The Fantastic Four: Complete 1978 Series review (DVD)

The short-lived 1978 series of The Fantastic Four contains an apt four hours of animated superhero action created by Marvel's legendary Stan Lee, who also wrote most of the episodes. It's almost The Fantastic Three however, as due to the apparent belief that kids would want to set themselves and things on fire after watching The Human Torch, he isn't in the show in any way, shape or form, instead replaced by a hovering robot by the acronymic name of H.E.R.B.I.E., standing rather ridiculously for Humanoid Experimental Robot, B-type, Integrated Electronics. H.E.R.B.I.E is joined by married couple Reed and Sue Richards, as well as Ben Grimm, who became the band of superheroes after they were mutated by cosmic rays on a mission to space. Reed became Mr. Fantastic, a man capable of stretching his body to incredible lengths; Sue became the self-explanatory Invisible Woman; and Ben Grimm turned into The Thing, an orange behemoth made completely out of rock who has the power of superhuman strength.

The thirteen episodes run at around 23 minutes each, which would have made half an hour back in the day when they aired on TV with commercials, so they have a decent length in which to tell their perfectly forgiveable contrived stories. Thankfully it's not like the almost unbearable Spider-Man cartoon that ran in the late '60s which was the last Marvel release I reviewed, and there is no abundance of recycled sound effects or shots. The animation is pretty good and the stories enjoyable for what they are, focusing on a multitude of villains who are far more interesting than anything the aforementioned Spider-Man toon threw up.

Making his appearance in a few of the episodes is the Fantastic Four's greatest nemesis, Doctor Doom, who of course became the evildoer in the lacklustre 2005 live-action film and its sequel, played by Nip/Tuck's Julian McMahon, though those films had a Fantastic Car that actually looked decent. The superheroes' method of transport in the '78 series is quite possibly the worst I have ever seen—it literally looks like a flying bathtub. What were they thinking?

I'm sure collectors will relish seeing this part of their childhood three decades later, and I also believe that it would be enjoyed by kids today. Sure, it isn't as smooth as what we have these days, but the episodes are still enjoyable pills of colour and story that rival the creativity of the top toons of this age.


Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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