You know you’re old when you realize The Goonies is full of faults

July 12, 2009

gooniesFROM JASON’S DVD COLLECTION — In many ways, I am still 10 years old. Just ask my wife. I still watch Transformers cartoons. I eat cereal with marshmallows. And I’m pretty sure girls have cooties.

But never have I felt further from 10 and closer to 30 than last night while watching The Goonies. A nice little patch of gerascophobia hit when I realized that the 1985 Richard Donner flick just wasn’t that good.

It was the first time in probably 15 years that I had watched it all the way through, and the very first time for the wife. I noticed very quickly that she was not laughing. Her eyes were glossing over. She was not caring.

I was embarrassed on behalf of the movie because I’d repressed all its nasty little faults. There were Sean Astin’s awkward moments talking to the skeleton of One-Eyed Willy. There was Kerri Green’s inability to deliver a convincing line. And there’s the disgustingly Jar Jar Binks-ish character of Sloth.

Watching as an adult, I couldn’t believe how long it took to get through the exposition and into the pirate tunnels where the real adventure happens. The Goonies isn’t about the impending foreclosure of Mikey’s home — it’s supposed to be about the booby traps and treasure maps, right?

There were also the wet child actors and their constant, cacophanous yelling back and forth. When they should have been biting their tongues to avoid detection by the murderous Fratellis, they were screaming like little girls. And when by modern movie standards they should have had slick wordplay and clever turns of phrase, they delivered childish little lines.

Or they just swore with sailors’ mouths and a surprising frequency for a PG-rated movie (especially when the new PG-13 rating had been invented the previous year, in response to other Steven Spielberg films like Jaws and Temple of Doom). Characters riff on the word “shit” 19 times, and Data spells it out once more in the final sequence. In hindsight, I can’t believe my tightly-strung, religious parents let me wear out the VHS copy we had (it might have been the television version).

“That was a waste,” the wife said when the credits rolled. I prodded her for some more explanation, and she said it was “too unbelievable” that a pirate ship would be moored off the Oregon coastline for 350 years — from 1632 to 1985 — without sinking from saltwater corrosion. That might happen in fantasy books, like Harry Potter, she said, but not in the real-world setting of The Goonies.

Of course, that’s why the rest of us liked the film as children. We wanted to believe that doubloons and pitfalls and Spanish galleys were awaiting us, just a stone’s-throw from our homes if only we looked hard enough and had the help of a secret map.

Apparently, thrill-seeking fans don’t share my wife’s concerns. The chamber of commerce in Astoria, Oregon, says the film continues to draw crowds to the Goonie House at 268 38th Street (now a private residence) and the old jail from which Jake Fratelli escaped.

The chamber has even produced an audio tour, available in MP3 format, highlighting not just The Goonies landmarks, but also filming locations around town for Kindergarten Cop, Short Circuit, Free Willy, and The Ring II.

You know, people always complain about remakes of films “raping” their childhood. But I think The Goonies would be an excellent candidate for an old cult classic to get a modern sensibility with updated cinematics and some better acting. Just roll with me, here. It could be good.


Wallpaper of the Week: G.I. Joe

April 24, 2009

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FROM JASON’S DESKTOP — I’m not sure how I feel yet about the upcoming live-action G.I. Joe movie, The Rise of Cobra. But if it is anything like the recently-launched G.I. Joe: Resolute on Adult Swim, then it at least has a fighting chance.

And that’s half the battle. The other half, as you can imagine, is knowing.

I was grinning madly and hopping up and down in my chair watching the Resolute webisodes the other night. This ‘toon is serious. People die. They get shot in the head at close range. There’s blood. A familiar Joe is assassinated, and 10.4 million Russians are murdered in a single thrust by Cobra.

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There are no Viper pilots parachuting to safety at the last second. And Snake Eyes… let’s just say Snake Eyes is badass, even with a trench knife through his palm.

