The 80s cartoons that Michael Bay could improve upon
Michael Bay. He's taken Transformers. He's taking Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So why not just give him this lot, too?
A couple of weeks ago, Michael Bay caused the internet to erupt (again) in clammy nerd rage (again) with his choice of words regarding the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie his company, Platinum Dunes, is making.
The exact quote? “These turtles are from an alien race. And they're going to be tough, edgy, funny and completely loveable”. It did not go down well with many people.
For me, the Transformers films turned my favourite 80s toy advert into a messy, badly told joke of which the punch line seemed to be: screw you, fans! And now Mr Bay seemed to be turning his personal vendetta against my childhood to my beloved pizza obsessed amphibians. I don’t remember killing any members of his family, so why was he doing this to me?
Fortunately DoG’s resident Turtle guru, Matt Edwards, was on hand for a quick Twitter chat, and we ascertained that it was probably a case of Bay flapping his lips without proper supervision from his brain. A further comment from director Jonathan Liebesman seemed to compound our thoughts. In a quote eerily reminiscent of the aforementioned chat he said “Look, it's so funny—if everyone was such a die-hard fan, they would know that the TCRI canisters where the ooze comes from. That is alien ooze.”
With these words, the healing process began.
Terrible Transformers movies and alien-Turtle threats aside, I’m not a Bay-hater. In the world of film there’s plenty of room for his brand of cinematic action porn. A world in which drama equals explosions, character development means running away from explosions in slow motion, and character motivation boils down to ‘should I cause this explosion?’
So, to show my affection for Mr Bay, I decided to put together a list of 80s cartoon series that I would be happy – nay, excited - for him to bring to the big screen.
The 80s were a great time for toy adverts. They were 20 minutes long, animated, and had yet more commercials running through breaks in the middle of them. Dino-Riders was no exception. The series was produced solely to advertise Tyco’s range of toys, which were basically a bunch of He-man figures in 80s style futuristic jumpsuits, straddling armoured dinosaurs.
The cartoon centred on the war between the humanoid Valorians and the evil Rulons, a race of creatures led by Krulos, a croakily-voiced, evil frog-monster. The opening quickly introduced the concept of the Rulons attacking the peaceful planet of Valoria, and the Valorians heroically fleeing in their giant spaceship, presumably leaving several million others of their race to be enslaved.
Using their Space Time Energy Projector (S.T.E.P. for short), they tore a hole in the fabric of space-time, crash-landed on prehistoric Earth, and with no thought for causality, started chasing dinosaurs around. Unknown to our heroes the Rulons were also sucked through the tear and immediately began capturing dinosaurs themselves. What followed was a good versus evil tale of opposing sides fighting each other, while riding armoured dinosaurs with weapons lashed to them.
Unfortunately, the actual series wasn’t as awesome as that preceding sentence.
It goes without saying that Mr Bay could make this great. People riding CGI dinosaurs covered with armour and lasers fighting each other, the script could be mostly growls and explosions and it would still be amazing. He could probably knock it out during his lunch breaks on Transformers 4, too.
BATTLE OF THE PLANETS
The history of Battle Of The Planets is a little confusing. Western distributors Sandy Frank Entertainment used 85 of the 105 original episodes of the wonderfully-named Japanese anime Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. They then cut, added to, and re-edited the episodes to make a series that loosely shared the same story, but with a greater emphasis on space battles, more funny robots, and none of the graphic violence and profane language of the original.
Battle Of The Planets, then, followed the tale of five teenage orphans known as G-Force. Mark, Jason, Princess, Keyop and Tiny all had superhuman powers due to ‘cerebonic’ enhancements. They defended the Earth from evil aliens of the planet Spectra, using the Phoenix, their bird-shaped spaceship, and the weaponised vehicles it housed.
If it all sounds a bit confusing, that’s because it was. Youngsters the world over had no idea what was happening from one minute to the next, but enjoyed it regardless due to the spaceships, fighting, robots, vehicles and weird bird costumes.
