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Western Animation / Flash Gordon (1979)

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Thun of the Lion Men, Dale Arden, Flash Gordon, Dr. Hans Zarkov, and the evil floating head of Ming the Merciless

"Blasting off on a desperate mission to save Earth from the evil plottings of the tyrannical space lord Ming the Merciless, Dr. Hans Zarkov and Dale Arden have joined me, Flash Gordon, on a fantastic journey into worlds where peril and adventure await us!"

Flash Gordon (also known as The Adventures of Flash Gordon and even The New Adventures of Flash Gordon) was an adaptation of the comic strip Flash Gordon made in the 1970s by Filmation, the people who did Star Trek: The Animated Series. Perhaps best described as a children's version of a sketchy rock album cover come to life, with lion-men instead of ligers.

The series was originally a single film, Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All, written by Samuel A. Peeples, one of the writers for Star Trek: The Original Series, and it turned out so well, NBC decided to have it as a Saturday morning TV series instead. This meant cutting up the footage for their usual animation cycles with more animation. In 1982 after the series was cancelled, and likely coattailing on the attention to the live-action Flash Gordon film, the original film was broadcast for the first time on prime time and syndication.

The first season was serialized and followed the original comic strip remarkably faithfully. After the network complained that the serial was too difficult for kids to follow, the second season consisted of standalone episodes, and a Team Pet was added, Gremlin the dragon. Older viewers are likely to prefer the serialized episodes, while younger viewers are likely to prefer the later, more simply-plotted standalones.

Though the best-known animated version of Flash Gordon, it was not the only one. Flash Gordon also appeared in two animated Massively Multiplayer Crossovers with other King Features heroes: the one-off special The Man Who Hated Laughter and the series Defenders of the Earth, which also featured Flash's archenemy Ming the Merciless as its Big Bad. Another animated series debuted in 1996, featuring hoverboard-riding teenaged versions of Flash and Dale.

The Filmation animated series provides examples of:

