Monday, June 13, 2016

1986: The Cartoons

Thirty years ago I was ten years old, which means I was still at optimal receptiveness for the things that would in 2016 evoke fond memories and feelings of nostalgia. I got the idea for this post from the first Dragon Con panel I was a part of – 1982: Best Sci-Fi Movie Year Ever? (or some such thing). We had a great discussion about the movies that came out that year. Sadly nobody recorded it, but I thoroughly enjoyed having a topic that was both broad and focused. It was only 1982 sci-fi movies, but there were plenty to discuss!

It turns out I have so much more to discuss about 1986 than could have ever been covered in a single post. Initially I wrote about the toy lines of 1986, then 1986 movies, television, and last week music. I was foolish to think that the few cartoons I mentioned in the toy post would be enough. I had planned to cover more in the TV post, but there turned out to be so many sitcoms and whatnot to cover that there wasn’t room for cartoon talk.

It also turns out that there were more than enough cartoon happenings in 1986 for a full post. HUGE happenings.

This should be the last of my 1986 posts unless I decide to write about Members Only jackets.

I had the same one as Mouth from The Goonies. I didn’t have that awesome Purple Rain shirt, though.

(Filmation’s) Ghostbusters

Let’s start with this controversial little gem.

Filmation had a show called Ghost Busters back in the 70s.

Columbia Pictures licensed the name “Ghostbusters” from them for the 1984 movie, but Filmation still had the right to use the name.

Ghostbusters was a phenomenal success.

Filmation got wind that a cartoon based on the movie was in the works and put together their own cartoon based on the original show’s mythology. They called it Ghostbusters because they could.

The one based on the successful movie called itself The Real Ghostbusters to differentiate from Filmation’s product.

Filmation’s show – and I say this as someone that truly loves and respects so much of what Filmation did – was terrible. Today it is almost unwatchable. But that’s just my opinion. I’m sure there are plenty of people who love it. And I will admit that it had some fantastic character designs. Filmation was always great with that.

The Real Ghostbusters

I talked about this in the toy post, but it’s worth noting again that this show still holds up today and is one of the best cartoon series to come out of the 80s. It pretty much fell off when it became Slimer and The Real Ghostbusters. But we still had 91 episodes of expert storytelling that was a worthy follow-up to the movie.


In the wake of the massive success of ThunderCats came a number of other shows featuring humanoids with animalistic qualities. SilverHawks was probably the best and most famous of these, though I preferred 1987’s short-lived TigerSharks, also from Rankin-Bass Productions. I just like aquatic stuff.

SilverHawks was about a team of space police that wore bird armor. Despite being from the same production company as ThunderCats and certainly being inspired by that show’s success, the bird people show was fairly different. I haven’t seen it in years – possibly since it was on the air then – but I remember it feeling a bit more formulaic than the cat people show.

The designs were fantastic. Each character was very unique and the villains were all awesome. There was a space minotaur and a guy with buzz-saw hands, so it had everything I needed from villains. I never had any of the Kenner toys, but I wanted them.

This was a syndicated cartoon and not a Saturday morning selection. I feel like it switched time slots often or was just hard to catch because I know I haven’t seen a ton of episodes (more than I did TigerSharks, though). The show is available in various forms from Amazon, including streaming through Prime!

Pee-Wee’s Playhouse

This is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, one of the greatest and most unique children’s shows ever produced. It mixed elements of every kind of children’s programming ever broadcast into an intelligent, inspiring, and heartfelt show. Each episode skillfully wove lessons on how to be a good person and live in the world into some of the most bizarre and surreal segments I’ve ever seen.

Pee-Wee was our pal and our guide to this strange playhouse world. He taught us the straight and narrow, but was also relatable and human because sometimes he would make mistakes or behave poorly, realizing the error of his ways at the end of the episode. The Playhouse had a magical genie head that could grant Pee-Wee’s wildest dreams, but he always used his daily wish to bring joy to others and right wrongs.

From Chairy to Magic Screen to the Puppet Band to Pterry, all of the inhabitants of the Playhouse were fully realized characters with their own points of view and distinct lifestyles. We didn’t know it, but we were watching a diverse community in action.

