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MOVIE REVIEW : Stone-Age Comedy in 'Jetsons'

July 06, 1990|CHARLES SOLOMON

Like the two-headed flatworms perverse biology students raise in high school labs, the animated "Jetsons: The Movie" (citywide) tries to go in two directions at once and goes nowhere instead.

Writer Dennis Marks and producer/directors William Hanna and Joseph Barbera can't seem to decide whether they're making a with-it musical for teen-agers or re-creating the ingenuous humor of a '60s TV show, and don't do either very well.

"The Jetsons" is an odd vehicle for a feature: The original show flopped in prime time in 1962, although it proved popular on Saturday morning. The theme song is a camp favorite and the name of the Jetsons' dog (Astro), is a trivia game stickler. But the antics of George, Jane, Judy and Elroy owed too much to sitcoms like "The Donna Reed Show" and "Hazel" to be particularly memorable. Their Futurelux world dominated by an omnipresent, benevolent technology seems hopelessly dated in 1990--as does a family where Dad goes to work and the women go shopping.

When Mr. Spacely moves George to his troubled satellite factory, Judy is heartbroken at leaving her boyfriend, but perks up as soon as she learns the new space community includes a mall. The minimal plot thickens when the Jetsons learn the factory is destroying the homes of the Grungies, a nauseatingly cute tribe of furry little critters who look like a cross between George Lucas' Ewoks and Gizmo in "Gremlins." (They also look suspiciously like something designed for a merchandising tie-in and/or spinoff TV show.) The film ends with a pat resolution and some leaden platitudes about ecology.

Most of the original vocal cast has been reunited, including Penny Singleton (Jane), George O'Hanlon (George), Jean Vanderpyl (Rosie the Robot) and Don Messick (Astro). Mel Blanc recorded Mr. Spacely's lines shortly before his death, and Patric Zimmerman fills in as Elroy for the late Daws Butler.

In an appeal to the potentially lucrative youth audience, Janet Waldo has been replaced by pop star Tiffany as the voice of Judy. A two-minute fantasy set to her song "You and Me," obviously designed for MTV, features some striking animation from the Kurtz and Friends studio. Its bold colors, fluid motions and kicky graphics make the limited animation in the rest of the G-rated film seem as exciting as a flat Perrier.

Realistic, three-dimensional computer-generated images of the space city and asteroid factory make the flat, drawn characters look as though they stumbled in from another film. Their prominent shadows give them an odd, plastic texture, but don't help them fit into the computerized world.

For all their efforts to appear hip (the characters constantly give each other high fives), the film makers remain mired in a kidvid mentality. An anthropomorphized dog growling "I love you, George" might have seemed funny in 1962, but it isn't going to panic kids who watch "The Simpsons" and "Beverly Hills Cop."

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