Like anyone born in 1980 or thereabouts, I watched the old cartoons and played with the toys until the legs and thumbs were broken. Lots of days were spent building sandbox Joe forts and waging complicated campaigns, so there’s a powerful nostalgic connection.

One thing I’ve always found interesting with any 1980s cartoon franchise is how much more compelling the villains are than the heroes. I mean, who else found themselves silently rooting time and again for Destro and the Baroness to finally hatch a winning scheme, or for Cobra Commander to grow a pair (boy, does he ever in Resolute!)?

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I think much of that feeling is wrapped up in character design. While Cobra agents are slick and powerful and domineering almost to the point of being alien or robot, the Joes are near-uniformly tall, strapping lads and lasses, clean-cut and boistrous in all-American gear. They’re practically quarterbacks and homecoming queens in red, white, and blue-speckled military garb.

Which gives birth to a realization, watching one or two episodes recently as an adult: The series was incredibly jingoistic, to the point of being an overt recruiting tool for the armed forces. It’s probably just as responsible for today’s rash of “rah rah sis boom bah” patriotism as any Reagan speech.

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The ‘toon might as well have been intercut with Starship Troopers-level nationalist propaganda. They’re doing their part. Are you? Join the Mobile Infantry and save the world!

I can’t imagine that the new movie will have that same slant. After all, this is war-weary America, and Hasbro and Paramount surely are smart enough to understand that cheerleader patriotism doesn’t really jive with post-Korea, post-Vietnam, post-Iraq viewers. Right?

At any rate, just given the leather outfit and sexy glasses, I’m already backing Sienna Miller’s Baroness.

That aside, enjoy these older-school Joe wallpapers. More can be found, strangely enough, at Skywarp’s Hardy Boys Casefiles Encyclopedia. There’s a mash-up for you.


YouTube Cinema: Robotix

March 16, 2009


Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11
Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15

FROM JASON’S ROBOT AND DINOSAUR OBSESSIONS — Robotix was to LEGOs what MASK was to Hot Wheels. It had a limited release, an oh-so-brief flare of popularity, and then collapsed into obscurity when marketing agents turned their backs on it.

A product of Toei Animation — the Japanese studio that gave rise to both Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata — Robotix was a typical 1980s cartoon enterprise in that it was a blatant vehicle for a toy line.

The “Motorized, Modular Building System” made by Milton Bradley was comprised of interlocking blocks, gears, differentials, winches, tires, and sci-fi accouterments. It was a worthy antecedent to the far more successful LEGO Mindstorm franchise, and is surprisingly still sold today (though by a different manufacturer and distributor). Every set made is still backward-compatible to the original 1984 systems.

Those systems were the byproducts of a 90-minute movie which aired just once in 1985 as part of the syndicated Super Sunday. The Marvel Entertainment block ran several serialized ‘toons, including Jem, Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines, and Inhumanoids. It split Robotix into 15 six-minute shorts. Jem and Inhumanoids became popular enough to warrant full-length treatments, but at the end of their respective runs, Bigfoot and Robotix got stomped into cartoon purgatory.

I was five years old, living in Oregon at the time, and happened to see a couple of those episodes. Like any true 1980s man-cub, I was captivated by the Eastern animation idea of mecha; I was equally caught by the magnetism of GoBots, Transformers, and RoboTech, Exo-Squad, AT-ATs and AT-STs, Centurions, and of course Voltron.

So I was stupidly happy when a family friend (I believe it might have been a sometime babysitter) purchased a Robotix kit for me that Christmas. Certain clickable pieces, which themselves resembled smaller red-and-chrome robots, remained in my possession for years, finding an out-of-place life in the ol’ LEGO bucket.

They may still be there, hidden away in my parents’ attic, held hostage along with some action figures and comic books until such time as I give my parents some grandchildren.

Some awesome person posted the full Robotix series on YouTube two years ago, and it has yet to be yanked down on any kind of copyright claim, which is excellent because the ‘toon is only on DVD in the UK.

