Continuing my complete mangling of the expression “New Year, New Me,” I will be profiling live-action TV series that have been reenvisioned as Saturday morning cartoons. Last week, I covered ‘ALF’. This week, I’m going back in time a bit further, to cover a true oddity, ‘The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang’.
In the late ’70s and early ’80s, Garry Marshall delivered some of the most successful sitcoms in history. ABC’s ‘Happy Days’ was a cultural phenomenon, lasting for 11 seasons from 1974-1984. Through most of its run, the show’s popularity was fueled by the character Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli played by Henry Winkler, a hip, leather jacket-wearing, motorcycle-riding ladies man, who was so cool, he could turn on a jukebox by smacking it. The Fonz and ‘Happy Days’ were so popular that two other extremely popular sitcoms were spun-off from it– ‘Laverne & Shirley’ which aired for eight seasons, and ‘Mork & Mindy’, which aired for four and launched the career of Robin Williams.
After the ’70s, ‘Happy Days’ was still popular, but was starting to decline, so ABC launched ‘The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang’, a cartoon series starring some of the live-action show’s biggest stars, but rather than following their exploits in 1957 suburban Milwaukee, they went hurtling through time in a malfunctioning time machine.
Here is the opening title sequence, which like a lot of ’80s ‘toons, spells out the show’s premise, removing the need for an “origin story” episode:
The actors from the sitcom provided the voices for their characters on the cartoon, with Winkler as The Fonz, Ron Howard as Richie Cunningham, and Donny Most as Richie’s buddy Ralph Malph. One gaping omission was Anson Williams as Warren “Potsie” Weber, who was also best friends with Richie and Ralph. I’m not sure why he was left out, other than he was kind of a straight man– like Richie– while Ralph was goofier, so maybe they didn’t need two straight men, or maybe there wasn’t enough room on the time machine.
Ironically, Potsie went on to be the main character– not counting The Fonz– on the live-action sitcom, after Howard and Most left after Season 7.
Added for the cartoon were the requisite anthropomorphic dog sidekick named Mr. Cool, who was voiced by the legendary Frank Welker, and a ditzy girl from the future named Cupcake. Her voice was coincidentally (?) voiced by Didi Conn, who starred in another late ’70s phenomenon which was set in the early ’60s– ‘Grease’, in which she played Frenchie. Like many girls from the future in ’80s ‘toons– like Princess Ariel on ‘Thundarr the Barbarian’ and Futura on Filmation’s ‘Ghostbusters’– Cupcake was ethnically ambiguous and had magical powers, which, in her case, manifested in rainbow-striped beams. Like the other two, her wardrobe also consisted of a leotard.
‘The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang’ was produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions and Paramount Television. There were 13 episodes in the first season, and (for whatever reason) 11 in the second, for a total of 24. The first episode premiered on November 8, 1980, on ABC.
In their time machine, the Gang visited every era from prehistory to the far future of 3817, and pretty much every time in between. (Well, 22 times in between.) They had to save the Earth from alien invaders, battled Count Dracula, helped Sherlock Holmes foil a plot by Professor Moriarty, and prevented Cupcake from being burned at the stake during the Salem Witch Trials.
Speaking of Cupcake, she was clearly smitten with Fonzie, because… I guess all women were, but in literally EVERY episode, Fonzie flirts with other exotic babes from history. Like the jukebox back home, Fonzie had the ability to make all sorts of things happen by snapping his fingers, or nudging them with his elbow, etc.
During the cartoon’s second season, it was paired with a cartoon version of ‘Laverne & Shirley’– ‘Laverne & Shirley in the Army’. That was the end for ‘The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang’, but ‘Laverne & Shirley in the Army’ continued for a second season, with Fonzie and Mr. Cool switched over to their show. Fonzie was now a mechanic on their Army base. (It wasn’t explained how they got back to their home time.) That show was paired with a cartoon version of ‘Mork & Mindy’.
The live-action ‘Happy Days’ spawned a slew of licensing, including a full line of action figures and accessories from the Mego toy company. (They also made dolls based on ‘Laverne & Shirley’.) But a lot of that had faded away by the time the cartoon arrived, resulting in a new wave of toys and other items based specifically on the cartoon. There was nothing as elaborate as an action figure line. Licensing for ‘Fonz and the Happy Days Gang’ was limited to cheap rack toys, puffy stickers, and the like.
Believe it or not, ‘Fonz and the Happy Days Gang’ is available on DVD, on-demand from CBS Home Entertainment and Paramount Home Entertainment. This is the wonky-looking cover:
Since the on-demand DVD is available through CBS and Paramount, you’d think this cartoon would be available to stream on CBS All Access, but so far it’s not.
Do you have any memories of this series? If so, what did you think?