Saturday Mornings: Movie & Sitcom Cartoons
The original concept for a cartoon can come from anywhere. Many companies want to sell toys, so they create a story around it. Sometimes the cartoon is a very unique idea that simply works well for entertainment purposes. But sometimes a story idea come from other mediums like movies and TV shows. But are these a good idea? Lets look at a few from my childhood and see how they stack up.
Beetlejuice - I don't know why, but I loved this cartoon. Mostly based on the movie, but now the titular character is not the villain, he's more of an anti-hero, but he's still a scheming con-artist. Beetlejuice and Lydia spend 90% of the episodes in The Neitherworld, a wacky dark realm inhabited by monsters, ghosts, ghouls and zombies. It was a truly strange cartoon but one that had a lot of love put in by some of the original minds behind the movie. Beetlejuice was executive-produced by the film's director, Tim Burton, and Danny Elfman's theme for the film was arranged for the cartoon by Elfman himself. The show was very heavy on puns, sight gags, and inoffensive gross-out humor that you might expect from the ghost with the most! Other modern cartoons may do it better, but this one did it first.
Karate Kid - This 1989 cartoon did what Teen Wolf should have done, and that was change direction. The show keeps Daniel and his mentor Mr. Miyagi but abandoned the karate tournament motif for an adventure/quest setting. Now they were traveling around the world, hunting down a magical artifact and helping people out along the way. There were moment of action, and I felt they tried to explore different cultures a little bit, but in a very 80's hokey sort of way. But, this was an entertaining little cartoon which spawned it long list of copy cat shows over the next 15 years.
Teen Wolf - This is an example of an exciting idea, with no real direction to advance the story line beyond simple cartoon tropes. The movies are completely encapsulated and never hint at a broader world. Had the creators decided to take more liberties with the source material (see upcoming Beetlejuice), we might have seen Scott and his friends really explore the world of monsters and werewolves. This was a weak cartoon that came out in 1986 and was only about Scott facing vanilla high school drama as well as hiding his lycanthropy; treating his affliction more like puberty than the fantastic story seed that it is. The animation was dreadfully boring and I don't feel like it is in any way connected with the original movie. They did bring back James Hampton who originally played Harold Howard (the dad) in the movies to voice his charactyer in the The only saving grace, is that the intro had a rocking song that overshadowed anything the episode after it had to offer.
Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures - This is one of the best premises for a cartoon. Two wildly animated guys who go on adventures through time. What was most awesome about it was the first season aired on CBS in 1990, with Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, and Bernie Casey reprising their film roles! For the second season, the animated series switched production companies and networks, so the cast was replaced, and the leads were now voiced by Evan Richards and Christopher Kennedy, the actors who respectively portrayed Bill and Ted on the short-lived 1992 live-action television series. There was a significant downgrade in animation, but having the secondary cast was still pretty cool. I remember not loving this cartoon, thinking a slightly more serialized story could add intrigue and meaning to their constant trips to the distant past and future. Not the best cartoon, but still pretty "Excellent!"
Rambo: The Force of Freedom - It astounds me that this cartoon was ever made. It very adult and graphic franchise that needed significant edits and changes to be made into something appropriate for kids. Rambo: The Force of Freedom, was a 1986 spin off cartoon following John Rambo as part of a team called "The Force of Freedom". They went on missions around the world, battling the terrorist organization named SAVAGE. Very much a GI Joe clone, this cartoon was all about helicopters, big guns, and bright explosions, but looked very unfinished. And speaking of wildly inappropriate cartoon franchises....
Robocop - In 1988 Robocop came out and while looked a little better than Rambo, it was actually a worse cartoon. The concept is simple, robot police officer in a dystopian future. They could fight cyber crimes, neo-drugs, and even aliens. But allwe got was a basic police procedural show, where Robocop and Officer Lewis would cruise around a bland futuristic Detroit, chasing bad guys. Every episode was cookie cutter and nothing interesting ever happened. Wasn't this the movie where Robocop shoots a guy in the crotch through a woman's dress, and mows down bad guys with his fully automatic pistol? It was an intense movie that dealt with very serious identity issues and I believe the cartoon tried to do the same. But it was too cheesy and to safe to really be effectual, and too G-rated to be interesting.
