5 Terrible Cartoons That Got One Thing Right
When you adapt an existing property into a cartoon, more often than not, the results are terrible. The genre of kids TV is littered with things like Sherlock Holmes In The 22nd Century, Mortal Kombat: Defenders Of The Realms, and whatever the hell The Oz Kids was. But sometimes, a show that may appear worthless and ultimately detrimental to the youth of our world actually hides a rich inner core. Or at least it can have some traits that make it stand out. Here are five mostly terrible cartoons that each got one thing really, really right.
The Batman Managed To Make Hugo Strange Interesting
The Batman was an infuriatingly uneven show. Half of the episodes were solid adventure stories. The other half were 20-minute showcases for some new goddamn jetpack Batman built. It wasn't a show about Batman learning to be a better Batman; it was a constant lesson that if you get knocked down, just stay down, and then build a giant robot that takes care of the problem currently kicking your ass.
And because of Batman's reliance on his various action figure accessories, it was hard to find villains that had a deeper motivation than "Wants to nuke Gotham with ice/laughing gas/birds etc." That's why mad psychologist Hugo Strange was so jarring. Sure, he had schemes, but they always went a step further than just threatening to douse the city with his current gimmick. To name a few:
-- Shows up and says "Yeah, I think Clayface is stable enough to reintegrate into society." This goes quite poorly.
-- A police detective gets kidnapped by the Joker, so Strange and Batman have to go inside the Joker's brain to learn her location. Once they go inside, Hugo immediately fucks off from that mission to find out about the Joker's awful childhood.
-- Separates Scarface, the killer gangster doll, from the Ventriloquist. And then, when the Ventriloquist is living a gentle, crime-free life in Gotham, reintroduces Scarface to him just to see what will happen. Spoiler: Shit happens.
-- Poisons Batman and gets him to believe that he's living in a zombie apocalypse. He then convinces Batman that he needs to bomb the city with an anti-zombie gas. Batman manages to come to just before he destroys the city with a gas that would've created an ACTUAL zombie apocalypse.
-- Takes control of an alien army, and instead of really doing anything with it, just uses their tech to try to download all of the Universe's knowledge into his own head. When the series ends, Strange has gone comatose from an information overload. Batman sees this and is all like "I don't condone this, but I'm fuckin' alright with it."
As a villain in the comics and in the Arkham games, Hugo Strange has always been kind of useless. Sure, he's really smart, but isn't that an attribute most Batman villains have? He wants to know the secret identity of Batman, but who doesn't? It's also hinted that he wants to BE Batman, but if you comb through the histories of most of Batman's rogues, you'll find that a few of them have tried the ol' "Dress up like Batman and see how it goes" gag. But by turning him from a kind of Riddler-lite into someone who manipulates Batman and Batman's villains from a distance, The Batman did something truly special with him.
Oh, and there was that one time that Strange built a robot to fight Batman, but I can't really blame him for that. It was probably written into his contract.
Transformers: Beast Wars Was Full Of Beautiful Robot Bromance
The best 2D animation from 1941 has aged like ... wine, maybe? I personally don't want to drink any wine from 1941 because that sounds terrible, so I'll just say that it's aged really well. The best 3D animation from 1993 has aged, for lack of a better term, like raw sewage. It's basically a hallucination of warped plastic and questionable expressions. This has damaged the legacy of Transformers: Beast Wars the most. That show looks like Tupperware arson.
But in between all of the clunky scenes in which any character was forced to move at all, Beast Wars shined so brightly. See, I don't care if the Transformers have any kind of deeply ingrained traits or characteristics. If a robot says "I was taken from my robot family on my robot home that is nothing but robots," it's hard for me to empathize, because it's a robot. I'm sure it'll get over it. I don't need the robots to have personalities and histories that rival the greatest human characters; I just need them to be likable. Beast Wars gave me talking robots that I'd want to hang out with.
They were like the cast of Cheers, but, you know, metallic and animal-themed. They constantly and lightheartedly insulted each other ("Ayyyy. You can turn into a rhino!" "Ayyy. Ya' mutha's a rhino! AYYYY"), but they always had each other's backs. That kind of thing is really appealing to a seven-year-old who has trouble getting anyone to talk to him. A rat-shaped robot and an ape-shaped robot hang out with a grumpy Velociraptor-shaped robot, and they all put aside their differences when the going gets tough? Is that what having friends is like? Because this kid named Trevor who said that he was my best friend just smacked my head into my mashed potatoes at school and then yelled for the whole table to look at me, and I'm starting to get confused.
It works so well that when the aforementioned Velociraptor-shaped Transformer, Dinobot, gets killed, you actually feel for his loss. He didn't have any big romances or any huge goal that he needed to accomplish before he passed. He just died while fighting for his friends, and the pain you feel is for them. It's enough to make you momentarily forget that the rest of the show looks like a slowly melting toy store.
Return To The Planet Of The Apes Followed The Original Novel
Do not watch Return To The Planet Of The Apes. I know that we're still riding the high off of War For The Planet Of The Apes, which was critically beloved and told an effective story about emotional chimpanzees. This happens whenever a franchise suddenly gets better than we expected it to be -- we start reevaluating earlier entries in the series to find the hidden merit that just has to be there. "If it's this good right now, it couldn't have been that bad back then." But Return, which aired after the last film in the original series came out, when interest in Planet Of The Apes was at a history-wide low, is that bad.
