Showing posts with label animated adventure. Show all posts
Showing posts with label animated adventure. Show all posts

Sunday, November 7, 2021

None But the Brave

By 1987, the conservationists of the animated television world, Filmation and Mattel were teaming up for their next recycled product in their line of manly interplanetary heroes with friendly wizards and special swords to save strange universes. Bravestarr was created by (again) Lou Scheimer and ran for (again) a meager 65 episodes, each 25 minutes in length.

In a distant galaxy known as ‘New Texas’, natives called Prairie People live among predatory beings such as Solacows, Apecats, Coyotoids, Broncosaurs, Krangs, Reptillianoids and Sand Walruses! Keeping law and order in this cosmic Wild West is Bravestarr, an American Indian ‘Matt Dillon’ of sorts who can telepathically summon animal friends in his quests. The most loyal of these benevolent beasts is an 'equestroid' deputy called Thirty/Thirty who can walk on two legs like Quick Draw McGraw when not galloping to the rescue with the mounted Bravestarr.

The noble star packers’ rivals include the ‘Carrion Bunch’, a gang of outlaws led by Tex-Hex, a former prospector of New Texas’s coveted red mineral and fuel source, Kerium.

Tex-Hex reports directly to an obligatory mean skeleton dude named Stampede, a Broncosaur who calls on the egregious forces of the planet’s wasteland to wage battle against Bravestarr and Shaman, his fatherly and mystical ally who wields considerable extra-sensory powers often used to contact the hero during periods of danger (See: ‘The Sorceress’ from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and ‘Light Hope’ from She-Ra: Princess of Power).

Ultimately, while this flash-in the-pan from Mr. Scheimer would prove to be Filmation’s swan song, it embodied their recurring themes that thrilled and educated its young fans every week. Space was certainly the final frontier but Bravestarr showed us that the limits of the imagination would, by contrast, remain forever infinite.

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Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire (image)
Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Power Sword for the Overlord

A notable predecessor to He-Man and the Masters of the
Universe, Blackstar, was produced by Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott for Filmation and aired on CBS for a perfunctory 13 episodes. The short-lived animated fantasy can be viewed as an intermediary link between Thundarr the Barbarian and the aforementioned He-Man.

In Blackstar, the titular hero is an astronaut who is stranded on planet Sagar and must continually battle formidable evil forces with the aid of his new alien friends and an assortment of kooky and bizarre interplanetary inhabitants like Trobbits, mermanites, Wood Sprites, Desert Sprites, Amazons and Flame People.

Blackstar’s obligatory tropes are as reminiscent of Star Wars and Thundarr as they were influential to He-Man. The massive trusty steed this time around is a ‘dragon-horse’ named Warlock. Similarly, his mystical ‘good witch’ friend, a magical wizardess named Mara assists periodically in Blackstar’s struggles. Additionally the planet’s token evil purple dude and Sagar’s overlord is known appropriately as— Overlord!

The supernatural sword of choice for Blackstar is his ‘Power Sword’ which can store outside energy and reflect it back at will. It is this sword that Overlord likewise wishes to acquire as a missing piece to his similar one in gaining supreme power and energy. Like those wielded by counterparts Thundarr and He-Man and not unlike Batman’s utility belt or Doctor Who’s ‘Sonic Screwdriver’, the Power Sword was as much a valuable tool for its owner as it was for the show’s writers who often relied on the weapon as a handy script device.

Once again, an interesting and imaginative premise wasn’t enough to appease network execs who may have had their eyes on a hotter property. As such, fans are left with another brief glimpse into a strange fantastic world where good confronts evil through might, confidence, determination and teamwork (and perhaps a few superior magical weapons).

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Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire (image)
Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Hoo-Ra for Girl Power!

As Filmation wound down its He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series, a ‘back door’ had magically opened up for the hulky hero’s long-lost twin. Now the torch could be ably carried on with She-Ra: Princess of Power and by 1985, sisters were doin’ it for themselves.

Not a completely sloppy imitation, She-Ra had a style and appeal that was all herself, rather than a Xerox copy of her famous brother wearing a pink bow. She lived in another universe on a unique planet of her own, albeit one decidedly more pink and lavender!

Created by Larry DiTillio and J. Michael Straczynski, the spin-off followed the previous winning formula and introduced new characters and premises clearly modeled on the first series. Mattel Inc. similarly went to work on expanding and marketing this new world aimed at a juvenile female demographic.

On an Oz-like planet called Etheria, Princess Adora wields her ‘Sword of Protection’ to defend her people from a ruler named Hordak; a male villain, interestingly. She transforms as needed into the invincible She-Ra while leading a ‘Great Rebellion’ against evil forces known collectively as the ‘Evil Horde.’

Lasting only two modest seasons, She-Ra perhaps relied too heavily on its parent series, only partially reaching its intended target in the end. Its overall scenarios and characterizations seemed to center between powerful and mystical statuesque women with muscular thighs and absurdly infantile cartoon creatures such as ‘Twiggets’, ‘Bee People’ and even a walking, speaking broomstick with a ridiculous face on it called (wait for it...) “Broom.”

