Jetsons: The Movie (1990) | Animated and Underrated
Jetsons: The Movie is a very special time-capsule for the late 1980s, despite being released in 1990. It’s a film that works to adapt a 1960s television series into a theatrical feature, while trying perhaps too hard to appeal to the teen and young adult crowd of the time by including numerous pop-songs by bands who (by now) have been forgotten, and a few music video sequences that feel forced into the movie’s run time. Along with that, this film takes a unique approach to some of its shots by building them with computer graphics rather than building models or simply using a multi-plane camera shot: further cementing this film in that late-80s era and vibe. But despite how all of that sounds, I actually love every bit of it.
You may notice a pattern as you read my reviews, that many of the things that most people consider a problem or a distraction or a detriment in certain films, I actually find to be quite charming and special. And I don’t think that’s any less fair of a judgment to make. It allows me to enjoy a lot of films much more easily, and to give certain films their due time rather than griping and criticizing them too harshly.
In the case of Jetsons: The Movie, there are plenty of things to find fault with, as mentioned above, but those same things can be exactly what makes a movie like this so special. Because there were actually very few movies made like this back in the day. And so because of their rarity, it makes this movie even more of a treat. So let’s get into the nitty gritty, or “grungy,” as it were.
(To further test the grounds on my writing style, I’ve decided to structure this review in sections rather than as endless paragraphs. And I may decide to start doing sections more often in the future.)
Jetsons: The Movie starts out with Mr. Spacely’s new deep space sprocket making plant, “The Orbiting Ore Asteroid,” and how it’s constantly having numerous malfunctions and glitches, preventing the plant from producing its 1,000,000 sprocket. In the course of these set-backs, Spacely has gone through four Vice-Presidents, who have all quit due to their injuries caused by the factory’s break-downs and accidents. So in order to get things running again as soon as possible, Spacely must now appoint a new Vice-President: particularly one who is expendable and a bit of a dim-bulb. Obviously he appoints George Jetson.
So Jetson, now fully invested in his new job, has to move his whole family up to the asteroid plant, to their new home at Intergalactic Garden Estates. But in the wake of this unexpected move, Elroy has to miss his basketball playoffs, Jane has to miss her recycling fundraiser, and Judy has to miss her totally outergalactic date with rock-star, Cosmic Cosmo. Thankfully though, the family soon warms up to their new surroundings, and Jetson takes on his new position as Vice President of Spacely Sprockets.
Unfortunately, Jetsons’ presence does not prevent further disasters, and an unknown force continues to sabotage the plant and nearly breaks Jetson’s fingers.
It now looks like solving this baffling mystery will be up to Elroy, and his new robot friend, Teddy 2, as the case of the haunted sprocket factory unfolds.
So that’s the basic story in a nutshell, as small of a nutshell as I could think of, anyway.
I think this choice of plot for a feature film is a rather decent one. It allows for the world of the Jetsons to be expanded into outerspace, which I don’t quite remember the show tackling before. It allows for George Jetson to shine like he’s never shined before in a new important working position. It allows for cute adorable characters to be a part of the plot rather than just tacked on as a side-kick (but we’ll get to how they did that anyway later), and it allows for your essential 1990s environmental message: which, I might add, I do not take offense or issue with. It’s a lot more subtle than say Ferngully was.
It may not be the most compelling or intriguing of plots, but it gives the film a firm ground.
Trying to come up with a grander and more high-stakes storyline for a production based on a tv series is never easy, especially when the stakes of said tv show were never that high. Just look at how awkward the plots got for Tom & Jerry: The Movie, or The Flintstones, or Scooby Doo The Movie. I’d actually go so far as to say this is the best theatrical adaptation of any of Hannah Barbera’s titles. It’s the most cohesive, it’s the most like its original source materials, its still fully animated rather than a live-action monstrocity, and it isn’t full of dumb juvenile humor or overly annoying characters and bad actors.
Now let’s look at some of the things that feel tacked onto this plot, along with some of the character choices.
SUB-PLOTS and UNECESSARY CHARACTERS:
The main sub-plot of this film is obviously Judy Jetson’s romantic life, and how she has to give up her date with Cosmo in order to go off with her family to the new outer-space plant. But once she gets there, she meets a new awesome guy named Apollo Blue, who is of course actually blue. And he ends up being just as awesome, if not more so, and more down to Earth (figure of speech) than Cosmo would have ever been. And he writes a killer song for Judy too.
