Tag Archives: Cartoons

Going Back to Next Saturday Morning…in 1985!

I’ve written before about a personal hole in my pop culture nostalgia when it comes to certain memories of stuff that aired on TV back in the day.  As much as I loved Saturday morning cartoons, cheesy sitcom, and celebrity mash-up specials (like the Battle of the Network Stars or special crossover episodes of shows like Family Matters and Full House), I was never aware that every year the three main networks had special shows showcasing their upcoming fall line-ups (for both prime time and Saturday mornings.)  Over the course of the last decade I’ve discovered a ton of these specials while flipping through old issues of TV Guide and while browsing the dark web for old obscure television broadcasts and I have fallen head over heels for every cartoon preview show I’ve stumbled upon. A few years ago I wrote a bit about one of these, the 1984 NBC special called Laugh Busters.  Though I have a few more of these tucked away in my digital collection that I’ve been meaning to dig into, I just found a new one this past weekend that I really want to talk about.

Originally airing on NBC on September 13, 1985, the special was called Back to Next Saturday and promised to not only showcase the new season of NBC cartoons, but was also potentially cloaked in a Back-to-the-Future-inspired wrap around story. Sign. Me. Up. I mean, just take a look at the TV Guide ad above featuring Keshia “Rudy Huxtable” Pulliam in that sweet Marty McFly pose (complete with shades and puffy vest.)  Billed as a Spectacular Comedy Adventure Special, I can’t believe that I missed this gem of a show over 30 years ago.

One of the reasons that I love rediscovering these specials is that they flesh out the experience of what the excitement of a new season of cartoons was like growing up.  Not only were there a plethora of commercials airing between other shows during the week, but we were getting bombarded with teases of the new line-up in the pages of our favorite comic books as well.  I have a fairly decent archive of these comic book ads here on the site, and the 1985 NBC ad was a real gem.  In fact most of the NBC ads were pretty awesome in how they were framed, but I really loved this one in particular…

I adore the idea of all of the characters from the various cartoons getting together in a secret bunker underneath NBC headquarters in Burbank, CA.  There’s some pretty groan-worthy humor in this ad, but there’s also some pretty biting commentary as well, specifically from the Snorks complaining that they’re up early in the line-up.  I look at that as an acknowledgement that they probably get low ratings due to kids sleeping in past their show.  Anyway, like I was saying, these 30 minute commercial specials give these ads way more context and they usually pull in actors from a few of the sitcoms to made the whole experience a smorgasbord of pop culture fun (no matter how poorly written, acted and conceived these shows are.)

I’m really curious how the special got away with lifting the Back to the Future logo font.  Was NBC tied into Universal back in the 80s?  I didn’t think they merged until the mid 2000s.  Anyway, pretty quickly as the special starts it becomes clear that the font is the only thing that even resembles Back to the Future.  The wrapping story, written by Glenn Leopold & Christopher Brough (Brough was also responsible for Laugh Busters) resembles the Wizard of Oz way more than BTTF.

The set up is that Keisha Knight Pulliam (playing herself) is being babysat by Lisa Welchel (also playing herself, not Blair from the Facts of Life) and after Welchel reads Keisha a bedtime story she is whisked away to a magical island of cartoons.  Real quick, I wanted to point out that Keisha’s room is full of references to the new NBC cartoon line-up, from Smurf and Snork stuffed animals, drawings of her watching NBC, and even the story that Welchel reads to her from is out of a Punky Brewster & Friends book…

    

Of course immediately Keisha wants to go home, so as soon as she runs into Glomer from the It’s Punky Brewster cartoon she begins an adventure to find out how to leave the island.  Glomer introduces Keisha to his show and in order to help her, he pulls Soleil Moon Frye and her actor pals right out of the cartoon into reality to help Keisha.

    

This is where the special gets a little trippy for me.  It’s hard to tell who is real and who is a character.  Stay with me here.  As soon as Glomer (obviously a character because he’s animated) pulls Punky and her friends out of the cartoon, Punky talks about needing to get back so that they can star in the cartoon this fall on the network.  So is that Punky talking, or is it Soleil?  I mean, it’s Keisha, not Rudy Huxtable.  Is the idea that the characters in the Punky Brewster live action sitcom are aware that they’re making a cartoon?  I’m not sure exactly why this confounds me, but I find it weirdly interesting in a mind-bending sort of way.

Anyway, much like in the Wizard of Oz Keisha has now recruited some friends to help her on her way around the island looking for a way home.  Their next stop?  The Snork’s lagoon where they meet up with All*Star and are given a tour of the new season of the underwater animated series…

   

All*Star isn’t much help so they continue on past the lagoon and pretty soon they find themselves walking through a cave into the heart of the island.  They stumble on a room filled with pirate corpses and treasure chests. What’s in those chests you ask?  Why all of the previous cartoons that were cancelled by the network!  Of course this spurs Punky on as she shivers at the idea of having her show cancelled.  Of course, being the heavily nostalgic person that I am I just want to find this mystic island with all of these hidden cartoons!