So perhaps originality wasn’t She-Ra’s most prominent asset. The short-lived He-Man companion piece served its purpose nonetheless, filling a missing piece in the Filmation world’s puzzle while simultaneously proving that cartoons could balance out any inherent gender disparities with considerable style. In our own world we often dream of a day when pigs fly and talking rainbow-striped unicorns roam the land. For She-Ra and her princesses of power, that was just a typical walk in the park. Powerful, indeed.

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Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire (image)
Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire 

Sunday, October 3, 2021

He Da Man!

Hot on the heels of Thundarr the Barbarian, He-Man emerged
in the early 1980s as a comic series and line of action figures from Mattel, Inc. Eventually burgeoning into a long-running franchise including various films, series, books and video games, it is nonetheless remembered chiefly by those between the ages of 40 and 60 by the Filmation series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, running from ‘83-‘85.

On a colorful and amorphous Star Trek-like planet named Eternia which uncannily resembles Earth from space, a struggle for power continually rages between Castle Grayskull, a benevolent kingdom of noble warriors and the dark and ominous inhabitants of Snake Mountain ruled by its ever-evil emperor Skeletor and an obsequious slew of grotesque and unique monsters consistently at his employ.

Skeletor’s formidable forces would easily overtake Grayskull were it not for a highly secret weapon in the form of the royal couples’ son Prince Adam. A seemingly lazy and mild-mannered ‘Clark Kent’ type, Prince Adam owns a ‘secret sword’ much like Thundarr and, with it, transforms as needed into He-Man, the strongest man in Eternia. With a magical lightning-like force, he then acquires his supernatural strength in addition to fur briefs, a bronze tan and a darker shade of blonde hair!

The prince’s timid pet tiger gets a makeover as well, morphing from “Cringer” to the mighty “Battle Cat.” Despite the explosive public scene that is created each time he becomes He-Man, Prince Adam’s secret is held only by the Heroic Master of Weapons- Man-At-Arms or “Duncan” to the King, the Sorceress, a ‘good witch’ much like Thundarr’s Princess Ariel and Orko, a ‘friendly ghost’ of indecipherable species who floats around attempting magic tricks and providing unnecessary comic relief.

Backing up both teams of this juvenile Armageddon are a roster of two-dimensional characters with names like Ram-Man, Beast Man, Mer-Man and Trap Jaw. Perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy, the series that was born out of a lucrative toy line was clearly introducing characters for the sole purpose of selling new action figures.

At each 30-minute episode’s conclusion, He-Man could be expected to restore order to the universe and keep the meanies away long enough to begin the absurd process all over again the following week. To cap it all off, a postscript was presented by one of “our friends” who would summarize the story and explain its ‘lesson.’ These lessons ranged anywhere from setting good examples and learning from mistakes to remembering to brush your teeth!

Though, as a kid, I had collected countless figures of the original two Star Wars films, I considered myself too old for those of the muscle-bound homoerotic He-Man line. That didn’t stop friends and I from enjoying the show, however, as it presented us with amusing characters, entertaining stories, a rocking theme song and even some unintended humor.

“The lost diamond of disappearance! He found it!”

Now co-existing as an obligatory CGI reboot for contemporary audiences and a nostalgic memory for many others, He-Man epitomized a classic trope, however fantastically campy it may have come across, then or now. The clashes of good and evil are every bit as relevant today as they were in 1983. Only, where is our He-Man? If true change comes from within, then perhaps we can all raise our swords of power and someday say:

“By the power of Grayskull... I... HAVE... THE POWER!!!"

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Sunday, September 12, 2021

Days of Thundarr

Among other recollections of fondly-remembered animated TV adventures is a dystopian fantasy series set after the ‘retro-futuristic’ year of 1994, Thundarr the Barbarian. Like the previous subjects in last week’s post, Thundarr was produced by Joe Ruby and Ken Spears but this one dealt with dramatic action elements inspired by the then-popular barbarians, Dungeons and Dragons and apocalypse trends in motion pictures and games.

The series’ premise centered around a chaotic world landscape resulting from a global warming-like climate catastrophe occurring after a planetary disaster about twenty centuries earlier. The earth’s inhabitants were thereafter populated by throwbacks to the dark ages in a 'New Earth' period characterized by sensational villains and grotesque beings not unlike J. R. R. Tolkien’s ‘Middle-earth’, a similarly surreal fantastic universe set, by contrast, within the world’s past.

During this perilous new era, a wizard named Sabian enslaves Thundarr, a formidable warrior and a lycanthrope-type creature named Ookla. The pair partner up to fight the deranged forces of New Earth evil with Thundarr’s ‘sunsword’ after they are freed by Sabian’s stepdaughter Ariel. Ariel is essentially a ‘good witch’ princess who assists them by lending her magic and knowledge to their mission.

Despite adequate ratings and a highly promising concept, Thundarr was canceled after only two seasons. That’s no more than a momentary glimpse into all that must have transpired in the centuries following the dawn of New Earth. How cheated the show’s loyal fans must have felt when Laverne & Shirley in the Army usurped their favorite show’s time slot.

Perhaps only a tease of Armageddon is all one needs to know that our world might be on the wrong path. After all, we (Old Earth) don’t need to know what will come next. We only need to see enough to understand that the paths we choose must be chosen wisely.

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