To be perfectly realistic, though, this subplot holds no other purpose other than giving the bored teen girl demographic something to enjoy in the middle of this “kids film,” and it holds no bearing on the main plot either. It’s just there because it was the late-80s. I’ll be getting to the music in a minute.
Something else that felt a tad tacked-on were some of the supporting characters. George’s plant manager, Rudy 2, Rudy’s wife, Lucy 2, and their son, Teddy 2, feel perfectly acceptable as side characters. I can even say that Apollo Blue—who actually manages to have less of a personality than Judy—isn’t such a bad addition either. But I do have a problem with the Furbelows. Yes, the Furbelows. Bertie Furbelow, Gertie Furbelow, and Fergie, the little Furbelow.
These characters have no bearing on the plot whatsoever, and affect absolutely nothing. And you might even try to argue that Fergie was there for the sake of the cute cuddly little side-kick, if it weren’t for the fact that the creatures sabotaging the plant were already cute little cuddly creatures. There’s only room for one cute cuddly creature in this movie, so which is it gonna be? The Furbelow parents don’t even show up again until the end, so why the heck were they here?
THE MUSIC – ORCHESTRAL SCORE:
The music for this film comes in two parts: the orchestral score, provided by the ever talented John Debney. And a pop-song soundtrack with pieces by Steve McClintock, Shane Sutton, Mike Piccirillo, and Tiffany: who provides the updated voice for Judy Jetson.
Starting with the orchestral score, John Debney does an amazing job creating this pseudo-Jerry Goldsmith sound, alla Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In fact, the entire vibe of this film feels like The Motion Picture, if it were infused with a marathon of Hannah Barbara cartoons and an MTV music video top 10 list.
The opening theme song has been brilliantly updated with a vocally stronger chorus and vibrant horn section. Which then leads into the film’s other main theme, which is this uplifting and flighty tune built on violins and a constant underlying beat: a little bit like a Danny Elfman tune, but not as creepy. More like Danny’s theme for Mr. Peabody & Sherman.
John Debney has actually done an extensive amount of work on films like Liar Liar, The Emperor’s New Groove (I can totally hear the resemblance), Spy Kids, Bruce Almighty, Elf, Hocus Pocus, Iron Man 2, and The Princess Diaries. It’s a shame, though, that he doesn’t feature this soundtrack on his website. It’s really damn good work. Even James Horner worked on Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars, which wasn’t a good film by any steatch of the imagination, but it was nonetheless a good soundtrack. And Jetsons: The Movie is 10 times a better film than Battle was.
THE MUSIC – ORIGINAL SONGS:
On the other side, the pop song tracks are really quite amazing. They’re exciting, they’re catchy, most are quite heartfelt, and despite having a dated sound, give the film an oddly timeless charm that nothing can ever take away. Anybody could enjoy some of these songs for decades to come. I’ll break each of them down for you below.
Track 1: “Gotcha” by Steven McClintock
Unfortunately, I can’t speak much on this track at the moment, as it’s only played for a brief moment during the film, and an online upload is unavailable. But since I will no doubt try to track down a copy of the vinyl for this film, I should be able to update this portion at a later date.
Track 2: “Maybe Love” (also) by Steven McClintock
My comment about some of these songs being timeless still stands, but that’s only true of the ballad-style songs. In the case of “Maybe Love,” this is absolutely stuck in the 80s glam-rock scene (as far as my best guess is). This song is a vapid and soulless excuse for a love song, and doesn’t set a good track record for the content of the other love songs during this film. In fact, this entire movie is filled with tracks that involve romantic themes and thoughts of love and even the word “love,” over and over and over.
When it comes to love songs, loud, pounding rock is not what I would think to use to express my feelings to someone else. A slow lullaby piece, a sweeping ballad, a slowly building operatic number, a soft passionate jazzy tune: these are what I would use to express my love and affection. But we’ll get to my exception to that rule in a moment. In terms of “Maybe Love,” though, I don’t have much to say. It’s an 80s pop-song, whadduya want?