Say what you like about Michael Bay, then, but he knows how to simplify a story. A lot. If memory serves, the Transformers origin was broken down into ‘something, glasses, something, magic cube, something, giant robots smashing each other up.’ If a movie about superhero bird teenagers in spaceships needs anything it needs a clear and simplified plot... and explosions.
I know just the man.
JAYCE AND THE WHEELED WARRIORS
Jayce And The Wheeled Warriors had, well, everything. An ongoing saga of good vs. evil, science, magic, annoying robots, a teenage hero, armed vehicles, things transforming into other things, plant based mutants, and, of course, a botanist.
The plot defies explanation by anything as trivial as words, but basically involves super botanist Audric (Jayce’s father) and his experiments in biotechnology in order to solve the problem of famine in the galaxy.
Audric solves the problem, but a burst of radiation turns his plants into the Monster Minds, a group of vegetation-based monsters who can transform (you can see where this is going, right?) into armed vehicles.
Audric manages to create a magical root that can destroy the Monster Minds, but has to flee before he can use it. He gives half of the root to his robotic servant Oon, and sends him to serve his son Jayce. This leaves Jayce and his friends to find Audric and reunite the two halves of the root, thus destroying the monster minds.
But there’s more! After receiving the magical root from Oon, Jayce is told about the Lightning League, a group of heroes who led their ancestors to victory. Jayce is given the ring of the leader by Gillan, a purple robed space-wizard who built the Lightning League’s ground vehicles, which they use in battles with the Monster Minds.
Jayce and his friends (the Lightning League – you still following this?) get a ride from Han Solo-a-like Herc Stormsailor, a mercenary who is tricked into transporting the team when Gillan turns a mountain of lead bars into gold. Ultimately, over 65 episodes, the gang battled the evil Monster Minds before the show was cancelled due to unimpressive toy sales.
If ever there was a cartoon that deserves a reboot into a modern day movie, it’s Jayce And The Wheeled Warriors, and who better for the job than Michael Bay? Things transform in it, for starters. Then just imagine the huge beautifully rendered CGI battles that a Bay-helmed Wheeled Warriors film would provide. It’s enough to make you well up just thinking about it.
Silverhawks was released in 1986, and told the tale of a group of heroes who volunteer to go to the galaxy of Limbo in order to help grizzled old space-cop Commander Stargazer. He’s battling with heavy-metal album cover come to life, the villanous Mon*Star.
The heroic team consisted of four highly trained army specialists: Quicksilver (the leader), Col. Bluegrass (the pilot), Steelheart and Steelwill (twin sibling army engineers) and one weird mathematics genius alien-monkey thing known as The Copper Kid. He was a resident of the Planet Of The Mimes, who was presumably included as some sort of futuristic diversity program.
The Silverhawks were given bionic ‘partly metal, partly real’ bodies in order to survive the gruelling journey to the Galaxy of Limbo, and each had bionic powers as well as a robotic bird weapon companion to aid in the fight against Mon*Star and his evil cronies.
Michael Bay can direct action with the best of them, and a super-heroic shiny bird costumed super team fighting a group of heavily armed animal space gangsters would need every ounce of his special talents if it was to look anything but utterly ridiculous. What could go wrong?
M.A.S.K. was what happened in the 80s when toy and animation companies saw the success of G.I. Joe and Transformers and thought ‘they are making money, we like money!’
From such thinking, M.A.S.K. was born, a thinly veiled amalgamation of the previously mentioned shows, which astonishingly wasn’t as good as either. The curiously monikered Mobile Armored Strike Kommand (M.A.S.K. for short) had transforming vehicles and was led by a chap called Matt Trakker in a war against V.E.N.O.M (Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem), a collection of villains so stupid they had the words vicious, evil and mayhem in their name.
While the cartoons will never go down in history for their stories, they were exciting enough, and featured colourful characters in transforming vehicles trying to blow each other up, which is all you needed as a child of the 80s.
Bay could clearly run with this concept, get rid of V.E.N.O.M. or at least give them an actual goal, make it grittier and more realistic, a nice mix of CGI and practical effects, lots of car chases and of course explosions. How could Bay not make that great? How? How?
Leave your further suggestions for Michael Bay projects in the comments below…