Helmed by Wally Burr, voice director of G.I. Joe the Movie, it’s rendered in the same detailed anime style of the 1980s’ most memorable 22-minute-long toy commercials. It’s also got some of the most interesting pulp plot elements: Stars going nova, lizardmen, giant robots, benevolent supercomputers, suspended animation, alien spirits transfered into machines.

And it seems as though Burr tapped some of his old Joe buddies — who geeks will recognize as some of the biggest names in the voice business — to star. There’s:

  • Peter Cullen, who was Pincher from GoBots, Zander in G.I. Joe, Optimus Prime in Transformers, and Cindarr in Visionaries.
  • Frank Welker, known for playing Scooter from GoBots, Megatron in Transformers, Torch in G.I. Joe, and Slimer in The Real Ghostbusters.
  • Pat Fraley, aka Marshall Bravestar, Krang on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Max Ray on Centurions, and Ace in G.I. Joe.
  • Corey Burton, who was Spike in Transformers, Tomax in G.I. Joe, and Dale from Chip & Dale’s Rescue Rangers.
  • Michael Bell, who had big roles as Duke in G.I. Joe, Lance in Voltron, and Prowl in Transformers.
  • Arthur Burghardt, who was Devastator in Transformers, Destro in G.I. Joe, and Turbo in GoBots.

Robotix also had narration by Victor Caroli, who did the same type of voice-over for Transformers: The Movie in 1986 and several of the television series’ episodes.

That, and many stylistic choices (such as the rock-anthem theme that’s one-half “who you gonna call” and the other half Max Hedroom), made it obvious Marvel was trying to capitalize on the Transformers craze and hoping to spur a similar sales frenzy.

Sadly, it didn’t work.

It’s a shame, because as such things go it wasn’t a bad story line, boasting a bit more complexity than most children’s adventures of the day. Of course, Robotix had the normal, innocent lack of moral ambiguity as most shows; the bad guys were determinedly evil, the good guys irreproachably ethical. But it also cooked up some interesting Cold War metaphors, and served them on a plate of techno-imagination to a pre-computer-literate audience.

Oh well.

I guess I pine a little too much for these old-style cartoons. They seem so much more detailed and rich and imaginative than the line-and-paint-bucket-fill computer-aided works aired today by Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. And believe me, I’m tired of the modern “burps and farts are funny” and “wacky, zany people doing anti-social and ludicrous things” mentalities.

I wish we could go back to blasting through the universe in spaceships that look like oversexed submarines with fins, and exploring the jungles of exotic planets filled with dangerous and mythical inhabitants.


Good-bye Fruity Pebbles, hello Raisin Bran Crunch

March 1, 2009

FROM JASON’S CERAMIC BOWL — Count Chocula is a hack. Cap’n Crunch is all washed up. Lucky the Leprechaun is clearly a pedophile. And I’m pretty sure Tony the Tiger is dead.

The best cereal in the world doesn’t have a mascot. It has two scoops and a delicious, sugary coating that ensures crunchiness.

Now, I don’t often endorse commercial products, or even really care about them. But in-between keystrokes, I’m scooping oversized spoons of Raisin Bran Crunch into my mouth. I can’t stop. This is my third bowl. I am in love.

Where has this cereal been all my life? Think of all those years I wasted, suffering through soggy regular Raisin Bran as a teenager, pouring lumps of sugar into the bowl to try to offset the weak wheat flavor that no sun-ripened grapes could ever mask.

This is how I know I am an adult: when I was a child, cereal served as just a vehicle for enough sugar to fuel my hyperactivity and ensure early onset diabetes. I wanted puffed rice saturated in corn syrup, then coated with rainbow-hued dyes:

I wanted loops of something that was probably fried corn dipped in three unique artificial flavors that tasted really nothing at all like cherry, orange, and lemon:

I wanted what ostensibly were marshmallows cut to look like clovers, clowns, robots, Pac-Man, vampire bats, balloons, or ghosts:

I wanted crushed cornmeal seeped in brown sugar- and honey-flavoring and treated to keep away the Soggies during sea-faring missions:

These days, I’m looking for an actual meal. No more Crunchberries. No more Cookie Crisp. No more Honeycomb, Marshmallow Crispies, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Cereal, Smurfberries, Frankenberries, Honey Smacks, C-P30’s, Urkel-O’s, Cocoa Krispies, or Apple Jacks.

