If you grew up watching cartoons during the eighties then you’ve no doubt noticed how some of that period’s most beloved shows are now being turned into Hollywood blockbusters. What with the sequel to the Transformers movie and GI Joe coming to theaters soon, and Thundercats and Voltron just looming over the horizon, those of us who’re wetting our pants in anticipation will have more than enough to aid in our reversion to childhood. So then how about those other shows that were on during that same timeframe? You know, all the derivative copycat cartoons that jumped on the bandwagon of existing for the sole purpose of selling toys? Not ringing any bells? Maybe this list will jog your memory then.
Starting the countdown is everyone’s favorite, M.A.S.K. This show had absolutely nothing to do with the 1985 film of the same name starring Cher. Instead it was about a group of highly specialized Special Operatives who wore masks designed to interface with their respective vehicles. M.A.S.K. stood for Mobile Armor Strike Kommand (this was way before Mortal Kombat popularized the whole ‘K’ thing), and the main antagonists of the series was the terrorist group known as V.E.N.O.M (Viscious Evil Network of Mayhem, and yes it’s okay to laugh). Doesn’t sound terribly original does it? Well that was kind of the point since the show existed for the sole purpose of selling toys to directly compete with the likes of GI Joe and Transformers. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it when it came on, especially since it had a flying DeLorean in it. Now who doesn’t like that?
4. Challenge of the Gobots
Following closely behind is this blatant Transformers rip-off. Or was it? The interesting thing to note about the Gobots is that they started life out as a Japanese toy line called Machine Robo which was originally released in 1982. Tonka imported the toy line and rebranded it as The Gobots. The animated show debuted in 1984 which was the same year the Transformers show came out. So no, they’re not exactly a rip-off, per se. Unless of course you consider the fact that Transformers was based on another Japanese toy line which appeared in the seventies…whoa, I’m dizzy. So why did this show fail miserably? That’s a rhetorical question of course and the answer is obvious. No sex appeal. But no seriously, the ‘female’ Gobots looked just the ‘male’ ones, only they chicks had lipstick and eye shadow on. But no boobs, go figure. Anyway, moving right along…
Brought to us by the same folks that gave us the wonderful Thundercats, this cartoon had it all. The intrepid team made up of an ecclectic array of colorful characters, the dark and menacing threat to the galaxy, a killer intro sequence with better animation than the actual show…except for one thing. It was basically Thundercats with a new paint job. Don’t believe me? Check this out. Six members of a team travel out to the far reaches of the galaxy and are faced with a foe that has the ability to shapeshift into something very powerful. That enemy has a ragtag assortment of bumbling henchmen who prove useless from time to time. The team of good guys has a leader whom they all look up to, and there is of course the one token lady that’s smoking hot. So which show was I talking about? If you guess both then you get a prize…well, I guess you really don’t, sorry.
2. Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light
Heck of a title huh? I gotta say this show struck the right chords with me for some reason and I was very disappointed that it was swiftly cancelled. The premise was just really cool. The planet of Prysmos enjoyed a thriving technological age for thousands of years, until one day the realignment of the three suns spelled the end of that era. So ended the age of technology and thus began the age of magic. Pretty cool so far right? It gets better. In this dark time mankind went through a medieval period and soon there emerged two factions of warring knights. The wizard Merklyn tired of these constant skirmishes and sought to end them by granting certain member of each faction the powers of animals. Animals such as lions, bears, gorillas, sharks, and each of them could transform into these animals at will. Well, it didn’t last, but did anyone notice anything here? A cosmic realignment causing technology to no longer function? Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen in 2012? Of course I don’t go for that junk, but it’s still a hell of a concept for a cartoon show for kids in any case.
1. The Spiral Zone
Yeah baby, this is the one, because earth’s most powerful soldiers are earth’s last chance against the Spiral Zone! Sorry, I got a bit carried away there but I totally dug this show in just about every way. So what’s it about then? Well, this crazy scientist who calls himself the Overlord decides to drop these Zone Generators across the globe which essentially had the power to turn anybody in their vicinity into zombies. The Zone Riders, a group of 5 soldiers from all over the world were called to the rescue and they were all completely badass. I mean, with names like Colonel Dirk Courage you’d think these guys would be capable of delivering the pain. The bad guys were of course the usual set of bumbling fools, but not as comically overt as in some of the other shows. In fact, Spiral Zone was unique in that it actually tried to present each episode in a relatively realistic manner, and the sense of dread and real danger helped to bolster the viewers enthusiasm. I really liked how unsettling it was to see innocent people turned into zombies, and my relief was palpable when another section of earth was freed from the Zone Generators. This was a real gem, too bad it ended up on the way side.
So there you have it. Not an official list by any means, just my own personal take on the issue. Will any of these be made into big time Hollywood summer flicks? Not likely, but then again with the crap that’s coming out of those big studios it probably wouldn’t hurt them to take a look at these old properties.