  • Actually a Doombot: Ming at the end of the first season, as the real Ming flees. Ditto for the end of the animated movie.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Ming's computer, in the second season.
  • Amazon Brigade: Princess Aura had an elite guard of female warriors under her command known as the Witch-Women.
  • Animation Bump: The pilot film is this by Filmation standards. The rotoscoping used for vehicles is particularly effective.
  • Apparently Human Merfolk: The people of Corallia, who are green but otherwise look human. As opposed to Ming's grotesque gill-men.
  • Back for the Finale: The first season climaxes with almost all the allies Flash has made through the course of the series gathering together for one big attack against Ming.
  • Beast Man: The Beast Men.
  • Beneath the Earth: Azura's subterranean realm of Sik.
  • Big Door: The Beast Men's drawbridge that takes up most of a cliffside.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Dale Arden is black-haired and Princess Aura the redhead. Just to complete the trio, the film adds a blonde concubine doing a slow dance.
  • Clothing Damage: One of the elements that had to be eliminated from the TV series using The Greatest Adventure of All footage is that the fact that when Flash and company are captured by apelike savages upon landing on Mongo, their clothing disintegrates as they are dragged overland to a degree that would never be allowed for a Saturday-Morning Cartoon.
  • Darkest Hour: The end of episode 15, with Dale, Aura, and Flash captured—the latter in suspended animation.
  • The Dreaded: The closest we come to seeing Thun actually scared is when the heroes venture into Azura's caverns. Even Ming's forces are leery of her. According to legend, Ming himself started out centuries ago as merely her dead husband's high priest.
  • Drill Tank: The Mecho Mole, first used by Ming, then hijacked by Barin.
  • Energy Being: Voltana the Blue Fire Worm and the Lobos are both described as being made of energy.
  • The Faceless: Azura's cloaked minions, the Magic Men.
  • Fish People: Ming's gill-men.
  • Flaming Sword: Ming wields one.
  • Freeze Ray: Used to capture Flash in episode 15.
  • Heavy Worlder: It's occasionally mentioned that Mongo has lower gravity than Earth, so Earthlings have above-normal strength there.
  • The High Queen: Mongo's realms are at least as likely to be ruled by women as by men, and most of them (Undina, Freya, Desira) become important allies in the Rebellion against Ming. All of these are contrasted with the evil Witch Queen Azura, who couldn't care less about the surface world's politics and stays a villain with her own agenda straight on through to the second season.
  • In Medias Res: The series starts off with Flash, Dale, and Zarkov already on their way to Mongo.
  • Kaiju: Anywhere and everywhere. Notable ones include the two-headed blind Tsak, and Azura's giant energy caterpillar Voltana.
  • Killer Rabbit: Squirrelons—killer flying squirrels who attack in swarms, and whose venom causes madness.
  • Kirk Summation: Flash gives one of these early on to Barin and Thun because he's sick of their racial bickering, and says the only reason a tyrant like Ming is able to hang onto power is that the peoples of Mongo are busy fighting each other instead of uniting against him. Thun comes to agree with him pretty quickly, but Barin takes a couple more episodes to convince.
  • Lack of Empathy: Princess Aura, in the original film, at least for inferiors and enemies. When Flash expresses his concern for the radiation-sick slave workers in Ming's mines, she laughs heartily at the joke — Only to stop awkwardly when she realizes that he was being serious. Later, she seems to actually enjoy Dale's torment when she is being (unwillingly) wed to her father the Emperor, if her smug smirk is any indication.
  • Large Ham: Vultan, Ming, and Aura.
  • Last Grasp at Life: By all the Mole Men as they're pulled into the earth by Arboria's attacking tree roots. Many are pulled in head-first so are also doing Helpless Kicking.
  • Lighter and Softer: Compared to The Greatest Adventure of All, the regular animated series episodes covering roughly the same storyline were considerably lighter, and also suffered from Bowdlerization as the plots were simplified, violence removed and the dialogue sanitized. All references to World War II and the Nazis were also cut.
  • Lizard Folk: The Lizard Women. There are Lizard Men, too, they just don't show up as often. Also the reptillian bounty hunter from the second season.
  • Magnetic Hero: Flash spends the whole first season gathering allies to help fight Ming, often getting them to make Heel Face Turns.
  • Mecha-Mooks: Ming's Metal Men. The series eventually introduced their inventor, Dr. Tav.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Aura all throughout, then Dale after getting put in a harem outfit. The film briefly adds Ming's concubines and also three dancers performing for Vultan.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: In episode 16, Flash defeats Ming with a well-placed brick.
  • Parallel Universe: The second season episode "Flash Back."
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The pilot movie, which was intended have Dr. Zarkov to be sympathetic from the start, changed the circumstances of Flash and Dale boarding his rocket. The solution was that the visitors are forced to enter Zarkov's lair while being chased by a flood of molten lava caused by a meteor shower inflicted by Ming. In that crisis, Zarkov immediately invites them into his rocket and since it is the only means around to escape certain death, the young heroes get in as fast as they can before it launches for Mongo. Furthermore, once Zarkov explains what he hopes to do there, Flash and Dale agree to help.
  • Really 700 Years Old: If the legends are true, both Azura and Ming are centuries old. Ming claims to be immortal.
  • Redshirt Army: Hawkmen.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Well, the Lizard Women may not be very nice, but one wouldn't exactly call them abhorrent.
  • Retro Rocket: Most of the Mongonian rocketships are streamlined to look a little more like aircraft, but Zarkov's rocketship is a classic cylindrical Retro Rocket.
  • Robot Master: Dr. Tav.
  • Shout-Out: It's mentioned in the film that Flash was a gold-medal winner in the Olympics. Buster Crabbe, the first actor to portray Flash Gordon (in the 1936 serial), won gold medal in the 1932 Olympics.
  • Silicon-Based Life: Ming the Merciless created a silicon based monster and unleashed it on the heroes. The heroes weapons had no effect on the creature because, in their words, they were shooting sand.
  • Slave Liberation: Flash ends up leading a lot of slave revolts. Mostly because the bad guys keep, well, trying to enslave him.
  • Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: After Zarkov has had the chance to study the Blue Magic Kingdom's equipment, he describes it as "another kind of science," and he's able to manipulate it. It's not entirely clear whether it's actually supernatural or just advanced technology dressed up to look like magic, but it's at least internally consistent enough for Zarkov to get a handle on it.
  • Team Pet: Gremlin.
  • Trick Arrow: The Arborians' ice arrows.
  • True Companions: Flash, Dale, Zarkov, Barin, Thun, and Vultan.
  • Villainous Rescue: Flash is rescued by the villains a fair amount of times so they can have the pleasure of killing him.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: This is why Ming isn't overthrown; the races of Mongo are busy fighting amongst themselves. The entire first season is Flash & co. trying to avert this trope.
  • When Trees Attack:
    • The Arborians are able to get their trees to defend themselves against Ming's Mole Men and their Drill Tank.
    • There are also a few Man Eating Plants over the course of the show. Thun finally comes to trust Flash after Flash risks his life to save him from one.