6 Ridiculous Cartoons Based On Fads
TV cartoons have always been about more than entertaining bored kids for 30 minutes. Sometimes they were half-hour commercials for action figures (“G.I. Joe,” “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe”). Sometimes they were about celebrities trying to reach an even younger audience (“Mister T,” “Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling”). And sometimes they were attempts to cash in on a fad in the hopes they could crank out 13 episodes before people wondered why the hell they bought a Pet Rock in the first place.
Rubik, the Amazing Cube
Fad: Extremely Successful/Annoying Puzzle
Premise: By the early 1980’s Rubik’s Cube was as popular as Jordache jeans and the belief we were all going to die in a nuclear holocaust. And if Pac-Man could have a #1 hit song (“Pac-Man Fever”) then it only made sense that a mega-selling toy could get its own cartoon series. Only problem was, how do you make an animated series about an infuriating block of plastic? The answer is so obvious you’ll hit yourself for not guessing it--Rubik falls out the stagecoach of an evil magician and is rescued by three Hispanic siblings who must repeatedly solve it so it could fly. Of course, this made much more sense than the proposed “Rubik’s Cube Cereal,” which required you to solve it before you could eat it, resulting in 11-hour breakfasts and little kids screaming at their cereal bowl, “OH, COME ON NOW! I JUST GOT THE BLUE MARSHMALLOWS TO LINE UP!”
The Funky Phantom
Fad: The Bicentennial
Premise: Hoping to get a head start on the marketing and media blitz that would prove to be the Bicentennial, Hanna-Barbera celebrated America’s independence the only way they knew how—by remaking “Scooby-Doo” only to replace the dog with a dead soldier. And so was born “The Funky Phantom,” a cartoon about a Revolutionary War-era man and his cat so scared of the British that they hide in a grandfather clock, only for both to suffocate to death (cue laugh track). This being a 1970’s Saturday morning cartoon, they were joined by three modern-day teens to solve mysteries, such as “Why would anyone honor America’s 200th birthday with a cartoon about a patriot so piss-in-his-pants frightened that he would accidentally kill himself in furniture?”
Fad: Golden Age of Video Arcade Games
Premise: Frogger! Donkey Kong! Q*bert! Kangaroo? During the first golden age of video arcade games (when people had to leave their homes to play games that didn’t consist simply of a square shooting smaller squares at what might be a dragon, a spaceship, or a screen glitch), these characters were the superstars of pop culture. They appeared on shirts. They had their own breakfast cereals. They might have run for senate seats in your more crooked states. And together they formed “Saturday Supercade,” a cartoon series that crammed as many video game celebrities as possible into a half-hour show that asked, “Why have fun playing their games when you can just sit slack-jawed watching them jump on logs, throw barrels, and climb pyramids every show, every week, every year, until you saved enough quarters to buy your own arcade machine or got interested in girls instead?”
Fad: Daredevil Evel Knievel
Premise: Back in the 70’s you couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing motorcycle stuntman Evel Knievel break his right leg jumping over 15 Ford Mustangs, break his collarbone, right arm, and both legs while jumping over 13 Pepsi delivery trucks, or accidentally drive a rocket-powered cycle straight into the bottom of Snake River Canyon. He was so famous he even had his own action figure, which came with a pre-shattered spine and could not qualify for insurance. And what better way to capture his real-life, heart-racing derring-do than make a limited animation cartoon series about a daredevil who jumped poorly-drawn cars when not solving mysteries (as was legally required of all Saturday morning cartoon shows in the 1970’s). The series only ran one season, during which time Evel Knievel broke an additional 189 bones.
Fad: 80’s Music Videos
Premise: During the 1980’s music videos were so huge most people believed that by the 21st Century approximately 99% of all television programming would be clips of Duran Duran and Culture Club. So to get a jump on a predicted future ruled by MTV VJs, the people who later brought you “Power Rangers” introduced a series about a live-action band that gets pulled through a mirror into a cartoon universe ruled by an evil record executive only to be helped by a magic fairy named “Glitter” as they rescued the people of Flipside between breakdancing and videos from Kenny Loggins and Human League (rereading that last sentence won’t make it any clearer). Frankly, this series could not be more 1980’s if the entire cartoon was acid washed, given neon bracelets, and repeatedly said “Where’s the Beef?”
Hong Kong Phooey
Fad: 70’s Martial Arts Movies
Premise: In an era when Bruce Lee was king, “Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting” was topping the charts, and a white guy was playing an Asian character on the TV series “Kung Fu,” Hanna-Barbera once again sought to turn “fad” in “fortune” with “Hong Kong Phooey,” by the far the most popular cartoon on this list. Featuring the voice of the great Scatman Crothers, the cartoon told the story of a dog janitor at a police department who had a pet cat and turned into a martial arts hero by jumping inside a file cabinet, a premise stolen outright from the first draft of “Enter the Dragon.” Although incompetent to the point of needing a mental health evaluation, Phooey was often saved by both his feline sidekick and a car that could change into anything, a gimmick also used in the cartoon studio’s most famous attempt at Asian racial profiling, “The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan.” And of course, given that he was a hero, Phooey had to keep his identity a secret despite being the only talking dog in the city, a premise that would work just as well if “Family Guy” introduced a character called “The Masked White Talking Dog That Sounds Exactly Like Seth MacFarlane.”
Any I forgot? Let me know in the comments!