The Weird World of ’70s-’90s Celebrity Tie-In Cartoons
We revisit cartoons inspired by celebrities like MC Hammer, Chuck Norris, and New Kids On The Block.
This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Imagine the following: you’re famous for singing songs about hanging tough, or pitying fools, or… being Rick Moranis. What’s your logical next step? Well obviously it’s to star in a cartoon where you solve mysteries and fight crime.
If you’re at the age where you’ve started lying about your age, you’ll remember that our childhoods were festooned with these Saturday morning tie-ins, designed to sell cereal, puffy stickers and pencil cases to gullible children while teaching us valuable life lessons.
I’ve written a handy guide to the most famous examples. Some of them are brilliant, and some of them are the New Kids On The Block cartoon. Enjoy.
Mister T (1983 – 1986)
This is how I like to think Mister T got the green light:
“You know what we need? A show about gymnasts that fight crime!”
“Hmm, that idea could have legs. But how do we tie the gymnastics and the crime fighting together in a realistic way?”
“And all the gymnasts will be about five years old, but they’ll beat the bad guys using gymnastics!”
“Obviously we’ll need someone well-known in the gymnastics world to star in it. I know – Mr T!”
“Are you ok Bob?”
“Yeah that’s it! Mr T has a new career as a gymnastics coach, and he makes the children on his team fight crime when they’re not practising!”
“Maybe you should switch to decaf, Bob.”
All the kids are sassy, and their main way of fighting crime seems to be ‘cartwheeling away from the criminals’. An effective tactic, I’m sure we can all agree.
By far the best thing about this show is that sometimes Mr. T punches a shark. This is the standard by which all the other cartoons shall be judged going forward.
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New Kids On The Block (1990)
Apologies in advance if I refer to this show as “KNOB,” I’m so used to calling it that in my head.
For our younger readers, New Kids On The Block were a rad ‘n’ happening boy band in the early ’90s. The band consisted of Donny, Joe, er… Malcolm, maybe Gary Barlow or something, and probably another one. It doesn’t matter because they didn’t even provide their own voices. Donnie, for example, was voiced by the guy who did Captain Planet, because the real Donnie was too busy buying green hair gel and writing in his FunFax.
I’m not sure how much crime fighting or mystery solving the gang do; the episodes I watched were about wanting to go to school, and Christmas. I think one of them bought one of the others a mechanical keyboard.
Update: One of them’s called John. Or Jordan.
I don’t think there’s much crime fighting, with episode titles like “Kissed, Missed, and Double D’ist.” Little to no shark punching.
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Hammerman (1991 – 1992)
AKA ‘Fine, I didn’t want to touch that anyway.’
Right – the plot of this entire show is that MC Hammer owns some magic talking shoes. That’s it. Hammer and his shoes do things like helping kids with their self-esteem issues, rescuing people from mild peril, and, erm, fighting Napoleon.
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Also, do you realise I just had to save an image as “MC Hammer fights Napoleon”? The things I do for my art.
Seriously, imagine the following: you’re trapped in a burning building, or on a bridge that’s about to collapse. And in place of the emergency services comes MC fucking Hammer. And he’s all like “Don’t worry love, I’ve got these talking shoes…”
At least you’d be so confused you’d forget to be scared.
Mr Hammer doesn’t seem the type to punch sharks. Oh well.
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The Adventures Of Muhammad Ali (1977)
Plot: Muhammad Ali goes round generally being Muhammad Ali. You know, knobbing around on the moon, going to haunted parks, that sort of stuff. To no one’s surprise, he also helps children with their stupid problems.
They use this animation a lot:
In the episode I watched, Ali’s neice and nephew have seen a boy living rough in the woods. The entire rest of the episode is spent looking for him, with alternate bribing and threatening by Ali to get the boy to stop hiding.
“I ain’t got time to mess around! I’ve got to go have turkey salad, with some big bad Prime Minister from some place!”
The boy reacts unfavourably to Muhammad Ali threatening to kick his head in, and continues to hide. This causes most of the episode to consist of Muhammad Ali yelling at trees.
Eventually he stops hiding like a div and things get sorted out. I was very disappointed not to see any space crocodiles, but I know they’re out there somewhere because they’re in the opening titles.
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Rick Moranis In Gravedale High (1990)
I suspect this show was conceived by pulling ideas out of a hat at random. That’s how I came up with my non-existent series Pat Phoenix Vs The Binmen On The Moon.
Rick Moranis is the only human teacher in a school for monsters. Officially he’s “Mr Schneider,” but if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s Rick Moranis.
Somehow I just know there isn’t going to be any shark punching or space crocodiles. Once again, the show is about helping kids with their stupid problems. The one I watched was about an invisible boy who wants to be a comedian, except he’s rubbish and everyone keeps throwing books and other bric a brac at him. Sigh. We’ve all been in that situation.
Anyway, think Saved By The Bell, but animated, and Jessie Spano is a fat mummy. And it’s got Rick Moranis in it.
As I suspected, no shark punching, but there was some unexpected shark-surfing action courtesy of the students, so not an entirely wasted 20 minutes.
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Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos (1986)
How many times does the guy say “Chuck Norris” in that intro? I got to 53 and stopped counting.
Chuck Norris plays Chuck Norris, a government operative fighting a bad guy organisation called VULTURE, led by “Claw” and “Super Ninja.” Super Ninja’s real name is probably Ian.
Typical scene: Norris, dressed as He-Man for reasons known only to him, punches through a door and says “You’ll never use that wave reactor!” 10/10.
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No definitive answer on the existence of shark punching, but they do fight a crocodile, and sometimes they go into space. All in all a solid effort with lots of kicking instead of banging on about self esteem.
Fun fact: They were originally going to call this Kool Karate Kommandos, but thought better of it.
Super Globetrotters (1979)
Plot: the Harlem Globetrotters turn into basketball paraphernalia in order to fight monsters. One of them turns into an actual basketball, which I’m not sure is that helpful.
Right, bear with me while I get the episode I watched straight in my head. Someone’s invented a time machine; the time machine is sentient and is a fan of the Globetrotters. However, ‘Time Lord, Lord of all Time’ wants to stop humans messing about with time travel. His genius plan is to summon history’s greatest criminals and get them to steal the time machine.
The Harlem Globetrotters defeat the literal Lord of all Time by… turning into basketball accessories.
My favourite episode synopsis, however, is this one:
“A nuclear-powered alien named Facelift plots to steal the faces of the World Leaders and place them on his Demon Droids in order to gain control of the world.”
I assume the Globetrotters will deteat the nuclear-powered alien by turning into basketball accessories.
All this is accompanied by a laugh track.
I need a lie down now.