The three naked amphibian-men of Battletoads are best known for two things: their obvious attempts at usurping the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their crushingly hard NES game. But no matter now many times that game smacked you into walls at 80 miles per hour or killed you for not having a unicycle race course memorized down to the last millimeter, it’s nothing compared to the Battletoads cartoon.
The half-hour Battletoads special opens with an intergalactic vulture and a bimbo princess on the run from the overdramatic hordes of the Dark Queen, leading them to Earth and to the introduction of the Battletoads-to-be: a nerd, a nerdy teenage punk, and a nerdy version of Moose from Archie comics. These high schoolers are transformed into Battletoads when the vulture and princess arrive in their hometown of Oxnard, California. The Oxnard setting is a frequent motif in the show and an in-joke by writer David Wise, who deserves better than to be judged by Battletoads alone (as he also created much of the Ninja Turtles cartoon canon and wrote that Transformers episode where a spoiled hotel heiress falls in love with Powerglide). It’s also the cruelest character assassination ever visited on an innocent So-Cal town. Say what you will about the Los Angeles slums, but they’ve never been the setting of a Battletoads cartoon.
With their war cries of “cosma-riffic” and “psychotronic,” the Battletoads are soon belting the Dark Queen’s goons around the fair streets of Oxnard. As they fight with hand-cymbals and other Looney Tunes props, the vulture remodels a classic car, and the princess…well, she doesn’t do much beyond sticking ice cream in her mouth and covering herself with jelly donut filling (had Battletoads become a full series, some fetish-driven animator wouldn’t probably had her sit on birthday cakes). Eventually, the toads face off with the Dark Queen at her phallic Dr. Seuss castle, with the cartoon’s already jarring animation reaching comical new depths. And then it ends and the Battletoads disappear back into the game industry, leaving TV cartoons to professional series like Stunt Dawgs and The Tom and Jerry Kids Show.
Among lines of girls’ toys from the 1980s, Charmkins ranks way down beneath Keypers and those stuffed poodle-things with hairbrushes on their tails. It’s surprising that Charmkins even got a half-hour of airtime to sell itself to children back in 1983. We challenge you to sit through two minutes of it.
Though this was thrown together by the same people responsible for the My Little Pony TV specials, there’s no sign of devil dragons abducting ponies for unspeakable experiments. There is only the Tony-winning Ben Vereen voicing Dragonweed, a ginger-haired warlock who kidnaps the Charmworld’s (ugh) ballet dancer and, in a creepier-than-usual scheme as cartoon villains go, orders her to dance for him. Meanwhile, Sally Struthers plays a poison-ivy sorceress who sings her way into aiding the Charmkins. And just who are the Charmkins? They’re a bunch of unappealing, flat-faced moppets with names and dialogue capable of making the staunchest kitsch fan’s skin crawl. Even their toys sucked.
Ruby-Spears’ Bunnicula mini-movie isn’t that much worse than the typical misguided book adaptations that clogged Saturday mornings in the early 1980s, before toy commercials and celebrity vanity projects took over. No, Bunnicula’s crime is being a banal treatment of a decidedly clever children’s book. James and Deborah Howe’s Bunnicula series is among the few simplified kids’ novels that lose little when re-read by adults but the cartoon treatment changes too much and compensates with too little.
Gone is the simple premise of a vampire bunny innocently welcomed by an unsuspecting suburban family. Instead, the story’s mutated by a subplot about the family’s scientist father (a college professor in the book) facing the closure of his local plant due to mysterious accidents. Worse yet are the main characters: the gentle narrator dog is merely forgettable here, but the cat sleuth Chester, who was a manic, self-centered, conspiracy-minded antihero in the book, is now a limply written hybrid of Sylvester and Daffy Duck. Oh, and it turns out that Bunnicula, whose vampirism was halfway plausible in print form, can now grow bat-wings and move evil, accident-causing wolves (another cartoon adulteration) around with his mind. Like most mediocre animated versions of novels, the best this could’ve done is to convince someone to pick up the book. Yet after watching this, why would you?
2) The Faithful Wookie
The Faithful Wookie is often remembered as the best thing about the Star Wars Holiday Special, in the same way that a headache is the best thing about crippling diarrhea. Introduced as some weird metafictional TV show watched by Chewbacca’s hideous son, Lumpy, the ten-minute segment should have been a delightful blend of two things kids loved: Star Wars and cartoons.
Instead, it was a jarring foray through some bizarre late-’70s Candy Land version of the first Star Wars film. Luke, C-3PO and R2-D2 set out to rescue Han and Chewie from a planet apparently made of viscous gelatin, and they get some help from the mysterious Boba Fett, who, in his debut role, utters more lines than he does in the rest of the Star Wars films combined. For that, fans cut The Faithful Wookie a little slack, but it’s hard to like the short’s off-putting animation style, in which Nelvana mixes rigid Star Wars designs with the fluid, grotesque movement the studio used in The Devil and Daniel Mouse. All while Harrison Ford mumbles his way to a paycheck and the Y-Wing bomber gets some much-needed product placement. No wonder all the kids wanted the X-Wing that Christmas.
This is all your fault, Sonic the Hedgehog.
In this case, we’re not talking about the ongoing DeviantArt degradation of Sonic himself, but rather the explosion of ultra-hip, brainlessly irreverent mascot characters that have shown up in videogames since Sonic’s 1991 debut. Most of these hangers-on didn’t get cartoons. You won’t see any half-hour specials based on Radical Rex, Rocky Rodent, Awesome Possum, or Mohawk and Headphone Jack. You might, however, have seen the first and only Bubsy cartoon briefly on the air and in the PC version of Super Bubsy.
Man, check out Bubsy! He’s so smooth he kicks his breakfast dishes into the sink! He’s also a smart-aleck equipped with the new and exciting catchphrase “What could possibly go wrong?” which we’re sure to see on t-shirts everywhere by the end of 1993! Or maybe they’ll just make shirts with big exclamation points on them! Anyway, Bubsy sets some record for being instantly loathsome. Even the Battletoads cartoon took a minute or two to fully repulse us, but Bubsy goes straight for the jugular of all that is appealing. And if that’s not enough, he has a niece and a nephew, who are just as insufferable as he is, and a neurotic armadillo sidekick who’s perpetually abused by everyone.
We hate Bubsy, and we even suspect that the people who make this alsohated Bubsy. There’s no better explanation for the obnoxious, mistimed sense of humor that permeates every scrap of Bubsy’s dialogue. Someone despised Bubsy and wanted him to fail. It took a few more terrible games before he did so, but this cartoon ended his shot at Saturday morning stardom.