With a new Pac-Man cartoon on the way to television, there's no more opportune time to go back and re-examine the last Pac-Man cartoon, produced by Hanna-Barbera in 1982 and 1983. If you were too young to enjoy this stuff when it was fresh, get a very small bowl of popcorn and take in the five-minute clip above.
That's from the first episode, which I recently watched on the Pac-Man: The Complete First Season DVD. Warner Bros. released this to the Warner Archive at the end of January, and it's now available on Amazon. I took the opportunity to go back through this pilot, taking notes on what was going on.
As a kid, I just took the absolutely nonsensical plotline at face value. Now, after 30 years and, not to brag, a lot of Pac-Man, I can see that Hanna-Barbera was doing some really freaky stuff, both in the name of tying into the near-nonexistent plot of the arcade game and just because.
In the world of the cartoon, Pac-Man is in charge of security for the Power Pellet Forest, the source of all the delicious pellets that allow him to eat the clothes off Ghost Monsters. Said ghosts, given orders by a generic evil mastermind with a pickled egg for a head ("Mezmeron"), are constantly trying to find the location of the forest and defeat Pac-Man. Pac-Man responds by -- well, usually by running away. This becomes a theme.
Anyway, within three minutes, the ghosts have chased Pac-Man to the edge of a forest (hmmm!) and are about to eat him or something when ... Ms. Pac-Man arrives! Her name is Pepper! That's adorable! Pepper walks over to a nearby vending machine, gets out some Power Pellets, and then she and Pac-Man eat the Ghost Monsters, even culminating with a Lady and the Tramp-style eat-and-kiss. Except instead of a noodle, they're romantically eating ANOTHER SENTIENT BEING WHO IS ONE OF THE SHOW'S MAIN CHARACTERS.
We're all watching a plan to kill Pac-Man, from the perspective of the architect of his murder.Mezmeron watched his cohorts re-die via a satellite network and a monitor -- which gives him a view of events from overhead. In other words, we already have a canonical justification for the layout of the arcade game screen. We're all watching a plan to kill Pac-Man, from the perspective of the architect of his murder. Every time we play.
The rest of the episode concerns a plot to, uh, float the president's house away, for ... some ... reason, and culminates in Mezmeron being led to a decoy forest, and then eaten by a bunch of Pac-citizens. Meanwhile, Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man lead the ghosts to the actual forest, for no discernible reason.
However, even given this show-ending knowledge, the ghosts are still defeated and humiliated. These are some profoundly bumbling ghosts. After all, their plan is to locate the source of Power Pellets, and there are vending machines on sidewalks.
After experiencing this first episode -- all of this happens within eleven minutes, by the way -- I don't know if I have any more insight into the backstory of Pac-Man. I do know that I must keep watching, if for no other reason than that the spheroid dog Chomp-Chomp hasn't shown up yet.