About Me

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Montreal, Quebec, Canada
I am a Montreal-based actor, writer and comedian. When U.S. President John F. Kennedy was shot, I was three days old. I cried all day. My favourite books of all time are Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis and The Ewoks Fun Time Activity Book by Chirpa and Pamploo. I am a member of The Vestibules, On The Spot Improv and The Best Buy Battery Club. Except for the Battery Club, I've been at all this stuff for over 20 years. Enjoy my blog.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Some of The Weirdest Animated Shows Ever Made For Kids

Almost all animated shows for kids, really, are kinda weird. They often involving talking ducks, people that can fly, robots, sponges with jobs, pink pony unicorns, cavemen who have pet dinosaurs and ton of other weirdo stuff that is usually the exclusive domain of the insane and/or the stoned.

Some animated shows aimed directly at kids are little more strange than others, though. As a kid, we will watch just about anything that is put in front of us. Many premises and ideas that hold a significant "WTF?" factor to anyone over the age of 13,  just fly by us at face value.

As adults, we look back on these shows and start to realize that "Hey, this whole show is kinda whacked.".

Sometimes, it's the premises of these cartoons that are bizarre. Other times, the premise is relatively normal but the execution is strange.  Or in some cartoons, the source material is just plain an odd or inappropriate choice for a kids show. Whatever the case, I have always found these animated oddities intriguing, fascinating and very entertaining.

Here are some of the weirdest animated shows ever made for kids...

"Softness in eyes, Iron in his thighs"...um, what's going on there?

Speaking as someone who has written for a great deal of kids shows, I would love to try and get those lyrics by the Standards and Practices department of any of the major children's networks today. And let's not even get into the whole centaur sidekick thing.

Most of the weirdness in this early 60's animated take on Greek mythology can only be seen by modern adult eyes. This is particularly true if those eyes have had a strong classical education.

Nevermind that this reboot of ancient stories for five year-olds mixes up characters from about five different myths and legends. Nevermind that almost all of the well established Heracles (See? I'm getting all smarty-pants and using his original Greek name) stories are not even referred to in any episode of The Mighty Hercules that I've ever seen. No. The weirdest aspect of this particular adaptation is that Hercules does not have "the strength of ten ordinary men" until he puts on his magic ring.

A magic ring? Hercules?

Hello Greek Mythology Meets Tolkien Meets The Green Lantern with some Wagner thrown in for good measure!

The Mighty Hercules featured Canadian broadcaster Jimmy Tapp as the voice of the lead character for the first 13 episodes. His delivery is a tad dry, I gotta say.

The Mighty Hercules was also responsible for great deal of difficulties I had in my Classics classes in university.

"Professor, how does Tewt figure in The Twelve Labours?"

"Anywhere and everywhere the savage forces of General Warhawk threaten the peace-loving people of the world...". K, you gotta be wary of any show that positions Rambo as the pacifist.

As you may have observed, the show was actually titled Rambo and The Forces of Freedom. What did they? Have Reagan's speechwriter on loan?

I remember the controversy in the media when this show first came on the air. Sylvester Stallone, displaying a lot of good sense and PR savvy, publicly distanced himself from the series when it premiered in the fall of '86. Stallone stated that the R-rated (14+ at the time in Quebec) Rambo films were never intended for children. That's in spite of the simplistic writing, I guess. He added that even though he objected to the cartoon, there was little he could do about it. He didn't own the rights to the character and had no control over what the studio did with him.

He said the same thing about Rocky V.

Here's a fun fact that will most likely never win you a Trivial Pursuit game: an action figure from this series makes a brief appearance in The Vestibules "Action Figure Theatre" video.

Moby Dick as a cute and heroic white whale...I know...I know...Captain Ahab must be rolling over in his watery grave.

If you're gonna go with a Melvillian animated series, ya gotta at least make it a Coyote-Road Runner style chase show. You know, something with a title like say "Ahab 'n Moby" (today's cartoon: "Round Perdition's Flame!").

While we're on the subject of potential Melville inspired cartoons, the name Billy Budd has got that Stan Lee style character alteration thing happening. Could make for an interesting superhero: "Fighting the never ending battle against evil in 19th century navies everywhere!"

Or how about the zany adventures of Bartelby The Silly Scrivener?

Okay. I'll stop now.

The Mighty Mightor was my favourite shows when I was like five or so. The mild mannered cave dweller turned Super Cro-Magnon angle must of been lost on me at the time. I don't even remember that the show took place in the stone age.

The Mighty Mightor is to the best of my knowledge the only prehistoric superhero ever. Yes. Yes. I know. There's Captain Caveman. However, the good Captain spent most of his time hanging out in the 1970's with babes who wore high heels in the jungle.

Creationists would no doubt laud the Flintstones-like accuracy of the depiction of humans and dinosaurs existing at the same time. I'm not convinced. Mightor's powers are clearly pagan in origin.

More contemporary audiences will recognize Mightor as the judge from the classic Adult Swim series, Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law.

Anybody remember this?

Yep, in the 60's there was a cartoon series of The Beatles. You will find only the tiniest references to it in any of the official Apple histories of The Beatles. 10 hours of The Anthology and I think it's alluded to briefly once. Even then it's only mentioned in the context of how the movie Yellow Submarine came about (same producer, believe it or not). It has never been released on VHS or DVD and I wouldn't hold your breath for the Blu-ray treatment any time soon either .

