiss Family Robinson in space as it were)? Are they the only humans on Amzot (much better name than Quasar)?

    I must admit, you are perhaps the most passionate fan of the Herculoids. If there was anyone that could update the show for today's audience while keeping to its roots, I would nominate you for the job. =)

  2. Well, I'm not sure it qualifies as a "reason" for Dorno's referring to his parents by name, but it was what was happening (on a rather small scale) at the time.

    Actually, Zandor and his family are not the only humans (or humanoids) on Amzot, just off the top of my head (because I re-watched these episodes in the last year or so) I can think of two other episodes that feature humans living on Amzot: "The Raider Apes" (wherein the Herculoids must protect a village of humans from the predations of a gang of gorilloid barbarians), and "The Gladiators of Kyanite" which features a society right out of one of the goofier Star Trek episodes: Roman-style gladiators, led by a ruler named "Neron". (Which would've been a fun concept to explore further: imagine a vaguely American Wild West culture, an "Arabian Nights" style society, etc.

  3. Wasn't aware of the other humans on Amzot. But then my viewing of the show is limited to rare moments when my DirecTV gets Boomerang free for a weekend or a little longer. If I could afford it, I would pay for those extra channels. Be nice to add Nicktoons and Boomerang to my "must watch" list.