   

After the group moves on from the cave they find themselves back outside where they run into some Smurfs in the woods.  Well, they run into a TV that has Papa Smurf and Smurfette frolicking in that same patch of forest.  They pause just long enough to meet the four new Smurfs that are joining the show that season (the “Cousin Olivers” of the series, Natural, Baby, Snappy and Sassette), before moving on to a clearing where they run into smoke and a weird Fire Alarm Box…

    

This is also a weird moment in the show.  Up until now when they met up with some of the cartoon characters on the island there is sort of a general vibe to the encounters.  Just cartoon characters minding their own and new voice work recorded to make it seem like the animation is interacting with the live action characters.  But the fire sequence is where the group meets up with Alvin and the Chipmunks and the only reason there is a smoky Fire Alarm Box is because the footage used from that particular Chipmunks episode involves the brothers dressed as firemen and riding a fire engine.  I mean, could they not find an episode with more general animation? Or at least they could have had the giant Chipmunk suits make another appearance from the Laugh Busters special.  Kinda weird…

After they chat with Alvin, the group moves on from the smokey area into an Aztec grove where Punky makes an Indiana Jones reference and Allen screws with a stature that causes them all to fall into another network of caves that also just happens to be right next to some of the Gummi Bears secret Quick Tunnels. Speaking of those giant Chipmunk suits, here we get a huge Cubbi Gummi live action appearance. I was kind of hoping that Cubbi would join the group on the adventure, but alas, he’s only there to showcase the inaugural season of Disney’s the Gummi Bears joining the NBC Saturday morning line up…

    

After the gang watches the preview they crawl into the Quick Tunnel and then find themselves back outside of the caves.  This island is starting to feel more and more like the island in Lost, just instead of black smog monsters and polar bears there are Snorks and Master Blaster jukeboxes from Kidd Video.  This is probably my favorite bit in the special as Kidd Video is hands down one of my favorite Saturday Morning cartoons from the 80s, and since the show is sitting in licensing hell and will never be released on DVD (due to the liberal use of pop music from the decade incorporated into almost every aspect of the series), any appearance of KV is gold to me.

    

After Keisha, Punky and the gang play a preview on the giant jukebox, my favorite fictional rock band is pulled out of the Flipside onto this island to join the group and help Keisha find her way home.  Seriously, not only is that cartoon so much fun (you really have to find some episodes on youtube and check it out for yourself if you don’t remember), but the music in the series is so damn good.  I listen to the one semi-officially-released album at least once a week on the commute to and from work.  And for all you Robbie “Cousin Oliver” Rist haters out there, I faithfully submit that his work on this cartoon and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie elevates him to pop culture hero.  Just saying…

So now, nine strong, like a certain Fellowship of the Ring, Keisha, Punky Brewster, Cherrie, Margo, Allen and Kidd Video and the gang all walk through the giant jukebox and into the bowels of the island once more.  Speaking of Lord of the Rings, the group finds themselves stuck on one side of a giant chasm.  Luckily, Peter Parker’s patented Spidey Sense goes off and he dons his Spider-Man outfit just in time to save everyone from falling into some liquid hot magma.  Hmmm, reminds me of when he showed up to join Danny Cooksey and K.I.T.T. in that Laugh Busters special

    

At this point in the special I feel like the writers were getting sick of the concept and they kind of hamfistedly shove in an awfully edited appearance by Mr. T and then they rush into the closing bit that sees Lisa Welchel return, doing her best Glinda the Good Witch of the North impression.  Welchel summons everyone together in a cave to sing a pretty catchy song about Saturday Morning cartoons that was written by music superstar Jeff Barry (who happened to compose the Jefferson’s theme song, as well as And Then He Kissed Me, Leader of the Pack, and the Archie’s hit Sugar, Sugar.)

    

Cue gratuitous dancing and literal television appearances of the various cartoons in the new NBC line up. Gotta say, even though I’m not the biggest Welchel fan, she knocks that song out of the park…

   

    

All in all, even though the acting was awful, the writing was ridiculous, and the whole premise was tired and silly, I loved every single frame of this special.  I mean where else are you going to see udy from the Cosby Show got lost on a cartoon dream island and had to team up with the kids from Punky Brewster, Kidd Video, Spider-man, Cubbi Gummi the Gummi Bears and Blair from the Facts of Life to get back home!  These cartoon previews are like a casserole of 80s pop culture, and the older they get the more satisfying they are to consume.

If you’re so inclined you can watch the special on youtube (it’s in two chunks, Part 1 & Part 2).  And if you just want to listen to that rad song at the end, you can hear it below, or right-click and download it here.

Totally Awesome: The Greatest Cartoons of the 80s is, well, Totally AWESOME

Over the past year Publisher Insight Editions has comes across my radar a lot.  In addition to the super cool Ghostbusters: A Visual History that I was gifted a couple Christmas seasons ago, I suddenly realized that I had a ton of their books either on my wish list or already on my shelves.  It didn’t dawn on me at first, but after picking up the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Pizza Cookbook, Labyrinth & The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual Histories, and their book on Quentin Tarantino I was apparently a fan.  When I came to that realization I started digging through their website and ended up stumbling on yet another book that I knew immediately I wanted for my collection, Totally Awesome: The Greatest Cartoons of the 80s by Andrew Farago.

