Some movies were made to have their story continue on the smaller screen. The 1980s and 90s were a prime example of this, as just about every week there seemed to be a new cartoon based on a recent film being broadcast. Some it was great! I’m talking stuff like Men In Black, Jumanji and Extreme Ghostbusters. And then some of the choices for adaptations were just downright weird. Here are ten such baffling choices which somehow made it from the drawing board and on to TV:
Rambo: The Force of Freedom
You mention Rambo, and the first image that pops into your head is usually that of oiled-up pecs flexing freedom while an oversized assault rifle meant for tanks vomits out democracy one bullet at a time. But the very first appearance of John Rambo was anything but that. First Blood is a haunting movie, a tale of posttraumatic stress disorder, of how a nation turned its back on the men it sent to die in a pointless war for them.
It’s brutal, tragic stuff that was originally meant to end with Rambo taking a fatal bullet in the gut from Colonel Trautman. And then Rambo got a sequel that changed the rules of the game. Ruby Spears were looking to captilise on that very same action with an adaptation that swapped out Rambo’s PTSD for freedom-loving fervour, as the elite soldier teamed up with a cast of capable sidekicks to take the war back to the doorstep of General Warhawk every week.
When you look back, it’s amazing to see how a film that R-rated even in the 1980s got an adaptation. But hey! At least everybody got to enjoy Rambo back then.
Grodd I love Highlander. It’s one of the greatest tales ever told, an epic spanning centuries of clashing swords and the pain of immortality. And also guys getting their heads cut off constantly. Decapatastic. So how do you get around the issue of seeing heads roll around when you’re looking to adapt the sci-fi fantasy franchise for the small screen and young audiences?
By pulling a new Quickening out of your ass in Highlander the Series, that conveniently revealed that the power of the Immortals could be shared without the need to shed some blood. That was kind of excusable when you think about. But ruining Sean Connery’s magnificent accent and rolling back his death-scene from the first Highlander flick? Inexcushable.
With a body designed to dispense justice and a no-nonsense attitude to uphold the law, you’d expect Robocop to be a lean mean merchandise machine. And that he was! But the first film starring Peter Weller as the law enforcement office of tomorrow was vicious stuff. Remember, this is a film where the main character has his hand blown off in excruciatingly painful detail, before receiving every single bullet left in the clips of the guns belonging to Clarence Boddiker and his gang.
To its credit however, the first Robocop cartoon actually referenced that horrific death in a manner that was suitable for all ages. It’s still utterly bizarre when you realise that a film that covertly parodied American consumerism gave birth to an empire of merch in turn and the related cartoon series which went on to sell warehouses full of toys.
Say what you like about Tim Burton, but the director still has a gift for crafting films that instantly recognisable as being products of his strange imagination. Beetlejuice is possibly Burton at his darkest, a zany comedy about the afterlife starring Michael Keaton as a human exorcist, that quickly veered off the tracks once his maniacal character was introduced.
Don’t forget, Beetlejuice is the real villain of that flick. But the cartoon series? He’s a wacky pal this time around, bestest friends with Lydia Deetz. Y’know, the girl he tried to force a marriage on from the original film. That’s not awkward at all.
There’s weird, and there’s good weird. Kevin Smith’s debut flick about convenience store clerks is still a cult classic decades later, but the cartoon series turned the oddity up to 11 and started to throw in zany subplots and schemes. The beauty of all this? That Clerks: The Animated Series was well aware of this, creating a cocoon of meta-references and loops within its short run of episodes.
It was basically the Arrested Development of cartoons. Is it safe?
The entire point of Free Willy the movie, was…well, freeing Willy. With the gigantic Orca out of captivity and free to roam the oceans until a Japanese fishing boat decided to kill it, you’d think Willy would be content to start a new life. Nope! That adorable seal-tossing monster of the deep was back for weekly adventures with Jesse, as the duo found themselves sharing adventures with environmental messages. Oh and also there was a villain called Rockland Stone who blamed Willy for the loss of his arm and face and really wanted to murder the f*** out of that whale.
James Bond Jr
Growing up, every male experiencing hormones for the first time wanted to emulate James Bond by travelling the world, killing people and leaving their corpses with a one-liner as you sailed away with the damsel. Times have changed and Bond is now a tortured thug in a suit, but during those less politically correct days he was the gold standard for just about every male around.
So how do you translate a womanising assassin into a cartoon character? You don’t. Instead James Bond Jr focused on the nephew of the famous spy (JAMESH BOND HASH NO TIME TO RAISHE KIDSH!), who found himself battling SCUM (Saboteurs and Criminals United in Mayhem). Really, that’s the name of your evil organisation? You call yourselves SCUM? Even the Coalition for the Liberation of Itinerant Tree-Dwellers from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back have it better.
Anyway, imagine James Bond with more gadgets and zero violence, or one of the later Roger Moore movies then, and you’d have James Bond Jr.
What’s is there not to love about Police Academy? A ragtag group of recruits from all walks of life training to be the thin blue line between society and anarchy. Thing is, while that’s what the films eventually became (and provided the perfect fodder for the animated series), the original movie is somehow massively relevant today.
You’ve got to remember, that the American law enforcement divisions had a very strict requirement back then for new recruits: If you weren’t white, you’d be in for hell. Said racist policies eventually changed, but the first Police Academy movie is a stark reminder of a bigoted top brass that had no love for officers of colour or anyone who didn’t meet a certain physical requirement, despite their devotion to serve their community. Weird stuff, especially when you factor in that the cartoon series debuted just four years after that film. And it’s three million sequel.
The Toxic Crusaders
In the 1990s, just about everybody was afraid of toxic contamination. While the Chernobyl disaster had yet to produce hideous super-mutants who would rule the planet with their mighty radioactive powers, the danger was still clear and present. And perfect to make a buck off of, as the Toxic Crusader roared into cinemas with a gory comedy that has to be seen to be believed.
It was B-grade to the max, but the eventual cartoon adaptation that was aiming to give the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a run for their money? Family-friendly stuff and gloriefied adverts to sell action figures to kids. I still kinda dig it though, even though the lead protagonist has a face fit for radio. Troma entertainment, you guys are missed.
You all know what Street Fighter is. A franchise based on a tournament where there are no rules and the best of the best compete. But instead of waxing lyrical about how the cartoon changed things up, I’m just going to paraphrase the opening narration to it instead, because dude…it’s weird as f***:
Colonel William Guile, one of the greatest martial artists in the world, travels the global tournament circuit, using it to conceal his top secret mission as leader of an elite group of international crimefighters known only by their codename: STREET FIGHTER! They have their own code of honour, displine, JUSTICE! COMMITMENT! And together they’ll triumph over the forces of evil! STREET FIGHTER!
Peak 1990s, right there in a nutshell.