Also, I found the Traveling Salesman more than a little unnerving.

Side Note: I know that Pee-Wee’s Playhouse isn’t a cartoon, but it came on Saturday mornings and was one of the only live action shows that I found acceptable. Towards noon cartoons would start vanishing and shows starring human actors would start coming on and I hated that. But Pee-Wee was okay. More than okay – he was awesome.

Teen Wolf

Right alongside Pee-Wee’s Playhouse on Saturday mornings on CBS was this adaptation of a movie about puberty.

Like many of the shows in this post I haven’t seen Teen Wolf since it was on the air, but I seem to remember liking it more than the movie. My adult brain tells me the animation might have been kind of shitty, but I know that I loved this cartoon. We were trained for the big cartoon moments – Popeye eating his spinach, Adam using the Power Sword to transform into He-Man, and Lion-O holding the Sword of Omens up and becoming less of a pussy (so to speak). Heck, even live action shows like The Incredible Hulk had kickass transformations scenes. With every episode of Teen Wolf, I could not wait for Scott Howard to Wolf Out.

I’ve mentioned before that I was obsessed with werewolves when I was younger, so the animated adventures of the Howard family were right up my alley.

Unlike Ghostbusters, I think I might have actually seen the movie version of Teen Wolf when the cartoon aired. I seem to remember my mom being bothered that Scott’s female friend was named “Boof”.

Defenders of the Earth

The 1980 Flash Gordon movie was one of my favorites when I was a kid and still is to this day. When a cartoon starring Flash alongside a magician and… some weird purple jungle guy… started up in ’86, I was stoked. I didn’t know anything about King Features at the time (and still couldn’t tell you much other than “Slam Evil” is a terrible but memorable tagline and that the current King’s Quest comic book frustrates me to no end every single month when I see it in Previews and it takes me a minute to realize that it is not based on the Sierra game), but any continuation of the adventures of Flash Gordon was more than welcome.

I know I loved the show, but I haven’t seen it in years. Again – probably since it aired. It did feature the recurring trope that was the bane of my existence when I was a kid – kids. I hated the kids on each and every show that I watched. I know they were supposed to be the POV characters, but I thought they were the worst. I never related to kids in cartoons and I never wanted to. Who the heck wanted to be the little weenie that rode around on his robot friend and got kidnapped all the time?

Fortunately the heroes’ kids on Defenders skewed slightly older. I could deal with teenagers a little better, especially when they were actually kind of cool like Rick Gordon.

Rambo: The Force of Freedom/Chuck Norris’ Karate Kommandos

I mention these only because they were both cartoons cashing in on completely inappropriate things and they both had toy lines that were better than they had any right to be. I know I watched both shows.

I have just had a major revelation and I am going to share it with you now.

For years now I’ve been talking about how my parents let me collect one toy line at a time for the most part, but I had a few figures from other lines here and there. That’s still mostly true, but I had a bunch of figures from both of these toy lines and I didn’t realize it until just now when I looked up Rambo on Action Figure Archive to see what the one I had was called. It turns out I had ten of the Rambo figures and several of the weapons sets (no surprise given my dad’s military proclivities – I almost wonder if he just bought a pile of Rambo stuff on a lark like I do for Phantom Jr. sometimes). I also had a few Chuck Norris figures, most notably Kimo, who was my favorite because of his bamboo kickpads:

Laugh if you will, but I bet getting kicked in the face – or anywhere – by bamboo kickpads would ruin a fella’s day.

As for the main guys, I had “Chuck Norris (Kung Fu Training Gi)” and “Rambo”. I seem to remember plain Rambo was tough to find but you could get stupid blue jeans and wife beater Rambo everywhere. Lest this turn into another toy post, let’s move on.

ThunderCats, Ho!

ThunderCats debuted in 1985, but in 1986 something really weird and also amazing happened. We didn’t get a full new season of the show, which was massively disappointing. I don’t know the story behind that, but I’m sure money was involved.

