Er was eens… de Mens (DVD) – Series Review
Follow Genre: Educational cartoon, History
Distributor: TDM Entertainment
Episodes: 26 in total
Duration: 25 min (per episode)

Er was eens… de Mens (DVD) – Series Review

Site Score
Good: Nostalgia, original Dutch voices
Bad: image-narration discrepancy, offensive racial depictions
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(2 votes)
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Rating: 6.5/10 (2 votes cast)

For many adults today, the old ‘Er was eens…’ titles are certain nostalgia triggers. From their look on the workings of biology to the exploration of earth and space, the series is engraved in the collective mind of many people. Because of this, it is no wonder the titles are being re-released today. ‘Er was eens… de Mens’, a French educational series focussing on the history of mankind and the mother of all ‘Er was eens…’ cartoons, has now been brought back for the next generation to enjoy. Enjoy the height of the late 70s with the designs of Jean Barbaud, the writing of Albert Barillé, and animations by Tatsunoko Productions in a digitally remastered coating.

Er was eens de mens titel

‘Er was eens… de Mens’ tells the history of our planet, starting with the Big Bang and Earth’s creation and ending with a vision of the future. This is done through images accompanied by a narrator voice, which places the shown events in context. As is tradition for the ‘Er was eens…’ shows, a fixed set of specific characters are introduced. These individuals usually take on a supporting role or take on the guise of certain prominent historical figures. The best known character is of course Maestro (Peter Piekos), the white haired scholar who might very well be Cousin Itt’s closest relative. Others include Pieter and Pieternel, Pieter’s best friend Dikke and the nasty Naarling (de Grote) and Dwerg (de Kleine), all archetypes in their own right. This Dutch version includes the voices of Trudy Libosan, Ger Smit, Jan Anne Drenth and the aforementioned Peter Piekos. The show also features its own mascot-clock which literally watches over the scenes and intervenes when a character is digressing or acting out of bounds.

The full series, consists of four DVDs, each spanning a certain period of Earth’s history. The first one, ‘Het ontstaan’ or ‘ The beginning’, takes us back to the Big Bang and the formation of our lovely planet, up to the Golden Age of Pericles in six episodes. This is definitely the best DVD in relation to the 0 to 8 year olds the series was created for. The ‘exotic’ worlds full of dinosaurs, cavemen, ancient Egyptians and Greeks serve as a welcome visual background for the limited narration. In other words, ‘Het ontstaan’ feels like a good cartoon with a clear educational touch rather than a lesson wrapped in a cartoon, which is always a plus.

Er was eens de mens 2

The second DVD, ‘De veroveringen’ or ‘Conquests’, follows the same trend of the previous disc. Starting at the massive Roman Empire, the DVD also focusses on the lives of the Carolingians, Vikings and even Marco Polo. Events are starting to get more and more complex, but due to the casual approach of ‘De veroveringen’, kids can still easily follow.

In the third DVD, ‘Koningen en heersers’ or ‘Kings and rulers’, historic events start to become a lot harder to explain in just a couple of lines and images. The chronicles depicting the Hundred Years’ War up to the time of Peter the Great are condensed into short happenings quickly following one after the other. The result is episodes that are incredibly confusing to watch and would actually do well with broader narration rather than the no-nonsense to-the-point style the series is known for. ‘Koningen en heersers’ is a shift from the previous two discs in the sense that it first and foremost feels like a history lesson with a cartoon slapped onto it. The result is a mostly boring disc best used for support in class rather than as a playful way to get children interested in these parts of history.

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The final disc, titled ‘Ontdekkingen’ or ‘Discoveries’, covers the best known discoveries and politics from the 17th to 20th century, followed by a playful look into the far future. Episodes mix the general feel of the three before it. This results in scenes which convey their themes without much problem to even the youngest among us, being followed by some in which the animations and narration are completely separate entities. An example is the episode ‘De dolle jaren’ in which the voice-over explains how the Nazi-party got to power, yet the cartoon itself is overly focussed on planes and trains. It’s clear the narration here will be ignored by most and so a lot of the inherent history lesson will be lost to watchers due to this discrepancy. Nevertheless, ‘Ontdekkingen’ still does a better job at conveying big historical happenings compared to ‘Koningen en heersers’.

‘Er was eens… de Mens’ is a fun series for adults and children to watch together. Especially for parents it will shout nostalgia from beginning to end. However, be sure to not have the ‘good old days’ cloud your judgement of the title. As the series is a cartoon from 1978, parental guidance is definitely advised when allowing your children to watch the series. Not only because of the free depiction of violence and blood, but also because of outdated facts and cultural influences. For example, the series assumes the viewpoint of the ‘white world’ of the 70s. Because of this, it frequently, though unwittingly, allows offensive racial stereotyping to invade the storytelling and animations. This results in certain scenes that are nigh impossible to watch without feeling uncomfortable and come as good reminders of what has changed for the better in only 40 years’ time.

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The recent DVD release of the series contains no special features. Each disc holds 6 to 7 episodes and thus has a total playtime of about an hour and a half to nearly three hours each. The series comes fully in Dutch and does not feature subtitles. The menu screen is very late 90s, showing a map of the world with various characters, corresponding to the DVD of choice, spread across it. The menu allows the options to either choose one episode to or play all episodes in one go.

Even though the series has been digitally remastered, it feels as if this remastering happened 15 years ago. The colours of the animations are indeed livelier than they would’ve been on tape, though we would’ve loved to have seen a little tweaking of the classic intro and outro. ‘Er was eens… de Mens’ uses parts of Toccata and Fugue in D minor by  Johann Sebastian Bach, which is a brilliant piece, for these parts. However, the organ blasts through the speakers in loud shrill ways, reminiscent of the sound on old video cassettes going haywire. By tweaking the intro and outro a little bit, e.g. in volume, they could have been a lot less painful. On the other hand, the soundtrack of the cartoon itself, composed by Yasuo Sagiyama, is a lot friendlier on the ears. It’s also good to hear the original Dutch voices were kept intact, even though little was done back in the days to have narrators not sound like DIY program handymen.

Er was eens de mens 1


‘Er was eens… de Mens’ is a classic amongst Western educational animations. The show combines slapstick humour, recognisable characters and visual representation of various events with contextualising narration to inform young and old. While most episodes do hit their mark, the ones of de ‘Koningen en heersers’ disc might prove too complex for the general public to follow. Furthermore, due to being created in 1978 from a ‘white man’s perspective’, the series does feature certain offensive racial portrayals. This is a shame, as the series is otherwise quite amusing and immensely nostalgic. In other words, this series is a perfect tool to not only allow your kids and grandchildren into your own childhood while teaching them a thing or two along the way, though parental guidance is highly advised.

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Er was eens... de Mens (DVD) – Series Review, 6.5 out of 10 based on 2 ratings

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