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I’m a huge 80s film, television and animation nerd and it seems like when it comes to books that cover these interests there are no shortage of volumes dedicated to the former two and very few to the latter.  Sure, there are a handful of books floating around out there, namely the volume on Lou Scheimer and Filmation by Andy Mangels and a few books that only partially cover the cartoons of the Transformers and Smurfs, but nothing dedicated to the insanity of the 80s era of animation.  Most of the books deal with the golden age (and were mainly written by animation historian Jerry Beck) and only touch on the 80s heyday.  So when I learned about Totally Awesome, it shot up to the top of my “I need this in my life” pile.

The book was finally released a couple weeks ago and thanks to the fine folks at Insight I now have a copy sitting on my desk as I type this review.  So, what does the book cover you ask?  Farago chronicles 17 of the most notable cartoons of the decade, taking care to pick shows that cover a multitude of animation studios, networks, time-slots and genres.  Saturday mornings on the major networks during the decade were a treasure trove of great shows, but it wasn’t the only place to find great cartoons in the 80s.  Lest we not forget, most UHF and network channels also had impressive line-ups of syndicated animation that aired after school let out every Monday through Friday as well.  So for every Saturday Morning hit like The Smurfs, there was also a weekday show like DuckTales.  For every Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends there was a Transformers.  This volume highlights the above four series as well as He-Man & The Masters of the Universe, She-Ra: Princess of Power, Inspector Gadget, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Jem, Thundercats, Muppet Babies, The Real Ghostbusters, Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears, Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Garfield and Friends, and the Ralph Bakshi & Jim Kricfalusi re-launch of Mighty Mouse.

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Before I dive into the book, I wanted to take a second and address the fact that this book isn’t an exhaustive reference of all 80s cartoons.  I’ve been writing about 80s era animation long enough that it’s been my experience that the first reaction to a book like this (or columns and pieces I’ve written) is usually: “But why didn’t you cover <insert favorite neglected cartoon here>?!”  When I was sharing pictures of the cover to Totally Awesome on social media some folks seemed to wonder why certain cartoons weren’t represented in the illustration by Christian Cornia above. Whereas the idea of a single giant tome that covered all 80s cartoons sounds great on the face of things, an undertaking of that magnitude would be huge, and the amount of research, time and licensing clearance would probably make such a work cost prohibitive.  Farago, as I mention above, does a great job of picking out 17 shows, most given their own chapter, that are a very nice cross section of the decade.  It gives him the space to dig into each series in a fairly in-depth manner.  So take that for what it’s worth. Now, that aside, let’s dig into what IS covered in the book…

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The first thing that jumped out at me about the book was that with a few exceptions each chapter is illustrated with actual animation cels from the series.  Being a collector of animation art myself, it can sometimes be a subtle difference between screenshots and scans of actual cels, but I love that the time an effort was put in to track down these pieces of art.  There’s a crispness to scanning the actual individual cels that gives the reader an opportunity to really examine the artistry of the animators.  Screenshots tend to be hazy and vary in quality based on the source they’re pulled from, and the accurateness of how well they can be paused (believe it or not this varies by software.) It also provides a view of the process that is rarely showcased in books like this,  pulling out to illuminate the little details like cel edges (that feature the handwritten episode numbers and show codes of the production) as well as unfinished illustrations (cels used for closeup that there was no point in finishing.)  There are also under-drawings (the original pencil illustrations that are eventually copied onto the cels before they’re painted), which is very cool.

Another interesting aspect about this which is implied in the presentation is that not all cels were created alike.  Different companies used different stock and techniques and some cels age better than others.  A studio like Filmation thought of as cheapskates becasue of their re-use of run cycles and key animation sequences actually invested quite a bit in the actual quality of the hand painted cels.  They are one of the few companies who kept their animation in-house and in the United States during the 80s and you can literally see a difference in the cels 30 years later.  The copied animation outlines are still crisp and dark and the paint vibrant.  Other shows, particularly shows produced by DiC, didn’t fare so well in the longevity department.  Granted, these cels were never meant to be kept, treated as disposable assets by the studios who stockpiled them in storage lockers for years before letting the leases lapse.  Cels for shows like The Real Ghostbusters are kind of a crap shoot, quality wise.  Some of the paint has dulled with age, and the transferred illustration lines on the cels have faded (in some cases to almost nothing.)  It’s a fascinating little detail that the book features.

So long story short, for an animation nut like me this book is a bounty.  As far as the in-depth coverage of the shows goes, I was pleasantly surprised that there was a lot of work done on telling the story of both the studios, how the shows came about and highlighting the folks responsible for bringing the shows to life.  Again, as I’ve written about before, in my experience it can be kind of difficult to nail down exactly who did what behind the scenes as the credits attached to the opening and endings of cartoons tend to be vague.  Episode writers are typically highlighted, but most of the rest of the credits aren’t broken down to match characters to performers, and there are a lot of folks who aren’t given credit in a lot of series.  It can be difficult to figure out who was responsible for story editing for instance.  Back when I was writing about the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon I never realized that Steve Gerber was the story editor on the series (it wasn’t made clear in the cartoons or on the DVD sets of the series), and it wasn’t until Gerber piped to answer my question on this site that I found out.  Well Farago does a bang up job of tracking down all of this stuff for the series he covers and it’s pretty awesome.

