I was a cartoon junkie growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and I had a special love for these goofy, low-budget Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Even with their repetitive nature and shallow plots, to me they were so much better than the half-hour toy commercials of the ‘80s and their legally imposed “morals” they were required to teach. The Hanna-Barbera cartoons were short on both morals and logic, but they were long on insanity and were way, way more fun.
The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan is a great example of those hijinks-laden ‘70s cartoons. A total mish-mash of Charlie Chan, Hong Kong Phooey, and Scooby Doo, the stories juxtapose pure cartoon logic—a car that turns into a hot dog stand at the touch of a button—with the solid sureness of the capable Charlie Chan. Sixteen episodes were produced in total, all of which are included on this Complete Series set.
The series was groundbreaking when it was released. An all-Asian leading cast is rare even today, some 40 years later. More, Keye Luke—who often played Number 1 Son in the Charlie Chan mysteries— voices Mr. Chan, making him the first actual Chinese person to play the famous character.
Luke fought against the stereotypical broken English of the Chan series and gave Mr. Chan a full, educated vocabulary. The Chan Clan was also originally dubbed with an all-Asian cast, but after the first test-showing producers decided that the accents from the Asian voice actors were too thick. The shows were re-dubbed with a mostly Caucasian cast with the exception of Luke. Oscar-winning actress Jodi Foster voices the feminist tomboy Anne Chan.
Voice aside, the series remains as an example of a show with positive Chinese characters, one where their “Chineseness” isn’t the focus of the show. The writers stayed away from racial stereotypes or from playing up the ethnicity of the cast.
Repetitive set plots were industry standards back then, and all sixteen episodes have some variation on a theme. Someone comes to Charlie Chan (or Mr. Chan, as he is called in the cartoon) with some dilemma, maybe a stolen set of jewels or some precious artifact they need protected. The Chan Clan spots some suspicious character on the scene, then go into action investigating. They always cause more trouble than help, and at the last minute Mr. Chan steps in to unmask the true culprit—often quite literally with the Scooby Doo-style rubber mask.
They go all over the world hunting after random treasures; a religious icon in Europe. A white elephant stolen from a Maharaja. Even Scotland’s Stone of Scone, which was my favorite episode.
Even with the set-plot, what makes the series fun is the separate personalities of all the kids, from straight-arrow Henry Chan to goofy Stanley Chan to tomboy Anne Chan to the kid Scooter Chan. The kids usually have a few targets they are after, and get in each other’s way trying to foil the plot. The other fun part is the pure surrealism found in cartoons of this era. They follow “cartoon logic.” The kids disguise themselves as potted plants, until criminals are followed by an entire moving garden without noticing a thing. Their Chan Mobile transforms at the touch of a button into a hot dog cart or anything else required at the moment.
Of course, this was the seventies, so a band was prerequisite. The Chan Clan band played a couple of songs that were rotated every episode or so. If they songs sound familiar, it’s because they were written by Don Kirshner who also wrote the songs for The Archies and The Monkeys. The Archies’ lead singer Ron Dante does vocals for Chan Clan hits like “Who Dunnit?” and “Number One Son.” The songs obviously serve a dual purpose. The animation segments for the songs repeat the same animation, saving the show a few bucks in being able to repeat frames.
This DVD is from the Warner Archives series, which means it is a simple disk that has nothing more than the sixteen episodes, un-restored. The Warner Archives series basically goes through the vaults and puts limited-interest items out on DVD without any additional support or fanfare, just to make them available. It’s a pretty cool deal actually, and I would rather have low quality Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan than no Chan at all. Still, you can expect screen artifacts and pale colors.
Obviously, there are no bonus features. I would have loved it if they had included episodes with the original all-Asian cast, but those have been presumably lost to time.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.