The Mother Brain Files: Old School Cartoons Based on Movies Part 1

The Mother Brain Files: Old School Cartoons Based on Movies Part 1

By Mother Brain

This is the first of a two part special which focuses on cartoons I grew up with that were based on hit movies of the day. The inspiration for the idea came about because of the recent huge wave of mega budget Hollywood films that are based on original cartoons from my childhood. Some succeeded big time (Transformers, The Smurfs, Alvin and the Chipmunks) while others failed miserably (G.I. Joe, DragonBall Z, etc). But what about the time when Hollywood tried to cash in on its successes through celluloid images?

Part 1 looks at 10 cartoon adaptations that were produced in the 80s. I apologize in advance if I left out any rare ones. The only major criteria about this blog is that it does not include series based on animated feature films which means no Disney or non-Disney movies count.

So in no particular order:

10. Rambo: The Force of Freedom (1986)

In the mid 1980s, Sylvester Stallone was the king of the box office. Coming off a year high with the huge success of Rambo: First Blood Part II, Carolco Pictures teamed with Ruby-Spears Productions to produce an animated Rambo series. It was not only designed to cash in on the character’s worldwide popularity but also to compete directly against G.I. Joe both on the small screen and toy shelves. The series took the unstable Vietnam vet who maimed local cops in First Blood and turned him into a government operative paired up with his mentor Col. Trautman (originated by Richard Crenna in the films) and a G.I. Joe-like team to take on the evil S.A.V.A.G.E. organization. Although it sounds no different from the real American heroes, Rambo was more politically incorrect in every way imaginable for its time as characters used real guns with movie sound effects (although nobody got killed) while still making the character a role model for kids. The sort of irony that pushed parents’ pressure groups to get it off the air. It’s also one of the few cartoons that used the original film score (composed by Jerry Goldsmith) as its soundtrack.

9. Robocop (1988)

Long before Marvel Comics became a dominate force in the film industry, they made their mark on the small screen by creating animated series for all their major characters. When Robocop hit the big screen in 1987, he was the closest to a live-action superhero in the kids’ eyes just as the Superman movies floundered and right before Batman hit the big screen. Even with Paul Verhoeven’s over the top violence and satire on American capitalism, Marvel managed to translate the character into an animated form. Although the violence and foul language was weeded out to make it more Transformers-like for kids, Robocop remained somewhat faithful to the film by including all the major characters including the film’s villain, Clarance Boddicker, who not only appears in the show’s origin intro but also comes back from the dead in the series finale! It was a decently written show which included an episode where Robo faces a disgruntled SWAT team member who becomes the test subject for a new robotic suit. Like Rambo, it also spawned a toy line produced by Kenner.

8. Police Academy (1988)

Another Ruby-Spears production based on the lovable slapstick comedy film series from Warner Bros. Most people may or may not know that the original 1984 film was an R-rated romp which was inspired by the likes of Animal House and Porky’s. As the series went on, the jokes became increasingly toned down for younger audiences and it only became inevitable that this cartoonish live-action movie franchise starring Steve Guttenberg and the late Bubba Smith would literally become a cartoon. All the popular characters from the first 4 films were featured including Mahoney, Hightower, Callahan, Tackleberry, Zed, Sweetchuk, and Jones (voiced by Michael Winslow who also played the role in the films) just to name a few and The Fat Boys performed the theme song. Unlike the movies, the episodes had actual plots and recurring villains such as Numbskull, Mr. Sleeze, and even the Kingpin (a parody of the Marvel Comics Kingpin character). Overall, a faithful, if not over the top adaptation of the beloved (and hated) movie series.

7. Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos (1986)

Long before he became the butt of a million jokes, Chuck Norris was the man. Movies like Mission in Action, Code of Silence, and Delta Force were so bad-ass, the man needed his own cartoon. While this series was not based on any particular Chuck Norris movie, it had the same cheesy essence of all of them as Chuck and his Karate Kommandos take on the evil Claw and his right hand man, Super Ninja! Chuck himself even appears at the end of the show to give a special message to kids: DON’T FUCK WITH CHUCK! Just kidding. But the theme song alone is worth putting on your favorites list on YouTube.

