Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Drawing (literally) First Blood

Continuing my quest to view every DVD in the Los Angeles Public Library catalogue.


Sheer naked greed is the ONLY reason why anyone would make a cartoon version of Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo character (based on Rambo: First Blood, Part II). I’ve seen the various Rambo cartoon volumes on the L.A. library shelves and finally just HAD to have my curiosity satisfied. I must say for a library DVD this disk is in the most pristine condition I have ever seen – basically no one but me has checked this puppy out since it was pressed!

Rambo the Cartoon was created in 1986 by the Ruby-Spears animation company, famous for Mr. T and Q-bert cartoons among others. RS cartoons look like much cheaper versions of Hanna-Barbera cartoons (you never thought that was possible, did you), which is sort of fitting as Joe Ruby and Ken Spears used to work for HB. So how do you take a character who stars in a series of hard R-Rated films and adapt him for the 5 years and older set? A character who suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome, was a loner and, not least of all, a superb killer? Why you throw that all away, of course!

You make Rambo part of a team of government-sponsored Freedom Fighters led by Col. Traughtman (I'm surprised he's not given a cartoony nickname, like "Troutie"). A team that includes an African American master mechanic, an Asian mistress of disguises, and a white-clad ninja (isn't that last one sort of an oxymoron?). Rambo is also no longer monosyllabic – he’s practically a freaking chatterbox here (and they don’t try to do a Stallone impression either). But don’t think they’ve changed everything, kids. Rambo still wears his First Blood: Part Two get-up of a red bandana, army pants and combat boots. And he rarely wears a shirt, which often leads to unintentional hilarity, as when Rambo attends a rodeo. There are all the cowboys, dressed in their shirts, blue jeans and hats, and there’s Rambo, with the red bandana, army pants, combat boots and no shirt riding a bull. In another episode set on a snowy mountain, Rambo wears what looks like a t-shirt (with their Freedom Fighters logo) with the sleeves cut off, the better to show his cartoon steroidal muscles. With Rambo going shirtless practically everywhere, regardless of the time of day or climate, it’s like he’s waiting for a Gay Pride Parade to start up.

Every episode Rambo and his Motley Crew go up against General Warhawk and S.A.V.A.G.E. (Secret Administrators of Vengeance, Anarchy and Global Extortion). Isn’t that just the lamest name for an evil organization? The anarchy and global extortion, I can get behind, even the vengeance. But, they label themselves ADMINISTRATORS! How wussy is that? What about Comptrollers of Evil? Or Alderman of Acrimony? Superintendents of Mayhem? With a name like “administrators” as part of their evil acronym, I bet they have casual Fridays (they can wear less formal ammunition belts and carry smaller firearms).

These are terrible cartoons, with extremely limited, strobe-like animation. The voices all sound the same, because they are all done by the same small group of actors. The characterizations are silly, especially the colorful mohawked thugs. General Warhawk is such a generic bad guy (he wears sunglasses…oooo, scary!), he makes me long for fun and interesting villains like they had in Space Ghost, folks like Moltar and Zorak.

This series was merely created to advertise and support a toy line, which it did. What’s next in companies’ greedy quests to make a few more bucks? Cartoons like Lil Mikey Myers (think Muppet Babies, but with Michael Myers) and Jason & the Friday the 13th Gang (a la Scooby Doo)? Leatherface: My First Saw toys? The game Operation, featuring Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter? Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle cap guns and plastic mohawks for ages 4 and up? The Last House on the Left playset (tag line: "Relive the adventure!")?

I wouldn't put anything past the greedy sumbitches.
Image from Copyright 2009 Carolco and Ruby Spears Productions. No infringement of those rights is intended.

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