Looking at the James Bond Jr. franchise
He doesn’t order vodka martinis, shaken or stirred. He doesn’t collect babes in bikinis. He doesn’t even have a license to kill. But his name is still Bond. James Bond… Jr.
He’s not the British spy as a youngster, but his teenage nephew, a hot new kids’ character who has playgrounds abuzz across the nation. With a whole licensed-merchandise world of his own — an animated TV show (syndicated to more than 100 stations since September), comic books, paperback novels, toys, and videos — James Bond Jr. is reinventing the 007 myth for a whole new generation of post-Cold War kids.
Here’s the premise: Bond Jr. attends a prestigious prep school in Britain, where his pals are the teenage progeny of other characters from the 007 movies. There’s Q’s grandson, I.Q., an electronics wizard who, like gramps, builds high-tech spy gizmos. There’s Gordo Leiter, surfer-dude son of CIA agent Felix Leiter (a minor but frequent character in the films). When the kids aren’t busy with school, they’re battling S.C.U.M., an evil organization devoted to spreading well, it’s not quite clear, but it’s evil. And S.C.U.M.’s members include some old familiar faces: updated versions of Dr. No (from the first, 1962 Bond movie) and the metal-mouthed Jaws (from 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me), as well as a few new bad guys — Skullcap, who has a metal lid on his head, and Dr. Derange, a mad scientist with zee wurst Fronch akzent you’ve ever heard.
Giving 007 a skateboard and sneakers is pretty clever when you think about it. Now that the Soviet Union is kaputski, what more fitting fate for the Cold War icon than to turn him into a harmless teenage action figure? And harmless this boy is: Nobody gets killed on James Bond Jr., not even after being pushed out of an airplane without a parachute or, say, tied to an Achilles nuclear missile just before blast-off. The body count is similarly modest when it comes to the infamous Bond sex drive — the hottest action Jr. ever sees is an occasional peck on the cheek.
Unfortunately, the TV series doesn’t quite live up to the concept. The animation, for one thing, is only a notch or two above Speed Racer-style graphics. That’s especially a problem with the ”action” sequences: Even with inspired artwork, it’s just really hard to get worked up over cartoon car chases and animated aerial ”stunts.” The writing is a bit simple, too: While it’s okay for very young kids (the plots are easy to follow, the characters are pleasant enough), it lacks the sort of winking subtext that might have had adolescents and even adults tuning in as well. Bond Jr. could stand a visit from Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale.
The Bond Jr. comic books and novels are even shabbier-they’re basically storyboards lifted straight from the TV show. Don’t let your kids waste their allowance — especially if they’re over 9 or 10. If they really want to read about James Bond, pick them up some of Ian Fleming’s 007 novels from the ’50s and early ’60s. They aren’t nearly as violent as the movies, the sex scenes are tame by today’s standards, the prose is slickly elegant, and the plots still pack a satisfying wallop even now, with the Cold War over and SMERSH tossed into the dustbin of history.