One of the newer trends in movie making is to take a popular animated series (usually from my childhood) and bring it back to life as a live action movie. It’s been done with Transformers, G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe and countless iterations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Hasbro has even hired a director for a big screen adaptation of the animated series M.A.S.K.
I want to talk about the flip side of the coin. As a child of the 80’s, movies ruled and the blockbuster was being established by people like Spielberg, Stallone, Schwarzenegger and others. While many of the films starring action heroes like Stallone and Schwarzenegger were not for kids, this didn’t stop studios from trying to cash in on those films with kids. This lead to some pretty interesting marketing including a slew of Saturday morning cartoons based on popular films. With the announcement of a new Bill & Ted film on the horizon, I want to take a look back at those animated adaptations and why they never really worked.
Back to the Future (CBS) 1991-1992
The Back to the Future trilogy of films are classic in terms of adventure, storytelling, humor and special effects. The short-lived animated series tried to expand on the end of Back to the Future III by having Doc Brown living in the present with his wife Clara and his two sons Jules and Verne. Rather than learning the lesson about the dangers of time travel, Doc used the time machine to teach his sons lessons about history. It was an interesting enough premise, but the animation wasn’t that good and the plots were forgettable. the only standouts were Doc performing an experiment at the end of the episode and Thomas F. Wilson reprising the voice of Biff Tannen from the films.
Rambo: The Force of Freedom (Syndication) 1986
Someone, in their infinite wisdom, thought it was a good idea to make an animated series about a Vietnam Vet suffering PTSD while rejecting both the military and his country to live alone. Someone decided to take a character who barely spoke and not only make him relatively shirtless in every scenario, but also to give him an animated series where his signature knife is never used. In the age of G.I. Joe, kids wanted shows about heroes, but I guarantee most of them hadn’t even seen First Blood or Rambo II before this series came out on Saturday Morning.
Conan the Adventurer (Fox) 1992-1993
On paper, an animated series about Conan the Barbarian should have worked. Masters of the Universe was based on many elements of the Robert E Howard Conan stories from 1932 forward and there were no new episodes of He-Man on the horizon. The problem was that the last Conan movie Conan the Destroyer bowed almost ten years before this series came out. There was no interest in either Conan as a character or this particular genre of animated series/ toy line. Most toys were looking towards the future and not many kids at that time were interested in this type of fantasy style storytelling. That and it was just cheesy.
RoboCop (ABC) 1988
This one just can’t be justified by anyone. The original Paul Verheoven film is a classic and a perfect example of 80’s action movie sensibility and ultra-violence. There are scenes in the original film that still make me cringe (Murphy getting his hand shot off) and there was a level of violence in that film and its sequel that you’d be hard pressed to see even in today’s action films. So of course it should be made into an animated series for kids!! You know kids want a Saturday morning cartoon about a murdered police officer in a corrupt city ruled by an oppressive global corporation.
Police Academy The Series (Syndication) 1988-1989
Take a raunchy 80’s comedy and turn it into a slapstick children’s cartoon and for good measure, add a separate group of talking dog sidekicks and you have the ill-conceived Police Academy animated series based on the 1984 classic comedy. I’m sure the producers were convinced that the kids who were not allowed to see the live action films would jump all over an animated series with none of the humor and a group of animated dog cops. They didn’t and this series faded from memory to live on in the fever dreams of its creator.
Those are a few of the clearly adult themed films that people thought would make excellent children’s entertainment. The only thing I can really think about when I watch the intros to some of these shows is how much of the budgets went to the mountains of cocaine they were sniffing.