Every kid loves Saturday morning cartoons, it’s a scientific fact! Getting up to watch a weekly dose of mindless entertainment, scarfing down sugary cereal and blowing off the outside world for a few hours. Growing up in the 80s and 90s was an interesting period of time. In the early 80’s the FCC reduced restrictions on what sort of television shows could be made and marketed to children.
This opened a floodgate of a new generation of television where cartoons were based on toy lines, pop singing sensations, video games, and even food. It was an interesting time for television, and animation studios were tripping over themselves to snatch up licensed properties to turn into Saturday morning cartoons.
This had some dark and disturbing implications when you consider the source material used for these kid shows. Some of the cartoons I grew up watching were based on movies that weren’t meant for kids. Was it disturbing, bad, and undeniably awesome? Great question, let’s find out! Here are some examples!
Rambo: The Force of Freedom
Based On: The Rambo franchise
The Cartoon: John Rambo is a member of the Forces of Freedom, who travel the world stopping the paramilitary group called S.A.V.A.G.E. The Forces of Freedom have a diverse cast of characters including Colonel Sam Trautman, race car driver “Turbo” Hayes, “K.A.T.” Taylor a master of disguise, the ninja known as White Dragon, retired football player “Touchdown” Jones, and a Native American everyone calls Chief.
The Movie: Oh where do I even start with this one? It’s based on First Blood, Rambo: First Blood Part II, and Rambo III. All three movies have an R rating. Rambo is remembered for all of the over-the-top violence and being post-Vietnam War wish-fulfillment. Kind of like Rocky IV only with more explosions.
What people seem to forget is the plot of the movie. First Blood was about a homeless Vietnam War vet with PTSD who is roughed up and thrown out of a small town in Washington. He then comes back and camps outside of town. When the local cops try to root him out he uses his military training to wage bloody war against them. It’s not until Colonel Trautman shows up can they talk him down and convince him to surrender. The movie ends with Rambo being sent to prison.
Then in the later movies they get him out of jail to rescue some P.O.W.’s because his mental illness makes him really good at blowing up Asian people.
The Contrast: While the film version of Rambo was being brutally tortured by the Viet Cong, cartoon Rambo was regularly helping animals in distress or teaching kids about survival. While movie Rambo was blowing people up with explosive arrows, cartoon Rambo used his smarts to outwit his enemies and violence was always a last resort.
The Implications: The show was (not surprisingly) a thinly veiled rip off of G.I. Joe and lasted a single year in 1986 before being canceled. What makes this particularly troubling is the fact that they took a movie about a mentally broken war vet with a perchance for violence and dressed him up as a patriotic boy scout and gave him a diverse cast of characters to sell action figures. Rambo’s team also included an ex-football player and a former race car driver. If movie Rambo created his own Forces of Freedom it’d probably include O.J. Simpson and Randy Lanier.
Based on: Beetlejuice
The Cartoon: Lydia Deetze goes on wacky adventures with her paranormal friend Beetlejuice either in the real world or the spooky Netherworld. They often come to the aid of Lydia’s parents, or Beetlejuice’s neighbors Jacques LaLean, Ginger the tap-dancing spider, or the Monster Across the Street. Bad puns, flatulence, and parody TV commercials were some of the trademarks.
The Movie: The movie follows Adam and Barbara Maitland, a recently deceased couple who are trapped in their home. When it’s purchased by the Deetze family, city people who turn their rustic country home into a new wave nightmare, the Maitland’s try to frighten them out of their home. Despite the warnings from the afterlife caseworker, they summon the spirit known as Betelgeuse to frighten them off. However, this “Bio-Exorcist” uses some extreme methods and has his eyes on the Deetze’s daughter Lydia. In the end, the Deetz’s and the Maitland’s have to work together to banish Betelgeuse and subsequently learn to live in harmony together.
The Contrast: Betelgeuse and Beetlejuice are very, very different characters. Specifically one loves young girls as much as the other loves belching. The film version of Lydia is a morbid, death-obsessed cry for help, while the cartoon version likes hanging out in places with the same ambiance of a Halloween decoration store.
The Implications: The fact that a living spirit has an obsessive attraction to a depressed sixteen-year-old girl and then tries to force her into marrying him has been turned into her flatulent spectral buddy is pretty messed up. What these two really need is a 500-meter restriction for Beetlejuice and a good therapist for Lydia.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
Based on: The Killer Tomatoes franchise.