As an adult, it’s all about getting bran that tastes decent and has a satisfying crunch, sun-dried fruit, and some granola clusters. I salute you, Raisin Bran Crunch.


Remember these? The 10 best Atari 2600 games

December 17, 2008

atari26002FROM JASON’S FAVORITE WOOD-PANELED CONSOLE — Forget Pitfall. Screw Ms. Pacman. To hell with Pole Position, Joust, and Asteroids.

I want to talk about the games that I played so much as a kid that I still dream about them sometimes at night.

My uncle had an Atari 2600 when I was three, and he introduced me to low-skill, low-learning curve classic Outlaw. Over the next two years, I obsessed over the machine whenever I was at his house. Finally, my parents caved to my whining when they found a used Atari set for a few bucks.

I didn’t give that sucker up until well into high school.

Households back then tended to only have one television. With some spare birthday money, I managed to grab a second one for $15 at a yard sale when I was seven — it was black and white only and even had a UHF dial. It was the Atari TV, and it went in my bedroom.

I pillaged flea markets. I raked through bins at the Salvation Army. I obsessed over electronics tables at yard sales. Pretty soon, $1 or $2 or $3 at a time, the old TV was swimming up to its rabbit ears in piles of cartridges. My room started to smell of the dust that burnt on the tapes’ contacts.

The Atari never went out of use during the Nintendo revolution, or even when the Genesis came out. It was, even back then, hardcore. Old school. It was where you built your vidjagame street cred.

Sadly, my mother sold it when I went to college, and I’ve cursed her blasted name down through the years. Luckily, there emulators, and you can download Stella to play any of the following games. Grab the ROMs here.

Now, I’ve shied away for the past year on posting any “top 10” lists, but here I just can’t resist. These are my favorites; I know them inside and out. And I’m sure I have the order correct:

#10 — Berzerk

There wasn’t much in the way of fragging when it came to four-bit graphics, but Berzerk gave us a primitive shooter experience in eight degrees of freedom. Like James Cameron’s Terminator, this evil robot epic was also the result of a dream. Designer Alan McNeil said the idea came to him in his sleep.

But even though Jack Thompson was nowhere to be found, the real nightmare started in 1981 when a 19-year-old boy died of a heart attack while playing. Another boy, 18, died the following year after playing Berzerk.

Personally, the great thing for me about so many low-res Atari games was bringing your imagination to the screen. The cartridge cover showed a Luke Skywalker-type figure in white blasting away at rotund robots, and back in those days you kind of had to overlay that over the screen in your mind. In a series of technological dungeons with electrifed walls, flying laser beams, and a malevolent smiley face named “Evil Otto” on your tail….

#9 — Enduro

Activision usually had top-rate games, and Enduro, though simple, was no exception. This is a speed and reflexes test — an early no-shooting twitcher. The goal isn’t to wreck other cars or fire machine guns. Instead, you just have to take a queue from Ricky Bobby and go fast.

Through sun, snow, dusk, night, and fog, you’ve got to pass 200 cars with the odometer going.

There’s not much else to say, just that the rendering, third-person view, and concept are executed so much more beautifully than other racing titles like Night Driver or Pole Position. There’s also after-game content; after hitting the magic 200, you can keep going as long as you want.

#8 — Warlords

First there was Pong. Then there was Breakout. When Warlords was released in 1980, it combined the best of all the other bouncing-ball titles by using the 2600’s paddles, allowing up to four players at a time, letting players hold and aim the ball, and adding kill targets inside the “castles.”