All in all, if you’re a fan of 80s era animation this book is a must-buy.  I’m really hoping that there is enough positive response to the release that Insight and Farago could be convinced to work on future volumes.  In fact, I think a perfect follow-up would be a book that focused on some of the more obscure series of the 80s covering shows like Turbo Teen, The Spiral Zone, Robo Fore, Dinosaucers, the Trollkins, and Kidd Video.  But for now I’m content digging into the volume where I’ve already been learning more about series that I thought I already knew backwards and forwards.

Essential 80s Cartoon Logos and Title Screens

Not only am I a professed lover of the 80s, and in particular 80s era cartoons and animation, but I’m also pretty damn interested in branding and design (I mean, I did kinda name my site after that.)  So when these paths cross I can get pretty nerdy.  I mean heck, I wrote an entire piece centered specifically on the logo design of the movie The Monster Squad a few years ago.  Recently I found myself with a lot of time on my hands while also being stuck in a situation where I was away from home caring for one of my elderly parents.  I was in the hospital with my father, waiting with him while he was having chemo treatments and he was lost in a movie on one of the complementary iPads the treatment center provided.  I really needed something that could distract me from reality, and the warm embrace of nostalgia is usually the thing that does the trick for me.

So I pulled up my Plex app on my phone so that I could scroll through my collection of cartoons from the 80s and I landed on an episode of Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors.  As the episode was starting, playing through the opening credits, I paused when the title screen came up to marvel at the design of the font and how much fun the logo was in general.  The mix of the fantasy banner lettering in “Jayce” and the totally 80s brushed metal of the “Wheeled Warriors”.  Two genres coming together perfectly in this one logo and cartoon.

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I got this inspiration all of a sudden.  What would it be like to compare and contrast all of the 80s era cartoon title screens and logos? Because we live in a world where we basically have Star Trek level technology in the palm of our hands, I had the ability to take screen shots of at least 90% of the cartoons that were released during that decade right from my phone. So I did just that, for the next three hours I systematically went through my library of cartoons and captured as many as I could.

So let’s have some fun and break these up by theme.  For instance, here are all of the video and arcade game based series. There were a couple more shows in this genre in the 80s like Pitfall and Frogger, but these are the series I have digitally…

Most of these tend to be character-centric logos, but I find it interesting that one of the best series has the most boring logo (Pole Position.)

Next up let’s take a look at some of the super hero, comic book cartoons…

A couple of these surprised me, in particular Plastic Man and the Hulk.  Plastic man was a little frustrating because it really doesn’t have a title/logo screen (there is just a comic cover that comes flying at the screen.) Then the Incredible Hulk had two separate screens.  Also, that X-Men screen is from Pryde of the X-Men, so before anyone starts screaming about it being a 90s cartoon

So let’s switch gears a bit and take a look at some foreign cartoons.  I was exposed to all of these on  Nickelodeon as a kid (either as a part of Pinwheel or just part of their programming.) For those not familiar, Chapi Chapo was a stop motion cartoon from France that aired in short five minute segments during Pinwheel back in the day. I have some others (Bunny in a Suitcase and Hatty Town), but they really don’t have title screens. Also, Mysterious Cities of Gold and The Little Prince were French/Canadian co-productions, so foreign-ish.

Let’s move on now to some of the heavy hitters of the 80s, some of the action cartoons that aired in weekday afternoon syndication…

I find it kind of interesting that the majority of these logos are pretty similar.  These are heavy on the metallic fonts, and are blocky (some of them like the Go-Bots and She-Ra are literally 3D) and sans serif for the most part.  I also find it interesting that a few of them are also “mirrored” and are reflecting a barren landscape (ThunderCats, Transformers, and Go Bots.)  Also glad to see that every show that featured some sort of faction logos, the designs are incorporated into the show logo (Ghostbusters, ThunderCats, Transformers, Silverhawks, the Filmation Ghostbusters, heck even the Galaxy Rangers and COPS.)

Next up, let’s take a gander at some of the series that were based on either movies or live action TV shows…

To be frank, the first this that this batch makes me think of is just how many movies and TV shows in the 80s WEREN’T adapted into animated series.  I’m thinking stuff like The Gremlins, Goonies, Knight Rider, The A-Team (and not just Mr. T with a bunch of gymnast kids), Airwolf, Webster or Small Wonder.  All of those seem ripe for animated counterparts.  Or hell, a Michael Jackson animated series (and yes, again, I know that there was a Jackson 5 show, but I’m thinking like an adult MJ who would solve crimes while moonwalking and stuff.)  Also, I know that the Gary Coleman might seem to be in left field in this category, but it was actually based on the movie The Kid With the Broken Halo.  Lastly, I’m throwing in both of the Rambo logos because even though the blue one with the eagle crest is the main title screen, I love the starker one with the flames inside the letters.  It better embodies the tone of the character for sure…

How about all those series that featured lovable little critters?

There is so much cuteness in that block that I don’t even know where to start!  All I can think of for certain is that there is an overwhelming number of title screens that feature the characters, enough that it makes the screens with just the logos look weird in comparison.

Next, let’s look at some of the series that were based on toy lines…

For the rest of these I think I’m just going to call them the leftovers…

It’s pretty damn overwhelming when you step back and take a look at all of these title screens.  And again, this isn’t even all of the series out in the 80s.  There are some shows that I don’t have on DVD or digital (like the Mork & Mindy, Laverne & Shirley, Gilligan’s Planet and some of the seasons of Scooby Doo from the 80s), and a couple that I haven’t been able to convert and didn’t have access to grabbing the screens (like Ulysses 31, the Ruby Spears Superman, My Little Pony and Galtar and the Golden Lance.)

