Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television and games.
Background and Conception
The concept began in 1993 when animator Van Partible created his thesis short called "Mess O' Blues" where it starred an Elvis impersonator. As of 2021, the full short film hasn't been released to the public. The only sources where you can find information and a bit of footage of the short is either on the Johnny Bravo wiki or during the behind-the-scenes featurette on the Season One DVD. After Vartible's animation professor shared the short with his friend at Hanna-Barbera, the company offered Partible to pitch a seven-minute pilot based on the short for Cartoon Network's "What a Cartoon!" showcase.
The character was redesigned and renamed "Johnny Bravo" after either Vartible's middle name, Giovanni Bravo, or The Brady Bunch episode "Adios, Johnny Bravo." His character and mannerisms were based on a combination of James Dean for the 50s Elvis-looking design, Patrick Swayze for his hairstyle, Michael Jackson for his exaggerated poses and movements, and Gaston from Disney's Beauty of the Beast for his personality. The pilot premiered on March 26, 1995, and its success made the studio commission a full season of 13 episodes.
Following similar to what Dexter's Laboratory did, each episode is formatted to have three seven-minute segments, in order to recapture Hanna-Barbera's format. The only difference is that during the pilot, there was a segment called "Mr. Monkeyman" starring another character named Jungle Boy. The character was supposed to be a spoof of Tarzan, except his name is self-explanatory. Unfortunately, that was the only segment in the season. True, the characters from that segment continue to make recurring appearances and cameos throughout the season, particularly whenever Johnny Bravo is around. However, the character didn't reach its potential and disappeared afterward. Personally speaking, the concept and character himself were fine, but it was not enough to grab audiences' intrigue. Guess George of the Jungle may take the cake for the best Tarzan parody.
Back on the subject, the core of the show's strength is comedy. With Johnny being portrayed as "God's gift to women," he always delivers the same punchline: the women always reject him. And by the punchline, I mean, sometimes literally punching him! No matter how cool-looking or hunky he is, he never gets his luck with the ladies. The first season succeeded with humorous scenarios written by animators that would later go places, such as Butch Hartman and, no joke, Seth MacFarlane. For example, he wrote an episode where Johnny goes on a date with a woman he met on the Internet. It turns out that his date is an antelope. Not only were the jokes were spot-on, but the way how an antelope living in human society is even funnier, especially when Johnny found out who her ex-boyfriend was. You can tell this kind of foreshadowed what Seth was going for when he later made Family Guy. Every so often, the episodes would slip an adult joke in that kids didn't understand. A few examples include Johnny reminding Little Suzy to call him "in 15 years" when she is a "coed" or Johnny ending up on the "Island of Beautiful Men." Van Partible confirmed that they were lenient in making content like this since "nobody was watching Cartoon Network" at the time. It is an admirable feat that the team can create this kind of humor in a subtle way.
There were certain episodes that parodied almost everything. Johnny learns the art of dating women from a sensitive man through musical numbers ala Schoolhouse Rock in "The Sensitive Male." The character was voiced and sung by Jack Sheldon, who provided the songs for Schoolhouse Rock! In two episodes, the characters spoke in rhyme, whether it be a Christmas story from "Twas the Night" or Dr. Suess style in "Cookie Crisis." They have even made episodes based on The Twilight Zone, or, more specifically, “The Zone Where Normal Things Don't Happen Very Often,” in their case. For example, Johnny sees a clown on a plane wing instead of a gremlin. It's as funny as it sounds. I would like to mention the occasional celebrity cameos and crossovers, but that’ll be for later.
Retooled and Returning Roots
However, after Johnny Bravo's first season, everything changed. After Hanna-Barbera Studios and Turner Broadcasting merged with Warner Bros., the show was renewed for another season, and Van Partible was fired. With Kirk Tingblad as the new director, Johnny Bravo experienced a complete reworking of its visual style, tone, comedy, and characters. In terms of art direction, the first season's animation was reminiscent of Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Although the character animation was limited, Johnny himself stood out because he moved erratically from pose to pose. It's similar to Chuck Jones' animated smear technique in "The Dover Boys." In the retooled season, the art style was angular, and the human characters looked more realistic with a hint of cartoonish flair. Johnny still stands out from the crowd with his animated behavior. In season three, the animation switched from traditional ink-and-paint to digital ink-and-paint where the colors are brighter and crisper. Additionally, Little Suzy was designed more round and closer to her original design. The animators of that era displayed many interesting and creative characters and backgrounds. Kirk gave the artists the best of what he could offer.