6. The Karate Kid (1989)

As part of NBC’s saturday morning lineup, Karate Kid was an odd choice for a cartoon. The first three films with Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita focused on Daniel LaRusso learning the deeper meaning of karate through the training and wisdom of Mr. Miyagi. The cartoon, however, ditched the reality of the films and took on more of a supernatural direction with Daniel and Miyagi traveling the world in search of a healing shrine while fighting their way through various villains each week (which also became the premise of Jackie Chan Adventures in the late 90s). Between the odd direction and the bad timing of its debut (it was released following the commercial and critical disappointment of Karate Kid Part III), the series was a bust after 13 episodes. I also personally find the voice actor doing Ralph Macchio’s Italian-American accent insulting to all Italian-Americans.

5. Teen Wolf (1986)

The success of the 1985 werewolf comedy starring Michael J. Fox was a fluke (as is the current MTV series inspired by the Twilight movies). Naturally, a cartoon based on the movie would be brought to life as part of CBS’ saturday morning lineup. Various changes were made as the title character of Scott Howard, who was the star of his high school because of the transformation, now keeps his identity a secret to everyone except his father and friends. It was also one of the rare cartoons that took an 80’s sitcom-like “very special episode” direction once in a while with stories that focused on disability discrimination, self-esteem, and yes bullying. Of all the original cast, only James Hampton who played Fox’s character’s dad in the movie reprised his character’s voice (and also came back for the horrid Teen Wolf Too).

4. Beetlejuice (1989)

Tim Burton’s 1988 classic was a tour de force for the director and his star, Michael Keaton. It took a seemingly dark subject about life after death and made it extremely funny and original. Burton would go on to executive produce an animated series for ABC. Like Teen Wolf, it made changes from the movie by taking the antagonistic bio-exorcist who tried to return to the living world and turning him into a likable con-artist ghoul as he and his living best friend Lydia (originally played by Winona Ryder in the movie) embark on adventures in the “Neitherworld”. The show was another example of softening up the image of a much darker movie and even breaks most of the story continuity from it. Despite this, the show was a hit with kids, lasting 94 episodes and became one of the few shows in TV history to air concurrently on two networks (ABC and Fox).

3. Droids (1985)

By 1985, the phenomenon of Star Wars had wained after the release of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. But that didn’t stop George Lucas from milking his cash cow with every little drop possible. So he produced not 1 but 2 animated spin-offs of the saga. The first focusing on R2-D2 and C-3PO going around the galaxy with different masters on various adventures. It was later revealed that the series took place during the gap between the prequels and the original trilogy as the duo and their masters faced off against Boba Fett, IG-88, and various agents of the Empire. While the series launched the usual toy line, comic book and other Star Wars merchandising, young audiences grew bored with the franchise by this point. But when the series was released on DVD in 2004, the typical Lucas changes were made to keep it in sync with the saga like a new recorded prologue for the final episodes. Some things never change.

2. Ewoks (1985)

Then there was those lovable Ewoks from Return of the Jedi continuing their adventures which take place in the years leading up to their appearance in the film. Post-Star Wars, George Lucas bent over backwards to make Ewoks stand on their own with this series as well as the two made-for-TV films Caravan of Courage and The Battle for Endor. The series lasted a little longer than Droids and had more of an appeal to small children.

1. The Real Ghostbusters (1986)

The original 1984 film was an instant classic that still stands the test of time. But the franchise’s popularity would grow to soaring heights when it made the leap to the small screen for ABC in the fall of ’86. The series (adding the “real” part to the title after legal issues with the Larry Storch Ghostbusters series which also became a cartoon around that time) stayed true to the film as each episode followed Peter, Ray, Egon, and Winston on their mission to contain ghosts from every walk of life. Of course the likeness of the characters were drastically altered from their film counterparts; however, that’s exactly part of the reason why this series stood out on its own from the movies. Even the character of Slimer who was a bad ghost in the movie became not only the Ghostbusters’ pet but also an icon for kids. He was so cool he had his own spin-off series and even a Hi-C drink famously known as “Ecto Cooler”. In addition to the heavy use of Ray Parker Jr.’s unforgettable theme song, the series featured the voices of Garfield’s Lorenzo Music as Peter (later replaced by Full House’s Dave Coulier) and an up and coming Arsenio Hall as Winston. It had a solid 5 year run which spawned a successful toy line and later a continuation series called Extreme Ghostbusters in the late 90s.

Stay tuned for part 2 on the 1990’s!


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