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5 Worst Cartoons Based on Adult Sources
Why would you make these?
By Kurt Amacker
September 01, 2010
In the years before Adult Swim and the mainstream emergence of anime, anyone over the age of 12 who liked cartoons had to scrounge for watchable material. There were the Ralph Bakshi flicks from the '70s and '80s and the overpriced tapes from the Japanimation section at Suncoast Video, but most cartoons on TV were just crap.
After the tragic Columbine shootings, everyone decided to blame violent movies and video games rather than, say, negligent parents. Theaters enforced the MPAA ratings more stringently, and Hollywood responded by making everything PG-13. Theaters had more relaxed policies in the '80s and early '90s. Comic books and violent video games were freely marketed to kids. Spawn, WildCATS, and Youngblood were pretty liberal with the blood and violence, and plenty of kids bought them. But, thanks to the FCC, cartoons were still a wasteland of ridiculous "family friendly" entertainment. But, some adult properties were so popular that they merited an animated adaptation--even if it meant toning it down a hell of a lot. Here are the five worst cartoons based on adult sources.
The epic war between the Kherubim and the Deamonites had all of the trappings of early Image and, indeed, most 1990s comics--big guns, big tits, knee pads, and action. Prior to Alan Moore's run, WildCATS was not a subtle book. A guy gets killed by having his faced crushed in a plate of spaghetti in the first issue. Voodoo is a stripper when she first appears. Grifter shoots the hell out of some people. It was all in good fun. In 1994, CBS released a 13-episode animated series that played out like most really awful action cartoons from the era. The plots were simplified. The dialogue was overblown. All of the guns shot lasers that just knocked the shape-shifting Deamonites to the concrete. You'd have to be a kid (and an exceptionally stupid one at that) to really suspend disbelief.
It seems kind of silly to turn a comic aimed at teenagers and adults into a kids cartoon. But, it had worked before with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Even as a kid, I remember thinking that shows like this were really tame.
4. Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm
Mortal Kombat saturated popular culture in the early 1990s. There were action figures. There was a CD of original music by The Immortals (a side-project by a couple of the guys from Lords of Acid). There was a novelization. There was even a stage show--Mortal Kombat: The Live Tour. By 1994, a movie was inevitable. Once that happened, a crappy cartoon was sure to follow.
Paul W.S. Anderson's Mortal Kombat was shockingly not-awful, which was quite a feet for a movie based on a video game at the time. Oh, hell, who are we kidding? It still is. It follows a fairly similar premise from the first game--the thunder god Raiden recruits Johnny Cage, Sonya, and Liu Kang to defend Earthrealm at the tournament. If Outworld wins their tenth one, they'll conquer our world. Of course, they win. You knew that. We all saw it. Don't lie. But, at the end, the Outworld Emperor Shao Kahn shows up to set up the sequel. Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm sort of picks up there. The Outworld forces start invading, and Raiden's team fights them in episode after tedious episode.
The Mortal Kombatseries got a lot better a few years ago when Deadly Alliance came out. Before that, the only reason to really like it was the ridiculous violence. The movie certainly toned it down, but at least characters died when they lost. And, it was actually about the tournament depicted in the game--unlike Street Fighter, which was a generic action flick with the game's characters dropped in. In Defenders of the Realm, Liu Kang, Sonya, Sub-Zero and some others act as some kind of inter-dimensional police force. They have a base and hovercrafts and everything. A dimensional rift opens, monsters come through, and they jump into action. Besides lacking the sublime pleasures of spraying CGI blood, that's not even what the game was about! It seems like that whenever cartoon writers had to rewrite characters for a younger audience, they just decide to make them do-gooders or freedom fighters (and not in the West African genocidal sense, thankfully).
