The Daily Stream: Jackie Chan Adventures Is The Greatest Celebrity Cartoon Series Of Your Childhood

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Series: "Jackie Chan Adventures"

Where You Can Stream It: Amazon Prime Video

The Pitch: What if world-famous martial arts movie star Jackie Chan was actually an archaeologist on a quest to gather 12 mystical talismans around the world? Oh, and one more thing: A ruthless criminal organization is after them too. And one more thing: A clandestine government organization has hired Jackie to stop the talismans from falling into the wrong hands. And one more thing! Jackie has to drag around his spunky niece Jade and his cantankerous uncle, er, Uncle, on his adventures, leading to all kinds of wild hijinks.

Why it's essential viewing

Created by John Rogers, Duane Capizzi, and Jeff Kline, and executive produced by Jackie Chan, "Jackie Chan Adventures" is one of those "let's do it and be legends" types of shows that shouldn't work as well as it does. A Jackie Chan cartoon starring a likeness of the Hong Kong action star but having absolutely nothing to do with his actual life? Genius. Turning Jackie Chan into a blue sweater-wearing Indiana Jones-type might be the kind of pitch a coked-up '90s children's TV executive thought was the greatest idea ever, but man if it does not absolutely rule.

In typical Jackie Chan fashion, the hero of the series is a somewhat hapless archaeologist who stumbles into scary situations before he seems to remember that he has unrivaled martial arts skills, allowing him to save the day by the skin of his teeth. When he's not caught up in the latest daring adventure — taking him across the world investigating supernatural objects related to Chinese mythology and folklore — he's helping his uncle mind an antique shop in San Francisco, or trying to keep his rebellious niece in line, or warding off greedy treasure-hunting criminals who look like they stepped right out of " Yu-Gi-Oh!" (also sometimes ninjas, and maybe lizards). 

But despite the show taking a lot of shortcuts with its animation (the backgrounds are little more than vaguely drawn lines and splashes of color to distinguish the San Francisco buildings and streets), it's clear the creative team wanted to do justice by Chan's martial arts prowess. The fight animation is crisp and sleek and full of oomph, and every episode ended with a video of the real-life Chan showing off a kung fu move that his cartoon counterpart had used. There was care put into crafting and maintaining the image of Jackie Chan — the show managed to imitate the star's particular brand of slapstick and wide-eyed goofy expressions while still making him a dashing hero. But perhaps most surprising, and most progressive of all, was the choice to keep Chan's distinctive accent (voiced by another actor, but alas) — strong Chinese accents were uncommon in cartoon characters that weren't comedic sidekicks or nerdy stereotypes, and it's still astonishing to this day to see a character with a strong accent as the hero. In that way, "Jackie Chan Adventures" was more flattering to Chan than some of his live-action Hollywood productions, which often reduced him to a pale, bumbling imitation of the action hero he was in Hong Kong movies.

A Saturday morning staple

From its debut in 2000 as part of the Kids' WB Saturday morning cartoon lineup, "Jackie Chan Adventures" was one of my must-watch shows every weekend, and my first introduction to Jackie Chan. For a person who was a major part of my childhood TV life — and my early gaming life because, yes, I had the "Jackie Chan Adventures" video game — Jackie Chan was a figure whom I thought of for the longest time as actually a just a kickass archaeologist with a very limited wardrobe. But all the same, the series would serve as a perfect gateway to the real-life Jackie Chan, once my parents deemed his movies not too violent for me (for some reason, the first would be the badly dubbed "Drunken Master").

There isn't anything terribly original about "Jackie Chan Adventures." It's as if Indiana Jones were mashed together with "Dragon Ball Z" with a dash of "Carmen Sandiego." Throw in a feisty kid with a penchant for trouble (whom all the little girls would naturally idolize), and you've got the perfect show for the Saturday morning cartoon block.

And yet, there's a charm to the hapless fictional Jackie Chan (voiced by James Sie, doing a bang-up job imitating Chan's distinctive accent) who leaps, twirls, and parkours his way out of elaborate traps and crumbling temples. Uncle's trademark "And one more thing!" and frustrated "Aya!" catchphrases are an inextricable part of my childhood memories, especially of my elementary school years when I would annoyingly yell them around my house until my mom told me to stop. Even the threadbare animation has its charms — upon revisiting the series, I was surprised to see just how bad those backgrounds are — because it allowed your eyes to gravitate to the thing that mattered: Jackie himself.

Oh, and one more thing: the intro ruled so hard.