Jetsons: The Movie


** out 5

2 stars out of 5

Jetsons: The Movie (as it was titled. Perhaps they thought ‘The Jetsons: The Movie’ would sound odd) isn’t well remembered these days. Of course The Jetsons themselves aren’t massively remembered these days. It was a cartoon set in the far future about George Jetson and his family, wife Jane, daughter Judy, son Elroy, dog Astro and, my favourite, the robot maid Rosie. As a kid I always loved robots, and Rosie was always good fun as a long-suffering servant being snarky about her dozy employers. Finally there is George’s short in height and short in temper boss Mr. Spacely.

It’s rare the series is referenced now, the most recent example I can think of is the Family Guy parody of the opening sequence where Jane infamously takes George’s whole wallet so she can go shopping. Interestingly, in the opening sequence for this film instead of Jane taking his wallet she gives George a kiss.

The Jetsons were never quite as popular as their stone age predecessors and counterparts, The Flintstones. That series was arguably the most well known of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons, with the possible exception of Scooby-Doo.  Many people think the Jetsons family dog Astro is a rehash of Scooby-Doo, as he has a similar design and the same voice actor Don Messick, who even uses the same speech style for both characters. But in fact, Astro is more of a prototype. He predates Scooby Doo, as The Jetsons debuted in 1962 while (if we’re being pedantic about the titles) Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! debuted in 1969.

So why aren’t The Jetsons as well known? Well, it’s probably because they were, to be honest, quite bland. But it may also be what TV Tropes calls Zeerust, that is works set in the far future can have dated elements from the decade they were created in. Just like the Flintstones were “the modern (i.e 1960s) Stone Age family”, the Jetsons were “the modern (i.e 1960s) Space Age family”, to be exact 100 years in the future as the original series is set in 2062. The Jetsons predicted some of the future technology that we would use today, such as the “video phone”, but they didn’t foresee how society would change. Jane Jetson is still a housewive, and far from the working week being shorter because machines do everything, generally people work longer hours than the 1960s. What turned out to be appropriate for a series set in the future was that most of The Jetsons episodes weren’t produced in the 1960s, but the 1980s, when it was revived by Hanna-Barbera.

It was during the 1980s that there were plans for a live action Jetsons film, which has never happened to date, although there have been various attempts. Only this year none other than Kanye West has expressed interest in making one. But for now we have got a feature-length animated film, released in 1990. The film is notable in a poignant way. It was the last film which Mel Blanc worked on, playing Mr. Spacely as well as other characters. He died while the film was being made. George O’Hanlon, the voice of George Jetson, died while in the recording studio for this film, and although she died in 2003 it also turned out to be the last film Penny Singleton (voice of Jane) ever made.

With that in mind it’s a shame it wasn’t a success, but the truth is it didn’t do well. It had bad reviews (it was included in Siskel and Eberts Worst of 1990 list), and it flopped at the box office.  It doesn’t look like Universal Studios had much faith in the finished product. Though released in 1990, it was supposed to be have been released in 1989, but was continually pushed back as they felt it couldn’t compete with other films released at that time, notably a certain other animated feature film, Disney’s The Little Mermaid.

All the surviving voice actors for the TV series returned for the film, but there was a late decision by Universal studio executives  to replace Janet Waldo, the voice actress for Judy Jetson, with ’80s pop star Tiffany, hoping she’d attract younger audiences. Understandably Janet Waldo was upset about this, not least because she had already finished recording all her dialogue for the film. The voice director Andrea Romano wasn’t pleased with this change either, and to prevent people from thinking she approved of it she asked for her name to be removed from the credits. The casting change turned out to be a bit of a waste of time anyway, as by the time the film was released Tiffany’s star was fading.

Janet Waldo wasn’t impressed by her replacement’s voice acting in the film, and neither were film critics. I can see why. The voice Janet Waldo used for Judy was high pitched and clear, while Tiffany’s voice was croaky and unenthusiastic. Judy’s character was mostly a teenage girl who falls in obsessive love from one guy to the next, and this film shows that  voice acting does make a difference. The TV and film version both behave the same way, but Janet Waldo’s Judy comes across as ditzy and fairly sweet, whereas Tiffany’s Judy seems like a bit of a petulant brat.

