In 1939, Poland has just been invaded by the forces of Nazi Germany and in the midst of the mayhem Flash Gordon (voiced by Robert Ridgely), an agent of the United States, is in Warsaw to track down a Polish scientist. Alas, with the bombs raining down he is too late to save the man, reaching his offices just as he is expiring. But the scientist does manage to get out a few words, telling Flash to get to Doctor Zarkov (Bob Holt) and relay a one word message: "Mongo". Flash doesn't know what it means, but he will soon...
Flash Gordon was a character from pulp fiction, comic strips in fact, created by Alex Raymond. The classic incarnation for many is the Buster Crabbe-starring serials of the nineteen-thirties, considered the very pinnacle of that long-gone (or long adapted into other media, anyway) form, but the 1980 update has many fans as well. What was less well known was the Filmation cartoon series of which this film, the so-called Greatest Adventure of All, was the pilot, although it didn't quite end up that way. This company were well known for their cost-cutting measures, so although the TV movie was aired eventually, it was well after the series had finished.
That was because this was raided by Filmation animators to fashion the individual episodes from, editing various shots and scenes into them, leaving the original material redundant. Or so you would think, but it somehow found its way onto television screens in 1982, offered a late night showing which gave rise to rumours that it had not been broadcast due to its overly violent or sexual nature, certainly by the standards of children's programming. If you watch it now, you'd be surprised that anyone thought that as it does look like your basic, generic sci-fi adventure for Saturday mornings.
The fact the film was broadcast on British television on a Christmas holiday morning should have given lie to those rumours of being too intense for kids as nobody batted an eyelid then, but within the limitations of its style it was quite pleasingly rendered, true to the spirit of the Raymond source, if a little monotonous. Once Flash has reached the planet Mongo on Dr Zarkov's spaceship, with reporter Dale Arden (Diane Pershing) in tow, he doesn't meet the infamous villain Ming the Merciless (Vic Perrin) right away, but does tussle with his minions, meeting lion man Thun (Ted Cassidy) as a new ally, but leaving Dale and Zarkov by the wayside until pretty much the end of the story.
The reason that Dale was so neglected would appear to be because the animators were so enamoured of their other main villain, Princess Aura. Now, if you were watching kids TV in the mid-eighties, you may well recognise her from somewhere... how about She-Ra Princess of Power? Aura not only looks like that He-Man rip-off heroine, but is voiced by the same actress, Melendy Britt, except here if you ever entertained thoughts of She-Ra turning into a bad girl then your fantasies would be well catered for here, particularly as she wears that skimpy outfit. Indeed, there were quite a few skimpy outfits on display, not least that belonging to Flash, who is gradually stripped of his clothes until he spent most of the action wearing his underpants and nothing else. But mostly you'd be bothering about the derring-do, including all the essentials from Prince Vultan and his Hawkmen to Prince Barin and his Merrie Men; some really love this version, but it's serviceable without being inspiring. Music by Ray Ellis and Norm Prescott (with Lou Scheimer, Filmation's head honcho).