Track 3: “Stayin’ Together” by Shane Sutton
I attempted to look up Shane Sutton a while back, but I never found a single thing. But, as it turns out, Shane Sutton is in fact a male singer who had his first album with the songs he performed for this very movie. In fact, “Stayin’ Together” was one of his first songs. It’s just strange though, because his voice sounds so feminine. But he apparently was about 10 or 11 when he sang the song. So it was kind of that Michael Jackson, Justin Bieber soprano that he was sporting back then. Now it still seems as if Mr. Sutton never went on to do anything that kept on the charts or kept him in the spot-light, because I can’t find a single album of his anywhere. But he did go on to do a few other things after the Jetsons movie.
This song here, called “I’ve Got Your Number” is apparently what he did just a few years later, in 1995, after his voice had shifted: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUOlYfoX3pA
Quite a stark change from a synthy family oriented love-song to this quirky country-western number.
Anyway, “Stayin’ Together” may be a simple tune with a simple concept, but what knocks it out of the park for me is that classic 1980s sound mixing with the reverb and multi-voice back-up, and that awesome twinkly synth chord that punctuates Shane’s lyrics. It’s a super catchy track that I could listen to for hours. In fact… I have. Check it out! It totally transports you back to the late 80s.
Track 4: “I Always Thought I’d See You Again” by Tiffany
The first of Tiffany’s three tracks on the film, the song doesn’t really serve an important role: as it’s supposed to express Judy Jetson’s depression over not being able to go out with her rock-star crush, Cosmic Cosmo. But because we only saw her at that Cosmo concert for one scene, and we only saw Cosmo that one time, we really don’t care about this broken relationship because it was only ever an “almost” relationship. Nothing ever happened between them. The song still sort of fits the moment, as she never did see Cosmo again. But songs like this always hint at thoughts and feelings beyond the situation presented in the film that it’s in, because it’s just meant to be a song on the soundtrack rather than a song sung by the characters. That isn’t true for at least one of these songs. But in this case, Judy isn’t really singing this, Tiffany is.
But while the song holds no real impact, the song itself is very very beautiful and well performed. Who could expect less? I honestly know very little about Tiffany, and only just now realized that she’s the artist who performed “Hey Mickey,” “I Think We’re Alone Now,” and the original version of “Venus.” But I’ve always found that some artist’s work in film or animation is actually some of their best. I can say that for both ELO with Xanadu, Phil Collins with Tarzan¸ and now Tiffany with Jetsons: The Movie. No, it isn’t her absolute best, but it is by no means any less quality than any of her other songs. Don’t believe me, just listen to the next one.
Track 5: “You And Me” by Tiffany
I LOVE this song!
This is one of those loud and proud songs, that unlike “Maybe Love,” actually has some heart behind it. Maybe it’s the way that Tiffany sings, or the particular rhythm of the song, or maybe it’s the thick but almost sorrowful harmony she has with herself? Whatever it is, this is an amazing track that you can get behind. It’s got kind of a country vibe to the way she sings too. I would love to see someone do a Jetson’s music video to this song. Heck! I’d like to see a music video made for “Stayin’ Together” and Track 6: “Home.” This is all really epic stuff here.
The striking thing about this song that sends it over the top, however, is the inclusion of a fully produced and fully crafted music video during the middle of the film. It’s like the whole story takes a left turn into MTV and does this pop-art mosaic dance of shape-shifting images. Really stunning work that goes from line drawings, to shaded graphite shapes, to rotating geometric squiggling line people, to paint splatters and pastel smears. All hand-drawn by the way, no CGI here. So it’s a lot like “Take On Me” mixed with Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer.” Unlike some scenes of this film, which looks like portions of the “Money For Nothing” video.
Track 6: “Home” by Tiffany
As Tiffany’s last song on the film, she’s gone from a personal song about lost love, to a passionate uplifting rock anthem for keeping love together, to finally a love song about your home, your family, and the unconditional love you receive from both. It’s an extremely sweet song to end the film’s resolution on (even though this isn’t the last song, but we’ll get to those).
Not really much else to say but cuddle up and give this one a listen as well.
Track 7: “The Jetson’s Rap” by XXL
Rap honestly was not very good back in the 80s and early 90s. It had a hard time sounding any more complex than a upbeat kindergarten nursery rhyme or an educational video. In fact, rap was such a hit back in the day up until the early 2000s that it showed up in just about everything in order to make something edgy and “hip wid’duh kids” that otherwise wouldn’t be. But even then you couldn’t take some things seriously.