Tiffany has three songs in the film, and we get what amount to pop videos for them with Judy’s love life. These are pretty much filler material, as is the whole “Judy romance” subplot. They are also the best things about the film! As poor as Tiffany’s voice acting was, her singing voice is strong, pleasant, and the huskiness adds to the quality. Her songs in this film are pretty decent pieces of ’80s pop. One of the songs ‘I Always Thought I’d See You Again’ sees Judy in a Nature Zone with rainbow coloured fountains, electric flowers and feeling weepy after seeing happy couples together and looking up at the stars seeing constellations of herself and a rock star she missed out on a date with. If you thought that had trippy visuals it’s nothing compared to her next love song called ‘You And Me’ which is with an alien guy with a guitar that shoots multicoloured lasers and takes place near holographic stimulators showing a giant orange mushroom, a plant turning into a bird and flying away and when the song proper stars it’s an explosion of colours and geometric shapes.  The final Tiffany song was a generic closing theme type called ‘Home’. All in all, it would have been much better if they’d have just left Tiffany to sing the songs and kept Janet Waldo as the voice actress.

The plot of the film is that Mr. Spacely was expanding his factory hoping to produce more sprockets for less money on an asteroid away from Earth. However, the factory keeps breaking down and the vice-presidents running it always quit. So he sends George Jetson, who he considers expendable. It turns out the reason for it is that he built the factory on the home of small furry creatures called Grungees, and they keep sabotaging it to avoid it destroying their home. The film has some morals and ethics it wants to say regarding environmentalism, recycling, pollution and corporate greed. George is also called out on focusing more on his career than his family. In the end the Jetsons suggest that the Grungees run the factory, which they do more productively and efficiently, and they choose to recycle old sprockets instead of just making endless new ones. The Jetsons tell Mr. Spacely that he should pay them fairly, which raises issues about outsourcing. It’s admirable that they were trying to bring forward these issues, but they get kind of buried among all the rest of the stuff in the film. To be honest, even the plot itself gets buried among the other stuff in the film.

They probably wanted to include jokes and set-pieces that made the TV series popular. In this film the many, many slapstick moments involving George fall flat, but some of it does raise a chuckle. We get some robot dogs in a pet shop and an antique shop which shows an ordinary living room “vintage 1990”. A scene from a fictional robot soap opera All My Androids, which is similar to Futurama’s All My Circuits, and the scene itself is a bit like the one in Androids, the fictional robot soap in Red Dwarf. But that’s just it, the film is only really funny in the way that comedy set in the future usually is.

Then there’s all the other characters they introduce.  When the Jetsons move to the Space Station and meet new neighbours, the Furbellows which are covered in blue fur, and they have a toddler daughter named Fergie. The only other employee at the factory is a robot named Rudi 2 who makes friends with George, he has a wife Lucy 2 who makes friends with Jane and a son Teddy 2 who makes friends with Elroy. Judy’s love interests are a rock star called Cosmic Cosmo and later an alien called Apollo Blue (and as mentioned we get two pop videos dedicated to each), and we even learn one of the Grungees by name, Squeep. There’s nothing wrong with any of these characters per se, Rudi 2 in particular is likeable enough, and Fergie is adorable, but there’s just too many of them thrown at us in a short time and it leaves the Jetsons themselves looking underused.

As I’ve noted previously, I like animation and films with many layers of history, and this certainly has that. A 1960s family in the far future as represented by the 1980s and released in 1990. George and his conflicts with Mr. Spacely wouldn’t be out of place in Mitchell & Webb‘s ‘Get Me Henimore!’ parodies of old ’60s/’70s sitcoms. The film itself is definitely a product of the ’80s, with the soundtrack unmistakably so. The Grungees themselves look like the sort cuddly, teddy bear-esque species which seemed to be popular in the 1980s, looking like they were inspired by The Care Bears, the Ewoks from Return Of The Jedi and Gizmo from Gremlins. I think the Grungees were meant to be cute, but I found them weird with their massive eyeballs and the way they kept jabbering on. The film also made use of 3D graphics, which haven’t aged well.

Jetsons: The Movie is by no means a great film. It’s dated, it’s poorly plotted, and it’s not all that interesting. However, it’s not unpleasant to watch and it has some good moments. It’s best enjoyed if you watch for those moments and try to ignore it not making much sense as a whole. While no classic, it’s worth seeing if you get a chance.

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