[7 May 2004]
|GODZILLA AT 50||Godzilla has changed. At 50, he is no longer the hulking, pea-brained brute we thought. Our writers contemplate his transition from bringer of Armageddon to bringer of agathon, a fierce and ironic comfort to children who sense that theirs is a dangerous world.|
The website UrbanDictionary.com defines the word “Godzooky” (spelled on that site as “Godzookie”) as “a huge person who resembles, or possibly is, the son/daughter of Godzilla.” In order to offer further clarification, it provides the word in a sentence in its proper context: “Whoah, that Godzookie just ate an entire pizza, three orders of chicken wings, five acres of brussels sprouts, and Mrs. Jones’s dog.”
Maybe it’s just because I’m not sufficiently urban, but I’ve never once heard the word “Godzooky” used in that context. When I have heard the word “Godzooky”, I always heard it in a sing-song voice, just as it was crooned during the opening theme of The Godzilla Power Hour on Saturday mornings in 1978.
Whereupon, taking his cue from the lyrical mention, Godzooky would fly less than gracefully on screen and perform a bumbling, rough-and-tumble landing to display his incompetence to all viewers. His act all but screaming, “Hiya, kids, I’m the comic relief!”
Presumably, Godzilla and Godzooky were related, but I’m pretty sure Godzooky wasn’t actually Godzilla’s son. If he was, then either he’d changed a lot since Son of Godzilla and Godzilla’s Revenge, or Godzilla had more than one kid. Personally, I always got the impression that Godzooky was more of, say, a third cousin . . . the sort of relative that you only feel an obligation to protect because he’s family and not because you’re particularly close to him. Come to think of it, characterization-wise, he’s a lot like Scrappy Doo, actually, even though he actually showed up a full year before that execrable inventor of “puppy power.”
Unlike the loathsome, lesser Doo, however, the blame for the failure of this cartoon incarnation of the King of the Monsters can’t be blamed squarely on Godzooky. The edge and the drama of the Godzilla films (hey, when you’re eight years old, they seem full of the stuff) were utterly absent from this cartoon. Part of the excitement that came with watching Godzilla movies was that he was more than a little bit scary and you never knew exactly where his loyalties might lie . . . if, in fact, he truly had any loyalties at all. He was, after all, a monster.
In this cartoon, however, Godzilla was little more than a trained pet. The show’s characters were the crew of a ship called the Calico: Captain Carl Majors, Professor Quinn Darian, her assistant, Brock, and her nephew, Pete. The aforementioned Godzooky lived alongside the crew of the Calico, though how he came to do so was also never mentioned. This lack of back-story is annoying now, but, oddly, I don’t recall being terribly concerned about it when I was eight.
Oh, and did I mentioned that Captain Majors possessed a sonic device that was able to call Godzilla whenever his presence was needed? Basically, the King of Monsters would comin’ a runnin’ anytime they pressed the magic button. Godzilla was their freakin’ lapdog! Sorry, that’s not the Godzilla I knew and loved from the films.
Plus, Godzilla didn’t even look scary in the cartoon. Some genius decided that the movies to which children had been thrilling for years weren’t actually kid-friendly enough, so they redesigned Godzilla and streamlined him to make him appear less scary. He didn’t have any obvious scales anymore, just spines down his back. Nor did he have the same roar as he did in the films, reportedly because Hanna Barbara wasn’t willing to foot the bill to license the sound it from Toho Studios.
And as if all of these indignities weren’t enough, they didn’t even give him his own show! Despite its name, The Godzilla Power Hour actually only dedicated a half-hour of its time to our big green friend; the other half was handed over to re-runs of Johnny Quest. Later in the season, the show expanded by another half-hour and changed its name to Godzilla and the Super 90; no additional Godzilla time was forthcoming, however, as the extra 30 minutes were given to Jana of the Jungle,a lame female version of Tarzan.
When 1979 rolled around, Godzilla found himself teamed with the Harlem Globetrotters, of all people, for The Godzilla/Harlem Globetrotters Adventure Hour. I’m not going to swear that you can’t do six degrees of separation between Godzilla and the Harlem Globetrotters, because I’m guessing that you can (though probably not without using The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island), but seriously, what kind of jacked-up pairing is that?
