The Mother Brain Files: Old School Cartoons Based on Movies Part 2

The Mother Brain Files: Old School Cartoons Based on Movies Part 2

By Mother Brain

If you thought the list of 80s cartoons based on movies ranged from bizarre to entertaining, the 90s provided even more of the same. Some shows were well inspired while others drifted away from the source material to be more kid friendly.

Another note to mention in regards to the criteria about the cartoons having to be based on the movies themselves is that comic book adaptations like Batman: The Animated Series cannot count because they follow the actual comic book mythology more so than the film adaptations. There are also a few cartoons that I won’t cover like Jumanji and Godzilla: The Series because I never really watched them at the time.

So without further ado, onto the list in no particular order:

10. Free Willy (1994)

The original hit film was the 90’s answer to E.T. It was a uplifting story about a troubled boy who bonds with a theme park orca named Willy and ultimately risks life and limb to get him back to the sea where he belongs. In addition to three subsequent sequels, Warner Bros. decided that an animated series based on the film would add additional appeal to kids. The series, however, took on more of a strange SeaQuest-like direction in which Willy and other sea creatures are given the ability to talk to each other as well as humans. Perhaps more bizarre is that in each episode, the main characters from the movie try to foil the plans of an evil cyborg named “The Machine” who wants revenge against Willy for taking his arm and face. The concept was so insulting that the villain dons a mask and glove which directly references Michael Jackson who provided songs to both Free Willy and Free Willy 2. The writers tried to add a Moby Dick motif to the show. But young audiences didn’t buy the absurd premise and it was canceled just 2 months after its premiere.

9. Problem Child (1993)

Like Police Academy, the Problem Child film trilogy is a guilty pleasure at most. A bratty kid raising hell around his family, his classmates, and his principal. It made sense to bring it to animated form when other animated TV bad boys like Bart Simpson delivered ratings. In fact, the people behind the Problem Child series hired Bart’s voice actor, Nancy Cartwright, to be in it as well as Gilbert Gottfried reprising his role from the movies as Mr. Peabody. The series was mostly based on the 2nd film and the episodes revolved around the mischievous misadventures of Junior Healy. It had a decent 2 year run on the USA network.


8. Beethoven (1994)

I always found the 1st Beethoven movie to be close to my heart because it made me get my first St. Bernard named Indy. I even named my 2nd St. Bernard after the movie itself. The series was not well remembered because it had a very short 24 episode run on CBS. Like Free Willy, the title character was given the ability to speak (voiced by Bill Murray’s brother Joel) and interact with other dogs; however, it had more of a Garfield vibe which helped to keep it more in sync with the movies.

7. Kid ‘N’ Play (1990)

Some have argued that Kid ‘N’ Play’s one major TV effort was basically House Party: The Animated Series. To some extent, this is true as the early 90’s hip-hop duo portrayed teenagers and had Martin Lawrence for a DJ. At a time when The Cosby Show and A Different World were rating winners for NBC, the Peacock network also hoped to make the same impact with this animated series that stressed positive messages while maintaining the fun of the House Party movies. It also had good production work thanks to Marvel and Motown Records’ TV production company. The duo even appeared in live action segments for wraparounds but had voice actors portray them in animated form. While it only lasted a season, one can argue that this was a much better show than Hammerman.

6. James Bond Jr. (1991)

Despite this being the bastard child of the Bond franchise, this series was the very reason why I got into 007 in the first place. It was produced during the 6 year gap between License to Kill and Goldeneye when there were rights issues holding up the latter film. So the Bond producers thought it would be cool to give 007 a hip nephew saving the world while in prep-school in this non-cannon spin-off produced by the same animation studio that brought us Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The title character shared much of the same traits as his uncle but more subdued for kids: He wooed girls without sleeping with them, his gadgets were non-lethal, and he had a taste for milk shake shaken not stirred. He also paired up with spawns of the regular Bond series characters such as Q’s science geek nephew, I.Q., and Felix Leiter’s surfer son, Gordo. The series also resurrected famous Bond villains with hip new looks such as Dr. No, Jaws, Odd Job, Goldfinger, and Nick Nack while also including new villains like Dr. Derange and Walker D. Plank. It was a very cool show that really paid tribute to the comic-like action and excitement of the James Bond series.

