Odd '80s Trend: Turning R-Rated Movies Into Kids Cartoons
When Disney bought Fox, the bigwigs made a point of saying that sentient parental-warning Deadpool would be the only character to survive the merger unscathed. And, sure, a killer-for-hire who enjoys masturbating with stuffed unicorns may seem like a strange fit for the House of Mouse, but there's actually a ton of precedent for fitting foul-mouthed, blood-soaked pegs into G-rated and highly merchandisable holes.
Look no further than the late '80s and the half-decade's almost pathological desire to synergize every wildly inappropriate movie out there into a kids cartoon for children.
We're talking about shows like Rambo: The Force of Freedom ...
... released after First Blood Part II. Because someone, somewhere, saw an ever-increasing body count and a shirtless, screaming Sylvester Stallone and thought, "I should get this right-wing fever dream in front of my impressionable nieces and nephews!" And then someone else agreed, and they just re-made G.I. Joe, right down to the ridiculously named terrorist organization, the punks with flamethrowers, and even the same character design for Flint and Colonel Trautman.
The series failed, and a couple of entertainment executives put down the cocaine long enough to realize that maybe a cartoon about a bloodthirsty mercenary in dire need of therapy wasn't an appropriate subject matter for the children.
So, instead, they pivoted to RoboCop.
Even before RoboCop: The Animated Series was finished being made, everyone knew it was festering trash, and the producers ended up using the budget for the final episode to make an X-Men pilot instead.
That same year also gave us Police Academy: The Series ...
... which turned a bunch of foul-mouthed, sex-crazed sociopaths into a band of lovable misfits. There were also talking dogs now, too.
While the above were at least based on box office hits, the cartoonification of B-movie Attack of the Killer Tomatoes – a film famous only for accidentally filming a helicopter crash and sucking – made even less sense.
You can thank, of all things, Muppet Babies for willing the Killer Tomatoes cartoon into existence. Apparently, Jim Henson Productions used clips from the 1978 "movie" in a dream sequence once, which was enough for some other executive to call up the filmmakers and ask if they wanted to make a sequel. (See "cocaine," above.) This led to the production of both the more gratuitous, fourth-wall-breaking Return of the Killer Tomatoes – George Clooney's first starring role – and the subsequent Attack of the Killer Tomatoes cartoon.
That's right: Fozzie Bear's nonsensical nightmare is the only reason George Clooney isn't a sad-sack janitor somewhere right now.
Speaking of which ...
Toxic Crusaders was an environmentalist superhero cartoon ... based on Troma's The Toxic Avenger, a movie in which a sad-sack janitor uses his newfound ooze-based superpowers to disembowel criminals and people who were mean to him.
Crusaders was pretty clearly capitalizing on the success of both Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Captain Planet, but basing a kids cartoon on a cult flick notorious for hyper-violence and gratuitous nudity was a pretty weird and irresponsible choice. How irresponsible? Ralph Bakshi and Heavy Metal aside, cartoons were almost exclusively for kids in the 1980s (and early '90s), and there wasn't really an internet to tell anyone otherwise.
But there were video stores.
Imagine, if you will, a 10-year-old turning on Fox Kids one fine Saturday morning to watch some Toxic Crusaders, and then a few days later seeing a Toxic Avenger cover at his local Blockbuster and assuming it was more of the same. Introducing a kid to goddamn Troma before his balls even dropped is a bold choice – and one for which an entire generation is forever grateful.
So thank you, coked-up entertainment executives and aggressively indifferent video store clerks. You showed not only many of us our first boobs but also our first butts and allowed us to bear witness to both heavily-armed Chippendales dancers fighting tomatoes and a human face getting smashed into goo. You were clearly doing God's work.
Eirik Gumeny is the author of the Exponential Apocalypse series, a five-book saga of slacker superheroes, fart jokes, and booger monsters, and recently added werewolves and assassins to The Great Gatsby. He’s also on Twitter a bunch.