Mork & Mindy/Laverne & Shirley/Fonz Hour - This is a tricky one, because the show began as The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang in 1980. Fonzie, his dog Mr Cool, and his friends were lost in time, trying to make their way home. When that show ended, Fonzie and Mr. Cool were introduced in the series Laverne & Shirley in the Army, subsequently renamed Laverne & Shirley with the Fonz and depicted Fonzie working in the motor-pool as the chief mechanic. Both series were syndicated with an animated spin-off of the series Mork & Mindy as Mork & Mindy/Laverne & Shirley/Fonz Hour in 1983. It feels like a lot to be jammed together, but these shows were all part of the same universe and spin-offs of each other. The L&S show wasn't my favorite, and I don't remember any of the Happy Days cartoon, but Mork and Mindy was a cute idea. Take the white-hot charisma of Robin Williams and reflect is cartoon-like antics in a real cartoon. The sky is the limit! The saving grace for this whole strange mixture of concepts is that virtually all of the television show cast returned to their roles and voiced their characters (for at least the first season of each).
ALF: The Animated Series & ALF Tales - Here we two very different cartoons where both broke out into their full potential in very different ways, leaving the confines of the original sitcom behind. ALF: TAS is the show I remember more fondly, which served as prequel to the live action sitcom and came out in 1986. ALF was still on the planet Melmac and he would go on wacky adventures with his friends and family. The content was random and surreal, like the lyrics of a Weird Al song, but it worked for this strange alien race who saw these antics as quite ordinary. ALF Tales was a spinoff cartoon that i don't remember as well which debuted in 1988. Many episodes would spoof other film genres, break the fourth wall, and have little-to-nothing to do with the show or his in-universe story. Both series starred the titular ALF, aka Gordon Shumway, bringing back Paul Fusco, the original voice actor and puppeteer for ALF.
Dumb and Dumber - Lloyd and Harry are back with their dog-shaped van in this 1995 Hanna-Barbera cartoon; a cartoon that nobody asked for. It looked fairly decent compared to its contemporaries, had an interesting and inoffensive style, but it wasn't special. It kind of reminded me of 2 Stupid Dogs, which was actually a good and funny cartoon. I actually think that when 2 Stupid Dogs was over, in 1995, the same animation team switched over to this project. It was two goofy guys, driving around the country, getting into shenanigans. Not a terrible cartoon, but you could watch it if nothing else was on. This was a Jim Carey cartoon done mediocre.
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective - A 1995 cartoon that was rushed on to the airwaves to try and catch some of the hype from the movie, Ace Ventura was an awful cartoon. From what I remember of its brief run, it was too garish and overly loaded with toilet humor, but without ANY charm. The colors were bright and cheery, but the animation was twitchy and spastic. No one could stand still, even for a second. Everything about it off-putting and yet it still ran for three seasons. If this was a Jim Carey movie/cartoon done poorly, are there any done well?
The Mask - Here we have a 1995 G-rated cartoon based on a 1994 PG-13 movie, that was based on an incredibly violent 1991 comic book, based on a 1989 comic strip. It was a winding road to get to this point and an obvious attempt to monetize on the success of the movie. Every kid I knew was quoting it out on the playground. "Smokin!!!" But this was another zany concept that was perfectly suited for a cartoon treatment; It was fourth-wall breaking, it was slapstick and loony, and was voiced by the ever charismatic Rob Paulsen! Not one of the best cartoons ever made, but it had its strengths and could be fun.
I liked a few of these cartoons, some much more than others, but I felt that most of them were disingenuous. I was already becoming aware that many franchises were based on the toy sales, and that is why we always had new cartoons based on transforming cars or supermodel fashionistas. But I was surprised to see two or three new cartoons every year based on a popular movies and shows. I remember thinking, who asked for this? Of course, I would always give the show at least one full episode to see if it was any good, but they rarely were worth the effort.
Did one of your favorite shows or movies get turned in to a cartoon? What franchises do you think could have continued on for several more seasons in cartoon form? Please share your stories with us in the comments section!