Warlords got a lot of play in my house because it was one of few 2600 games to let many players in on the action at the same time, rather than taking turns. Rounds were quick and fun, and rarely ended without a jaded loser swinging a paddle at their oppressor like nunchucks.

#7 — Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

There were some real loser Star Wars titles for early consoles (Jedi Arena for the 2600 being among the mind-blowingly bad ones). But watching the movies, there were a few scenes that any sane 8-year-old boy wanted to play, and I’ve always had a big chubby for the Battle of Hoth.

Face it: AT-AT walkers are pretty much the coolest sci-fi transports ever. They’re like giant dogs or horses with the ability to crush groundlings and the firepower to zap snowspeeders out of the sky. So when they tromped across the cover of an Atari cartridge, I knew I had to own it.

As the pilot of a snowspeeder (you had to believe you were Luke Skywalker and not some lame cannon-fodder Rebel), you fly against hordes of AT-ATs marching toward your power generators. Sting them on the nose enough and they’ll change colors, eventually exploding. Or you can hit their flashing sweet spot, causing instant destruction.

My only gripe was the lack of tow cable trip-wires — at least until the Nintendo 64 gave me Shadows of the Empire. But that’s another story.

#6 — Solaris

Space Harrier gets a lot of credit for its semi-3D rail-shooter asthetic. But Solaris (and Battlezone, too — which just barely got edged off the list) proved that even the Atari with its limited memory could fake 3D first-person views.

Solaris, in many ways, is just a graphically superior version of the earlier Star Raiders (both are written by Douglas Neubauer). It lets you choose outer space battlegrounds from a grid and jump there through hyperspace, as well as allowing players to skim the surfaces of planets to refuel and pick up passengers.

The rendering was super-smooth and the backdrops (for Atari, at least) were jaw-dropping. It was obvous from launch that Neubauer cared about providing a simulation experience that cheap 2600 fliers didn’t. He gave me a nice combination between Star Trek strategy and Star Wars trigger-happiness.

#5 — Cosmic Ark

They must be cows. That’s it. After years of thinking about it, they must be cows that I am trying to abduct with my UFO in Cosmic Ark.

Space cows. Possibly robot cows. You can never really tell with Atari games.

Look, this one ranks pretty high for being such an unsophisticated game. There are only two stages, repeating and increasing in velocity. In the first, the player fires in four fixed directions to ward off a meteor shower. In the second, you get to flying down a mini-saucer from the mother ship to pick up (what must be) cows from a planet’s surface while avoiding a laser field.

What really makes this work, for me at least, is the UFO mythology, four-bit though it might be.

#4 — Demon Attack

There were a lot of  bottom-up shooters in the post-Space Invaders era, but Demon Attack had by far the best-looking baddies. This was altogether different than Galaxian or Phoenix (Atari sued Imagic because of Demon Attack‘s “similiarities” to Phoenix). Instead of small enemies and fixed formations, Demon Attack presented bigger aliens in swarms of three.

The monsters, portrayed on the cartridge cover as MechaGodzillas, materialize from both sides of the screen — a novelty — and they fly in unpredictable patterns. Early in the game, they start to split into multiple aliens, and what begin as clusters of falling bullets turn into lasers.

The game would have benefited from a scrolling background or at least a starfield or planetscape. But the gameplay itself was ace compared to its competitors.

#3 — Yars’ Revenge

What could have been mistaken for a lame house fly was perceived instead as a ferocious insectoid warrior, thanks to the cover art on the Yars’ Revenge cartridge.

Inane buzzing aside, piloting Yar around is fun. The player has to use Yars’ firepower to shoot through protective blocks, get to a target, get a special missile, and then time it just right to hit the target from across the screen. A later level surrounds the target in a rotating shield of blocks (a nifty trick by programmer Howard Scott Warshaw).

That Warshaw came up with a game as clever and enduring as Yars’ Revenge is something, considering he was responsible for the uber-stinker E.T.: The Extraterrestrial. Looking back on both games, it might be fair to say he was good at coming up with pioneering game mechanics, such as using Yars’ jaws to eat through blocks, or E.T.’s neck-stretching flight.