Now in the case of this song, and especially in the case of the “Ghostbusters” theme by Run DMC from Ghostbusters 2, I actually don’t have a problem with it. I heard it so long ago when I was just a kid that it’s one of the songs that’s stuck with me the longest. It’s only now that I’m able to really love and appreciate “You And Me” or “Home.” But back when I was 7 years old, “Stayin’ Together” and “The Jetson’s Rap” were my favorite parts of this film, even more than any scene in the story.
Yeah, the word-play kinda blows, the harmonizing isn’t all that great, and the humor in the song is extremely childish. But again, that’s what a lot of rap was back in the day. I apologize to those who really like that kind of rap. Again, I don’t entirely mind it. And again, I actually have a soft-spot for this one. It’s an okay song to end a movie on. Really, it could be a lot worse.
Track 8: “With You All The Way” by Shane Sutton
So it turns out that during the credits scroll, after the initial credit cards that played behind “The Jetsons Rap,” there was actually one more song performed by Shane Sutton, which I did not initially know about. Thankfully I can at least speak on this one, since it was uploaded by another kind individual.
It’s nothing to write home about. You can hear a bit more of Shane’s male raspy sound this time around. But when you’re songs are sitting up against a slew of Tiffany tracks, you aren’t always going to hit a home run. And in this case, this song is rather forgettable. It’s perhaps the most forgettable sounding on the soundtrack. It’s a little weak on the voice, it’s a little weak on the theme and the hook, and it’s a little overdone on the sound mixing and the choice of instruments. It’s just a bit too much for something that sung a bit too loose.
I’ll admit, it’s about what I’d expect for an ending credits song, since people are normally leaving the theater by this point, and you just want a pleasant, unobtrusive song to leave things off on. But it doesn’t have to be forgettably pleasant, it could be memorable at the same time.
Alright, so now that all the awesome music is out of the way, let’s move on to the animation, which is actually rather surprising.
So in a strange turn of events, there are two points of interesting parallels that I can speak on in terms of animation: One is the animation for the main film, and the other is the animation for the “You And Me” music video sequence I talked about earlier. I’ll start with the latter.
To my great surprise and delight, the unique and well designed music video sequence for “You And Me” that pops in during the middle of the film was created by a group called Kurtz and Friends, who just happen to be the same group of animators who created the “Mr. D.N.A” sequence from Jurassic Park, the opening title animation for George of the Jungle, and the opening animation for Honey I Blew Up the Kid (the sequel to Honey I Shrunk The Kids).
So no wonder the animation was so unique and strikingly well-done? It was a totally separate group of animators. But that was my initial guess.
Now something else I was impressed to realize while watching the film, was that the majority of the film’s animation was provided by the same animators who created the pilot episode of Tiny Toon Adventures. I can’t entirely corroborate exactly who this animation team is at this time. But I will attempt to do further research into it and update this section as well.
The animation itself isn’t very special to look at, as you might expect. Hannah Barbara weren’t known during their television years for their outstanding animation, despite being really quite amazing at it back at M.G.M during their Tom & Jerry years. But now during the Jetsons film, while the animation does have room to move about in full motion rather than in rough stilted limited animation, it nonetheless has very little bounce or life to it. There’s not much squash and stretch, not much anticipating action, and not much reactionary movement. It’s all just there for the sake of it. Much like the animation in other contemporary animated films like Felix The Cat: The Movie and Carebears: The Movie. It’s not bad to look at, by any means, the character designs are solid as they always were, and its enjoyable to watch certain characters move about their day. But for the most part, it’s not the sort of animation you write home about.
I’d definitely say that while this group of animators didn’t learn any more about the 12 principles, they did improve some by the time they created the Tiny Toons pilot. Just see for yourself:
Jetsons: The Movie takes a unique approach with its visuals by integrating a fair amount of digital graphics or CGI into its two dimensional world.
The CGI here is rather quaint in that the camera movements are slow and well-paced, unlike later CGI that goes overboard with the gimmick. It has a clean-cut shape to everything, not going into the use of texture for the sake of still looking cartoonish. But of course using textures would probably have made the CGI look a little funky as well. Cell-shading didn’t exist yet, nor did “Edge-Detection” or line-art effects. So everything had to be left as-is with whatever digital lights were put into the scene. Strangely though, they were still able to put reflections on some elements, and an airbrush gleam on transparent objects.
