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'Davey & Goliath' refreshes its vision of morality

The '60s show, with those Gumbylike claymation characters, is now on DVD, each episode offering its homespun lessons in right and wrong.

By CHASE SQUIRES
Published May 31, 2005


Davey and Goliath are back from the mount, their claymation commandments etched on DVD.

And just in time. A lot of people apparently missed, forgot, ignored or overlooked the lessons Davey and his dog shared on the Davey & Goliath preacher-tainment program. Plenty of politicians, corporate directors, jurists and journalists could use a good talking to by a good talking dog.

The first in a series of the morality plays is set for national release on DVD June 7. All 65 15-minute episodes and six half-hour specials targeted for eventual release.

With the first brass notes of theme song (it has a real name, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God), a generation will be transported back to a simpler time, the precable days of the 1960s and '70s. On Sunday mornings, when Mom and Dad were still asleep and the TV picked up only three stations, you could always watch Davey & Goliath.

The stories changed, with Davey and his pooch riding boats, raking leaves or hammering away at a project in the garage. But the lessons were constant: Don't be selfish; don't steal; do unto others; God is everywhere and he loves and forgives you; don't tell lies.

As Goliath, Davey's talking dog and ever-nagging conscience, muses: "Didja ever notice, when you tell one lie, you have to tell another, and another?"

The series created for the Lutheran Church aired around the world from 1960 to 1975, offering young viewers a primer in ethical behavior, along with a pretty obvious dose of religion. But a lot of the lessons are just road maps to being nice.

A documentary about the program, provided in the first DVD set, features an interview with creator Art Clokey, who spent a year in a seminary before embarking on a career in television. We also have him to thank for Gumby.

"I wanted to make films, religious films, so I went to Hollywood and got a job making commercials," said Clokey, now 84.

One thing led to another, he said.

The Rev. Eric Shafer, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, said in a telephone interview that it's time for Americans to hear Clokey's lessons again. Although some of the gender roles in the old programs show their age - mom seems never to tire of knitting and cooking - Shafer said the show was progressive for its time, dealing with issues such as racism and overcoming differences between people.

Good messages, he said, don't go out of style.

The church held the rights to Davey & Goliath for decades but didn't do anything with them, Shafer said. Energized by the popularity of a 2002 Mountain Dew commercial that incorporated the characters (dad guzzles a can of soda when Davey and a friend argue over who should have it), church leaders realized they were hiding a moneymaking light under a bushel.

This release is just the first, Shafer said. Others will follow regularly. (Shafer said he was excited that the sets will be sold by big national retailers.) Church leaders plan to create new episodes for television if the church can generate $5-million it needs for production.

University of Alabama professor Jennings Bryant, who writes extensively on children's television, said many children's programs are developed with a lesson in mind, even today. That Davey & Goliath delivers a Christian-based version of moral behavior shouldn't exclude the show from popular TV. The lessons aren't out of the mainstream, and with a universe of channels out there, the show would likely find an outlet.

"They're really tapping into a re-emergence of religion as a mainstream cultural value. This is probably a good time for them to come in," Bryant said.

Generating the money to get back into claymation production through DVD sales alone will be tough. But riding a wave of nostalgia, the church may find a wealthy source willing to pony up. A return to television seems plausible, Bryant said.

Shafer said he's optimistic.

"It's amazing how important these became to a generation," Shafer said. "Davey crosses red state, blue state, economic lines, racial lines. It's a wonderful response to all of that. . . . Our only interest is bringing the messages of Davey and Goliath to a generation of new children, and those messages are: God loves children, and parents are wise. There are so many negative messages out there. And this message is so comforting."

On the Web:

The official Web site of Davey & Goliath is www.daveyandgoliath.com

-- Chase Squires can be reached at 727 893-8739 or squires@sptimes.com

[Last modified May 30, 2005, 19:15:03]


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