Surprisingly, though, that incarnation survived the entire 1979-80 season. But come 1980, it was time for The Godzilla/Dynomutt Hour with the Funky Phantom, which, in its own way, is just as bizarre a combination. Even worse, though, the Dynomutt episodes might’ve been new, but The Funky Phantom was a Hanna Barbara leftover from 1971 that was recycled for no discernible reason. When this team-up didn’t work, the network apparently rationalized that the problem was less with the concept of a canine crime fighter than with a ghost from the Revolutionary War era. So they opted to team Godzilla up with Hong Kong Phooey, this time.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Godzilla did not appear on the next year’s Saturday morning line-up. Surely, even the kids who liked the idea of being able to watch a Godzilla cartoon, had become fed up with the big green guy’s inability to get his own show, or at least a halfway-reasonable co-headliner. And sadly, Godzilla never recovered. Not in America, anyway.
In fact, Godzilla did not appear again in the US in any significant fashion (aside from the infinite number of reruns of his old movies, of course) until 1985, at which point someone in Hollywood decided that the time was right to unleash a new film: Godzilla 1985. Unfortunately, it kind of sucked.
Okay, as a 15-year-old, I admit, I didn’t think it entirely sucked. I certainly liked the idea of this brand-new Godzilla movie playing in my local theater. The only problem was, it never came to play in my local theater. I had to wait for it to appear on home video . . . and, ultimately, home video is just not the right place to experience a Godzilla film.
The word on the street was that the Japanese version of the film was better than the American version. The latter, of course, existed solely because my fellow Americans and I couldn’t possibly be trusted to enjoy a film unless there were other Americans and their American subplots that don’t appear in the Japanese version. The up-side to this was that Raymond Burr, who appeared in the American version of the original Godzilla, reappears in Godzilla 1985 playing the same character, no less, which was a nice touch. Unfortunately, aside from the nostalgia factor, the acting and dialogue were pretty awful. And, with that, Godzilla once again left American movie screens for another decade or so.
He hadn’t left Japanese screens, though. Another six new films resulted from the success of Godzilla 1985, featuring match-ups with Biollante, King Ghiodrah, Mothra, Mechagodzilla, Space Godzilla, and Destroyer. In fact, Barry Goldberg, who runs StompTokyo.com, arguably the most definitive Godzilla website on the internet, has declared Godzilla vs. King Ghiodrah to be his favorite film in the entire series. “This one has everything!” he gushes. “Time travel, psychic powers, androids, cyborg monsters, fantastic special effects and, of course, the return of Ghidrah.”
American filmmakers, however, couldn’t be bothered to continue with the established mythos of the Godzilla series. No, they had to start from scratch, change Godzilla’s origin, completely redesign the monster, and make a new film that, while not a bad monster flick overall, most hardcore Godzilla fans wrote off as being utterly unaffiliated with the films that had come before it. Or, indeed, after it.
Godzilla 2000 appeared on these shores two years after the big-budget disappointment that was Hollywood’s adaptation of the monster. It was a return to the fun of the original Japanese series, which makes sense, given that it was a Japanese film dubbed into English, but with no tacked-on American scenes. I was proud to take my two nephews to see the movie when I visited them in Tucson, Arizona, and my youngest nephew, Sage, was in awe throughout the film. Tyler, his older brother, was just as entertained, I think, but he was a bit older, so he wasn’t sitting there with his jaw on the floor like Sage was. When we went out to dinner later that evening, Sage heard sirens outside, at which point he suddenly turned to me and declared, “It’s Godzilla!”
Unfortunately, the US public as a whole wasn’t nearly as impressed with the film as my nephews and I were. Though two further sequels appeared in Japan, they received no US distribution. So I ask you: is it any coincidence that Godzilla’s formal slide in US popularity came about circa the arrival of Godzooky on the scene? I think not. There’s currently talk of re-releasing the original Godzilla in 2004 as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of its initial release. Perhaps this will help break the curse and remind people of the glorious monster that is the one, true Godzilla.
Unfortunately, however, it’ll probably just result in a promotional push that’ll include a Cartoon Network marathon of The Godzilla Power Hour, at which point the cycle will begin anew. Godzilla help us. Godzilla help us all.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/10harris/