Ever since his very first moving picture appearance in the now-lost 1926 film The House Without a Key, Charlie Chan had only ever been portrayed by an actor of Chinese descent but once — and that was in the 1972 Hanna-Barbera cartoon, The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan. Veteran Hollywood actor Keye Luke — a character actor fondly remembered by many as Lee Chan, the Number One Son to Charlie Chan in several Fox and Monogram mysteries made between 1935 and 1948 — escalated up the ranks to portray Mr. Chan himself.
Sure, Luke’s much-needed representation of Earl Derr Biggers’ legendary fictional detective was that of an off-screen one, but it was a welcomed one nonetheless, as the character had almost always been played by Caucasian fellows in yellowface makeup up until then. Keye was also able to finally give Charlie a vocabulary that didn’t sound like, well, a Caucasian fellow in yellowface.
Lasting only one season, The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan took Charlie and Co. took a character popularized in American film back in the ’30s, brought him into the modern, hip world of the early ’70s, and employed music that sounded like it would have been more at home in a psychedelic series from the ’60s. Actually, just about everything in this Hanna-Barbera show feels like it was probably already dated by the time it debuted on TV — from the music and groovy colors of the show’s introduction, to the clothes Chan’s fourth son, Alan, is always attired in. The aforementioned Alan also happens to be a genuine genius (despite his fashion sense), and built the gang their very own bitchin’ customized van that is able to transform into any number of other rides at the press of a button.
The weekly kiddie show finds Charlie (who is always referred to as “Mr. Chan” by anyone other than his family, who mostly call him by an assortment of respectful patriarchic names) and his ten children trotting across the globe and solving a variety of crimes. In keeping up with the character Keye Luke originally created, all of Charlie’s angels are anything but — and often hinder their father’s investigations rather than help (though their intentions are always honorable). Robert Ito and Brian Tochi provided their talents as two of the elder Chan children, while the one and only Don Messick served as the voice of Chu Chu, the family dog.
Originally, the series had a number of other Asian-American voice actors portraying the other Chan kids, but some feared their heavy accents would disorient (no pun intended) its viewers. As such, Jodie Foster (yes, that Jodie Foster) — along with the vocal talents of Lennie Weinrib and future Adam Again leader Gene Andrusco — were brought in to redub the cartoon with more “American-friendly” accents. Naturally, in keeping up with the times, the older kids have their own band called (you guessed it) The Chan Clan, and another musician — former Archies frontman Ron Dante — filled in as the singer for the songs.
Once again, the folks at the Warner Archive bring us another lost Hanna-Barbera gem, with their two-disc set of The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan: The Complete Series. The collection includes all 16 episodes in their original crudely animated glory (note how the animation makes most of the kids look cross-eyed), and will serve as a fun addition to the collection of any Chan enthusiast.