The Cartoon: Taking place after the “Great Tomato War”, tomatoes have been banned. However the great war hero Wilbur Finletter still makes a living with Wilbur’s Tomatoless Pizza Parlor. However the diabolical mad scientist Doctor Gangreen continues his mad experiments to take over the world using his army of killer tomatoes. A hitch in his plot happens when his latest experiment, Tara Boumdeay — a tomato in human form — and the fuzzy tomato named F.T. manage to escape. They meet Wilbur’s nephew Charlie and help defend the town from Gangreen’s evil plots.
The Movie: While based on the franchise, this cartoon actually takes most of its material from the sequel, Return of the Killer Tomatoes. In fact. both the film and the cartoon follow the same basic plot, except for two distinct differences. Wilbur’s nephew is a sex-starved adult with unrealistic expectations of the perfect girl, also his best friend is George Clooney.
This low budget movie also followed a lot of the “sexy comedy” tropes of the time, including a lurid relationship between Chad and Tara. Lowbrow jokes, ample nudity, and all sorts of outlandish misogyny that was a staple of the 80’s at the time.
The Contrast: The difference between the film and cartoon versions of Tara is that the cartoon version wears slightly more clothes and wears them all the time. Since Charlie is a kid who is more interested in skateboards than girls, we can probably all understand why the suggestible tomato-woman remained that way.
The Implications: Regardless of the fact that they made the show kid-friendly, Tara Boumdeay still occasionally did things that were suggestive. Which proves my theory you can always pull the head out of the gutter, but you can’t pull the gutter out of the head.
Based on: The Toxic Avenger franchise
The Cartoon: Melvin Junko was a nerdy health club janitor until he was knocked into a barrel of toxic waste. Suddenly he was mutated into a horrible creature of superhuman size and strength called Toxie. Along with his girlfriend Yvonne, he formed the Toxic Crusaders a team of mutated humans who vowed to clean up the planet. Every episode they foiled the plans of the evil Dr. Killemoff, an alien from the planet Smoggula who tried to pollute the planet Earth through his insidious corporation.
The Movie: The Toxic Avenger movies are basically the same origin for the Toxie. However, there are no crusaders. The Toxic Avenger films are known for their over the top violence, blood and gore, slapstick humor, gratuitous nudity, and over-the-top social commentary. It is the flagship franchise of Troma Entertainment and the brainchild of Lloyd Kaufman, the co-owner of the company. Kaufman’s films are usually smothered in grand amounts of all of the above.
In the films, Toxie reacts to the “Tromatons” in his body that compel him to smash evil, literally. This usually leads to someone getting their head crushed, or stomach punched through. These are also the kind of movies you’d watch if you ever wanted to know what it was like for a hideously deformed monster to make out with a blind woman in a garbage dump. Also, wouldn’t you know it, the first Toxic Avenger film is also kind of a romance, it’s kind of touching.
The Contrast: Surprisingly little when you think about it; Toxie himself is just as much the champion of liberty, environmentally-conscious, crime-fighting, hideous boy scout in both mediums. The only difference is the lack of gratuitous violence and people displaying their naughty bits all over the place. The addition of other characters was basically a means of cashing in on the Ninja Turtles craze of the time.
The Implications: The weird thing about Troma movies, particularly the ones put together by Lloyd Kaufman, is that despite the fact that they are filled with content that would make Politically Correct people’s heads explode like the guy from Scanners, they are such a brilliant mish-mash of genres that you could take the Toxie character and implant him in basically anything. The films are gross, but charming in their own way, and they also have a social commentary. The disturbing implication here is that I think Toxic Crusaders rammed those moral messages down your throat for lack of anything else they can show. The really disturbing thing about the Toxic Crusaders is that it was exactly the sort of non-offensive entertainment that people complained were missing in Troma’s cinematic offerings.
At the end of the day, there are some pretty dark origins for some children’s cartoons. To answer the questions I posed above: All of these shows were undeniably awesome. You couldn’t get away with making cartoons like this today.
That’s all for now, and let me tell you, this was just the tip of the iceberg. There were plenty more cartoons out there that were based on movies that were not meant for children. If you’re really nice, I might tell you about them sometime.