I’m sure there are more shows I’m forgetting, let me know what I missed in the comments section below!

The All New Branded in the 80s Podcast is back!

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Finally found some time to start working on season 2 of the All New Branded in the 80s Podcast.  In this new episode I take a few minutes to talk about some of the behind the scenes talent in our favorite 80s cartoons, or more precisely, just how hard it can be to nail down just who is responsible for creating the animation and cartoon theme songs we all love.

For this episode’s shout out I want to point to Michael at Culturally Significant.  Great website, and even better pin maker!

If you haven’t already, I’d be honored if you took a second to rate or write a review of the show in iTunes (good, bad, indifferent.)

Filling a gap in my pop culture past…

There are a million reasons why I’m thankful for being brought into this world in the late seventies, but the one that I’ve been focusing on lately is that I feel a very deep appreciation for my luck in experiencing what the world has been like before and after the internet. I do my best to not take the wonderland of the World Wide Web for granted, and I consistently marvel at the level of access we have to information, even if it seems banal and trivial on the surface. With the tools, databases and connections at hand we can use these resources to practically break through the implausibility of a concept like time travel and experience things that should be long gone and forgotten. I spend the majority of my time here at Branded writing and talking about all the stuff from my childhood that I hold dear in particular my personal experiences with the shows, movies, books, toys and pop culture ephemera that I grew up loving. Today I want to talk about something I completely missed out on, something that I only discovered after starting this site almost a decade ago, the Saturday morning entertainment showcase specials that were broadcast by the major TV stations back in the 80s.

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Growing up I never really had a say in what the family would watch on TV. I know, everyone is crying me a river, right? Honestly, it’s not a complaint; I had food, shelter, and more than my fair share of toys and entertainment, but when it came to TV there were only a few windows when I had access to controlling the dial (and much later the remote), especially as soon as my father would come home from work. As soon as he got in the door he immediately changed the station from the afternoon cartoons I might be watching on the UHF channels to whatever station would have local news. So if that meant suffering through syndicated reruns of Alice or the Jefferson’s for the billionth time so that the channel would be tuned in to the news as soon as it started, that’s what we watched. Then it was the local news, then national news, then Entertainment Tonight, and finally onto whatever stuff caught my dad’s interest for the rest of the evening. My TV time was mostly regulated to 30 minutes in the morning before school (where I caught old Our Gang and Three Stooges shorts or the odd episode of Woody Woodpecker or Chilly Willy), an hour after school (where I caught most of my syndicated cartoons like He-Man, G.I. Joe, Bravestarr and the Silverhawks), and a couple hours on Saturday morning for cartoons. Because of this I never tended to flip through the actual programming portion (the B&W newsprint part) of our copies of the TV Guide and therefore I never stumbled across any of the advertisements for the one-off showcase specials that aired during the kickoff of the new network lineup in fall.

So at 8:30pm on Saturday the 8th of September in 1984 I had no idea that there was a 30-minute special called Laugh Busters airing on NBC. In fact I didn’t even learn that it existed until about five years ago when I broke down the 1984 Fall Preview issue of the TV Guide here at Branded. At the time it was a bit of a curiosity that I wished I could explore further but there was nothing online about it except for a glorified placeholder entry on IMDB.

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Well, a few years went by and Laugh Busters slipped to the back of my mind as one of those oddities, a hole in my childhood experience that I wished I could fill but knew I’d probably never get a chance to see as something like that would never merit a DVD release (way too many licenses and clearances would be needed.) But, as I stated above, the internet and all its connections are pretty damn miraculous and my buddy Tim over at Flashlights Are Something to Eat had his own Laugh Busters journey going on. Unlike me, Tim had actually seen the original broadcast as a kid and even had the presence of mind to tape the audio on a blank cassette! He did a short synopsis/write-up on his site but was still yearning to re-watch the full special, so he kept up his search and a couple of years later he finally found one of his childhood holy grails, an old VHS copy that had been ripped to DVD. Tim, being the super awesome guy that he is, offered to let me borrow his copy and finally, 30 years after it originally aired, I was able to experience a small part of 1984 that I thought was lost to time. As a bonus the copy of the special was complete with the commercials that originally aired with it, so this was as close to time travel that the internet has made possible.

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As I mentioned above, Laugh Busters was a Saturday Morning showcase special which was designed to sell the kids of America on NBC’s new line-up of shows, particularly because half of the schedule was brand new for 1984. Here’s a copy of the SMC comic book ad for NBC from which introduced 4 new shows including Kidd Video, Pink Panther and Sons, the Snorks and the live action sitcom Going Bananas starring JR the orangutan as Roxanna Banana a simian zapped by a U.F.O. and given super powers.