5. Dumb and Dumber, The Mask, & Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1995)

Rather than discussing each one separate, it made more sense to group them together since they were all adaptations of smash hit comedies starring Jim Carrey. Each one more different from the other as Dumb and Dumber played as a 2 Stupid Dogs-like show with vignettes, Mask stayed faithful to the film and the Dark Horse comic book as your typical superhero cartoon, and Ace was well…Ace. But as hard as each series tried, none of them could truly replicate the edgy spontaneity of Jim Carrey’s talents.

4. Toxic Crusaders (1991)

This was the infamous Troma Entertainment’s bold attempt to cash in on the Ninja Turtles craze by taking their R-rated Toxic Avenger movie franchise and making an action packed but eco-friendly series. In the series, the film’s central character Toxie is put together with a band of characters affected by pollutants to battle Dr. Killemoff and his band of polluting henchman. This was basically Captain Planet with one too many steroids. It spawned everything from toys to video games, comic books, junior novels, etc. But it only lasted 13 episodes on the Fox network. Even a bold attempt at adapting the series to the big screen was canceled after the rights holders at New Line Cinema chose to produce the Ninja Turtles movie sequels instead.

3. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1990)

The first Bill & Ted movie starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter was the biggest sleeper hit of 1989. It shouldn’t have succeeded but it did and there was no patience to capitalize on its success when Hanna-Barbera produced the animated series for CBS using the original actors to lend their voices. It basically continued the exploits of the two most excellent dudes as they travel through time with their telephone booth to visit different parts of the world. It had some educational value just like the first movie. But when the series came back for a 2nd season, it switched production companies, went to Fox, and the movie cast was replaced by the actors who appeared in the live-action TV series. It became more absurd with the phone booth now traveling into everything from TV shows to even the human body. Bogus.

2. Back to the Future (1991)

While its creators had completely shot down any hope of a fourth movie, Back to the Future continued as a non-canon series for CBS. It had a unique structure with each episode beginning and ending with live action segments with Christopher Lloyd reprising his role as Doc Brown while the middle section was the cartoon with Simpsons’ Dan Castellaneta as Doc and both Mary Steenburgen and Thomas Wilson reprising their roles as Clara Clayton and Biff Tannen respectively. While it focused more on Doc’s family established from Part III than Marty McFly, it was really cool to see the characters use both the new DeLorean as well as the Time Train and travel everywhere from Hill Valley in the pre-historic age to Hill Valley in a space age future. It was educational not only in history but also science as it frequently featured live action science experiment segments based on specific ideas in the episodes. Interestingly enough, the experiments were performed by a nameless scientist who wound up with his own kids series: Bill Nye of Bill Nye: The Science Guy. While the series was pretty faithful to the movies, my only complaint is that Marty was portrayed to be a little too wimpy compared to his movie counterpart. Luckily, Huey Lewis’ “Back in Time” was used as the title theme for the series and Alan Silvestri’s title theme was kept for the end credits.

1. Men in Black: The Series (1997)

Arguably one of the better shows of the decade, Men in Black had the same spirit of Ghostbusters with its alien crime fighters running around NYC and the rest of the world. Unfortunately, it was the beginning of the era of choppy, cheap-looking animation that lacked the quality of Ghostbusters. All the characters from the movie were in it including Agents K and J, Chief Zed, Elle the coroner who became Agent L at the end of the movie, the Worm Aliens, and even Frank the Pug. They even spent time developing the alien characters in the series. It also borrowed from the original comic books by altering the likeness of the characters like Agent J’s flattop hairstyle which Will Smith did not have in the movie. But it did have some good episodes that followed the movie closely including one with Vincent D’Onofrio playing the voice of the alien brother of his movie counterpart. Overall, the series had a solid 4 season run on Kids WB and helped to maintain interest for MIB 2.

So that’s basically it for this blog special. Many of the shows I talked about can be found on DVD, Netflix, or YouTube. I’d go into the cartoons of the 2000’s but there’s really not that many I can find. Although I am considering another blog soon about celebrity novelty shows of the 80s and 90s including Mr. T, Hammerman, New Kids on the Block, Macaulay Culkin’s Wishkid, Camp Candy, Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling, etc. So stay tuned for that!


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