Those mechanics kept me hooked despite the limited number of levels (the most common and tragic flaw of 2600 games, in my opinion).

#2 — Vanguard

There would be no R-Type without Vanguard.

For years, I couldn’t find it anywhere. Maybe because it was such a good game, there didn’t seem to be any free copies floating around the used electronics circuit, so it became somewhat of a holy grail. But rarity wasn’t all. This was a truly great game to play, and offered so much in the way of variety that Yars’ Revenge never could.

There were the hordes of ever-changing varieties of enemies flying at you. There were the cave walls to watch out for, and the gas guage to keep your eyes on. There were the energy blocks that would grant temporary invinsibility (they not only made you invulnerable to enemies and lasers, but let you fly through walls, too). There was the ability to shoot in the four cardinal directions instead of straight ahead. The ship’s navigation was sluggish to add challenge.

And best of all, the screens changed from side-scrolling to top-down perspectives on varying stages to add a bit of a switch-up. There were traps and puzzles to get past.

Truth to tell, Vanguard could easily be #1 on this list, if it weren’t for…

#1 — River Raid

Maybe my obsession with River Raid had something to do with seeing Iron Eagle and Top Gun. The 80s were all about flyboys and speed. And, you know, lots of bullets and explosions.

But Activision also gave us a title that had excellent level design and gameplay gimicks to compliment the jet-jockey theme. The long river gave us non-repeating levels with increasing challenge and zero load times. Fuel was a factor, but a lot of the fun was in seeing how many fuel tanks you could destroy while keeping the needle off empty.

You could throttle up and down. There were helicopters and aircraft carriers and enemy planes and bridges to destroy. But the big problem, even though it was thematically accurate, was the Atari 2600 joystick. It was too stiff, which made flying hard. What changed the entire name of the game was the Sega Genesis.

Sega designed a D-pad to keep up with Nintendo, but the geniuses made it a nine-pin jack that was backward-compatible with the 2600. Even better, a third party made a touch-sensitive Genesis pad that made thumb-jamb a problem of the past. It also made flight through narrow river cliffs much more convenient.


Music Monday: Silversun Pickups and Reel Big Fish

May 19, 2008

Silversun Pickups — Lazy Eye

This video is 1980s-a-licious. I suppose everybody goes through this as they grow up, but it was shocking to see some of these old styles come back into fashion. There’s the girl’s bob haircut, the leather jacket, the long hair and striped shirts, the teen dance club. The entire thing reminds me of Some Kind of Wonderful (Andrew and I agree Lea Thompson was haaawt back in the day).

But the song stands on its own, too. It’s got that laid-back bass line that always gets me in the groove, and it gradually escalates in the middle to a primal scream. Enjoy.

Space.


Space.

Reel Big Fish — Take On Me

Forget for a minute that this song headlined the Basketball soundtrack. I went to great pains to find a video sans Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

Instead, focus on how catchy Reel Big Fish managed to get this remake of A-Ha’s classic 1985 video (which Andrew and I love — it’s undoubtedly the best of the early MTV videos from back when the channel had actual music). Radio never really treated ska as anything more than a fad, and some (Andrew) would argue that’s just fine. Not me. I think horns are horridly underutilized, and I often wish we could fall back on the good ol’ days when Chicago and Earth, Wind and Fire actually got respect for playing technically superior tunes.

God, I hope my father never finds this blog and reads that last sentence. He’s blare those two groups non-stop on a record player when I was growing up, and I made a show of hating his music. I’m never going to change my tune about Barry Manilow, though, Dad.


Week of Cartoons – Day 7: Animal-themed superhero team grab bag

March 28, 2008

thunderhobbit.pngFROM JASON’S BABYSITTER’S HOUSE — In a production studio basement somewhere in America, animators were throwing darts at a board covered with animal names.