The most noticeable change is the secondary characters. The idea is not that bad, since there were not that many characters, to begin with. Sure, there were one-time and guest characters that made an excellent impression, but it wasn't enough. With that said, Van Partible hated the changes that his show went through during seasons two and three. I respect and agree with Partible to an extent, but I am not against the new format. I’m not saying it’s better than the original. It retains the core of the character himself, it's just the environment around him. In a way, it reminds me of watching a different version of a franchise character. Even though there aren't as many adult jokes as before, seasons two and three still had their humorous moments. The slapstick was basic, but the dialogue was effective. One of my favorite episodes from this period features Johnny running out of hair gel, hosting a telethon, and having ab muscles that look like Mount Rushmore. Other elements from the original like the celebrity guests and adult jokes are also downplayed. Bottom line: The retooling may have different effects depending on one's perspective.
When season four was picked up, Van Partible returned and restored the show to its former glory. Carl and Pops, the recurring characters, are the only aspect carried over from the retooling. However, they were reduced to smaller and lesser roles. It was as if Van Partible had to do favors for the network.
"A Johnny Bravo Christmas" and "It's Valentine's Day, Johnny Bravo!" are two holiday specials Partible experimented with the original format and both held up well. With "A Johnny Bravo Christmas", the show returned to familiar territory with callbacks, laughs, and a bit of heart. Surprisingly, the latter is the more interesting of the two. Did you know Johnny Bravo was born on Valentine's Day? In addition, this is one of the rare instances in which a woman loves Johnny back. It's even funnier than before, but also sad in the end without giving anything away.
Looking back to season four, it was satisfying seeing all the pieces that made the first season great and a barrel of comedy rolled in. Nonetheless, there were a few episodes that tried too hard to win back the fans. Not that I think it's a bad thing, but I'm sure some will find some things repetitive. Celebrity cameos would be the most obvious. It is easiest to say that the season began and ended with celebrities. Sometimes, the scenarios can be a mixed bag. The interesting ones include Johnny having gray hair, telling stories in different styles during a blackout, and transforming into a woman to learn a lesson. Johnny also kidnaps all the hunks before the end of the episode, claiming that he is the only one left. I think that was the funniest episode. One or two felt underwhelmed, such as three nerds convinced Johnny time-traveled from the past or a moose disguising itself as Johnny's "elephant wife" when she is hiding from a mob. In addition, I was surprised that some of the episodes were written by Hey Arnold! creator Craig Bartlett, My Little Pony writer Amy Keating Rogers and Partible himself. To their credit, they made the most on what's given to them. It’s not the best season, but fair and funny enough to end on an unexpected note.
Characters, Crossovers & Celebrities
From the beginning, there weren't many characters, mostly humor and scenarios. Johnny Bravo is the central character in all of these aspects. Despite having a bulky bod, styled hair, and a voice like Elvis Presley, he is so full of himself that he has no concept of personal space or how to treat women appropriately. The description alone would make him sound unlikable. Though that may be true, Johnny's a character we love to hate thanks to the humor. We could also feel sympathy for him at times. Johnny is naive because he is stupid, but he cares deeply for his mother. During the holiday specials, his most emotional moments are displayed, which balances the humor. Let's not forget his catchphrases: "Whoa, mama!" "Yeah, whatever." "This won't end well." Bunny Bravo is Bunny's overbearing but loving mother. He also has a neighbor next door, Little Suzy. Suzy is a smart, high-spirited child who supports Johnny. She can be a bit manipulative at times, but she is still likable. During the retooling, we have geeky yet loyal Carl Chryniszswics, the grumpy karate teacher Master Hama, and greedy diner owner but father figure Pops. As for Jungle Boy, he is the super-strong yet genuine protector of the jungle and often deals with the jealous King Raymond. All in all, the voice acting is excellent. The way Jeff Bennett sounds masculine yet humorous is a marvel. Mae Whitman, the voice of Suzy, later became Katara from Avatar: The Last Airbender and Amity from The Owl House.
