Stretching all the way back to the days of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers in newsprint, SciFi has captivated the minds of youngsters. Its fiery rocket ships and blasting ray guns have left them cheering for more while its aliens and monsters have had them covering their eyes in fright. Star Wars creator George Lucas has long maintained that his space saga – while appealing to audiences of all ages – was chiefly meant to entertain children, catapulting their still evolving minds to other places with tales of good versus evil, prattling droids, and mysterious wizards. As you can imagine, Lucas has never been alone in his sentiments, and other storytellers have been all too happy to follow his lead.
Thankfully, there’s never been a “one size fits all” approach to weaving yarns for children as that’s allowed for properties like 1979’s C.H.O.M.P.S. to come to life. Its narrative is more ‘live action cartoon’ than it is ‘live action,’ especially with moments like a big, black dog called Monster sharing his thoughts with the audience. Furthermore, the horseplay of established commodities like Red Buttons, Chuck McCann, and Jim Bachus – all well into their golden years at the time of this production – is the kind of thing kids have loved, still love, and will likely always love. The film is light on specifics but big with its robotic heart … exactly how children would’ve wanted it.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging:
“The crime rate is going through the roof – and at Norton Securities, business is going to the dogs. Desperate to save her father’s company, Casey Norton and her fiancé, electronics genius Brian Foster, are about to unveil a secret weapon that’ll have the burglars begging for mercy: C.H.O.M.P.S. (Canine Home Protection System), the world’s first computerized watchdog!”
There is a bit more, but …
Believe it or not, kiddies, but yours truly is old enough to have actually seen this one first-run in theaters. And I’m proud to say that I did. (Oh, the things young men will endure for a glimpse of Valerie Bertinelli in those days, am I right? Can I get an amen?)
For all of its blemishes (and there are plenty), C.H.O.M.P.S. still feels like something a bunch of TV folks got together and decided to make it while their day jobs were on seasonal hiatus. Every face in here had a foot (or two) in television at the time of its release (Eure, Bain, Bertinelli), and those who didn’t probably had plenty of time in their respective schedules as Hollywood had largely moved on to less-seasoned professionals (Buttons, Backus, McCann). That’s no insult because the film is undeniably loaded with talent; it’s just a reflection that greener pastures inevitably await every one of us.
But about those TV veterans? Let me be a bit more specific.
C.H.O.M.P.S.’s script is credited to Dick Robbins, Duane Poole, and Joseph Barbera, all three of which have an expansive background in the world of television and children’s entertainment. For those raised on an island, Barbera is the co-founder of Hanna-Barbera, the company that put Saturday Morning on the map so far as kids of a certain generation are concerned. Their roster of success includes such memorable programs as The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Jonny Quest, Super Friends, and Scooby-Doo. A rundown of Dick Robbins’ resume shows screenwriting contributions to Spider-Man, Super Friends, Electra Woman And Dyna Girl, The Transformers, and Defenders Of The Earth. Duane Poole clearly cut his teeth in Hanna-Barbera territory before transitioning into more adult fare, and his resume shows early scripts for Far Out Space Nuts, Electra Woman And Dyna Girl, The Krofft Supershow, and The All-New Super Friends Hour.
Conrad Bain is best remembered for his work aboard TV’s Maude and Diff’rent Strokes. Valerie Bertinelli found breakout stardom for her work in One Day At A Time, an award-winning sitcom that kinda/sorta broke ground by focusing on single parenthood. (I believe this was her big screen debut, as well.) And lead star Wesley Eure definitely has fans in the realm of genre entertainment as one of the members of a family trapped in TV’s Land Of The Lost for its three seasons of small screen brilliance.
As I said above, C.H.O.M.P.S. isn’t exactly what I’d call a brilliant project.
It’s humor – aimed entirely at children – is a bit low brow even by standards of the day; and the flick certainly didn’t burn up records at the box office. In fact, I’ve read that it’s Hanna-Barbera’s only live action film, and I can’t help but wonder if that sub-par performance kept the production company focused more on television projects as a consequence. (Interestingly enough, IMDB.com reports on its trivia page that the film’s low box office return brought about the cancellation of a deal that would’ve involved other motion pictures.) Also, given the reality that this was directed at kids, there’s a bit of a narrative disconnect as a few scenes feature our inventor (Eure) removing the dog’s robotic head, leaving the canine with a face fixed with a decidedly pained expression; I can’t help but wonder if those scenes alone might’ve given some in the audience a nightmare or two.
Still, the star of this curious affair always was and always will be the hound – that wonderful crime-fighting pooch – and I suspect everyone involved wouldn’t have it any other way.
C.H.O.M.P.S. (1979) was produced by American International Pictures (AIP) and Hanna-Barbera Productions. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the reliable Kino Lorber. As for the technical specifications? The packaging boasts that this is a brand new 2K restoration; I noticed a few sequences where the original master may’ve had some weird degradation, but it doesn’t distract from the overall quality of the experience. As for the special features? Again, the disc’s packaging lists:
- Audio Commentary with star Wesley Eure, Co-Writer Duane Poole, and Film Historian Nathaniel Thompson
- An interview with star Wesley Eure, and
- Theatrical trailer
Recommended but only for the young and truly young-at-heart. C.H.O.M.P.S. – even in its day – was a bit dated with its kid-friendly humor (dogs talking to the camera, general buffoonery from its villains, etc.), so this one might really have parents rolling their eyes at the increasingly silly antics. Still, it’s the kind of harmless fun the youngest among us enjoy … and which of us wouldn’t wish to own their very own robotic dog? He’s the real star of the show, and it shows!
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Kino Lorber provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of C.H.O.M.P.S. (1979) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.