The show premiered on ABC in 1965. Not surprising, really. Beatleamania was still going strong then. The Fab Four skewed to a pretty young audience in those days. What is surprising is that the series ran all the way until 1969. That's well into the band's-hippie-freaks-who-do-lots-of-drugs phase. Once the trippy days of the mid 60's start kickin' in, incorporating the wacky Saturday morning cartoon  romps of those crazy mop tops into songs off of , say, Revolver, well....starts to get a little challenging...

Oh, those crazy primitive cultures.

Speaking of which...

Robert E. Howard, it ain't.

Every era has its fair share of flash-in-the-pan pop superstars who were absolutely massive for a relatively short period of time. When looking back, however, they serve to only illustrate the silliness of the era. The 60's had Bobby Sherman, the 70's had David Cassidy, the 80's had Boy George and the 90's had this guy:

I have seen this intro may times and the theme song is currently on my iPod. Honestly, though, I'm still not clear on what exactly Hammerman's back story is.

At least the action figures were easier to understand.

Cows that ride horses. My brain hurts now.

In the wake of the success of The Transformers and GI Joe movies, Universal Pictures optioned all of Hasbro's toy and game products. Incredibly, there are currently in development Monopoly, Operation and Battleship movies, with, quite possibly, more to come.

The people who made this show were way ahead of the curve:

I don't think there's a kid that grew up watching English Canadian TV in the last 50 years or so that does not know...

Setting aside the notion of astro-glenns for a moment, the premise of Rocket Robin Hood is not so weird. As Saturday morning cartoons go, Robin Hood in the future is pretty much par for the course.

However, it's the execution of the premise that is truly strange. First off, there was that theme song that was repeated at every single commercial break. Then there was those odd little character explanation vignettes that ran in almost every episode. One featured Friar Tuck taking one bite out of three different types of food then throwing the rest of the food away. This bizarre eating ritual was repeated in the exact same order at least twice. He even managed to take one bite out of a bunch of grapes; a feat that still defies me to this day. The vignette also clearly illustrates Friar Tuck's ability to beat off the bad guys with his stomach (a greatly under-rated fighting technique, BTW).

The limited budget animation was a major contributor to some of the more bizarre elements of Rocket Robin Hood (actually that an animated English Canadian TV series got made at all in the days before the Cancon rules and tax credits is in itself bizarre). Sure, there was the obvious re-using of stock action sequences and the Bergmanesque close-ups of the eyes for large chunks of dialogue. Those are standard. But Rocket Robin Hood blazed new trails in this particular area.

For instance, there is one episode where Rocket Robin Hood has to get to some treasure or something by going through different levels of some kind of fortress or something (hey, it's been awhile). On each level, he encounters different bad guys he has to get past. Each set of bad guys looks exactly like all the different bad guys from, oh, say, every other episode of the series. Pretty much the entire plot consisted of our hero just beating up the aforementioned wide variety of meanies. Rocket Robin Hood wasn't so great in the writing department either.

Speaking of bad guys and limited animation, all of The Sheriff of N.O.T.T.'s guards look exactly the same in every singe way. Anybody ever wonder where George Lucas got the idea for an all clone army?

Then there were the Rocket Robin Hood episodes that were obviously inter-cut with footage from the 60's Spider-Man series (also Canadian made).  Or was it the Spider-Man footage that was cut into Rocket Robin Hood?

No one is really sure.

But, by far, the all time weirdest animated show ever made for Saturday or any other mornings has gotta be:

"...or whatever the need requires!" Woah, woah, careful there, guys, you don't want to write yourself into a corner.

Airing in the 1967-68 Saturday morning TV season and never being big in syndicated reruns, Super President is a little before my time....and everybody else's too, I think.

You do have to hand to the people that created Super President, Depatie-Freleng (yes, Friz Freleng, one of the guys who animated Bugs Bunny and The Pink Panther was in on this one). Outside of editorial cartoons, the presidential superhero is a premise that has never been done before.

I'm not sure exactly how the Super President premise works. Was he elected as Super President? Or is Super President's secret identity that of the President of the United States? If so,  the name is kinda of a dead give away, no?

According to Wikipedia, President James Norcross got his super powers from a cosmic storm after he was elected. Only his chief of staff, Jerry Sayles, knows his true identity. I'm gonna go with a big "citation needed" on that one.  I mean, c'mon, all those Clark Kent like disappearances in times of crisis would absolutely kill the guy in the 24 hour news cycle.  Then there's the problem of ditching the Secret Service every time he has to get into costume. The mind boggles at the complications.

Not only I am an unclear on the premise but I'm pretty sure that everyone who worked on the show was equally unclear on it. All of the bad guys, for instance, seem to know that they can find Super President in The White House.

The writers probably came to the same conclusion I did: it's better not to think about it.

Like Bruce Wayne in Wayne manor, President James Norcross has a secret headquarters beneath the White House. From there, he can launch some kind of a two man super presidential flying underwater spaceship. Given the amount of secrecy and security surrounding The White House, how do we know that such a thing is not actually there?

As I mentioned earlier, Super President's sidekick (and supposedly the only guy who knows his secret identity) is Jerry, the President's chief of staff.  Everybody knows there is no better sidekick for a superhero then that of a balding middle-aged man in a 1960's business suit wearing horn rimmed glasses.

Just in case anyone one who owns the rights is reading this out there, Super President is prime for a TV/big-budget movie/graphic novel reboot.

We can only hope.

That's right, kids, remember to tune in next week...

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