Beyond these characters, the main highlights that fans will remember are the celebrity and crossover episodes. Crossovers were nothing new to Hanna-Barbera, and this show is no exception. Dexter's Laboratory was one of the first CN shows to follow that tradition, but Johnny Bravo surpasses it. During the first season, there were guest stars Farrah Fawcett, Adam West, and Donny Osmond. West and Osmond stood out for a couple of reasons. Donny Osmond began as Johnny's optimistic "nanny" but later became a supportive ally. Adam West has been a narrator in "Twas the Night," a kooky crime-fighter, and a talk show host. It was his behavior that influenced the character of Mayor West in Family Guy. Dionne Warwick and Luke Perry appeared in the retooled seasons. Curtis Armstrong, Tia Carrere, Mr. T, Ayllce Beasley, Weird Al Yankovic, and Shaq appeared in season four. Mark Hamill has appeared in all four seasons as himself or various characters. Johnny Bravo also encountered Hanna-Barbera characters such as Fred Flintstone, Speed Buggy, The Blue Falcon, Jabberjaw, and Scooby-Doo. "Bravo Dooby Doo" is an excellent example of a cartoon crossover. It pokes fun at not only the franchise's formula but also Johnny Bravo's humor. You can see that having all these cameos can be both fun and exhausting at the same time, especially in season four. Regardless of your thoughts, these are characters that you will never forget.
From JBVO to Bollywood
During the show’s run, there have been a couple of historic moments that fans may or may not remember. There was once a time when Johnny hosted a programming block and had a TV movie.
The first one was JBVO: All Your Request Cartoon Show. Johnny hosted a talk show where viewers could call in and request a cartoon from the network's library. He sometimes got guest appearances from Hanna-Barbera characters like Scooby-Doo and Cartoon Network shows like Chicken from Cow & Chicken. This was the network's attempt at another talk show like Space Ghost: Coast to Coast. Though I was only six or seven years old at the time, I thought it was fascinating to see Cartoon Network make one of its characters as interactive as possible. I believe the key element was Johnny himself. It's how he interacts and responds to either the fans or the off-screen director. A truly embarrassing moment in the spin-off was an episode of Dragon Ball Z that Johnny fast-forwarded because it was too long, and therefore he had to provide commentary, for which he later apologized. The segments can be found on YouTube, including a piece of the DBZ clip here.
But if you are looking for an undiscovered treasure, then look no further than the 2011 television movie “Johnny Bravo Goes to Bollywood.” Have you heard of it? You haven't? No one in AMERICA has heard of it! In India, Johnny Bravo has become a popular character for a while now. Van Partible even created an 11-minute episode, especially for the Indian market. Later, it was adapted into a 70-minute TV film. This movie is about Johnny Bravo's journey to Bollywood, India in hopes of regaining his popularity. There, he discovers a magical hair gel that makes him attractive when faced with his Indian equivalent Jiggy.
Even hearing that synopsis sums up how fans would feel about the show right now, and it really is unique with this concept. Besides bringing back Jeff Bennett and Brenda Vacarro, it also brought back the magic that Van Partible was known for. Both visually and musically, the movie also dives deep into Indian culture. This would be American kids' first experience with Bollywood. Though the animation was downgraded to Adobe Flash (Animate), it is still nice on its own.
Why was it never released in the U.S.? It airs on Cartoon Network's Australian and New Zealand channels in English. However, this show was one of the first in the network's history to help build it. Johnny Bravo was popular in India so it is highly unlikely that America would have aired it since Indian culture is not popular enough for American audiences. It's ironic that the U.S. has become so controversial years later by casting white voice actors for non-white roles like Apu from The Simpsons. Cartoon Network also focused on making original shows to rebuild its reputation. This is a deep shame nowadays that Johnny Bravo is becoming more of a cult hit outside the country it originated from. If you find this movie online, watch it and discover what you were missing.
Conclusion & Legacy
In the end, Johnny Bravo remains a Cartoon Network classic. This comedy cartoon has a talented writing team, nostalgic animation, and memorable characters. It is true the show underwent changes back and forth, but the show's core remained the same. It even has a spin-off and a TV movie worth watching. Despite being nominated for numerous, the show did have decent merchandise, including a video game. There was even a planned live-action film with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Considering how bankable the former wrestler is, this movie would've been ahead of its time. As of 2021, only the first season is available on DVD and a couple of episodes are available on compilation DVDs. Some fans are still requesting that the rest of the show be released on DVD and that it be available on HBO Max. The only way to watch and download all the episodes is on iTunes. Regardless of the outcome, Johnny will never give up and his iconic nature will make both young and old laugh.