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The basic premise of Laugh Busters revolves around the making of the NBC Special starring all of the new cartoon characters as well as the Smurfs, Spider-Man, Mr. T, Alvin & the Chipmunks, and the cast of Going Bananas. The director in charge, D.W. (played by Sandy Helberg), has his plans put in peril by Gargamore O’Dette, a super evil wizard (also portrayed by Helberg) bent on the end of laughter and the ultimate destruction of NBC. Why you ask? Because he’s allergic to laughter of course!  Here’s some audio from that opening segment

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Gargamore ODette

Right off the bat after hitting play I was taken aback as there was a scene during the opening credits that featured a team up between an animated Mr. T and Alvin, Simon and Theodore. At first I thought this was a weird composting of elements from the two Ruby Spears cartoons, but upon digging a bit I found out that Mr. T was featured in the first segment in the premier episode of the 80s Chipmunks series (both shows debuted together the year prior in 1983.) There’s also a great song in the middle of the episode.  Somehow I’ve managed to miss out on this epic bit of pop culture fun for the last 31 years.

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After the detour of watching the first episode of Alvin and the Chipmunks I dove back into the Laugh Busters special. To execute his nefarious plan Gargamore kidnaps the Smurfs off screen and recruits two live action henchmen (played by James “Uncle Phil” Avery and Bill Saluga reprising their roles of the Grit Brothers Hank and Hubert from Going Bananas) to stop the rest of the characters from making it onto the special.

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Grit Brothers

Of course Thom Bray (Boz and his rad orange robot Roboz from Riptide) show up at the studio for the Special and they end up helping to track down the missing stars and cartoon characters starting with Spider-Man.

Thom Bray

Dan Gilvezan, voice of Spider-Man from the cartoon, redubs animation segments from the show to talk about being excited for the new season as well as taking a trip across country to appear on the new NBC special. He then proceeds to web-swing from NYC all the way to Burbank (seriously) set to the sweet dulcet melody of the city-name-dropping portion of the Huey Lewis song Heart of Rock and Roll.

Spiderman

Of course he encounters the infamous Grit Brothers near the city of One Horse USA, swinging into and getting trapped on a gigantic piece of ACME Fly Paper (in a live action segment that looks like it was straight out of an episode of the Electric Company)! Boz uses Roboz to call a honkytonk out there to enlist the help of Danny Cooksey (from Diff’rent Strokes and later Salute Your Shorts) to help. After performing his best Waylon Jennings imitation of the Ed Bruce song “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” (where the keen observer will notices the entire Kidd Video and Going Bananas cast in attendance as well as Alfonzo Ribero), Danny takes Boz’s call and agrees to help, though he needs a ride to go help Spider-Man since he’s just a kid and all.

Audience

Alfonzo

Boz then enlists the help of KITT from Knightrider to drive Danny out to rescue Spider-Man. What I love about this segment (aside from seeing a pint-sized Danny Cooksey behind the wheel of K.I.T.T.) is that this is the only onscreen pairing of Spider-Man and K.I.T.T. (I have a soft spot in my heart of Knightrider crossovers.) I also love that William Daniel voiced K.I.T.T. in this special uncredited…

Cooksey KITT Spiderman

With Spider-Man rescued, the Grit brothers turn their attention that that new up and coming rock ‘n roll band Kidd Video, and they literally roll a rock at the gang’s, knocking them and the Kiddmobile right out of the flipside back into the real world. Since their ship is messed up they decide to practice their new hit song (Video to Radio) out on a bridge near the wreckage.

Kidd Video

The special then cuts to Roxanna Banana listening to Kid Video on the radio and a reworking of the opening segment of the Going Bananas series then plays out. This bleeds back into the GB cast in their jalopy bus running into Kidd Video still playing out on the bridge and they decide to pick them up and head out to Burbank together.

Going Bananas

Things get a little weird when the special moves on to Alvin and the Chipmunks. Again, like with Spider-Man, Ross Bagdasarian Jr. reprises the role of Alvin to voice new material over clips from one of the cartoon episodes to tie it into the plot of this new story. The Grit brothers have boarded a train carrying the Chipmunks and Dave to Burbank, and the plan is to steal their train tickets so they’ll get kicked off, which they do. But when the Chipmunks get thrown off the train the special switches from animation to live action with three very bulky and ridiculously large chipmunk outfits. They’re rescued by Boz who sends the Riptide Helicopter (the Screaming Mimi) to pick them up.

Chipmunks

As the special moves into its second half the pace starts to pick up dramatically and the amount of original non-clip material is reduced. The last longish bit involves Mr. T and his gymnasts stopping at a meet they were invited to only to realize that it was a trap and they have a run in with the Grit brothers. Luckily they foil the Grit Bros. plan to steal their bus in a weird mix of live action and animation.  Though you hear his voice, you only ever see Mr. T’s real life arm (well, it was supposed to be Mr. T, but I’m sure it was just a stand-in double…)

MR T

Next up is the Pink Panther and Sons segment where Pinky and Panky, the sons of the Pink Panther are taking a bike ride through a city. The grit brothers show up and decide to paint a fake tunnel opening on a huge rock in the hopes that they will ride smack dab into it. The animation switches over to live action as a person in a huge Panky costume rides a bike straight through the painting much like in a cartoon. It’s just assumed that the false tunnel has become a wormhole to Burbank.