When everything is static and nothing is happening, it's a very pretty show to look at. And it's weird to think that at one point, someone decided that what little kids wanted most on their TV screens was an adaptation of a tired film series which eschewed action in favor of long scenes wherein apes discussed the civil rights of different species. However, if you're a fan of the original novel, you should be satisfied, because this series carried a torch from that book that the films kind of left out: These apes have jeeps, baby!
And electricity and TVs and radars and these sprawling cities. While the apes in the movies were still struggling to harness the power of a net, the apes in Return are technologically advanced. In the original Planet Of The Apes, you figured that the apes had a little bit of a handicap. They were surprised when Charlton Heston could talk. Imagine if he busted out a Game Boy? They'd be flinging shit at each other in a desperate attempt to wake up from the nightmare they were having. But here, the humans could say, "We have the power to harness machines! And fire! Fear us!" and the apes could just reply with, "Well, no. Because so do we."
So I take that first thing I said back. If, by some chance, you fall into the demographic of people who watch Planet Of The Apes and are appalled that none of these apes would be able to handle the internet very well, check out Return To The Planet Of The Apes. Also, it's called Return To The Planet Of The Apes even though it doesn't fit in the timeline with the movies. So it's not really a return to anything. It's just Damn, These Apes Sure Look Familiar, Huh? Of The Planet Of The Apes.
As A Cartoon, RoboCop Has Only Shined Twice
As you can probably guess, it's hard to make a kids' cartoon out of a guy who had most of his limbs removed by bullets and was then reborn as a cyborg that shoots would-be rapists in their dicks. But that didn't stop people from trying ... twice. Both RoboCop and RoboCop: Alpha Commando lack a lot of what makes the classic movie so appealing (like the dick-shooting, and maybe the satire), but they both make up for it at least one time each.
First of all, when Clarence Boddicker shows up in the first RoboCop cartoon, he's given the treatment that he deserves. If you don't remember, Clarence was the main villain in RoboCop, the man who'd had his hairline replaced with sheer dickishness. There are better villains, but there are no better dicks in the history of cinema than Clarence Boddicker. He also gets stabbed to death at the end of the movie, but this show ignores this because eh, who cares, really? This cartoon was obviously for the children of the people who saw RoboCop in theaters, and I doubt the parents came home, sat their youngsters down, and told them the tale of a character whose most famous attribute is that he once said "Bitches, leave."
In the show, Clarence is insufferable, and his voice sounds like a Jar Jar Binks fart. He also rips off RoboCop's arm and drops him in the ocean, which is unusual in a show in which most weapons can't even be bothered to lock onto RoboCop, despite the fact that he's a 12-foot-tall piece of shiny talking metal. But the show does Clarence justice, because other than low ratings, he's the only real threat that it had to offer.
RoboCop: Alpha Commando, on the other hand, doesn't itself really have anything in the way of redeeming qualities. Instead it makes up for everything with a killer theme song that starts out with this weird Rob-Zombie-esque medley of beats and industrial noises. Honestly, if it was cribbed from a Rob Zombie song, like "I Was A Teenage RoboCop" or "Part Machine Sex Queens (Get So Mean)," I wouldn't be surprised.
Then it breaks out into full-on ballad mode, and the lyrics are nothing but "RoboCop!" over and over again. I take that back, a man does groan "Ohhhhh yeah" about 47 seconds in, but let's be real: If you haven't climaxed by that point too, you really need to rethink what you're doing with your genitals.
X-Men: Evolution Captures True Teenage Angst
Since the '90s, there have been three major X-Men cartoons. First there's X-Men, which is the one with the incredible theme song. If you ask me what my definition of happiness is, I will hum this to completion.
Wolverine And The X-Men was the show meant to take advantage of the explosive X-Men Origins: Wolverine hype, never counting on the possibility that there would be none. And then there was X-Men: Evolution, which dared to ask the question "What if we made an X-Men show, but it was mostly about the X-Men wanting to date each other?" That sounds like someone making a severely misguided call, like opening a hot dog cart that just serves buns, but it was the best part of the show.
For those unaware, in fan communities surrounding TV shows and movies, there is a popular practice called "shipping," wherein you kind of become involved in the emotional connections and eventual relationships between characters. These "ships" can be relationships that are established by the show, or ones that you just come up with on your own. For example, I ship Chewbacca and C-3PO, Rodan and Mothra, and myself with Cameo's "Word Up" video. But if you're into shipping (like I'm definitely not), X-Men: Evolution is a dream.
All of the most interesting plots in the show come from awkward flirting, and I'm using the X-Men definition of "awkward" here, so the flirting usually ends with massive property damage. Avalanche and Shadowcat wanna kiss, but the former is a shitheel and the latter is pleasant, so they just commit mutant terrorism until they can figure it out. The Blob has a crush on Jean Grey, but it's not reciprocated, so he fights the whole X-Men in order to better work through his issues. And Toad loooves Scarlet Witch, and it's fucking adorable and I hope he's making her breakfast right now, and picking the flies out of her pancakes because she doesn't like bugs very much but old habits die hard, right? Again, I'm not into any of this. Sports.
The fight scenes are whatever, and the plot lines just kind of run through an X-Men Greatest Hits Collection. But the single thing that makes X-Men: Evolution endlessly endearing is the "Please sign my yearbook" levels of dedication to high school angst. It tricks you with its flashy lasers, and pretty soon you're writing STORM HEARTS LOGAN 4EVER in your notebook, because they deserve to be happy, right?
Daniel wrote X-Men: Evolution fanfiction back in middle school. Like, a lot of it. Ask him about it on his Twitter.
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