’80s Cartoon Comebacks

One of the latest geek trends in Hollywood is making movies out of the Saturday morning cartoons and toys we ’80s babies hold dear to our hearts. By now everybody knows the Transformers and G.I. Joe movie franchises, while properties like He-Man, Voltron, and Thundercats have been in the process of cinematic development for some time now.

You hear people saying it more and more often these days: “Dude, Michael Bay ruined my childhood with that crap Transformers movie!” or “Why did they have to ruin G.I. Joe?” And while there are certainly good reasons for those comments to be made, I think some people forget that our favorite 80s cartoons were being exploited and “ruined” long before today’s Hollywood sharks ever came to cash in.

Take the Transformers franchise: we all love the original 1984 cartoon series – some of us even give a pass to the cult-classic 1986 animated movie the original series spawned. But after that original Transformers show came the spin-offs – you know, the ones a lot of geeks have conveniently forgotten:

Beast Wars: Transformers arrived in the mid-90s; it had poor CGI animation and tried to carry the premise of the original cartoon into a prehistoric animal setting. UPDATE: While the look of Beast Wars is dated now, it was, relatively speaking, an admirable attempt at expanding the Transformers Universe, and included some great story archs. After Beast Wars wrapped, a spin-off of THAT spin-off, Beast Machines: Transformers, gave the prehistoric premise a sleek futuristic makeover but lost the the epic story of Beast Wars (not that many of us ever cared).

Transformers: Cybertron came in 2005. It followed the Autobots and Decepticons in a race for magic keys to stop a black hole from consuming their planet. Lately we’ve seen the debut of Transformers: Animated, which is basically a reboot of the original series, only in anime style animation. This epic list doesn’t even count the Transformers cartons that were produced overseas (see: Transformers: Superlink or Transformers: Armada).

So that’s Transformers, but what about G.I. Joe? The property has a a long history stemming back to the 60s when the toy company Hasbro (makers of Transformers) launched the first G.I. Joe dolls. G.I. Joe hit the mainstream thanks to the 80s animated series, which culminated with an awesome animated movie.   But after that first cartoon wrapped, we got yet another string of knock-offs.

G.I. Joe relaunched in 1989 with “Operation: Dragonfire”, an animated miniseries that was both an epilogue to the animated movie and a reboot for the franchise, kicking-off a new 90s animated series, in which G.I. Joe became “International Heroes” instead of just “Real American Heroes.” The new series also tried to tackle topical issues such as the war on drugs and terrorism, often to hilarious results. Next we got G.I. Joe Extreme in the mid-90s, which was…pretty much what the title would suggest.

After the 90s series we got the multitude of one-shot animated features, miniseries, and the seldom-recognized G.I. Joe shows, such as the CGI animated Valor vs. Venom (2004), and anime-inspired G.I. Joe: Sigma 6 (2005).

By the time the live-action G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra movie arrived in 2009, the franchise had been through some really dark times. Sorry geeks, you can’t put ALL the blame on Stephen Sommers and Channing Tatum for defiling the Real American Hero.

Continue to TMNT, Voltron, He-Man and more…

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