Pink Panther

In the second to last segment the Grit brothers are sitting in a raft and have a plan to obliterate the Snorks. They explain that everything in the Snorks underwater kingdom is run on steam and so they take control of one of NASA’s inter-continental ballistic missiles with a remote control and crash it into the sea sealing off an underwater volcano that is the source of the Snork’s steam production. This then switches over to animation where there is a clip of the Snorks removing said missile from the volcano and foiling the Grit Brother’s plan.

snorks

In the last segment Papa Smurf, the only Smurf not captured by Gargamore, figures out that O’Dette is trying not to laugh. So he develops a potion which he slips to Gargamore that makes him evaporate. Yes, Papa Smurf apparently kills Gargamore!

smurfs

This leads to an all-out dance celebration with all of the live action characters, cartoons and the guest stars (minus Panky and Thom Bray), rocking out to a spoof of the Ghostbusters theme by Ray Parker Jr.

Dance Party

I’ll be the first to admit that this Laugh Busters showcase special was super hokey and kind of hard to watch in spots, but I’m glad I finally caught up with one of these because it was great to see the mash-up of properties and characters. I know I would have loved it had I seen it back in 1984. It’s kind of a shame that it’s mostly lost to time, so as a small little capper to this experience I took the time to submit a bunch of information about the special to the pathetic IMDB listing. It’s slowly updating, but at least there’s now a synopsis, more crew and some trivia added. Hopefully they’ll add the rest of the cast that I submitted soon and this won’t be a completely lost bit of 80s fun.

And before I close this out, here’s a list of the original commercials that aired during the special…

Commercial Break

1). Fun with McNuggets: This is a fun early McNuggets commercial that still featured some of the older McDonaldland characters like the Professor and Captain Crook…

Fun With McNuggets

2). Raisin Bran BMX: This commercial is like a mash-up of the movie Rad and a kid crazy for his two scoops of raisins.  So crazy in fact that he decides to ditch halfway through the race to go eat more raisins…

Raisin Bran BMX

3). Wrangler Clothes (Live It to the Limit with Wrangler): This is the first time I’ve seen a Wrangler ad that was aimed at a young teen audience.  I’ve always associated these jeans with like older guys who work on farms or construction, so it was weird seeing the brand try and take a more Jordache spin.  Also, the commercial is an excuse to strip out of the clothes, a weird choice if you ask me…

Wrangler

4). Wendy’s Where’s the Beef?: The classic 80s Where’s the Beef commercial, ‘Nuff Said.

Wendys

5). Sneak Week with Punky Brewster, Silver Spoons, Highway to Heaven: Always fun seeing the 1st season promo material for Punky Brewster and the most adorable Brandon with an afro…

sneak week

6). Pop Tarts: Color coordinate your Pop Tarts kids.  Also, I forgot how much I missed seeing the bit where the knife is spread over the fruit filling that spells out fruit…

Pop Tarts

7). Chef Boyardee: This commercial wins the award for worst mom ever.  The little girls wants a cookie, but the mom thinking that’s unhealthy (why do you have them in the kitchen then?) stops her and gives her a full can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs instead.  Because that’s SOOOOO MUCH BETTER.  Sigh…

Chef Boyardee

Commercial Break 2

A Super Fun Show…with Learning!

I recently stumbled across a pretty fun web series created by and staring Lexie Kahanovitz called Super Fun Show with Learning!  It’s a weird mix of animation, puppetry, and live action comedy that takes a dystopian, cartoon-addled look at the millennial generation’s experience.  Imagine Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by way of Kidd Video filtered through the lens of David Cronenberg.  After being downsized by a cyberpunk middle manager who only talks in corporate-speak, Sandy Childs, the heroine of the series, has to figure out how to survive with no money, mounting debt, and an addiction to personal electronics.

SFSPromoStill

There series homages Pee Wee’s Playhouse and Videodrome, with a little bit of Who Framed Roger Rabbit thrown in for good measure (specifically the tone of the shoe-melting scene.)  With an NES chiptunes soundtrack and the a color palette straight out of Windows 95 MS Paint, the first episode is a trippy look at modern problems with a playful injection of 80s/90s era nostalgia.  It reminds me a lot of another independent film project I had the opportunity to preview recently, Don Thacker’s Motivational Growth (which I’ll be talking about in more detail over at the Cult Film Club soon.)

The first episode is available for free on youtube, and Lexie and crew are hard at work on the second installment and have a kickstarter going to try and secure some funding.  I know I’m curious to see where the series goes, an she totally secured my dollars when she states in the KS video that the second episode will feature a sequence inside the TV that they need “…to make an amazing Tron suit…” for, so I backed the project.  If you dig what you see maybe you’ll be interested in helping to fund it too.  I will say, though it’s more or less pg-13, it’s more on the Videodrome side of things than say Kidd Video, so be warned ;)  If you decide back the project, leave a comment and tell ’em Branded sent ya!

Thank you Mr. Scheimer.

I never had the opportunity to meet Lou Scheimer and I regret that I was never able, in person, to say those two little words that can’t even begin to express how I felt, “Thank you.”