What we did get was feature-length story cut up into a miniseries, which was always a huge deal back then. It’s how many of my favorite cartoons started. We were always ready for a new miniseries and it tended to be even more exciting when it was part of a show that had already been established. Introductory miniseries always had a lot of setup, but when one came in the midst of a show, that meant the creators had a story so big, so (Third)earth-shattering, that they needed a whole week (five episodes) to tell it.

In this case, ThunderCats – Ho! would be one of the few afternoon cartoon events that actually did change the status quo of the program. Even if it did take a year to find that out.
This movie/miniseries is where we were introduced to new Thunderians. This blew my mind. 
The ThunderCats had basically the same origin as Superman – they were escaping from their exploding home planet of Thundera. We were led to believe that the seven original Thunderians were the last of their kind. It was so exciting and unbelievable that there could be more of these awesome characters. And not only were there more, they were so much cooler than the existing ThunderCats.

I know that might be blasphemy to some, but I immediately liked the new characters more. Well, not more than Panthro, who is still my favorite, but Pumyra replaced Cheetara as my unnatural furry crush and Bengali was cooler than Lion-O or Tygra. I was never a fan of Jaga because he just looked like a human to me, so Lynx-O was obviously way better. Plus he had the “Blind Master” gimmick going on. WilyKit, WilyKat, and Snarf do not factor because they were all demonstrably terrible (though they were all redeemed in the 2011 cartoon).

Not only did this story introduce new Thunderians, it also introduced a third faction of warriors (and you know I LOVE that) – the Lunataks! They had the same sort of story as the Masters of the Universe Snake Men, but were much cooler.

Okay, maybe not. But they were even more exciting new characters that changed the dynamic of the show. They were enemies of both the Thunderians and the Mutants.

Also, Mumm-Ra dies!

Except not really because they brought him back when the regular show returned the following year. But for almost an entire year – until the second season debuted with the spoilery-titled episode “Mumm-Ra Lives!” – we thought Mumm-Ra the Ever-Living was no more. Which was silly, because it’s right there in his name.

GI Joe: A Real American Hero

I started these posts with GI Joe and I’m going to close them the same way.

We didn’t have the internet back then. Nobody cared to inform kids of what was going on with their favorite shows. We found out our cartoons were cancelled the day we realized we hadn’t seen a new one in a year. We waited and waited and eventually it just became clear that the shows and characters we loved and looked forward to watching every day were just… gone.

A Real American Hero came back strong in 1986 for its second season with the “Arise, Serpentor, Arise!” miniseries.

Lots of exclamation points back then, if you hadn’t noticed.

Twenty-five more episodes trickled out over the course of the year – thirty less than the prior season. I didn’t have these numbers when I was a kid and I didn’t know anything about syndication or that magic “100” that shows aspire to, but I knew there felt like there was less Joe.

Technically A Real American Hero didn’t die until after The Movie in 1987 (with which they hit their magic 100 episodes by dividing it up into five parts) and super-technically it didn’t die until 1992(!) when DIC’s follow-up cartoon ended. But looking back, my favorite cartoon ever was dealt its death blow in 1986.

By The Transformers: The Movie.

Hasbro sunk a ton of capital into the theatrical debut of the Robots in Disguise, hiring known actors and marketing the heck out of it. But when the movie came out, it redefined the word “flop”. Between this and the poor performance of My Little Pony: The Movie, Hasbro lost faith in its properties’ ability to draw audiences to theaters. They repurposed GI Joe: The Movie into a direct-to-video release and simply dropped plans for a Jem and the Holograms flick.

To be fair, if the Joe movie we have now had been released to theaters it would have certainly killed the franchise anyway, possibly even preventing the DIC follow-up. I have a sentimental fondness for it, but it isn’t particularly good and certainly isn’t as epic as The Transformers: The Movie. The Cybertronians’ big screen debut feels like an organic progression of the storylines from the show. The Joe movie is organic, but not at all in the same way. And certainly not in a good way. I love Cobra-La for the Lovecraftian weirdness they are and I’ve often pointed out that they’re no more bizarre than any other plot element from Sunbow’s cartoon, but they’re no Unicron. And the story just isn’t smooth.

But more on that next year, when I talk about 1987!

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