ThunderCats was a smash hit. SilverHawks saw modest distribution. What kind of animals could they mutate into man-shapes next? THWACK! That dart stuck straight into fish, and TigerSharks hit the air. Rankin/Bass might as well have made LightningDogs, PlatinumPumas, or RhinoWolves.

The dying animation company needed a hit, and it didn’t really get one in TigerSharks — except that it strung along a legion of bratty fans like me, who curled up in a bean bag chair at the babysitter’s house in Salem, Oregon, every day after school to watch the epic tales Rankin/Bass churned out.

It turned out ThunderCats had the greatest staying power (I see the logo on the t-shirts of overweight, balding, middle-aged men all over the place today). TigerSharks, unfortunately, only had a one-season run and that marked the death knell for Rankin/Bass.

It’s too bad, because the company gave us some of the greatest Christmas and geek movies of all time, including those old stop-motion favorites: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, The Little Drummer Boy, The Year Without a Santa Claus, Jack Frost.

Surprisingly, the very same production house that gave us Lion-O, Jaga, Tygra, Panthro, Cheetara, WilyKat, WilyKit, and Snarf also gave us the animated The Hobbit movie and its successor, The Return of the King. It also made The Wind In the Willows, the Jackson 5ive cartoon, and several Pinocchio and Oz incarnations.

But I’ll always love Rankin/Bass for those three legendary, formulaic, afternoon cartoons:


ThunderCats (1985)


Part 2 | Part 3

You know this one. Feline heroes tag-team to take on Mumm-Ra, the immortal Egyptian-ish sorcerer. At times, the animation is very darkly reminiscent of comic book panels, but at others it’s almost Hannah Barbara in quality. ThunderCats was more or less a He-Man clone — right down to the magic swords, mix of tech and magic, and demonic henchmen. There was also a huge roster of unique “manimals” populating Third Earth, some aiding and some attacking the ‘Cats.

The pilot/origin story are linked above, telling how the ThunderCats fled their home planet, Thundera, and crash-landed on Third Earth with the Mutants of Plun-Darr in pursuit. Lion-O starts as a young child, but after waking from a long cryogenic sleep discovers he’s aged and wards off his enemies with the Sword of Omens.

Awesomesauce.


SilverHawks (1986)

I love Batman Beyond, but I think DC was stealing character designs and tech ideas straight out of SilverHawks. Super-powered costumes with armpit wings, inhuman strength, and a host of gadgets? Sounds the same. What set the two apart was that Terry McGinnis was wearing a suit while Quicksilver, Bluegrass, The Copper Kid, Steelheart, and Steelwill were actually bionic beings who sacrificed part of their humanity for their new machine bodies.

Okay, so Mon-Star is a bit of a transparent “yeah, this is the bad guy” name. But the show wasn’t going for subtlety — just pure 80s buddy cop adrenaline and explosions. It slapped you over the head with its police-in-space mentality, going so far as to make one character more or less a Texas ranger wannabe.

Do I need to point out the R2-D2 whistles and warbles that Copper Kid used to communicate? No, I don’t think I do.


TigerSharks (1987)

This one was really obscure.

TigerSharks aired as part of The Comic Strip, which I could swear aired on the USA Network, though I’m not positive. It was a long time ago. I could only watch it at the home of the lady who babysat me on Saturday mornings while my mother was at work, and it shared a tiny fraction of a half-hour slot with three other short ‘toons (Karate Kat, Mini-Monsters, and Street Frogs) in a strung-together-serials kind of way.

There’s not much to say about TigerSharks, for a few reasons: 1) It was so unabashedly a re-skinning of ThunderCats, 2) there were so few episodes produced before it was canned (like tuna), and 3) the only depth it had was under water.

Basically, a bunch of human crime fighters could jump in a special tank that temporarily mutated them into mer-fish-people-guys (a mako shark, a walrus, a dolphin, an octopus chick… A SEA HORSE?!). Their submarine could leave the planet of Lion-O Spaghetti-O Water-O and venture into space.

I’ll let it go at that.