Hello boys, girls and various other Internet drifters. Nostalgia is a pretty big thing in pop culture these days. Epic blockbusters like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World have reminded us what we loved so much about the original films of our youth and sent us happily back to those fond memories. So in the interest of nostalgia, I figured I would take a trip down the good ol' memory lane of our respective childhoods and have a look back at some of the cartoons we watched growing up (well, those of us over 30 that is) that were...well...not exactly based on kid friendly material.
Back in the 80s and 90s it was pretty common place to have cartoons based on popular movies. Staples like The Real Ghostbusters were right up there with The Transformers, GI Joe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as some of the must-watch Saturday morning cartoons. We also had series based on Back to the Future, The Karate Kid and The Wizard of Oz. And do you remember the Jumanji cartoon on UPN Kids? While those cartoons were all well and good, not every popular film based cartoon of the time was based on, how do you say, family friendly movies. Below are the top 5 cartoons we watched as kids that were based on very grown up movies.
5. TALES FROM THE CRYPTKEEPER
Although not exactly based on a movie, this cartoon series was based on a very grown up tv series that aired on HBO. Tales From the Crypt, as we all know, was a TV anthology horror series from HBO that, itself, was based on the old pulp horror comics of the 50s and 60s. It dealt with the creepy, corpse looking Cryptkeeper (played by John Kassir) as he introduced the viewers to self contained episodes that often dealt with supernatural death, mayhem and sex. The series did spawn two theatrical movies (Demon Night
andBordello of Blood
) that really upped the ante on the sex and violence.
While, obviously, the cartoon took things down a significant notch in the thematic department, it still kept Kassir on hand to voice the animated version of the titular Cryptkeeper. Not sure what it was about the source material that made people think it was appropriate for kids. All I can say is that it was a different time.
Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice!
While not exactly a "grown up" or "adult" film (it was rated PG, after all) it had very adult themes and language ("nice f____ing model!" *Honk Honk*), which dealt with death (both accidental and self inflicted), the creepy spirit world, supernatural whore houses (including use of the term whore house) and the timeless hand gesture reference to masturbation. Don't recall any of that? Maybe you should go back and watch it again. It's clearly been a while.
The Beetlejuice animated series was very loosely based on the film, though. It kept the titular character of Beetlejuice (obviously), as well as Winona Ryder's character of Lydia Deetz and the spirit world. However, in the cartoon Beetlejuice isn't a creepy, murder and mayhem loving villain. He's just a goofy, jester type character that gets into a lot of mischief. Lydia is his emo living best friend (as oppose to unwitting underage bride) who transports herself to the spirit world when saying his name three times.
It was good, wholesome fun that introduced us to new and imaginative characters. I still find myself singing the french skeleton's jogging song in my head from time to time.
3. HIGHLANDER: THE ANIMATED SERIES
Highlander is definitely a franchise that has been all over the board. It started as a single, moderately successful low budget sci-fi/fantasy film that spawned a sequel that was so far into left field that the producers decided to mostly forget it happened. It was then followed up by a very successful TV series and a third movie that ignores the second film (as well as the very successful TV series for some reason), which also happened to introduce magic. The TV series gave birth to a movie and a short-lived spin-off. And then there was Highlander: The Source....which....we just won't get into.
At the end of the day, though, Highlander has always been a franchise about immortal warriors fighting each other to the death by cutting the loser's head off with a sword. Also, there was some pretty graphic sex in a few of the installments. Which begs one to wonder why, in the middle of all of that, there was a kids cartoon called Highlander: The Animated Series.
Made around the time that Gargoyles was kicking all kinds of ass on afternoon TV, Highlander was targeted at more of a pre-teen audience, but still accessible to kids. It depicted a futuristic world where civilization had fallen and the immortals swore an oath to lay down arms and use their power and knowledge to help shepherd humanity out of darkness. All but one – Kortan. It was then prophesied that a Highlander would emerge and end Kortan's tyranny. Enter Quentin MacLeod (yes, of the Clan MacLeod) and the story goes from there.
It wasn't a bad cartoon, all things considered, but again...not exactly the most kid friendly of source materials.
RoboCop was an excessively violent sci-fi film from the 80s, directed by Paul Verhoeven (also of Total Recall, Starship Troopers and Basic Instinct fame) about a graphically murdered police officer who is put into a robotic body to become a corporation controlled peace keeper. It redefined violence so much that the original cut was NC-17 or X or whatever they called it in the 80s and had to be cut significantly to be an R rated film. I mean, need I remind you of this scene?
The ultra graphic cut has since been made available on Blu-Ray as an "unrated" version, so I suggest you pick it up. The sequels were a bit more light-hearted (which is odd, as they were penned by Frank Miller) and featured goofier, more sci-fi related villains. I mean, seriously, robot ninjas? Thanks RoboCop III. Peter Weller didn't even want to do your stupid ass! Anyways....sorry...tangent....
RoboCop also made its way to TV on the weekends, thanks to Marvel Studios. No...not the current Marvel Studios that brought us the Avengers films, though still related to Marvel Comics. This was an earlier Marvel Studios that made cartoons based mostly on its own comic properties. While the cartoon did still feature some pretty adult themes (the first episode had a desperate anchor man cutting footage to make Robo look like an excessive force of police brutality, which actually kind of mirrors the media today) but it replaced bullets with bright, colorful lasers....so it was OK.
It should also be noted that this cartoon gave way to a popular toy line in the early 90s, RoboCop: Ultra Police, which featured Cap shooters on the backs of each figure so that you could realistically as possible "shoot" at people as you played.
God I miss the 90s!
1. RAMBO: THE FORCE OF FREEDOM
Yes, Rambo...the Sylvester Stallone driven film franchise about a battle hardened Vietnam veteran tearing up small towns, the Cambodian jungles and the Middle East (while blowing up Communists with grenade tipped arrows) was a kids cartoon in 1986.
Released shortly after Rambo: First Blood Part II by Ruby Spears Productions (also known for a short lived Superman cartoon, among other things), the cartoon took a more GI Joe like approach as it had Rambo and two special forces partners going on missions across the globe to battle the evil General Warhawk and his terrorist organization S.A.V.A.G.E. (essentially a less comedic version of Cobra Commander and, of course, COBRA).
Despite being a kids cartoon, Rambo: The Force of Freedom was actually a very mature series. Unlike RoboCop, this show still used bullets as opposed to lasers. Rambo employed a lot of his guerilla tactics that you saw in First Blood Part II and the villains, although horrible shots (of course) were not above legitimately trying to kill the protagonists. It's actually a very enjoyable show by adult standards and still holds up today.
The show only lasted for about 65 episodes, which was not a lot for a daily cartoon series in the 80s. Essentially, it was only on for one season and got cancelled. Go figure, I guess. It featured the voice talents of Neill Ross (later to be known as Norman Osborn on Fox Kids' Spider-Man series), the late James Avery (Uncle Phil on Fresh Prince of Bel Air as well as the Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) as Turbo and Alan Oppenheimer (best known as Skeletor on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe) as Col. Trautman.
It reused Jerry Goldsmith's epic theme music from the films and, like RoboCop, spawned a pretty awesome action figure line...including toy versions of the ridiculously cool and excessively serrated "Rambo knife."
Well that's it kids. Check out YouTube for full episodes of some of these shows if you can't track them down on DVD anywhere. It's good, nostalgic fun. And don't forget to follow me on Twitter (@ThisIsJamesT) for all things rant and ravey.
See you next time.