Like so many kids who grew up or came of age in the 70s and 80s, cartoons were the cornerstone of our lives. For some maybe only during those formative years pre-K to third grade or so, but for others like me, cartoons have been an essential part of my life for over three decades. As a kid cartoons were an alarm clock on weekends, as well as my introduction to comedy, tragedy, drama, and heroes and villains. They were my inspiration to pick up a pencil and start drawing. They were an escape, a comfort. They helped instill in me a moral compass. They were/are magic. Over my lifetime there are a handful of studios that have greatly affected me to different degrees, Sunbow, Hanna Barbera, Ruby Spears, Disney and DiC, but at the end of the day there really was only one that helped to define my voice as a person and that was Filmation. And Lou Scheimer basically was Filmation.

FilmationTrio_Big

I’m well aware that no one person is solely responsible for a studio, and I have a very long list of artists, animators, writers, producers, voice actors, secretaries and interns to be grateful for, but from all the documentaries, interviews, and articles I’ve read, Lou Scheimer really did put his all into Filmation and so many of his ideas and principals shine through in every production they released. He wasn’t just a figurehead; he was involved and invested in the art that was being created. The more familiar you become with Scheimer, the more and more you see him in the Filmation stable of cartoons, not only in just tone, but in all aspects of production. The most obvious example is his contribution of voice-work for so many characters I grew up listening to. In so many of the live action series Scheimer provided both credits narration and was constantly heard breathing life into robots and creatures, over intercoms and on computers. He was Dumb Donald on Fat Albert, Bat-Mite and the super computer on Filmation’s Batman. He played Tracey the Gorilla in Filmation’s Ghostbusters, was Zero, the off-screen boss from the live action Ghostbusters show from the 70s, and was Sandstorm on Bravestarr. But to me he was one of the major players that helped to define the vocal sound of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and She-Ra Princess of Power voicing so many of my favorite characters including Stratos, Orko, Trap-Jaw, King Randor, Swift Wind, Kowl, Mantenna, Grizzlor, Fisto, Spikor, Two-Bad, Moss Man, and the Attack Trak computer just to name a few. Scheimer’s voice has been with me in one form or another for practically my entire life.

cover-620_3

Scheimer was also instrumental in keeping animation in the US, and was one of the last hold outs with a studio that had all aspects of creation in-house for the majority of their run. Though a lot of people like to make fun of the studio for its budgetary restraints and re-use of animation, the work, to my eyes, is still beautiful and well worthy of study and deconstruction. I’m still really proud of the two episodes of the Saturday Supercast where Jerzy Drozd, Kevin Cross and I took a stab at breaking down the Masters of the Universe cartoon (Part one and Part two.)

If nothing else, I’m glad that Scheimer had a chance to see the impact that he had on so many lives and that over the last decade we fans have been treated to wonderful releases of a good majority of the Filmation library on DVD. These initial releases, the ones produced by BCI Eclipse, are also chock full of lengthy documentaries on Filmation, the shows, and Scheimer and his family. He made it out to conventions to meet with the fans and together they celebrated a lot of great animation art and childhood memories. Andy Mangels, who produced most of the special features content on those DVDs, also sat down with Lou and co-wrote his biography, Lou Scheimer: Creating the Filmation Generation, so for anyone interested in his story, there is plenty to delve into.

It’s a little late, but I guess this is my way of saying thank you Lou, for all you did, for living the life that you did and making mine immeasurably better off for it. Thank you.

Captain Cornelius is diving into the Union Pool!

So, I wanted to take a second and share some super rad news.  You remember that cool Puppet and cartoon show, Captain Cornelius Cartoon’s Cartoon Lagoon that I mentioned last year?  Well, the really swell Manny Galán and Cartoon Lagoon Studios have partnered with Starz to bring the Lagoon to Union Pool!

cartoon lagoon

This is really cool news and now you can head on over to UP’s Youtube channel and check up on Cornelius and his crew as they go on their daring undersea adventures to rescue those old forgotten cartoons and for our viewing pleasure!

Episodes 1 & 2 are now live, so head on over, watch the show and make sure you subscribe so you can keep up with the antics of Cornelius, Axel, Wet Willy and Plank!  Tell ’em Branded sent ya!

My Beastmen…

Sometimes I have to remind myself that not every post has to be something precious where I do a bunch of research and try and dig into my memories of the 80s.  Sometimes I can just throw up a picture of my Beastmen…

Let’s help Little Billy come to life!

Crikey, real life is dragging down the daily posting of the Halloween countdown this year for sure.  I’m hoping to catch up scanning animation cels and stuff again this weekend.  In the interim, I wanted to point everyone’s attention to a super awesome nostalgic cartoon project that I’ve been meaning to mention for awhile now called Little Billy

Little Billy is the brainchild of animator Chance Raspberry (the Simpsons, Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends), and is about a precocious little kid with a unique condition that requires some special needs.  Raspberry’s vision is to create a throwback cartoon that’s fun and entertaining while also bringing to light the issues a lot of kids face with special needs education.  In fact, one of the goals of the Kickstarter project to get Little Billy off the ground is to create a pilot episode that can also replace those some of those unfortunately seriously outdated special education awareness videos in schools around the country.  But don’t just take my word for it, check out what Chance has to say about the project in his presentation video on Kickstarter

The project is pretty darn close to achieving its funding and it only has a little over one more day to go.  I’d love to see this reach its goal and for Chance to be able to reach out to kids with special education needs all over the country know that they’re not alone and that people do care!

So if you have a second, check out the Kickstarter for Little Billy, watch the trailer, and then spread the word about this interesting cartoon!