3. Conan the Adventurer
Conan the Adventurer wasn't so much based on the Arnold Schwarzenneger flick or even the Marvel comics. Rather, many of the episodes were drawn from the original Robert E. Howard short stories. Howard's Conan is relatively amoral. He drinks, fights, steels, sleeps around, and freely joins pirate crews and bands of mercenaries (kind of like your humble writer). Oftentimes, he faces undeniably evil adversaries or acts on a personal moral code. But, the animated Conan is a big sweetheart. He stands up for the little guy. He has a goddamn pet bird. He sticks with one woman. This guy is practically the poster boy for the Promise Keepers. Drawing a bit from the Schwarzenneger movie, the series opens with Conan's family being kil--oh wait, they're turned to "living stone" to keep the family-friendly tone. Conan is hunting Wrath-Amon--the priest of the cult of Set. He has a bunch of soldiers that are really serpent men and Conan has a sword made of "star metal" that zaps them to another dimension. So, he goes on a bunch of adventurers with his conspicuously diverse cast of supporting characters. It's good the animators took the time to represent the varied and interesting races of Hyborea. It's kind of surprising they didn't have a guy in a magical wheelchair fighting snake-men alongside Conan and his friends.
What's so weird about Conan the Adventurer is that, unlike the RoboCop or Rambo, the cartoon came out years after Conan was on the pop culture radar. Still, it lasted for two seasons and 65 episodes, with a short-lived weekly follow-up called Conan and the Young Warriors. Yes, much like a swords and sorcery version of The Pacifier, the terror from Cimmeria got to look after a bunch of kids.
You remember RoboCop, right? A bunch of drug dealers blow Officer Alex Murphy to bits. The OCP corporation resurrects him as an unstoppable cyborg played by Peter Weller. While struggling to regain his humanity, he unravels a conspiracy between a senior OCP executive and Clarence Boddicker--the man who killed him. Paul Verhoeven directed a bleak and funny vision of Detroit in the future, while creating a ubiquitous pop culture icon.
The animated series came a year after the first film's release. And, as usual, it was toned down for kids. Officer Alex Murphy is only "mortally wounded," and Clarence Boddicker and his gang are still around. Most of the stories revolve around RoboCop fighting other mechanical menaces, as well as the usual set of criminals that look like 1980s punks. No one shoots bullets, of course, but they fire the best laser pistols that the 1980s had to offer. But, since they were showing robots, you could show more damage, in the same way that G.I. Joe had the B.A.T.s and the Ninja Turtleshad the robotic Foot Soldiers. It was an easy out for animators when their characters couldn't actually kill anyone--even for RoboCop, who usually kills everyone.
1. Rambo: The Forces of Freedom
Animating the story of a troubled Vietnam veteran with severe PTSD presents several challenges. So, why not just scrap the story, reuse the characters, and throw in another conspicuously diverse supporting cast? Yes, Rambo: The Forces of Freedom has everything that's wrong with these awful cartoons. The show kept John Rambo and Col. Trautman, but reimagined them as part of a group of freedom fighters against the evil General Warhawk and his terrorist organization S.A.V.A.G.E. (Secret Administrators of Vengeance, Anarchy and Global Extortion). No mention is made of the Vietnam War, PTSD, or any of the events of the first two films. Strangely enough, Rambo III failed to acknowledge the events of the cartoon when it came out in 1988.
The Rambo cartoon was basically G.I. Joe-light. The bad guys all have plots involving stealing huge reserves of gold, kidnapping, and other crimes that rarely involved killing anyone. Would that all terrorists were so considerate. Rambo is another lily white do-gooder, who, in one episode, sits in the forest and communes with nature. But, it had to happen. In the same way that RoboCop had saturated pop culture, everyone knew about Rambo. We like to look back at these shows and ask "How could they make a movie with heads and arms getting blown off into a cartoon?" But, we know the answer--money. Kids actually saw these movies in the theater back then, and there was a market for toys and cartoons. Still, as adults we can look back and laugh at a time when people freely marketed R-rated movies to children every day after school.