Something I find a bit funny about this old CGI as well, is the way it created a finite world by making a “sky box” that was small enough to be noticeable in dolly shots. The sky box that they use around the Orbiting Ore Asteroid is very noticeable, because the stars and the streaks of blue space dust move along with the space station as the camera gets closer to it. But I sort of think it gives the effect a personal charm that you don’t see anymore, because now we can make things infinitely big inside the computer.
I honestly really like the CGI here. It might not be as technically impressive as say The Last Starfighter was back in 1984, six years earlier. But looking back on it now, it is an inseperable part of this movie’s design and aesthetic. Something which works along with the synth-filled late-80s soundtrack and other visuals.
THE VOICE ACTING:
As you may expect, you have just about everybody showing up here. You’ve got Dana Hill, aka Max Goof from Goof Troop as Teddy 2, Russi Taylor as Fergie Furbelow, Susan Silo as Gertie Furbelow, the ever magnificent Frank Welker as Sqeueep and the Grungees, Jeff Bergman as a replacement voice for George Jetson and Mr Spacely as well as Elroy’s Basketball Coach, and the other three top voice actors of the time: Rob Paulson, Jim Cummings, and Jeff Glen Bennette as additional voices to fill out the roster.
As for the main cast, you have Penny Singleton reprising her role as Jane Jetson, who you may also recognize as the Nanny character from Muppet Babies. I know I do. Then there’s Tiffany, playing the updated voice for Judy Jetson. Maybe not a necessary casting, but one that I have no problem accepting as another version of Judy. Patric Zimmerman steps in as Elroy Jetson after Daws Butler’s untimely death in 1988. Patrick also went on to replace Daws on a few of his other characters as well.
And then of course, we have Mel Blanc as Mr Cosmo Spacely (a little confusing when you also have Cosmic Cosmo), and George O’Hanlon back again as George Jetson. Both of whom do a stellar job as always in these roles, they are one hundred percent Spacely and Jetson.
Now I give you fare warning folks, because what I’m about to tell you is not an easy thing to say, but I feel that it must be addressed.
To my shock, both Mel Blanc and George O’Hanlon passed away before this film hit theaters. And during the ending credits, the film is indeed dedicated to the memory of both of them.
Mel died from an advanced case of coronary artery disease while interred at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on June 10th, 1989, just after shooting his last commercial. But George was the one worse for wear. He sadly was struck blind after a stroke around 1988, and was left with limited mobility and weak hearing as well. He then died from a second stroke during the February of 1989. And yet despite all of that, he managed to pull through the pain and the difficulty and record his final role as George Jetson in this very movie, as the recording directors and technicians fed him his lines aloud and he reciting them back the best he could.
And you know what, it does not show. It does not show one bit. I love George O’Hanlon in this film. And I think if there was ever a film to go out on, best to be the one you’re most known for.
On a lighter note, Jetsons The Movie was the first feature film for actor/voice-actor Brad Garrett, who voiced Bertie Furbelow. He would later go on to play other notable characters such as Fatso in the movie Casper, Boss Beaver on Timon & Pumba, Dim in A Bug’s Life, the air-pirate boss of the Mamma Aiuto gang in Porco Rosso¸ and Chef Gusteau from Pixar’s Ratatouille.
It’s sad to think now that this film did so poorly back in the day, because it was the final film of both Mel Blanc, George O’Hanlon, and Penny Singleton (although she did not die until 2003, she simply left the acting business after this film). The movie only grossed a total of 20,000,000 domestically, and had a rough time going up against both Die Hard 2, Ghost, and a Jungle Book re-issue the following weekend.
Maybe I’m a rather soft guy when it comes to films like this. Maybe I give them too much of a break. But I don’t think so. Sometimes what I prefer to do is look for the intention of the piece. To look for what the filmmakers saw when they finished the final edit and shipped the film off to theater chains and said to themselves, “yup, that’s my best work.” Everybody did their best here, you can see it, you can hear it, and you can feel it.
Siskel and Ebert may have given this film two thumbs down, but you know what, I have to disagree with them this time. Maybe as a theatrical release it wasn’t the best thing in the world. But that’s precisely why it did so much better on home video. It became a massive hit, just like so many other video home releases. Home video practically saved the reputation of the majority of non-Disney productions. And I can’t thank Sony and Panasonic and Magnavox enough for that.
Jetsons: The Movie is indeed a good movie. It’s not a great movie, but it is a good movie. Give it a try sometime if you haven’t already.