By Mark Falanga
Photo courtesy of Flickr.
The classic style of clay animation, or claymation, holds a special place in the nostalgic heart of most Americans. It breathed life into King Kong, made Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer a perennial holiday favorite, and even made us scream with The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Sure, these programs were entertaining, but could they also be used to teach children? Well, Franklin Clark Fry, the President of the United Lutheran Church of America was interested in wholesome programming for children that would also teach Christian values. In 1958, he set aside $1 million for the future show, and the next year, contracted claymation master Art Clokey, creator of Gumby, to produce the show.
What they created was a story about a young Christian boy named Davey Hansen and his talking pet dog Goliath, who only Davey and the audience could hear and understand. His family consisted of father John, mother Elaine, and his younger sister Sally. The series would follow Davey as he would take an everyday situation and then ask questions about his faith.
For example, in the episode “All Alone”, Davey and his family go on a trip to the top of the mountain. As they are approaching the summit, Davey and Sally look out and see churches and ask their father if God is in all of those places at once. His father explains that God can be in all places at once and watches over them. Once at the top of the mountain, Davey climbs in a train car and suddenly the train takes off. Luckily, Davey’s father alerted a railroad employee and ordered the train to stop after traveling a short distance. When they opened the door, they found Davey and asked if he was scared to be alone. Davey just smiled and said he wasn’t exactly alone, as God was with him.
However, not all episodes were centered on the omnipresence of God. The episode “The Winner” teaches children how to deal with defeat after Davey loses a soapbox derby race to his friend, Mike Jones. Davey asks his father, “Why couldn’t God make me like Mike?” His father responds by saying everyone can’t be the same, God makes different people for a reason. Then Davey imagines a world where everyone is like him, and sees that the world needs different people who are skilled at different things.
The series received heavy airplay in the 1960s and ‘70s because the show was given away free to television stations, who could then air it as many times as they wanted. New episodes and specials continued production until 1975, but the re-runs continued well into the 1980s.
This would have been the end of David and Goliath if not for a classic 2001 ad for Mountain Dew called “Sermon on the Mountain Dew”. The ad was so popular that the licensing fee generated enough money to produce an all new special in 2004 to bring Davey and Goliath to a brand new audience.
How new? Well, for starters, it was called “Davey and Goliath’s Snowboard Christmas.” Also, it introduced two new characters named Sam, a Jewish boy, and Yaseem, a Muslim girl. Rather than focus on promoting Christian beliefs, it focuses on Davey’s understanding of his new friend’s respective holidays of Hanukah and Ramadan.
Although this was the last entry in the franchise, it’s memory lives on in numerous parodies, with a noticeably darker tone. Each parody pokes fun at the sometimes syrupy sweet tone of the original show.
In The Simpson’s episode “HOMR,” the devout Christian Ned Flanders let’s his children watch a show called “Gravey and Jobriath,” in which Gravey must build a pipe bomb to blow up Planned Parenthood.
Another example of the dark parody is the sketch Mad TV, “Davey and the Son of Goliath”, in which Davey receives orders to kill from Goliath in reference to the Son of Sam murders.
But perhaps the biggest tribute to the show is the Adult Swim show Moral Orel. It’s been described as “Davey and Goliath…meets South Park.” The show stars 10 year old Orel Puppington, as a devout Christian boy who always tries to do right, but his naive view of the world leads him into trouble. Even the show’s intro is similar to Davey and Goliath’s, complete with the trumpets.
However, despite these dark parodies, the show’s public awareness and place in pop culture remains intact. It taught many children, who are now adults, what it means to not only be a good Christian, but to be a good person as well. But will there be any more new episodes in the future? Well, we can only hope… and pray.